Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo Perspective on Church and Missions. This is Episode 18 of Missions on Point. We're in the third part of a three part series on short-term missions, STM.

In the first one, we dealt with short-term missions philosophy. The second one was short-term missions discipleship, and this third one, we will deal with short-term mission strategy; how to think strategically about short-term missions, both in how you execute it and how it functions in your church.

Thinking about short-term mission strategy is important, partly because it's so rare. Churches just kind of fall in to short-term missions without thinking of their own initiative and how it applies in their greater missions vision and what function it has long-term for all the parties involved.

Short-term missions should not just be some random opportunity or something that you dream up in order to get people involved, simply for the sake of having say numbers in short-term missions. There are churches out there that have allowed short-term missions to dominate everything that they think and say and do about missions in their church, and there are some short-term missions agencies that specialize in short-term missions, that will tell you that you can accomplish anything in a short term that just isn't so.

So today, I want to guide your thinking in four aspects of strategy. The first is specific outcomes. You need to think about specific outcomes. Who is going to benefit? Do we benefit just a random organization or institution out there? Or do we benefit the partners we support already, as missionaries out on the field?

Most of the time you want to benefit ministries that you already engaged with they already have a partnership with in some way, or at least that have compatible, like-minded goals and doctrine and outcomes for the field ministry itself.

Specific outcomes means that you're thinking strategically about short-term missions and how it contributes to longer term outcomes that you're shooting for. You want to build long-term relationships. You want to establish long-term goals in ministry, so that it becomes a natural part of the DNA of your church, and not something that's just an add-on or a special event.

We've talked about this in the discipleship episode, but certainly part of the long-term impact that you have is to disciple the participants for their whole life. Their life should be changed because of the experience of short-term missions, not just because they're visiting some foreign country perhaps, but because of the discipleship that takes place in their life that radically changes their walk with the Savior for the rest of their life.

Another aspect of specific outcomes with long-term impact is training and screening all the participants for long-term missions involvement. Perhaps you have budding missionary candidates in your participants on your short-term missions team, and you want to track with them and watch them grow and develop for the long-term toward becoming those career field missionaries someday, God willing.

The second aspect of strategy I want to talk about is what I call a spiral curriculum. What I mean by that is you start out with near cross-cultural service and orientation to farther away still perhaps US based, to getting outside the US and then perhaps to remote locations and more pioneering kind of ministry.

Not only does the short-term participation for a specific person who is participating in the short-term missions start out at a low level and nearby, but also can increase in time, so that short-term missions may start out as a one-week local service experience, to a two-year longer term internship kind of experience. So, over the course of time, the short term missions participant, increases both in commitment of time funds and the potentiality of them going into long-term service.

Here's how this kind of works in a practical way. Short-term missions can be a service project locally for a local camp or inner city ministry or an outreach or a VBS. Those could be considered short-term missions, particularly when you fold in the importance and necessity of having really good training.

It moves out from there to perhaps cross-cultural service within your metro community or within a nearby area, say an Indian reservation or the Appalachians, or someplace to your church body. It could be a relatively local immigrant community or refugees, or just people of a different culture within range of your church.

Then it grows to be outside the borders of your local area and perhaps of the country. Just imagine the perimeter around the US from Canada to Caribbean to Mexico, Central America, to perhaps East Asia. We're talking about the spiral curriculum moving up a little bit to be one to two, to maybe even three weeks, where people are serving in a cross-cultural situation that's not too difficult to get to from your home place.

The next step is to go clearly to more remote places. If you're doing missions through a missionary partner in a remote or pioneering area, it would be doing a vision trip or an orientation trip or a Timothy type of mentoring or internship with them, and it could mean for a much longer period of time.

I've noticed some churches that would not let anyone go on one of the medium to longer term, short-term missions commitments, unless they had fulfilled the shorter term one in the spiral curriculum. In other words, there is a stepping stone kind of thing that takes place and people prove themselves by their good, humble, solid service and faithfulness on the lower level, before they have permission to get up into the higher levels of commitment. Generally speaking, it takes more money the farther you go up the spiral curriculum and the longer it takes and the farther you have to go geographically.

