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 email@example.com 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…