By Shane Bennett
A prominent pastor recently railed, “Short-term missions are the work of Satan designed to distract us from the real work, waste millions of dollars, and hasten an age of global darkness!”
Okay, so nobody actually said that… but you wondered, right? At least until the “global age of darkness” bit. That went too far. You wondered because you know that some people really think short-term missions are a bad idea. I’m not one of them. Oh sure, dumb short terms abound. No doubt about that. But the idea is sound, the heart is good, and the intentions are smart and honorable. I stand by my statement that very few people go long term without first going short term.
The trick then is doing the right short terms. This Five-Minute Guide will help you help your church choose or develop smart ones that accomplish God’s purposes.
Five key questions will get you started.
1. What is the broad missions strategy of your church?
What? You church doesn’t have this? Hmmm, better start with the Five-Minute Guide to Developing a Global Missions Focus at Your Church. (Trouble is, that Guide’s not written yet. Darn.) Even if your church strategy’s not written down, chances are good there are some understood parameters. What’s been done in the past serves as a good indicator of what’s considered normal and doable.
Let’s say you do have some defined direction regarding how you sense God using you all in the world. In that case, you’d want short-term trips to fit into that long-term strategy. So you would evaluate a short-term possibility, in part, by asking how it fulfills the church’s mission statement and to what degree it honors or advances the basic values of the church. Sending prayer journeys to unreached cities would be consistent for a church with a heavy emphasis on prayer. A church with a laser focus on disciple-making might want to think twice about a short term that is 90% construction.
If you are dialing in on a focused work or a certain people group, look for short-term efforts that contribute to that: activities that advance the long-term goals and work that prepares your people to make career-level investment in your strategic focus. Essentially, your short terms exist for your long terms.
2. Who are you already connected to?
Most of us are concerned that we know and obey God’s will for our lives. It’s legit to ask, “What does God want me to do?” But what we don’t ask enough is, “Who does God want me to do it with?” This is a good question to ask on the corporate level as well. As you think of short-term teams for the coming year, consider whom your church is connected to denominationally, internationally, and locally. (If you find you have no connections, you may want to refer to the Five-Minute Guide on How Not to Be So Dang Independent. Although it’s also not written yet.)
Take a minute and look at your mission bulletin board or web page. Scan the faces and places and ask yourself how a few of you could spend a few days and really serve those people. Honestly, some would rather you not come over. That’s their prerogative. But for some of them, a week or two with a handful of good-hearted amateurs might actually be an asset. Again, you want short-term efforts to contribute to the long-term vision and work of your church.
3. What skills do you have?
Turn from looking at the missions bulletin board and gaze out over the congregation. What do you see? With what gifts, capacity, and resources has God equipped you all? Ask if there are things you can do that others can’t. Like the crazy great list of presents God promised Abraham in Genesis 12:2-4, God has poured gifts into your body. Maybe you’re flush with educators or medical staff. Maybe there’s a core of entrepreneurial magma flowing through any given Sunday morning. Maybe years of focused effort have built expertise in caring for people who tend to be marginalized.
What are those gifts and tendencies? How might they bundle up in the vehicle of a short-term mission and drive out among the unreached?
4. What is your faith horizon?
Faith is another gift from God. And depending on its relative abundance among your people, you’ll be able to do some things while you’d be wise to let other things go for the time being. It would be great to see you “swing for the fence”! If, however, you’ve managed to only send one short term in the past five years and that was a weekend effort to re-roof a shed at the denominational church camp, maybe you shouldn’t plan to take 25 people to plant churches in North India for a month. At least not this year.
Consider carefully what faith, coupled with wisdom, would lead you to do in terms of the number of people, expense of the experience, and type and location of the work. If you and I share a little of the same mobilizer spirit, push it a bit. But just a bit. Your pastor is carrying burdens you don’t understand, and it’s legit that he’s concerned about a bunch of you getting kidnapped!
5. Where is God at work?
Remember what Grandpa Henry said: Right now, God is working all around you. Similarly, you may recall the sons of Issachar who famously “understood the times and knew what Israel should do.” I can imagine particular situations in which God is noticeably at work, but that you’ll want to go elsewhere simply because so many of God’s people are already responding. Other times, you’ll sense that, “Yes, this is a current move of God, and we are uniquely equipped to contribute, facilitate, and move it forward.” Or maybe, “God is doing something, and, though I don’t know why, but he is irresistibly calling us into it!”
Where is God moving today? Obviously or maybe below the surface? What is he calling the broader church to in these days and where do you fit in that?
Clearly these questions comprise a starting point, not a complete recipe for short-term bliss. I’d welcome your additional thoughts and wisdom. If you’d like to talk to me about how your church might implement some killer short-terms, start that conversation by emailing me. Finally, if you have ideas for additional Five-Minute Guides, I want to hear about those, too! Maybe we could write some together.