Saturday, December 10, 2011

Make Your Mission Trip Count!!!

This is part two of the idea of making sure your mission trip is worth doing. Last week I wrote an article having to do with how much is too much to spend on a short-term mission (STM) trip. This week we want to address the idea of the role of short-term mission trips and making them count.

Fundamental to this issue is the idea that STM trips cannot be the only thing you do or even the central focus of your mission emphasis. See the second half of last week’s article for a full description of this idea. So if STM trips aren’t the focal point of our mission emphasis, what role do they play? What do they have to offer? And how do we make the best of them?

First, we need to be honest about the role of short-term missions. If you researched opinions on this relatively new movement, you would find two basic camps; those who promote them for the impact they can make on the field and those who promote them for the life change of participating. I don’t know why—maybe it is our black-and-white, “one winner” culture—but I rarely hear people admit it can be about both. Can I suggest that the role of STM trips is both/and? Jesus did it (the greatest commandment is to love God and love others) so why can’t we? Can I suggest that the role of STM trips is to see God’s love proclaimed on the mission field and to make followers of Christ more like Christ? Would it be such a crime to suggest we could do both?

Right now I have the urge to write about how to successfully emphasize both, but that is another whole article. So, for now, I will hold off on that and we will look at how to get the most out of a short-term mission trip.

I’ll start with the easy, short parts first and then get to the more complex parts later. First, leadership and team training is key. Both the field missionary and your church will see the most positive impact if the team has strong mature leadership and the participants are adequately trained and prepared in areas of spiritual maturity, interpersonal relationships, and culture bridging. Click here for more information on how you can benefit from team leader and team trainings. You may also consider curriculum like Short-Term Missions Workbook: From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens by Tim Dearborn, The Next Mile, or Before You Go: A Daily Devotional by Jack Hempfling

The second key is to find a strong field worker who puts a high value on partnership. What makes a field worker strong? That could be a whole article too, I guess, but I’ll put in a couple of ideas. A strong field partner has a vision and a plan to get there. He or she also shows extreme cultural understanding and relevance. Finally, he or she shows extreme integrity and humility. One important part of humility is demonstrating a willingness to let go. What would happen if your field partner died or had to leave? Would the whole ministry fall apart or have new leaders been cultivated?

Third, look for ministry opportunities that fit your church’s gifts and callings. One church I am familiar with is investigating a partnership in Haiti. It just so happens agriculture and health care are two of the emphasis of the field worker in Haiti and those are two strengths and interests the church feels they have! This partnership has great potential for effectiveness on the field!

Finally, to really make a short-term mission count in the lives of the participants it should be transferable. This is not easy. It is hard to take an experience in a far different culture, while living a far different life in a far away country and apply the lessons to our own life. There are several keys to transferring the experience.

The first key to long-lasting impact in participants is through on field debriefing. Participants need to reflect daily and at the end of the trip. Second is through proper follow-through. I encourage leaders to schedule three meetings when they get home with the themes of celebration, reflection, and next steps but there is much more to be said on this subject. Look for future articles expanding these ideas of debriefing and follow-through.

The last way to make the trip transferrable is the most complex. Try as much as you can to tie the ministry activity on the trip with a local ministry of your church. There are three basic areas of connection: a cause (like AIDS, orphan/homeless, etc.), a ministry activity (children’s ministry, church planting, etc.), or a people group. This kind of connection allows opportunities for people to continue to be involved in ministry in their own community and the growth that comes with it. If you are interested in developing this kind of congruency and synergy at your church, then contact an STM coach for personalized consultation.

Hopefully these ideas help. Long-term missions has its drawbacks too, but we don’t scrap them. Similarly, we shouldn’t just scrap STM trips. We should find ways to do them better and impact our community as well as communities all over the world!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Are you wasting time, effort, and money????

I think there are two significant conversations happening in churches across North America. 1) How much is too much to spend on short-term missions? And 2) What is the role of short-term missions in the Great Commission? I want to share some of my thoughts on these questions in hopes that finding God’s answers to our questions will lead us into significant life-giving ministry.

How much is too much to spend on short-term missions?

It goes without saying that stewardship, calling, and quality are paramount. Everything that is said on this subject builds on these cornerstones. That being said, let’s look at the issue.

Have you ever wondered what we are stating by asking this question or questions like it? A common objection to short-term missions is that they cost too much and that the money could be better spent on a long-term missionary, a national worker, or on some specific project. The problem I have with this question and with these objections is two-fold.

