Friday, September 14, 2012

Why you’re probably evaluating your STM trip the wrong way

How do you know if your mission trip was successful? Is it based on how many people received Christ? Number of lives rededicated? Impact on the goer? You got the project done? They invited us back?

Most people determine success based on whether or not they accomplished their goals. The problem with this is that we often misunderstand goals. We get them confused with desires. Here’s a definition I heard for a goal: “Something I can achieve on my own apart from others.” The definition for a desire, then, would be: “Something you want that requires cooperation from others.” Do the questions above sound like expressions of goals or desires? You can imagine how far off base we can end up if we evaluate success based on desires. This nearly always leads to worshipping numbers, stretching the truth, feelings of depression, or manipulating others to ensure we get what we want.   

The other difficulty is that we must determine success in a Kingdom not of this world. God’s Kingdom is far different from our own. Our kingdom speaks of “return on investment” but Jesus says the Kingdom of Heaven is like a shepherd who leaves 99 sheep to go after the single lost sheep. We discriminately assign value to things in order to prioritize yet God gives humanity just one price—the life of His Son. Our kingdom tells us that we can do anything we put our mind to if we just work hard enough. But Jesus says in John 15:5 that we can do nothing apart from Him.

So what does success look like according to God’s Kingdom? Hebrews 12:1-3 seems to be telling us that the manner in which we run is what is most important. In Philippians 3 Paul tells us that he presses on for the prize. Interestingly he does not elaborate on what the prize is or what specifically will make him a winner. The emphasis is on persevering! Success in God’s Kingdom is simply based on how closely we follow Jesus!

So what does this mean for a short-term mission trip?

First, but not necessarily in this order, it does not mean that we throw out all accountabilities! Don’t confuse not putting a human price on a life with being irresponsible.

Second, it means we acknowledge our dependency on the Holy Spirit by keeping desires as desires and not turning them into goals. It’s okay to want God to do great things—even specific great things. We just have to be careful that we don’t ignore what God is doing because He isn’t doing what we want Him to do.

Third, it means we stop using our kingdom’s values to judge success, and use God’s values. In God’s Kingdom, we aren’t responsible for the outcome. In fact, the nature of short-term missions is such that we often don’t even get to see the outcomes. We are, however, responsible for how we go about them. God values how closely we followed Him on the journey.

So what does a faithful journey for a short-term mission trip look like? How do we use this new way of evaluating a mission trip to determine future trips? Well, you’re going to have to wait until next week for that one.

What do you think? Am I totally off base? What does a faithful journey for a short-term mission trip look like? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

Questions for the author? You can contact Tory at 520-404-0841 or

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