How can we improve missions? Why should the question be asked? And how does strategic thinking about missions in general help you today? Well, those are good questions that will require a rather lengthy discussion. It will involve more than a post or two. And your participation via comments would be very helpful and greatly appreciated!
Missions: Definitions Matter!
There is much debate among evangelicals about the value of short-term missions. That debate is not necessarily a bad thing. Any endeavor can always be improved even if that improvement is marginal. And we should remember any work-in-progress must always be pressing on, i.e., moving. That’s true of the work God is doing in each of us. We like to remind those around us that God is not done with me yet, I’m a work in progress. But pressing on and improving also applies to the work our Father does through us. And if missions is going to be improved then we need a common definition.
I am happy to report we don’t have to wonder what the mission is. But that’s actually one of the problems we face. Many people want to define missions in terms other than those used by Jesus. They try to define our mission in terms of tasks like construction or medical work. Jesus defined our mission in terms of people. For Him it’s always about people. He is drawing people to Himself from every nation tribe and tongue.
I love the E. M. Bounds quote. The larger quote is pictured. It’s often reduced to: The Church is looking for better methods. God is looking for better men. Focus is distilled by a small number of words. But Jesus’ brevity is even better:
Make disciples! – Jesus
The mission is people. The method is people. Everything else is a tool!
Missions: In 9 Words
Jesus’ use of language is astounding. On the evening of His resurrection He commissioned His disciples and us. Only John recorded this. It’s the first statement of His Great Commission. And He did it in 9 words! The scope is so large that Jesus gave amplifying, explanatory remarks in each of the other Gospels and in Acts. One of those is Matthew 28:19-20. The imperative of His address there is: Make Disciples. The preaching, teaching and baptizing are methods. So if Jesus was sent to make disciples then we are also sent to make disciples.
The above comments don’t even complete an introduction! But we will continue. Please take a minute to look at the Relevant Magazine article by Michelle Perez. It’s pasted below. And please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Soli Deo Gloria!
Things No One Tells You About Going on Short-Term Mission Trips
It is estimated that over 1.5 million people from the United States participate in short-term mission trips every year. That is a lot of people. And those 1.5 million people spend close to $2 billion for these trips.
My husband and I live in Guatemala and host short-term mission teams throughout the year. I am originally from California and he was born and raised in Guatemala. For me, short-term mission trips were kind of like camp. Every summer I had the chance to go somewhere new and “help people.” For my husband, hosting short-term mission teams in Guatemala was part of what he and his family did. There were blessings that came from it, but it was mostly a lot of work.
We have both seen the good, the bad and the ugly of short-term missions. And we continue to feel this tension with the short-term mission teams that we host. Do they:*
- Do more harm than good?
- Perpetuate the cycle of poverty?
- Contribute to feelings of superiority? Or inferiority?
Our work with families and communities in Guatemala, as well as churches and schools from the U.S. has forced us to ask these questions daily.
We have learned that perhaps how we go might matter more than what we do. Here are a few things you may not have heard about being more effective on short-term mission trips:
You’re Not a Hero.
First of all, before you go and when you get there, your team must commit to getting rid of the hero complex. Developing countries do not need short-term heroes. They need long-term partners. And if your group just wants to be a hero for a week, then you may be doing more harm than good.
Poverty Can Look Different Than You Expect.
If at the end of your trip you say, “I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little.” You have missed the whole point.
You’re poor, too. But maybe you’re hiding behind all your stuff. There is material poverty, physical poverty, spiritual poverty and systemic poverty. We all have to acknowledge our own brokenness and deep need for God before we can expect to serve others.
Historical Context May Be Just As Important as Immediate Context.
Have you studied the history of the country or neighborhoods where you’re going? Do you:*
- Understand the role that the U.S. has played there?
- Know what the role of the Church and missions has been?
- Know the current needs and issues of the people?
Having background knowledge of where you’re going will help you know how you can best fit and help in your immediate context.
Don’t Do a Job People Can Do for Themselves.
Last time I checked, people in developing countries can paint a wall, so why are you doing it for them? If painting a wall or school is really a need in the place where you’re working then invite students from that school or people from the village to do it with you.
Doing things with people, not for people should be the motto. Always.
Learning Takes Place in the Context of Reciprocal Relationships.
Be willing to share about your family, your pain and your needs. Sometimes people in developing countries think everyone in the U.S. is rich, white and happy. We know this is not true, and we have the chance to share honestly and vulnerably. Prioritize building relationships over completing projects.
You are an ambassador from your country. Thanks to globalization, YouTube and Facebook, most developing countries will have certain ideas about the U.S. before you arrive. Be willing to ask questions and share about yourself and American culture, as well.
Along the same lines, before you take a picture, ask yourself, “Would I mind if a foreigner took a picture of my daughter/son/sister/brother in this situation?” If the answer is yes, then don’t take it. Come back with stories and names of people, not just an entire album of “cute” nameless kids.
There is Something Special About Going.
All of this isn’t meant to discourage missions work. On the contrary, the act of going is important. Jesus left His home, the comfort of the Father to go, to be among the people. Your willingness to leave your home, your comfort and GO is an example of that, too.
So go, be among the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Eat what they eat. Observe what they do. Don’t spend your time in McDonalds.
*Edited for arrangement – not content: KB