First, it seems to put a price tag on God’s work and on a human life. We are used to this type of thinking. We evaluate for a “return on investment,” we take into account “risk assessments,” and recognize the “law of diminishing returns.” Jesus, however, references the Kingdom as a place where the shepherd leaves the 99 unattended to go after the one! Jesus puts a great value on just one life without giving it a monetary value or even comparing it to another life!

A few years ago, our church became aware of a badly malnourished boy living in a farm camp just 30 minutes south of the border in Mexico. At three years old, he still weighed just 14 pounds. Our partner church in Mexico and our church did everything we could. Yet the boy still died. When he died, there was a part of me that wondered if we had wasted our money. We had spent so much to try to save this life only to have him lose it. In that moment, I realized I had put a price tag on his life. Was he worth $500? $1000? $2000? How much was ok to spend before giving up? Before it became a failure? Immediately I repented of this sinful attitude and asked God to never let me see a person as a money sign again.

But when we speak of the cost of a ministry, be it a short-term mission trip or anything else, are we actually putting a cost on a human life?

My second problem with this argument is that it assumes that the resources at God’s disposal are limited. We speak as if God’s plans will be frustrated by the way we spend our money or that God might run out of money. Now, I am not belittling stewardship. I am, in fact, encouraging a healthy attitude towards stewardship. Psalm 50 tells us that God does not need our offerings and possessions because He is the owner of it all! Knowing that God has plenty to go around should set us free to give generously and place great value on even one human life!

But what do we do with the reality of the cost of a short-term mission trip? Remember the cornerstones of stewardship, calling, and quality. The first check we have should be to make sure the trip is a responsible use of money and there is no frivolous fluff in it. Second, check to make sure that we have a calling and not just an adventurous spirit. Third, make sure that what is done is done well. Be sure the proper people are selected, leadership is qualified, and that the team members are properly trained.

There is another consideration as well, however. We need to make sure that short-term mission trips aren’t the only expression of missions involvement we have individually or as a church. As an individual, a short-term mission trip should be an extension of the mission you are already living. You ought to not only be giving to your church and other long-term missionaries, but actively participating in ministry. Sharing the Gospel should be a regular part of your life. The same holds true for churches. As a church, you need to be involved in supporting long-term missionaries as well as involved in evangelism in your own community. Also, take advantage of other ways to develop missions-minded people such as offering a Pathways to Global Understanding course, providing opportunities for education about other countries, getting involved in ministry with international students or refugees in your city, keeping your supported missionaries updates in front of your congregation, and incorporating prayer for your missionaries and the world into church services and classes.

By making short-term mission trips a part of your missions program as opposed to THE missions program, we avoid turning short-term mission trips into an idol. That is, something we seek after instead of God. By keeping God at the center, and seeking to spread His message first, we arm ourselves with the Holy Spirit and the wisdom to use the resources God gives us wisely and to follow His lead into where He is working. This is so important that we have developed a tool to help you assess your short-term mission trips based on the three categories of Calling, Stewardship, and Quality. The assessment is based on God’s Word, wise experience, and the Standards of Excellence in Short-term Missions.

Visit DELTA Ministries International to purchase an unlimited use license for only $4.99US. After completing your purchase you will receive an email that directs to a location to download the STM Trip Assessment Tool and free Supplement. If you have questions about this tool or even this idea leave a comment or email me at or call 520-404-0841.

What is the role of short-term missions? How do we make them count?

Well, that will have to wait for next time. Check back in a week to see what I have to say about this…   

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

This Thanksgiving, Re-think Your Blessings!

Have you noticed that a common reaction to a short-term mission trip is for the participants to express something like, “I now have more of an appreciation for what God has given me.” This is expressed in many different ways, but the essence is the same. We come away being especially aware, appreciative, and thankful for all the “blessings” that God has given us. Normally we are referring to things like cars, washing machines, dryers, easy access to water and electricity, a nice home, bountiful food, and so on. As time goes on and I consider the depths of God, His activity in our lives, and the condition of the world—I find myself questioning this sentiment more and more. Are what we consider blessings in America actually from God or the wolf dressed in sheep's clothing?
The other day I saw a post on Facebook from someone currently on a short-term mission trip. He was relating a sad story about some boys he encountered and posed this question to those following him back home: “the question is not why God allows suffering but rather the question is why God has blessed Americans with all we have and we spend it on candy corn and ignore those who suffer?” Now that is a good question, but I wonder if the presupposition is all wrong. What if all of us have a faulty presupposition? What if all of our “blessings” aren’t really from God? If you have traveled internationally and spent significant time with followers of Jesus from impoverished countries, think back on your experiences with them. Now who seems like the blessed one? That is always a dilemma that comes up for short-term missionaries. We recognize impoverished believers have a joy and contentment beyond our own, we see a commitment to serving Jesus that we wish we had, and we recognize it is because they don’t have the “stuff” that gets in the way of following Jesus. Yet we go home and try to figure out how to get all of our “stuff” over to them!
So how do we view the world? How do we view our abundance in relation to the poverty-stricken world around us? What are our responsibilities? These are hard questions! I once heard someone say, “taking a vow of poverty is easy…you just say ‘no’. But stewardship is hard.” What do we do with this life God has given us?

