Short Term Missions

Here is some of my recent thinking along the lines of short term missions.  Most of the comments apply to the majority STM trips taken by local churches.  For those going long term as career missionaries who take a scouting trip, different rules apply.  Allow me to summarize my thoughts at the onset: STM is happening, but we need to take steps back to determine the most effective steps forward.  When thinking through STM the ministry of the career missionary is the central, creative steps need to be taken to truly serve the people being ministered to (dependency a huge issue with STM).

When planning a STM trip, you really need to have a sense of what your purpose is for this trip and guide everything along those rails. The strategy of having an assortment of different activities and events may not benefit the nationals or the missionaries and it may not make lasting impact on the people you bring.  A lot of times STM takes the shotgun approach that accomplishes its goal but also destroys the growth surrounding the focal point of the STM.

If you really want to go and learn the culture, experience life in country and show the nationals you care for them, go and learn.  Sit still and don’t have an agenda of things “to-do”. You cannot run activities (that may come outside the cultural context) and expect to learn the culture and language at the same time. They are often dichotomous – choose either a work trip with little cultural exposure or a immersion trip with little doing. You can’t learn when you are busy doing.

The more people that go, the less each will learn. If you have a small group they will be forced to stay in the culture, learn language and participate with locals. The more people come the more the conversation will sink to the lowest denominator. I would ask the the host missionary how many they would like to have, and let them determine your group size. If you have more applicants than spots, it allows you to take the most dedicated individuals who will seek the most out of the trip and go the most. Short Term Missions is not an experience that automatically makes those going pray more, more concerned for the lost or poor, give more, or naturally develop a heart for missions and a calling to go. Those who put the most into their preparation and into the experience will receive the most benefit to themselves.

Know the possible complications that can arise with immaturity issues in middle schoolers. Also if parents go, the children may experience the trip through their lens and protection. Determine if this is what you want or not.

Here are a few websites I see as very helpful:

Question now, what is the most stated purpose of STM?  I usually hear that the experience is good for the people going, that their vision expands and they grow more with God.  I will confess that I am a skeptic, anecdotally I see many people who come back from STM just like those who go to a summer camp: “camp high.”  They turn spiritual for the first week they are back then return to their normal self.  I would love to see some research.  How many long term missionaries have been overseas on a short-term trip (especially before sensing God to call them as career missionaries)?  What percentage of the people who return from STMs do we see tangible evidences of growth: increased passion, increased giving, remain following Jesus (many more as well)?



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9 Responses to “Short Term Missions”

  1. Leisha Bossi Says:

    I am so blown away at how terrific the content is on this site. I have bookmarked this page and I truly intend on visiting the site in the next few days. Great job keep up the excellent work!

  2. CoJourner Says:

    Thanks, Adam. Some helpful insights here. Appreciate the additional links, as well.

  3. Mono Says:

    Nice article. The ‘camp high’ aspect is definitely one that I myself have noticed following an STM when I have been on one. People have come back from the trip, boldly promising to do some fund raising or some such for ministries/ministers that they visited on their trip. However, check back in a few short weeks and they have completely forgotten about those plans. They return to life…

    But then, while that is the norm, there are exceptions. I’ve actually found the younger people who come have (sometimes) been impacted more long term. I haven’t seen them return with a newly found desire to be a missionary, but it has shown them a new world while they are still developing mentally, and made them think a lot less selfishly. But then, that isn’t the norm for teenagers either. Many of them you wish were just left at home!

    I hope whoever reads your article gets the point that an STM must have purpose. Teams often come with the hope of ‘saving souls!’ Some have even, unfortunately, forgotten the presence of a long term missionary there, and even acted against them.

    You might remember a few years ago a group who went to Afghanistan and were kidnapped. They ignored the words of the established missionaries, did what they were told not to, and when they were captured all of the missionaries there united in a synchronized face palm. I’ve even had people come to where I am, and leave having caused damage (albeit minor) to my work. Thus, the number 1 purpose for a STM in my opinion is to help the work present, not to hinder it.

    As to your question, have I myself seen anyone go on an STM with no desire of being long term, and then come back with that new direction? Thinking about it….. One. Though for this particular fellow he does seem to give a different answer (either “I don’t know” or “full time!”) depending on the day… So… Can’t help you there 😛

  4. thebigpictureproject Says:

    Good thoughts there…

    I am one of the rarities who God used a short term trip to convince me to be a long-termer, but it wasn’t the trip that did it necessarily… it was God changing my life and overwhelming me during one morning worship / devotion get together our team had in a hotel room. God could have done that anywhere. The revelation I received that day didn’t necessarily need to happen on a short-term trip.

    Therefore I think that going on a short-term trip to be changed is the wrong reason, but when you truly go with that servant heart you will be more ready to hear from God if he prompts you to come back as a long-termer.

    I also have to say that the past STM team that came here were great in coming to serve the ministry we have here, without all bringing too much of their own ideas, but it was a little tough for them to jump into the culture, I’m still wondering how to encourage future teams with that.

    • Adam Hoffman Says:

      Thanks for your post. I appreciate hearing about your experience. It seems that you are serving now in Thailand. You ask a good question to wrestle with, how to encourage STM teams to really encounter culture. One answer I have is that it really comes down to how the trip is prepared for and set up. If people have the expectation of really being out there as far as culture goes, the transition will be much easier. If the application process for STMers were similar in rigor to long term workers and revealed true motivation, I think it could also help.

      • thebigpictureproject Says:

        thanks for the response, and for the points to think about STM teams.

        Yes I’m in the north-east of Thailand, have been here for about 5 years now.
        We’re still a relatively new ministry (the website is only 2 days old, so only just starting to get info up there). My wife and I have been located here in her village for about 2 years now though.

        Glad to have found your blog,

  5. Missiolofical Blogger > Short Term Missions – Carol Lewis Says:

    Here is a link to a video from Carol Lewis talking about short term missions

  6. A Conversation on Short Term Missions « Missiological Blogger Says:

    […] My thinking on the subject as of 2010 […]

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