“My goal is that everyone in this church go on a short-term mission trip.”
Our Mission Pastor was talking to the “Global” Sunday School about our church’s mission strategy. I was sitting there, mostly nodding, until we came to this declaration. Everyone? Does God want that?
The Great Commission is a familiar passage to most Christians: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you….” (Matthew 28:19-20)
Usually, the problem is that we don’t take this commandment of Jesus seriously. Most believers would much rather stay home, nice and comfy, and if they do anything, they send money, not themselves. We have a tendency to make converts, not disciples. And we teach our converts to obey most things, not everything. (A perfect example is the church in India—the missionaries of the last two centuries failed to teach the idea of financial giving, leaving the church unnecessarily dependent on western financing.)
But this statement by our pastor had me furiously backpedaling. Does the Bible really say that every Christian is to go on a cross-cultural trip?
I looked at the Great Commission again, this time in the context of the preceding verses. Who is Jesus talking to? Verses 16 through 18 imply that it’s the eleven disciples, not all His followers. It isn’t totally clear, however, if there were no other people around. So where else in the Bible does Jesus (or the Holy Spirit) send out missionaries?
Matthew 10 records the first short-term mission trip in the New Testament. Jesus called twelve disciples to himself, empowered them and sent them out to “lost sheep of Israel.”
In Luke 10, Jesus expands His mission force to include 72 others. He sends them to “every town and place where He was about to go.”
Clearly, Jesus is in favor of short-term trips. But He also is selective in sending His missionaries. Not everyone is qualified to go represent Jesus.Then consider the early church. Did all their members go on short-term trips? Who were the missionaries? What role did the churches play?
Then there’s the financial aspect of all this. Our church attendance numbers over 10,000 people. If every trip costs about $3,000 per person (a conservative amount when you include funds raised from donors, the amount our church contributes, and the salaries of paid mission department staff dealing with logistics), that means our mission goal will consume approximately $30,000,000! That’s a lot of money!
What do we get for that investment? Most studies* show that the primary beneficiaries of short-term mission trips are the people who go, not the people they are supposed to be helping. Even that is short-lived. While everyone comes back from their trip bubbling with excitement, declaring that the experience was “life-changing” (and they all seem to use this phrase), only six months later, most have reverted to their pre-trip mind set. The promises to consume less, give more, and pray for the nations don’t seem to survive re-immersion in our materialistic culture. All that’s left is the matching t-shirts.
The answer isn’t to stop going on short-term trips. Rather, we need to be more intentional in our goals. Do we go to some poverty-stricken country to hand out American goodies, sort of a Jesus-Santa? We may feel better, but what about the recipients? We can unintentionally do more harm than good, undercutting their ability to help themselves. Rather, we can go to train, encourage, and empower the poor, allowing them to keep their dignity while improving their situation.
If our goal is a more mission-minded congregation, then let’s make sure that everyone takes part in extensive pre- and post-trip training. Don’t come home, unpack the suitcase, and check “save the world” off our to-do list. Stay involved. Keep asking God what He would have you do as a result of your trip.
What do you think? Should everyone go on a short-term trip? What are the benefits? What are the drawbacks?
* Read When Helping Hurts, by Corbett and Fikkert, to learn more about this topic.