Healthy Short-term Missions? Do it like Jesus.

Continuing our conversation on the folly of Short-term Missions

This is how Short-term missions teams are often done:

Invite anybody (who feels like it/can afford it) on a trip to a (safe but adventurous) place. Raise funds, collect loads of supplies, buy matching t-shirts printed with a catchy logo and/or leading question to use as a traveling evangelism tool. Create a detailed packing list. Travel to destination in matching shirts, being sure to strike up at least one conversation at every stop to indicate that you are “serving the Lord, Jesus Christ”. Stay as a group in a dorm, church, hostel, or hotel. “Help” poor people, or the disaster afflicted, by offering unskilled labor, unwanted prayer, and cartoon Bible tracts. Give away some junk. On the last night of the trip, order Pizza because everybody is sick to death of local food. Arrive home, slightly conflicted, burdened for “those less fortunate”, unsure if any actual help occurred, but grateful for all your “Blessings”. Share none of your doubts, but tell family, friends, and especiallyfinancial supporters that it was an awesome trip and that you totally saw God at work.


This is how Jesus sent “short-term teams” in Luke, chapter 10:

“After this the Lord appointed 72 others. He sent them out two by two ahead of him. They went to every town and place where he was about to go.
He told them, “The harvest is huge, but the workers are few. So ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.
Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves. Do not take a purse or bag or sandals. And don’t greet anyone on the road.
When you enter a house, first say, ‘May this house be blessed with peace.’ If someone there loves peace, your blessing of peace will rest on him. If not, it will return to you. Stay in that house. Eat and drink anything they give you. Workers are worthy of their pay. Do not move around from house to house.
When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set down in front of you. Heal the sick people who are there. Tell them, ‘God’s kingdom is near you.
 The 72 returned with joy. They said, “Lord, even the demons obey us when we speak in your name.”

Soooo…. basically, we do it, like, exactly opposite to the way Jesus did.

Where Jesus appointed, we take volunteers.

Where Jesus sent pairs, we send herds.

Where Jesus admonished for danger and quiet humility along the road, we opt for vacation destinations and loud self-congratulations.

Where Jesus asks to be bringers of peace, we often bring chaos.

Where Jesus designed an opportunity for a disciple to lean into a new family, learn a new culture, and serve under the head of a household (who best knows his own need), we march in with a plan and the resources to git’er’done – completely missing out on the gift of being “a worker worth his wages”.

What if the original picture of “short-term teams” was meant to show us this valuable step in the process of discipleship, where we can learn dependance on God, love for others, and how to serve well?

And what if we’ve taken that picture and turned it into a billion dollar industry, creating dependance among the poor – not on God – but on the ourselves, damaging Christ’s image in the world, and missing the point entirely?

Perhaps the first step to creating healthy short-term missions can be found in stripping them down to their most basic form, creating them to look more like part of the discipleship process. What if we unashamedly refocused the dynamics of a “mission” trip onto the one being sent, and removed pseudo-humanitarian efforts (which are often more harm than good) altogether?

I dunno.

It’s just a thought…


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