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Cost-me-nothing missions

Of all the blogs I’ve written, one blog stands head and shoulders above the others in popularity. It’s ironic, really. Seems the world loves nothing so much as an “expert” debunking the very soap box on which he is standing! When I wrote about the faddishness of short-term missions, it struck a n…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes

Of all the blogs I’ve written, one blog stands head and shoulders above the others in popularity. It’s ironic, really. Seems the world loves nothing so much as an “expert” debunking the very soap box on which he is standing! When I wrote about the faddishness of short-term missions, it struck a nerve. Whereas on a good day, perhaps five people will comment on a blog, this one has 28 so far. For some people it hit a nerve.

I love short-term missions. My experience on them changed my life and I’ve seen them change so many other people’s lives. Jesus used them to destabilize his disciples and continues to do so today. So, I feel protective about them as a tool in God’s tool box to show off his power and explode a person’s world view. So if I start ranting a little bit this morning, I hope it is ultimately an encouragement to you.

A confession: Too often, I’ve treated God like some inert ingredient in my life when he’s more like the plutonium in an atomic bomb. The Bible tells me Jesus won’t be domesticated, “The kingdom of God is not a matter of talk, but of power.” (1 Cor. 4:20) I know he won’t conform to my schedules, much less my theology.

Jesus came to raise a ruckus in the temple and he’s still doing that today. I’m deluded if I think I’ve got him figured out and try to package and market him. Sometimes as an avid short-term missionary buff, I’m walking a thin line.

In 1975, when I went with Teen Missions to Huehuetenango, Guatemala, it was two months of in-your-face challenge. It marked me for life.

Fast forward 32 years – I’m living in a land where we American Christians have taken this wild, life-altering experience and dumbed it down to a four-day youth group trip where we brush up against the foreign concepts of poverty and servanthood enough to mentally write them off: “been there, done that, literally, got the t-shirt.”

Every summer, many of us sponsoring STMs inadvertently inoculate students, as though we’d given them a flu shot. Not enough of God’s heart for the lost to challenge them to pursue a call to missions or even begin praying toward that possibility. But enough to be able to put a check on our list, “Oh yeah, I’ve been on a bunch of mission trips, and now I know that God hasn’t called me to missions.”

What?! Oh yes, he has! He called all his disciples to missions before he left the earth, and he calls each one of us today! He’s calling young people all over the world, an entire generation of them, if we teachers of the law would stop working so hard to prove that the kingdom of God
is in fact about talk, not about power. That is, if we’d commit to stop inoculating students, watering down the Gospel, turning Jesus the warrior into a church lady with blue hair, saggy stockings and a purse.

Does this mean that we stop offering week-long mission trips? No, no more so than it means we should shut down our temples. But surely a reformation is in order.

Here’s my categorical statement: Cost-me-nothing missions that don’t bear the fruit of a more profound commitment in Jesus-followers are a sham and should be stricken from your schedule immediately. They are watering down the and undermining our overall missions effort as the Church of Jesus Christ.

My standard is that if a mission trip doesn’t wreck the lives of at least half the group, then the leaders need to re-tool it next year and add back the missing ingredient of
challenge. Tepid, easy trips probably do more harm than good, inoculating students to the real thing, leading them to a watering hole that’s run dry.

Living water is not about cheap talk. Too often, I’ve joined the Christian cultural elite who forget that it’s about healing the blind, helping the lame to walk, raising the dead. It’s undiluted power. It requires risk. It’s the pearl of great price.

What will you sell in your life to buy it?

Comments (3)

  • Thank you for this blog, Seth. I found that some of the outcome of a short term mission had its beginnings in the soil of the heart. I was wrecked in the 80s, but , hindsight, the Lord had done some plowing in me. I guess that’s part of it, because I was puzzled/stunned when others on the same mission were not wrecked. It made me ponder how to prepare short termers for ALL God wanted to do – to go for the spiritual adventure with His heart. Even so, it’s true that thought and plans need to go into the short term mission trip that enable that.

  • I was saved in Brazil after moving from the comfort of Canada. Quite unprepared for the day, I felt God’s calling to enter an abandoned home. The fear was nothing compared to the calling. And so I entered and went in initially to offer donations, but eventually to offer the bread of life as I studied its value myself. After four years, and a deep enduring love between myself and 11 families from that home, God called me to move to Europe with my husband and children. My son had anxiety the severity of which I hadn’t quite acknowledged. (Inherent) I believe God gives us callings throughout our lives and orchestrates where we are needed. If we think too much of ourselves out there in missions, He’ll humble us and bring us to His real purpose. He’s neat that way. He’ll make sure we’re dependent on Him no matter where we are. If nothing else, STMs are valuable in helping individuals draw closer to Him. Two years ago I brought my sons to Poland on an STM and there, my anxious child dedicated his life to Christ, and fo that, again, I was completely unprepared. Praise God for how He works. It’s okay… let people feel good… the thing is, they are in God’s light and fellowship with those they meet and travel with, and that’s a good thing. God always knows who He’ll send.

  • I know this is an old blog for me to respond to, but I just discovered your blog (amazing!) so I’m reading up on what you have to say about STMs.

    I’m all STMs and have been on a few myself and seen the positives. In fact, technically I’m on a STM right now – shadowing a Peruvian missionary in Colombia, preparing to come back full time within 2 years.

    You put into words what I’ve been processing regarding STMs the last few days. I appreciate what you said about inoculating students to mission without pouring into them enough passion for God’s mission.

    I just read a statistic from the Joshua Project that said the US sends 45% less missionaries now than 20 years ago. Perhaps it’s because of this inoculation.

    Anyhow, thanks for the good ideas and I look forward to reading more.

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Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

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