Can 'Discipleship' Happen on Short-Term Mission Trips?

Can “Discipleship” happen on Short-Term Mission Trips?

Before answering too quickly, consider these things:

“The Great Commission”  

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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.” Matthew 28: 18,19,20

If we can agree that within this text there are some means of discipleship, then we can look at those means and discuss whether or not they can be met in a short-term mission engagement. (For the purposes of this post, I am equating ‘Discipleship’ with The Actual Making of Disciples or Student-Followers of Jesus. I am also proposing that “going,” “teaching them to observe (obey) all that Jesus commanded,” and “baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son, and the Holy Spirit,” are the requisites or means of biblical discipleship.

A note here:  Going, Teaching, and Baptizing are participles.  Specifically, these are all Instrumental Participles, or Participle of Means.  They show “how” (or by what means) the Making of Disciples or Discipleship is done.  The  participles in this text are adverbial or circumstantial descriptors of the main verb Mathetes (Make Disciples), none of them are the main verb.  These words take on the imperative mood and carry the notion of “must do,” as in you all must go, baptize, and teach others to observe (obey) all that Jesus commanded. 

It is now up to you to decide whether or not Going, Baptizing, and Teaching can be accomplished in or by short-term engagements.  It would seem on the surface, that these requisites or means each have different time sensitivities.  What do I mean?


Going – As soon as one initiates the process of going, they have technically gone.  Going can take a second, a day, or maybe even a lifetime.  A word here about translating the participle “go,” as “as you go.” I don’t think it’s accurate to do so. I think the best translation is something like, “go and having gone,” or “go and as you are going.”  I don’t think anyone “as you goes,” on a short-term mission trip.  They are sometimes impulsive, always intentional, and directed imperatives.  I think we can agree that people “go” on mission trips.

Teaching – The time it takes to teach a thing can fluctuate.  When something is taught, how can we know “when” it has been learned?  When one teaches another to tie shoes, the measure of that learning experience is determined by whether or not that one can tie his or her shoes.  Here we might run into a bit of disagreement.  If teaching to obey ALL that Christ commanded is one of the measurements or means in the making of a disciple, then we have a few choices:

  • We can identify all the commands of Christ, list them out, and teach them one by one until we are done.
  • We can teach a subset of ALL that Christ commanded and check them off as they are taught.
  • We can say that teaching ALL that Christ commanded is a life long endeavor.
  • And finally, we can say that as long as one is teaching (in the process of making student-folowers), they are practicing discipleship or are in disciple making mode.
Baptizing – A baptism can be accomplished as quickly as it takes to dunk someone.
Up till now I have not answered the original question.  Can discipleship happen on short-term missions trips?  I’ll let you think on that for a bit.  There’s one more thing I’d invite you to consider before we collectively attempt to answer that question:
Acts 14:21“When they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch”
If we take the above verse literally, then disciples were surely “made” during some short-term engagements. Of course there’s a lot more to that story, but for now… 
 
Can discipleship happen on short-term mission trips?
What do you say?  

 

0 thoughts on “Can 'Discipleship' Happen on Short-Term Mission Trips?

  1. Darrell says:

    I think they can. In my experience most don’t. Here is a great article about some that did!

    http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/can-short-term-teams-foster-long-term-church-planting-movements

  2. Shanyn says:

    What a great post! I believe we can…this is just so well done. I’ll be sharing this and praying upon it some more.

  3. Bill says:

    Hate to parse terms, but the meaning of discipleship is important to answering your question. If discipleship means completing the process and having however one would define a completed disciple, then the answer will tend towards no. If discipleship means starting the process or furthering the process, then a resounding yes would be my response. Acts 19 is relevant, where Paul arrives at Ephesus and furthers the process for a group of believers he finds there. Many short term trips partner with a local church or ministry. This partnership allows for the process to continue after the short term workers depart. My final answer, yes.

  4. Jonathan says:

    I saw on your FB page that you had revised and reposted this.

    First a few bookkeeping items: πορεύομαι (“to go”) is passive, not imperative, in this passage. As much as we might want to make it imperative, this particular passage doesn’t do that for us. Fortunately, there is no small amount of description or prescription in the NT regarding our taking the Gospel to the ends of the Earth so to force “Go!’ into the Great Commission is unnecessary.

    Ok, to the question: “can discipleship happen on short-term mission trips?”

    Step One: Definitions.

    I’ll propose that the test of whether or not a disciple is revolves around the point when the new disciple is making other disciples. A disciple that does not make disciples is not really a disciple. The person might be considered a convert to a Gospel thought paradigm but this passage does not command the making of coverts.