Recently I was in Haiti, and I saw a girl who was probably eight or ten years old pumping water out of a community well. She had probably five or six buckets she was filling and she was working hard! She was pumping that handle with everything she had. And it took her quite a long time to fill up all those containers. I thought about how easily I turn on my faucet and have an endless supply of good, clean, safe, healthy water—even here in the Tucson desert!

As I watched her while we were sitting in terrible traffic, I realized this was really hard work. But, you know, there’s nothing wrong with hard work! In fact, we would probably be better off as a society if we had to work a little harder! Yet, there is nothing wrong with having to walk out and pump water and bring it back to the house. Most of our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents did the same thing. But what does this girl in Haiti lose by having to work so hard to survive? The answer is availability. What could we gain by all of our technology and “blessings?” The answer is availability! Our standard of living and ease of survival should make us more available to God and give us more time to spend loving God and serving others. But that isn’t what has happened for most of us is it? We have filled our “extra” time with things with no eternal consequence such as TV and internet addictions, self-absorbed hobbies, and even substituted carting our children around to activities for actually loving and teaching our own children! 

Are what we call “blessings” really blessings from God? For the first time in my life I really don’t know. But whether they are or they aren’t a question still remains about our “blessings.” To borrow the words of the famous Dr. Phil, “How’s that workin’ for ya?” The question restated is this, “are all the things you consider blessings helping you follow Jesus or are they obstacles? If your answer is obstacles, then make a change! Start changing the way you view the world! Start changing the way you view your purpose. Start changing the way you view your “blessings.” Instead of being something that blesses you, turn them into something that blesses others!

Friday, November 11, 2011

Are your short-term mission trips surviving or thriving?

Let's face it, keeping a missions program going is hard. Continuing to send short-term mission (STM) teams is getting even harder. I don't mean to be a pessimist and I'm not a quitter, but we have to admit there are fewer dollars to go around and more
skepticism about how money is being used.

Many ministries are being forced to do more with less--which may not be an all bad thing. Hopefully it is pressing all of us to do what we do with excellence!

If you are involved with short-term missions you are probably sitting where the rubber meets the road. Hopefully you haven't gotten run over! The truth is you have to be more intentional, communicate more, and be more creative if you are going to continue your STM sending program. But what does that look like? Here are a few ideas to get
your brain working:

  1. Do it well--Make sure your short-term mission teams are done well. This means qualified leadership, good preparation, and thorough follow-through. Check out The Next Mile curriculum for all-in-one mission team curriculum. There is a leader guide with resource CD, goer guides, and returning home devotional.
  2. Report impact--You need to have your team present to your church as soon after they return as possible. This will help your congregation realize the impact that STMs have.
  3. Write an article--Have someone who went on a short-term mission one year ago or more write an article about how they have experienced sustained change. This could be distributed on your website, put as a bulletin insert, etc.
  4. Focused clarity--Make sure your church has a clear, compelling reason for being involved with your STM trip. This could be a partnership with a foreign missionary, a national ministry, a cause such as clean water, or a people group that has become a focus of the church. Your STM trips should feel like one aspect of what the church does and not a random activity.
  5. Wet their appetite--Schedule periodic service days near by, maybe even in your own city. Make them cross-cultural if possible.
  6. Get creative--You can still do Spaghetti dinners and car washes for fundraisers, but try something new and creative. One church I work with recently did a dinner theatre at the church for $25 per ticket, and it went really well. Maybe organize your own benefit walk, or have your worship band hold a benefit concert.
  7. Recruit strategically--Many churches tell me the same people go on mission trips every year. Make a real effort to make half of each team first-timers.

Each church and every situation is different. Hopefully these ideas will help you mobilize people from your church for Kingdom impact. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about keeping your missions program fresh and thriving or post a comment to share what has worked for your church. You can reach me at (520) 404-0841 or

Contact Information: 1400 NE 136th Ave Suite 201, Vancouver, WA 98684 |800.533.5822

Friday, November 4, 2011

Holiday excess in a starving world

How, as missional Christians, should we handle the extravagance of American holidays?

