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Responding to critics of short-term missions

We’re at the high point of the short-term missions summer season. Hundreds of thousands of young people have fanned out around the world to bring hope in the name of Jesus. But they are not without their critics.   The knock against them is not that they’re invalid, but that they’re ofte…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Are short term missions effective?We’re at the high point of the short-term missions summer season. Hundreds of thousands of young people have fanned out around the world to bring hope in the name of Jesus. But they are not without their critics.
The knock against them is not that they’re invalid, but that they’re often done so poorly that they’re a distraction to missionaries and an inefficient use of the church’s resources.
A recent article that appeared on CBN was as damning a piece as I’ve seen come out in the Christian media. It states: “One argument in favor of short-term trips is they lead to career
choices in overseas evangelism. However, according to a study by the
American Society of Missiology, that connection is not so clear.
study points out that while short-term missions have surged in the last
twenty years, the number of new missionaries has actually declined.”
The CBN article also makes the point that missions giving has been declining and that many missionaries have a more difficult time raising support as in the past.
Although the organization I run, Adventures In Missions, has sent out over 80,000 short-termers to the field, I am concerned that many churches do a poor job of planning and coordinating their trips.  I have long been a proponent of the 7 Standards of Excellence as a counter to such critiques.
If you’re involved in short-term missions, how do you respond to the critics?
To see my opinion on the matter, read the following article: The Case for Short Term Missions.

Comments (10)

  • I think that the critics of short term missions are probably people who have been on a poorly organized church vacation trip… Or have never gone at all.

    My life is radically changed because of what God did in my life during my three years as a summer missions volunteer in college. My heart was broken so many times, my faith challenged, my mind stretched. If it wouldn’t have been for those trips, I’d probably be a complacent Christian who was trying to get through Law School or another such endeavor where my heart was not truly found. I’d be in it for the money, money, money. Thank God He wrecked my life in the heat of Thailand, poverty of Peru, and miracles of China.

    And I thank GOD for the world that is about to change this year! Yah for August 2009!!

  • Jill Lienemann, Kesher Internati

    I was taken aback at a recent missions networking meeting when a proponent of long-term missions remarked negatively towards short-term trips. I was saddened that someone with the same passion for reaching the lost was so willing to be opposed to something that benefitted the Kingdom. “A house divided will fall…”

    I just completed reading “Going Glocal” by Gene Wood, Stuart Hoffman, Julie Becker. In Chapter 13, they make good points in debating the critics. I definately will be using these points more often.

    But most of all, it is our own personal experiences on STMs that make an impact. We all have a “story” to tell – sharing what the Lord has done for us and can do for others.

  • 28 years ago, I spent a summer as a young 23 year old college graduate in the jungles and highlands of Irian Jaya, Indonesia. What God did in my heart that summer has stayed with me all these years.

    For me, if it were not for that summer mission trip, I would be a different man. God continues to break my heart with those things that are near to His heart and am thankful that He is using me to lead others to have similar experiences.

  • I kind of think the above testimonies – although a blessing to Americans and American youth – are exactly the point being made by many critics of short term missions…

    Most American short term missions seem to be about “the missionary” instead of the “mission”… they seem to be about the development, growth, eye opening, calling, vision etc etc of the ones that are being sent. All good fruit… however it is much more about the ones that “go” rather than purely about serving the ones that we are sent to.

  • Seth and others commenting on this topic,

    The reality is that the crtitics for short term missions have also found other objects of their ire. For example, similar articles and reports debunk the impact of mass crusade evangelism. Their argument goes that a disproportionate number of people who “go forward” at say a Billy Graham event are not walking with Jesus five years later. And there are other evangelism and discipleship methodologies which have detractors.

    The point is there are short term missions experiences designed to offer an appetizer to full surrender and in the context of a “Club Med” scenario. Look at the poor people. Don’t get too close. Keep the mask on for fear of some wafting oder of sin and sadness. But there are many others which create a purposeful incubator for breaking a heart which is often the first step to being sold out.

    We are called to sow. We are not responsible in the end for demanding life out of the new sprouts. Cultivate. Cast seed. Water. Weed.

    The Living God is the Master Garden Keeper.

  • As always Seth it comes down to obedience. If God calls us to go somewhere for a day/week/mnth/year etc it doesnt matter about the length of time its all about obedience.As you can see from the above responses, it is not just about what a person can do for the “mission” but about what God can do for the missionary who says “yes Lord! Count me in!”

    People must have very narrow thinking if they think that the WHOLE point of missionary work is about the people/charity you are trying to help. Do they not understand that just as He “made a Nation in a day” He could solve some of these missions in a day too? If He wanted to heal a whole nation of AIDS in a day He can!God is at work in a much bigger way.Changing lives of both missionaries and those on the recieving end of missionaries is beautiful!

    So all I can ask really is “Has God himself asked these people to write this negative stuff on short term missions or is it their own oppinion?”

  • Since when is the sole purpose of short-term missions to develop overseas missionaries. We tell every short-term team that comes that our prayer for them is not so much what they do in-country, but what Jesus does in them during their short stay. Our objective is for them to have Jesus wreck them for the “normality” of American living and to return a changed believer that cannot sit in the pew anymore. The objective is to cultivate passionate disciples. The rest is just geography.

  • If I had not gone to The Philippines two summers ago I would still be a chintsy giver, I wouldn’t have a heavenly perspective, I wouldn’t meet God daily, and I wouldn’t have future goals of long term missions. I’m so grateful for my experience and that it was done the right way by great leaders. I also have much more courage to spread the Gospel on my college campus now.

  • I really like what Sue said: “So all I can ask really is “Has God himself asked these people to write this negative stuff on short term missions or is it their own opinion?” I like all the testimonies of good fruit. Sometimes life experiences and seeing God in them SPEAK! People used to ask me if smuggling Bibles was biblical. We were breaking the law. I could answer them scripturally, but I often added the many stories that showed God’s miraculous protection and pleasure in what we were doing. The Church grew and was strong.

    Other than God’s strong leading, the reason I took teams into Communist countries and spoke as a rep recruiting many others to come was because I saw the life change in those who went (including me!) I saw funds redirected for the Kingdom, prayer warriors raised up, “goers” who came back and became mobilizers in their churches. There are new works in India and Guatemala and Mexico and U.S. cities and who knows where else. It is DEFINITELY a must in the discipling process to GO and experience God’s heart for all the world. This is not a magazine “scratch and sniff”. We must go. And speaking of the money that could go elsewhere just reveals the mentality that God has only so much money to manage His work in the world. So, back to Sue’s comment: Why would there be voices in God’s Kingdom putting down short term missions? The answer is to not stop the ones that are a “waste”. (I’ve seen my share of those.) But to prayerfully refine, prepare, follow up all in the context of discipling those who go!

  • My family and I are a testimony of short term missions. I mobilized teenagers in my youth group 4 different times for overseas cross-cultural ministry. And now we go long term with Worldventure as we are stepping away from working ten years in the US church. God used short term trips in tremendous ways in our teenagers lives, but also in ours and now we go. While the numbers may be growing smaller, we are new long term missionaries because of many reasons and one large reason was short term missions.

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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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