Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Welcome to episode 16 of Missions on Point. This will be the first of a series of three on short-term missions. This time we're going to discuss short-term missions philosophy. The next one will be short-term missions discipleship. And the third one in the series is short-term missions strategy. So I would encourage you to listen, get your friends to listen. Buckle your seat belts. We may be in for some turbulence along the way.
Let's get a handle on the setting of short-term missions. In America, short-term missions has grown to be wildly popular. There are hundreds of organizations that are asking for your participation and ownership of their short-term missions programs, including sending agencies all wanting, especially those who might be missionary candidates, to come and do their short-term missions with them in hopes of recruiting them long-term.
Short-term missions in the United States is a multi-billion dollar enterprise. Literally, millions of Americans go out from churches and other nonprofit organizations to do short-term missions, often without a long-term strategy or purpose to it except for the purposes of the sponsoring organization.
There are plenty of people out there that'll tell you that short-term missions is essential for the church to be involved in. Certainly when you have college kids going away to college or university, especially Christian colleges and universities, they have massive programs for summer short-term missions, projects, and internships. In fact, if you are an intercultural or international ministry major, it's probably required that you have some kind of several months internship experience in your transcript requirements.
On the one extreme, I know of churches that have seen short-term missions as so popular that that is the only kind of international missions they do. Others allow short-term missions to kind of run the show. Their whole missions program is built around short-term missions, even if they do other things.
On the other hand, there are agencies and mission leaders that'll tell you that short-term missions are practically worthless and ought to be abandoned entirely in favor of only doing long-term career lifetime kind of missions. In the first case, people will try to tell you that the largest short-term missions program was the people of Israel camping in the wilderness for 40 years. Barely short-term and not really a short-term missions program.
Similarly, you may find those who operate Christian camps of all kinds that would say their camp is a short-term missions ministry, whether or not it has any cross-cultural element to it at all. There are short-term missions opportunities out there to do almost anything you can imagine from oil drilling and gardening to teaching English in like three weeks, tons of vacation Bible school type programs and every kind of building program you can imagine.
Of course, there are other opportunities for disaster relief and community development. All of these things are a little bit like stepping outside your safe and secure home into the midway of a huge carnival with lights and bells and sounds and vendors yelling, getting you to come and visit their particular ride.
Short-term missions is often an area of confusion, controversy, sometimes conflict, and can become a bottomless hole for cash. I've consulted with more than one church who felt like short-term missions was taking over from outside their body and stealing away the interests, time and resources of their people. Lots of questions arise. How much fundraising can a church do within the body for short-term missions? Does the church have anything to say about college students going on short-term missions? When and how they go and how much they raise? Is there any kind of coordination between short-term missions approved by the church and what the church's goals and vision is for long-term missions?
After you listen to this podcast and the two that follow in the series, I would strongly commend you to look up standards of excellence for short-term missions. There is a Canadian version and an American version. There's a whole book published about it, and it expands key standards of excellence for short-term missions that would be an excellent guide or benchmark for you to grade short-term missions opportunities.
Of course, from the Propempo perspective, we would say that it needs to be wound tightly around the local church's direction and control, if you will. The standards of excellence I refer to are not necessarily local church centric in their ministry philosophy as we would encourage you to be. So please allow me to share just four key elements of a short-term missions philosophy that may help you and your church make sense of it all and avoid the appeal of the carnival midway that's out there.
Number one, connect with existing ministries if possible. Whoever your church supports, you should ask those people and their team or their agency for opportunities that they may have for your church to be involved in short-term missions.
Even if those missionaries and ministries you support don't have something themselves, they may know of something that's related to their ministry or an extension out from their ministry to new areas that would be an excellent fit for you. That relationship provides the structure and the background for extending ministry from your church through people that you support into accomplishing direct field purposes that are in line with your vision and ministry.
So connect with existing ministries if at all possible. You'll need to listen to the podcast two weeks from now on strategy to pick up some more specifics about that.
Number two, build long-term relationships. You may not have a missionary that you support in a particular field, but you already have relationships with like-minded churches or people that have been related to your church in an area that would be an excellent building ground for purposeful ministry development over the course of years with short-term missions involvement opportunities.
