What is the Point of Short Term Missions?
About a year ago, I sat in a room full of pastors and Long Term Mission organizations. I listened to them go on and on about the issues that they have with Short Term Missions (STM). “It cost too much, it takes money away from long term missionaries, it doesn’t really impact those around them, and it is more like a paid vacation.” These are the complaints that are very common to hear. I sat there some what frustrated and very flabbergasted at the passion by which these Christian leaders expressed their disgruntled opinions about STM. I had heard that the church was disgruntled as a whole with STM, but I had never experienced this sentiment until last November. Maybe you have wondered about the usefulness of STM. Have you ever questioned the wise stewardship of STM or the impact that it had upon the ministry in which the trip served? Maybe you question the Biblical nature of STM.
I have been thinking about these questions for the past few years. Last fall just caused me to think a little deeper from the church and long term missionary perspective. So what is the purpose of STM? Where is its Biblical foundation for how it operates? The first thing that one must do is look at the call that all believers have from Christ.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
The key here is the word disciple which gives the idea of a follower or a pupil of Christ. This means that missions is not simply making converts but rather it is making a devoted follower of Jesus Christ. So how can one do this in a short term context? One can not make sure that a new convert is then discipled if they leave in a matter of a few days. This is seen as the biggest problem with STM. Frankly, it is a problem but there is a very simple solution. The job of discipling does not need to fall on one person. We in the Western world think that we need to do everything, but the truth is found in 1 Corinthians 3. Paul talks about how some water and some plant but God causes the growth. The secret of short term missions is to support the local ministry that is already going on. The missionary and the church can then do the follow up! This model is seen by Paul who was the first STM. He always worked through the established church or established a church and let them follow up.
How can one then justify STM as a important part of the Christian life? I suggest that if you look at the New Testament you will see Paul and many others who participate in STM and do it quite effectively. Their key and success is because they always do it through a local church or start a local church to do the follow up. That is why at YMI we are committed to serving the local church. Both here in the states and the church at large. When ever we send a trip somewhere, it is always connected to the local church and the local missionary in the church.