"Short-term missions" is a blanket term for Christian missions trips that last less than a year and are taken by those who are not career missionaries. While professional missionaries are typically highly trained and may dedicate all their effort to a missions organization, short-term missionaries usually fill a time-limited practical need in the community, such as construction, while sharing the Gospel. Short-term missions trips are popular among high-school and college-aged students. While the New Testament gives examples of short-term missionaries, the concept really took off recently, in the 1950s-1960s.
What are the advantages and disadvantages of short-term missions?
There are distinct advantages and disadvantages to short-term missions.
The first advantage is that it allows people to serve and teach the Gospel to people in another culture without completely disrupting the missionary's life. For Christians with a heart for evangelism, a trip can provide them with an intensive opportunity to use their gift. It's also a good idea for people who are considering full-time missions. They will get an idea of what it's like on the field and which specific job or country they would find the best fit.
The second general advantage is that short-term missions can bring awareness of the larger world. Short-term missionaries will be faced with a different culture, and challenges they have never faced before. Hopefully, they will also develop a real love for other people. They will also gain an appreciation for what career missionaries face, and encourage those at home to continue to support international missions.
The missions community highlights some disadvantages to short-term mission trips, as well. If the trip and the people are not well organized, there may be nothing for the short-termers to do. There are stories of ministries giving missionaries meaningless busy-work because they didn't have a project available. On the other hand, the missionaries may be set to work on a project that would be better completed by a local who needs the income.
The other potential problem arises if the short-term missionaries do not have the right heart attitude. Missions is about connecting with people, serving them, and drawing them closer to Christ. If the missionary comes with a sense of arrogance, as if (s)he's doing the locals a favor, (s)he will not be showing Jesus' love.
Most of the disadvantages to short-term missions can be avoided with proper preparation. Specifically, the ministry or missions organization needs to vet their potential missionaries carefully and determine how they can best serve. Supervisors in the field need to decide beforehand what work needs to be done, and prepare for the in-coming teams. Missionaries should also prepare, learning about the culture, gathering supplies, and discovering what will be expected of them.
The concept of short-term missions is absolutely biblical. Whenever a pastor in a New Testament church, such as Timothy, travelled to minister somewhere else for a few months, that was a short-term missions trip. If carried out with preparation, training, and a heart for others, short-term missions is a great idea.
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