Missio Dei - Short-Term Missions

Posted on by Jeremy Daggett

With mission trip season gearing up, I thought it would be helpful to point to Missio Dei’s issue on short-term missions (STM), from February of 2012. It’s jam-packed with good discussion on this massive industry.

Here's Greg McKinzie, in the editorial preface to the issue:

These characteristics tend to govern implicitly the discussion of STM’s pros and cons. Thus, some might construe the debate in this way: although cultural difference is a challenge, it is not a major problem (romantic view); although a short-term project might not have a long-term effect on the receiver, it will forever change the life of the goer (self-orientation); although it is not possible to engage in truly relational ministry in the short term across cultural and linguistic barriers, it is possible to “make an impact” that results in believers, buildings or bandages (results-orientation); although a participant may be unequipped in many ways, he or she is still obliged to fulfill the Great Commission (populism). These perspectives tend to intersect and self-perpetuate in a variety of ways. For example, if cultural distance were such a major issue (romantic view), God would not have commissioned average “real people”2 to preach to the nations (populism). Or, this experience (self-orientation) is about forming long-term missionaries who can make the most of short-term results (results-orientation).

The point of these examples is to demonstrate the way in which the cultural shape of STM can affect the logic of the discussion surrounding it. Critical assessment happens within a context that assumes what STM is or should be and a set of values by which to judge its outcomes. Churches that recognize their cultural biases can engage in a healthier evaluation of their STM.

Even if you only get as far as Greg's preface, you will have been challenged to think critically about short-term missions. And if you’re thinking critically about short-term missions, you’re at least halfway there.