    Step Two: Formulating a hypothesis

    The question is actual a hypothesis in a different form. For the sake of testing, I’ll reword the question to “Discipleship can happen on short-term mission trips.”

    Step Three: Testing

    Now all we have to do is point to those disciples that have been made as a direct result of a short term mission trip. How many disciples have been made as a result of any short term mission trip that you have been on? It is that simple.

    • Miguel says:

      πορεύομαι (“to go”) is passive if it stands by itself. In this case, and in almost all other cases where a passive participle attends to, or is coordinate with the main verb, it taks on the mood of that main verb. It becomes imperative by the rule of attendant circumstance in the Greek.
      πορεύομαι (“to go”) “piggy-backs” on the mood of the main verb (Mathetes). For a more detailed explanation, check out this post:

  5. Gary Tennant says:

    Definitions:

    I have had two different things shared with me with regard to this passage from two different students of the Greek language. I have a lot of respect for both teachers, and they both have dynamic and world impacting ministries. I am not a Greek scholar, so I am torn between both views when it comes to the nitty gritty of the text- but I do not believe that the differing instruction I have received on the issue of the meaning of the word “go” results in different action on the part of the believer.

    I have been taught that the word “go” should be translated: “as you go”, or “having gone”- as if the going is assumed and already under way on some level.

    I have been instructed that the word “go” takes on the imperative tense of the main verb “make disciples” and therefore has an imperative aspect added to it as explained in the article above.

    If I take the second explanation of the text as correct, then we are indeed commanded to “go”, and “as we go”- make disciples! “Of all nations” (nationalities- a.k.a.: people groups) defines where I am to aim at going.

    If I take the first explanation of the text as correct I may be tempted to read the passage as saying that I don’t necessarily have to “go” anywhere aside from where I already am as long as “making disciples” becomes my priority. If I take it to say that then I am ignoring the phrase that comes immediately after “make disciples”, and that is the phrase: “of all nations” (nationalities- a.k.a.: people groups). Throw that in the mix and I see that if my “as I am going” does not put myself in a position where I am reaching different people groups (the nations), then where I am going needs to be changed, or I need to live in such a way that I can get them to come to me.

    There is an accurate translation of the meaning of the text, but both that I have received result in the same thing: If our going does not result in our reaching the nations, then we need to change where our feet take us.

    “Baptizing”: Doesn’t take much time to do or to explain as long as it is explained well.

    “Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you”: This takes time. I have always understood this as more than simply teaching what Christ commanded us. If our teaching does not result in their being able to understand what He taught as well as their being equipped to do it, then we have not taught them as Christ instructed us. This is the meat of the discipling someone. It involves instruction and the giving of an example. We teach them, and we live it out and show them what it looks like to walk with Christ as a disciple.

    The question: Can this be done via a short term mission trip?

    I think it can be, but not casually. The team doing the work must be very intentional about what their objectives are.

    Is a group making disciples If it comes in and visits different venues, shares the gospel and leaves? Most likely not. I believe the team is sowing seed that CAN result in disciples being made, and therefore it has its place. Based on experience I think it is highly ineffective to do trips like this unless it is done in conjunction with other disciple making believers in the area that can provide follow up and engage those who profess faith in Christ in a disciple making process. I think it would be a great mistake to call simply evangelizing an area and then leaving “disciple making”.

    On the other hand, I have seen short term teams that made world impacting disciples. The process included sharing the gospel accurately and then spending a week or two with those who responded, spending long hours in prayer and instruction, as well as taking them with the team when they did evangelism and teaching on other occasions. It also involved a lot of follow up via online communication and other follow up trips to the area to encourage the new believers and provide additional training. Making disciple this way is easier today due to technology and ease of transportation, but it is by no means easy. In the “old days” it involved letters (which is how we got much of the New Testament) and the sending of others that had been discipled who were mature enough to carry the message and provide instruction and training. Paul did this a lot with young guys that he had discipled in the faith..

    A twist though: I think short term trips are much more effective at discipling the members of the team engaged in the work! Leaders who know what they are doing and are engaging in evangelizing and the teaching should be VERY INTENTIONAL about bringing along with them new believers with whom they have relationships whether they are from the target population, or from back home.

    So my answer is: Yes, short term mission trips can make disciples, but only when done right. And sometimes the disciples being made by the team are more a part of the team than they are the people being targeted abroad.

    Comments? Criticisms?
    I am certainly still a student, and therefore wide open for correction! 😉

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