The benefits of working with the same people in the same area are enormous. You may have your team leaders and participants developing deep relationships with the people in that project over the course of several years, and you get to see ministry development of that project over time from usually almost nothing to something very substantial. Your relationship with your hosts also grows in mutual respect and partnership together.
Number three, your short-term missions project should have a ministry component, not just physical work, building, or community development or relief, some kind of construction. This is one of the great fallacies of short-term missions, is a lot of short-term missions participants believe that church planting is building four walls and a roof. That's not church planting. That's chapel building. Church planting is building a body of Christ. That's people work.
One of the things that distinguishes church short-term missions from a biblical perspective to all the other relief and development agencies out there that are doing good things is spiritual development. Having the gospel as part of it, proclaiming the gospel as part of your ministry, even if it is a building project, have a spiritual ministry component, not just physical work involved in doing the short-term missions, whatever.
That spiritual component certainly applies to the participants in your short-term missions team or program. Whether it is a team of two or a team of 200, there should be a spiritual component to their life and work in training beforehand, in the actual work on the field, wherever that is, all the way to afterward, getting back to conserve the fruit and the gains spiritually in their life for the rest of their life.
And that brings us to number four in short-term missions philosophy, and it's what I call win-win-win. The first win is a win for the participants. It's an amazing thing that people who want to go on a short-term missions project will do almost anything to get there, to be accepted on the team, to do whatever training is necessary to go, even to do a lot of hard work, to raise the funds to go. A win for the participants is the intense discipleship that you can offer them.
One of your goals in short-term missions is to see the participants grow in spiritual maturity. They need to understand their personal walk with the Lord, grow in their personal spiritual disciplines, understand how to have their own personal devotional quiet time. They need to understand what it means to journal a little bit at least during the trip. They need to understand that ministry on the mission field is service. It is not a vacation. The hardships that they may suffer with regard to housing or food or deprivation, not having the internet, not having their smartphone available, not having digital games available, those kinds of things are just part of the big package of discipleship for them. You need to train them to have good attitudes, to follow leadership, to respect authority, to speak well of their host culture and the host people. You need to encourage them to be thoughtful and work as a team.
All of those things are part of the discipleship that is a big win for short-term missions, so that actually, if you never even left to go to the field place, wherever you're going, it would be a big bonus, a big plus for all the participants because you will had a major impact on their life like no other ministry of the church can have.
The second win is for the hosts, that is the people that are helping logistically to put you up, to feed you, to transport you, to find transportation and housing and food for your team, however strenuous that may be. Those people put out a lot of effort and thought into making it happen on the field. They should be regarded as royalty in the minds of the team.
You need to make it a win for them. You don't want them to feel like it was such a pain to deal with your team and to handle all those logistics that they never want to do it again. You want them to feel like this was one of the biggest blessings to their life and ministry on the field that they could ever get. You want to treat them really well. Do things for them. Bring things to them that are special. Take them out to eat at a nice restaurant. Leave them a parting gift that will make a change in their life. Help them get some time off even after you've left. Your thoughtfulness will make a world of difference to them. That's the second win.
The third win in my win-win win philosophy is actually the ministry you intend to do, that it has a positive impact on ministry in the place that you're going. Hopefully, your short-term missions team is doing something that could not have just been hired to do or might not have been done otherwise because of the number of hands on deck that you have available to help with the work or the service or the literature distribution or the VBS or the gospel survey or whatever you're doing, that your team is supplying something that could not have happened had you not been there.
And it's a win spiritually for the people that you're going to. You want to have a spiritual impact and leave that as your legacy when you leave to go back home.
Thinking through and designing that win-win-win philosophy will make your short-term missions experience for your church outstanding. It will outpace so many other churches and possible opportunities out there, it'll make a complete difference in how you view short-term missions. It may mean that you do less of them and do them better.
I'm going to tell you later that part of the strategy is having an intense training program before you go to the field. So win-win-win it's all part of that ministry philosophy. Number one, connect with existing ministry if possible. Number two, build long-term relationships. Three, make sure it has a solid ministry component, not just physical. And number four, make it a win-win-win experience for participants, hosts, and the target population.
I hope you've enjoyed this bit. We've got two more parts in short-term missions to expand these ideas. Please join me in weeks to come.
Hey, thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. We trust that you'll find more resources and help on the website, propempo.com.
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