There was a time when Thanksgiving and Christmas made me sick. How could I stuff myself with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, and pumpkin pie when others are starving around the world? How can I justify the ridiculous amount of spending on stuff that doesn’t matter by people in our churches who should know better? Who should want to do better things with their money? Having seen what we have seen, how can we enjoy the holidays? How can we keep from being a scrooge yet still honor Jesus’ calling on our life and stuff?

The first step to handling the holidays is to recognize and accept that there will be dissonance. Your life should be disrupted by your experience. If you come back and are immediately okay with the world as it is, especially your life, then you are probably blocking out what God is trying to tell you! We spend a lot of our existence finding ways to keep ourselves busy enough that we don’t have to realize the way we feel. Think about it…when was the last time you felt something and just accepted it. Somehow accepting that there is tension frees us up to deal with it.

As you know, admitting there is a problem is simply the first step to solving a problem, not a solution itself. There are many ways to deal with the excess of holiday times, but let me give you a few ideas of what we do at our house:

  1. Emphasize the true meaning of the holiday. On Thanksgiving, take some time to reflect and talk about what you are thankful for. On Christmas, make a birthday cake for Jesus and blow out the candles with your kids. If you’re kids are older, considering doing a “Jesse Tree” with them. Whatever you choose to do, make sure you are emphasizing the true reason for the holiday each day.
  2. Find a way to serve. Whether it is volunteering at a soup kitchen or being a part of a program like Operation Christmas Child, find a way to make the holidays “others-centered” instead of self-centered.
  3. Change the way you give. Check out the website for Advent Conspiracy. The basic idea is to change the way we give, so that we can love others the way that Jesus loved.
  4. Be intentional. Don’t just complain about American excess, lovingly do something about it. If your family always throws away a ridiculous amount of food on Thanksgiving, then talk ahead of time about how and why you can reduce the amount made. You don’t have to skip anything, maybe just scale back how much is made. The key is to talk ahead of time, affirm the joy of the holiday, propose solutions, and talk about why.
  5. Be passionate about the holidays. Don’t lose a passion for the holidays, just make sure you are passionate about the right things. Make sure the holidays are a time of joy. Encourage more family time. Talk about how great it is to have a time of year that encourages us to remember Jesus, to love each other in special ways, and to spend some special time together.

Our life-change can and should include how we treat the holidays. I love the holiday season even more now than before I started getting involved in short-term missions because I have a healthier view of them! There is no doubt our world is a broken place and it has even corrupted Thanksgiving and Christmas. My prayer is that we can actually use the holiday season as one more way to proclaim Jesus and focus on Him as the one who brings healing, hope, and salvation to the world. If you would like to discuss this issue further, feel free to call me at 520-404-0841 or email me at

Friday, October 14, 2011

Honey, I just wish you could have been there!

One of the biggest challenges for married short-term mission participants is knowing how to share their experience with a spouse that didn’t go on the trip. Your spouse is your best friend, the one who knows you the most intimately yet he or she was left out of one of the most life-changing experiences you have ever had. I’m not a marriage counselor, but I have been on numerous short-term mission trips; some of which I handled well and some not so well. My wife just returned from a two week trip herself and luckily we learned some lessons from the past. Hopefully our experience can help you.

Here’s my advice to returning short-term missionaries:

  1. First, avoid making quick, rash decisions. Remember that your spouse did not share your experience and may not have your same convictions yet. For your health, some things may have to change right away but try to spend the first week or two simply sharing your experience. For example, my wife just dropped a class in order to have more time for God and for our family. She was ready to quit school altogether to follow God, but that seemed a bit rash. So, instead, we decided to wait and see what God was doing and what next semester would bring.
  2. Listen to your spouse. Your spouse’s life continued even while you were gone. This was my first time staying home, and I was amazed at how much I had to tell my wife! Be sure you show the same care and interest in his/her life as you want them to show you.
  3. The first four days are critical. I know we all come home to busy lives, but if you don’t start sharing about your trip in the first four days it will likely get passed over permanently. This happened when I came home from Haiti last year. We were so busy, I never got to really share with Judy. The result was an emotional disconnect and feelings of loneliness in dealing with life.    
  4. Show your spouse pictures, tell stories, and tell him/her about what God is changing in you. Just take some time telling your spouse about how God changed you or what He said to you instead of starting in on what needs to change.
  5. Pay attention to your spouse’s response. Watch to see if what you are saying resonates in him/her. Look for areas to invite your spouse to join you in your life-change so you can be on mission together.  

