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…