7 Ways to Make Sure Your Short-Term Missions Trips Suck.

suck_lemons_by_mister_saturn-d5qbwc81. Make yourselves the primary beneficiaries of the trip. ~ It’s not exactly new, but it’s becoming ever more prevalent that short-term missions serve to benefit the ones going on mission more than the ones being ministered to.  There are at least three possible beneficiaries:  People being ministered to on the field, those who go, and the church who sends them.  If we’re honest, we’ll admit that the latter two are often the ones that benefit most.

2. Make your agenda, program, or project more important than people. ~ I’ve seen it numerous times.  Missionaries who host short-term mission teams have seen it as well.  Projects, or better yet, “products,” become more important than people.  How can you know when this happens?  It’s simple.  It happens when your priority for the impersonal and inanimate dominates the personal, incarnational, and relational.  It happens when being late for your next appointment supersedes your present appointed time with a person in need.  It happens when you simply must employ the methods, systems, and training that you received in preparation for the trip.  Even when it’s discovered that they make no sense in your current context or are inappropriate for the time. 

3. Assume that you’re the only ones who can do what you’re going to do. ~ You’re not!  God has an army of willing an adaptable people who He will send in your stead if you screw things up or fail to accomplish His mission for His people in the place that He chose.  Exclusive ability on the mission field is dangerous and addicting for you and others. If you think you’re the only one who can give them what they need, then you just might be a pusher, a dealer, or a pimp, instead of a missionary.

4. Serve the haves instead of the have-nots for convenience sake. ~ Short-term missionaries often serve in situations that are already self-sustaining, or convincingly write themselves into another mission’s story for convenience sake.  These sorts of arrangements are frequently parasitic rather than symbiotic and represent by example the resourced patting each other on the back or ‘scratching each other’s itches.’ 

5. Plant Churches ~ Yes, you read that right.  This applies when you assume that planting tiny facsimiles of the church where you came from is the best model for other’s contexts as well.  This applies when your view of church is sacred space, place, a market of religious goods and services, or an authorized dispenser of sacraments.  This applies when you assume that a church is a mechanically, architecturally, or synthetically structured according to your finite view of  the Kingdom.  If this is what you mean by church planting, then STOP planting churches!  Plant the gospel, plant yourselves, plant a contagious mission posture or attitude instead. 

6. Treat your translators poorly. ~  Your translators are the most critical part of your team.  They are the ones who interpret you.  They bridge culture.  They engender the first generations.  They are the people of peace that God has directed towards His mission endeavor. (Luke 10)  Often, less money is invested in them than the tourism excursions planned for the team or the souvenirs they purchase.  They are the ones who should experience the most concentrated discipleship, the most equipping, and the most encouragement.  Stop being cheap with your time, resources, and connections.

7. Do everything but disciple people. ~ Short-term mission evangelism often resembles treasure hunting or skeet shooting.  It’s a ‘get in to the most damage possible in a short amount of time’ attitude.  It’s usually identifiable by very much talking and very little listening and actual engagement.  It’s manipulation and domestication more than discipleship.  It’s making promises that you’re not sure you can keep and convincing yourself that you’re going to make sure there’s follow-up by someone else. 


“Well then,” you might say… “If we can’t do any of those things, then what?”

1.  Give away all your rights, they belong to the Lord anyway.

2. Fast from your privileges and self assumed entitlements. Sacrifice them in the short-term for long-term impact.  Be disposed to receive instruction and direction.

3. Resist the urge to have the answer for everything on every subject.

4. Avoid every temptation to play the role of the wealthy provider, advantaged information dispenser, or aristocratic paradigm shifter. 

5. Cheerfully adjust, change, or drop your planned program to meet the local needs and fit into the local context.

6. Consult and support local leaders, translators, and believers.

7. Seek to live and work in a way that reflects Christ living in you.

These principles could easily have been applied to any organization on the move anywhere.  I chose “short-term” mission trips because they are the most visible demonstrations of the the attitudes expressed above.  It could have easily been titled; “7 Ways to Make Sure Your Missional Endeavors Suck.”  What do you think?

0 thoughts on “7 Ways to Make Sure Your Short-Term Missions Trips Suck.

  1. Marshall says:

    sobering reminder.
    but for all the folly man has foisted…

  2. Dave Treat says:

    Brilliant. I would add that the 8th Way to Make Sure Your Missional Endeavors Suck would be to treat them like Short-Term Missions Trips.

    • Miguel says:

      Thanks for commenting Dave,

      I’m curious… Do you see any validity in short-term missional engagements, incursions, etc., or are they contrary to the essential meaning of being “missional?”

  3. Bruce Dickey says:

    Thanks Miguel for helping us get the logs out of our eyes. Pet peeves ala carte. You and Claudia … awesome…. fearless.

  4. David says:

    I would add that that every member of a short term team should be required to spend several months praying for the people who will be be reached.

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