Exact record-keeping on short-term missions (STM) has been impossible. But the numbers we do have are staggering. Some say close to one million Americans go on a short-term mission trip every year. STM can no longer be reported as a new movement. It is quickly becoming an institution. It has been around for over thirty years. It’s tempting to oversimplify and say there have been many successful trips and many not-so-successful trips. Objective evaluation is difficult; however, this should not surprise us as it was the same with the initial years of long-term missionary work. Scrutiny and evaluation trail behind enthusiasm and passion.
This enterprise of short-term missions continues on its learning curve, working hard at evaluating itself. Similar to the business world, the first question often being asked is, “Who is the customer—is it the person who goes or is it the field being served?” There’s been much debate about who benefits most by short-term missions. I propose that the benefits are many to all of the “customers.”
To ask the above question would be somewhat like asking, “When an evangelist leads someone to Christ, who benefits most—the person who came to Christ or the person who had the privilege of leading him or her to Christ?” It all depends on who you ask. The benefits run both ways. A third party may also enter this picture—the body of believers that this new Christian now becomes a part of. Indeed, it’s a blessing for everyone.
The Missionary in STM
There are three entities involved in this whole thing called short-term missions: (1) the group who receives the team, missionary or national, (2) the person who goes and (3) the group that sends or commissions the missionary to go. There are definite roles that each party plays. Some say unequivocally that the person who goes always will benefit the most from a short-term mission trip. The individual comes home from a cross-cultural foray a changed person. He or she has grown, become aware of the world, seen God use him or her, been stretched beyond his or her personal comfort zone and been challenged to see this or her universe in a new way, both figuratively and literally.
Now we may raise our conscientious eyebrows at the expense and energy of sending teams overseas only with the purpose of changing the team participant. Estimating or evaluating the worth of a changed American Christian is difficult to say the least. However, in seeking to understand this value, we must see what organizations that have set up these trips have learned about the benefits to the individual. Many organizations acknowledge that the participant comes back blessed beyond measure and may want to go beyond this first experience to reach others. Some go overseas as long-term missionaries. Within a few months, a person is called to go, steps out in faith, obeys, prays, trusts, works in community with other believers, uses his or her gifts, perseveres and sees God at work. One mega-church surveyed its staff members and in answer to their most significant lifetime experience of spiritual growth, the majority cited a mission trip.
The Recipient of the STM
We must also look at the effect of short-term missions on the hosting group–the recipient of a short-term mission team. The list of benefits is as endless as the one for the person who goes. People come to faith in Christ, receive needed resources, receive special know-how, are inspired by fresh energy and find spiritual encouragement. They work and worship as the body of Christ across cultural barriers. There are cooperative efforts and results that God greatly blesses on the mission site only because the short-term team is present. Nationals love meeting and working alongside short-termers. They feel cared about and are served in ways that uniquely bless them.
Partnership is not just a buzz-word in short-term missions. North Americans are slowly becoming better at deciding how to serve a need that is well-defined. They accept an invitation to come because they have been developing reciprocal partnerships. Integrity is beginning to play a key role in setting up short-term mission trips.
There are several websites that offer solid, best practices in short-term missions. A group of Canadians and now a US-based group has put together the Standards of Excellence (SOE) in Short-Term Missions, www.STMstandards.org. Many agencies, colleges and churches belong to this watch-dog group that makes certain these standards are practiced when setting up and implementing any short-term mission work. These standards seek excellence and even a seasoned mission agency must strive to reach them. The group asks an organization to “join an impressive network of organizations offering opportunities for resource sharing, improved training, minimized risk and mentoring.”
The Standards of Excellence are explained under these seven points:
- Empowering Partnerships
- Mutual Design
- Comprehensive Administration
- Qualified Leadership
- Appropriate Training
- Thorough Follow-up
Not only do we have standards of integrity for setting up a short-term missions project, the standards have become even stronger for the acceptance of the individual who will participate on a project. One mega-church who once sent thirty-plus STM teams a year has strict criterion for participant applicants. Here are a few of their standards for applicants.
- Applicant possesses the skills or gifts needed for the identified project, and expresses interest in the purpose of the particular short-term team.
- Applicant demonstrates a level of maturity and life experience to be able to fit well as a team player, and to respond to the leadership of another person.
- Applicant is known to possess characteristics that will enable effective work within a cross-cultural environment.
More resources and websites are now available to help a novice. Some advertise services like: “Extensive directory of links and ministry opportunities categorized by skill. Great for finding medical, professional, orphanage and teaching opportunities. Offers free personal assistance. Search by keyword” (http://www.missionfinder.org/). Or “Brief descriptions of several thousand opportunities offered by over eighty mission organizations. Search by age, location, timeframe, skill set, agency or dates. Offers free personal assistance” (http://www.rightnow.org/). In our information age, STM has moved forward with the aid of the Internet.
Many of these excellent resources are listed below. There is significant expertise and God-honoring sensitivity being invested in the short-term mission enterprise. It is thrilling to serve alongside groups who have listened to the critics as well as the cheer-leaders and moved to such high standards of ministry in Jesus’ name.
Inner city missions opportunities for groups and individuals throughout North America.
A service designed to provide adult Christians with information and challenges for processing and discovering ministry opportunities in the missions enterprise – short-term, part-time or as a second-career.
Offers a database of long-term and short-term mission opportunities.
A missions service agency which equips mission-committed Christians to serve as bi-vocational tentmakers and assists them in finding international jobs.
Extensive directory of links and ministry opportunities categorized by skill. Great for finding medical, professional, orphanage and teaching opportunities. Offers free personal assistance. Search by keyword.
A gateway to useful UK information, advice and resources.
- RightNow.org: World Connection
Brief descriptions of several thousand opportunities offered by over eighty mission organizations. Search by age, location, timeframe, skill set, agency or dates. Offers free personal assistance.
- ShortTermMissions.com’s Search Tool for Mission Trips
Full details on over a thousand one-week to three-year short-term mission opportunities from over fifty mission organizations. Search by length, country, region, start month, agency or keyword.
- urbana.org’s MSearch
Post a resume or search mission agency profiles, options and ministry openings of mission agencies that exhibited at Urbana. Offers details on career and short-term mission opportunities.