If you are married to someone who just went on a short-term mission trip, you need to realize it is your responsibility to love and care for your spouse when he/she comes home. Here are some suggestions and questions for you to use:

  1. Read points three and four above. Ask your spouse about the trip and look at his/her pictures. You might be the only one who will sit and look at pictures and listen to stories for hours. It is good for you to hear them and it is good for your spouse to share them too!
  2. Realize this: living by faith and following Jesus often affects those closest to us. Your spouse will come back changed and that means you have to be open to God changing you too. You can either blindly follow your spouse or, on the other end of the spectrum, refuse to change. Instead, seek God’s will for your lives together.
  3. Here are some good questions to ask your spouse:
    1. What one person impacted you the most?
    2. What was your favorite memory? (I explain it as a snapshot—the moment frozen in time you’ll remember)
    3. What is one thing God taught you about Himself? About yourself?
    4. What one thing exceeded your expectations? What one thing fell short of your expectations?
    5. What did God enable you to do that you didn’t think you could do?
    6. What did you admire most about the host culture? How can we be like that?
    7. What do you miss most from the trip? Why?
    8. What has been most difficult about coming home? Why?
    9. Who has disappointed you since coming back? In what way(s)?
    10. What new values or priorities are you bringing home with you?
    11. What is God asking of you now that wasn’t there before the trip?
    12. What are you confused about or frustrated by?
    13. Share about a difficult moment from the trip which you are now thankful for.
    14. What one word describes the trip for you?

I hope that some of these ideas are helpful. I certainly don’t have the corner on the market. If you have ideas about how to share your experience with your family, please post a comment! You can also see what The Next Mile says about this subject, including sharing with your children, by clicking here. If you would like to discuss any of these issues with me personally, feel free to call me at 520-404-0841 or email me at

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What Motivates You?

Have you ever had someone ask you why you are involved in missions? Whenever new acquaintances find out about my most recent travels, I get a lot of interesting responses. Maybe you have friends, especially non-believing friends, that wonder why you give up a week or two of your vacation to go to a place that is likely hot, stinky, and lacking the comforts to which we are accustomed? How do you describe the uniqueness of a short-term mission trip and express the motivation that comes from a calling from Jesus?

Honestly, I think what hooked me was compassion for people who don't have access to what they need to survive. This may sound funny, but I actually felt a little guilty when I realized this was my motivation when I first got involved in missions. It somehow felt if my first priority wasn't to tell people about Jesus then I was prioritizing someone's physical health above their salvation. Does that describe you? Do you love helping people regardless of what country they are in but have a difficult time telling them about Jesus? 

While it's not okay to neglect sharing the gospel, it is okay to be compelled to serve those who are in great need. Why? Because we should be offended when the world is not as it was created to be! God did not create the world to be a fallen, broken, painful place. Since we are made in the image of God, and we have his law stamped on our hearts (Rom 2:15), we should recognize that which displeases God and do something about it! God is even more pained than we are to see children starving, people dying from preventable illnesses, and grief over death. So if we don't recognize where the world is going astray and fight to bring it back, then there is something wrong with us! May God break our hearts for what breaks His! 

Unfortunately, we often take a short-cut when it comes to serving those for whom we have so much compassion. Instead of treating causes we treat symptoms. Treating symptoms is easy. We can usually treat a symptom with money or materials. It doesn't require relationship, risk, or pain. By simply throwing money at a problem, we just deepen dependency. Or sometimes in our zeal to fix a "broken situation," we actually encourage a destructive cycle. Sometimes in our efforts to help, we end up hurting.   

I just finished reading When Helping Hurts: how to alleviate poverty without hurting the poor and yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert. It is a very affordable book and loaded with insight. If you have not read it yet, you need to get your hands on it! The book is built on the foundation that poverty is more than just lacking material possessions and treating it requires more than just giving somebody a meal or a house, or a piece of clothing. According to the authors, poverty is the state of being out of balance in your relationships to God, yourself, others, and the rest of creation (work). This suggests that poverty is not just a physical state but a spiritual state!

If poverty can also be a spiritual state, that means you could also be living in poverty! Therefore, poverty alleviation is more than just filling a person's stomach or clothing their back. The book's definition for poverty elimination is "working to reconcile the four foundational relationships (God, self, others, creation) so that people can fulfill their callings of glorifying God by working and supporting themselves and their families with the fruit of that work." I want to challenge you to begin viewing helping people differently. What would it look like to bring the whole person fully back in line with their Maker?

The authors use a great balance of teaching and storytelling to think through the causes of poverty, how we sometimes make it worse when we help, and how we can address helping people in a better way. As always, if you would like to discuss this book or how to implement its ideas, I am always available. You can contact me at 520-404-0841 or