The third aspect is supporting existing relationships. Now, we touched on this before, but I want to emphasize this as one of the key aspects of strategy. Whoever you're supporting out there in the missions world, you should ask them as a first step in discovering what short-term missions are possible, so that they respond to you and say, "Oh, we have need for just two people to do this particular thing." Or, "We have need for 12 or 20 people to do this other kind of thing." Typically, it's going to be something that couldn't be accomplished without the expertise or outside help or manpower of having a short-term missions team arrive on the scene for them, but some of them may also say, "Thanks, but no thanks. We really don't want a short-term missions team. We don't want the hassle of the logistics and the management and all it takes place." That's okay. At least you're asking and letting them know you want to serve them, and you're building on existing relationships.

It may not be with a specific missionary that you support already, but someone that you know of or a ministry that you know of. It's possible that people from your church have come from a place that could sustain a regular annual, or every other year kind of short-term missions experience, in which they're building on the relationships of like-minded national believers, year by year, by year, and growing in the ministry in that way and supporting that national ministry and its expansion and the planning of churches as it moves outward.

Supporting existing relationships takes effort and communication. Sometimes the host on the other side may need quite a bit of support to see that work out practically because it's not something that they are wired for or experienced in before it happens.

The fourth aspect of strategy is special needs and this is a category of strategy, which means there are things that aren't typical that we think of in short-term missions that are very valid short-term missions experiences. Usually for fewer number of people. Special needs such as being a nanny for a missionary mom who's trying to learn the language and needs to give time to that so that the nanny can take care of the preschool-aged kids and infants, that would be a tremendous help to the family in achieving their goals on the field by assisting with their children. Maybe they have a special needs child that needs significant special attention in schooling or training and someone coming from the states could help. Usually, those kinds of commitments are somewhere between six months to multi-year, depending on the curriculum and the special needs of the child.

There are also other types of ministries, physical support, whether a work project that is a very specific thing for improving the house or the church of the missionary on the field. To business and technology, perhaps teaching English as a second language as a means of outreach.

I'm aware of a couple of instances where a church has taken upon themselves to regularly sponsor and pay for a special retreat for the missionaries. One of them has to do with sort of an ongoing marriage enrichment counseling situation. Other ones are simply to give relief and rest and respite to the missionaries who need to get away from the pressure of their living environment. Certainly, biblical counseling could be a special short-term ministry. Just for one or two people, to either train others or to minister especially to missionaries in critical need.

So, let's do a quick review. When we think of strategy overall, we're thinking of specific outcomes. You need to pray about and write down specific outcomes that you expect to come out of the short term missions ministry of the church as a whole, but as a specific for specific opportunities.

Secondly, a spiral curriculum. Just because you have a short-term ministry doesn't mean that everybody should get to go on it or that even everyone is qualified to apply for it. You need to have a spiral curriculum where perhaps younger participants go on shorter trips to nearby places, to gain the footing and the experience they need, to be able to go on the next level up, all the way up to a genuine missionary intern or candidate preparing for the field.

Thirdly, supporting existing relationships is very significant to the whole role of the church, embracing short-term missions in the long term. Winning the support and connections with partners that you support already on the field, or at least like-minded ministries, that you can have a regular repeat experience with people over the long term.

Fourthly, there are special needs that are different sorts of things. It's not a big team, it's not a lot of logistics, but they are specific needs that meet a critical issue in the lives of missionaries or ministries on the field, and you may have expertise and availability of individuals in your congregation that can meet that need.

In my mind right now, I have dozens, perhaps hundreds of testimonials of people that have had effective short-term missions ministries in their resume, and it has had a huge impact in their life, in their ongoing participation in missions, whether as a layperson or a missionary, I know that missionaries on the field have had huge help, really timely help from short-term missions, individuals or teams that came at just the right time, to give their ministry a nudge to get to the next level.

I would encourage most churches to consider doing less short-term missions at high quality and high impact, rather than more short-term missions with more participants doing less impactful and effective things. Certainly one of the long-term goals of short-term missions should be that we are preparing our people to become long-term missionaries. If that is in your vision from the beginning, God will honor that in answering our prayers together to see missionaries raised up from your congregation to go to the ends of the Earth.

Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.


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