So, are short-term mission trips a waste of time, part 2

I lead short term mission teams into northeastern Brazil in support of the work that Gospel for Brazil has established there. It would be easy to say that they are a waste of time and money. Yet, I not only organize and lead them on a regular basis, I encourage them in a zealous manner.


My previous post noted the first reason of three. Here are the other two:

Second, there is “Encouragement.” New Christians who have no other role models in their milieu can be given a dramatic boost in their walk by observing a foreigner who loves Jesus. The native missionary and pastor gather strength from these visitors who lavish their love, attention and support on them. Both Christian and leader discover that they are part of a bigger picture, that they are not alone and isolated and that other Christians sincerely care about them, their struggles and their victories.

As with the value of enlightenment, I could relate story after story of how the “gringo” visitor was a blessing to the local church because of the encouragement they brought. One particular example might serve to illustrate the point. The initial pastor in Ubaúna was feeling quite isolated in his role. Literally in the middle of nowhere with no resources, the visit by an American pastor on a short term trip so encouraged this brother that he commented to me recently, “When I discovered that pastor Jeff has to deal with some of the same challenges I am facing and when he said he was covering me with pray, I knew that the impossible had become possible.”

There is no amount of money that can buy that!

Third, there is the “Advertisement” value. Some might call this a type of mercenary activity; I wouldn’t disagree. I don’t understand why that is a bad thing.

Here’s what it translates into: a visiting American Christian sees the work in the host country, goes home and begins broadcasting to everyone what is taking place. As a result, new funding, resources and spiritual support are made available to the work in the host country. The visiting American paid for his trip with his own funds and, as a result, became a walking billboard for the advancement of the Kingdom in another country. The work benefits and did nothing to generate it.

I’ll take that all day long!


5 responses to “So, are short-term mission trips a waste of time, part 2

  1. I totally agree, especially on the encouragement part. On my last mission trip to China, I thought my role would be to share the Gospel with those in rural areas who had never heard. As the trip unfolded, God turned my thinking on its head. I wasn’t there to be the star, he revealed, but to encourage the Chinese believers who were sacrificing so much to share the story of Jesus.

    For them, since we foreigners been Christians since childhood, we were revered, and our opinions really mattered to them. The fact that we cared enough to work alongside them was invaluable. It was humbling for me to step back and watch, knowing that my work was to invest in their passion, not to act on my own.

  2. patrickandchristy

    Like we’ve said, if the mission, whether short or long-term is centered in God’s Will and He is in charge of directing the mission, then the blessings will be poured out onto both sides, and the money, effort, resources and time put into it will be magnified many-fold, and lives will be saved and changed.

    The mission will stand up to the “Is this a waste of time, money, etc?” question.

    Thanks for sharing Joe because you bring a unique, different perspective than us because you’re the one leading them and knows the behind the scences stuff that we sometimes don’t.

  3. There is no mission trip that is ever a waste of time or money, I believe. People go on a short term trip wanting to ‘do something’ like share the gospel, or preach right and left. God usually has other plans. Thanks for the post, Joe

  4. I see you on twitter once in awhile. Fun to find your blog.

    I agree. I’m all for Short Term misisons. But I’ve heard a lot of negativity towards Short term missions. I would agree there is definitely a wrong way to do it. Our founder wrote an article called Ten Short Termers We Do Not Want.

    But there are many good things out of short term missions. If a participants has the right attitude (not a Christian tourist) then they become an advocate for prayer, giving, and often they go back in longer term service. Most of our long term people started off on a summer trip or a 2 year commitment.

    Of the 100s of Short term mission trips that we run each year, none if any are the traditional “build a church” or “dig a well” trip. Sharing the gospel is the goal. In some countries, that can be a challenge, and teams have to focus on building relationships and exhibiting what a true follower of Jesus is like.

    Some of the benefits I see are
    Assisting Long Term ministry (catalyst)
    New people hearing the gospel
    Mobilizing people towards Long term service
    Creating advocates

    some of the cons I hear
    cultural mistakes
    – can be resolved with better screening / training
    building dependency
    – handouts are needed in emergency, but otherwise, teaching job skills and setting up ‘business as mission’ are helpful
    – cost of STM
    I think we do a good job of keeping costs minimal. I have friends who have gone on STM with their church and stay in 3 star hotels while serving the poor, and then spend time & money on visiting tourist sites. Is this really a mission trip or just a Christian Vacation?

    I think a lot of the negativity towards short term missions could be addressed if we separated proper short term missions from christian vacations.

    Short Term Mission if done properly with the right attitude far outweigh the cons.

    However, sometimes God can take a Christian tourist and change their heart.

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