Christians are called to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of all nations. This includes the most isolated places and the most populated places. Short-term missions can do more harm than good on some occasions. With that being said, they also can do good when done in the right way.
First, what are short-term missions & how long would they typically last? Typically, short-term mission trips can last anywhere from a few days to a few months.
Here’s what I’ll talk about:
- Missionary Kid Interviews
- Questions Answered by Missionary Kids
- Pros & Cons of Short-Term Missions
- What the Bible Says About Short-Term Missions
- Unreached People Group Statistics Today
- Personal Experience With Short-Term Missions
- How to Know if You Should Go on a Short-Term Missions Trip
I have gone on a few short term missions trips, and looking back I struggled greatly deciding whether or not to go. In this blog post, I will go over the major pros and cons of short-term missions and dive deeper into what the Bible actually says about missions and the ministry God calls us to.
If one does decide to go on a short-term mission trip, how would one know if it is God-honoring and if one is supposed to go?
Missionary Kid Interviews
I have talked to several missionary kids who are now college students studying at Bethany Global University who have grown up on the mission field. They have insight from seeing all types of groups coming and going growing up.
Some of these students I knew previously, and others I am just now getting to know now.
Bradyn (Age 19)
Bradyn is a missionary kid who lived in Zambia, Africa for five years. Her father worked teaching locals how to run and lead a church well. Her mother taught and homeschooled her family. Short-term missions they saw were their friends coming on occasions from the States to stay with them for short periods of time.
Liza (Age 20)
Liza grew up in Ecuador from birth to age 18. Parents have been missionaries there since 1992. Father worked with the HCJB Global Corrientes Radio Station in Ecuador to help mentor future Latin American missionaries in the Middle East.
Her mother worked as an English Teacher and substitute teacher at the Alliance Academy International. Liza’s family was involved in helping run/oversee a guest house for short-term missionaries or groups visiting there.
Isabelle (Age 20)
Isabelle was born and raised in France with 3 siblings and parents. Father a pastor, and church planter through Venture. Mother a teacher teaching English and doing women’s and children’s ministries.
Short-term groups came and went, typically groups who came from the churches that supported them from the States. Groups would come for typically a week at a time. Sometimes helping and support big projects in their church.
Groups also came and taught English for a week to kids camps. Families from their church in France would host groups from America.
Questions Answered by Missionary Kids
During my interviews with these missionary kids, I focused on asking them about short term mission trips. Some of the many questions I asked were…
- How often did you see short-term missionaries come to the area you were at?
- Did your parents or missionary board reach out to them, or did they reach out to your parents?
- What type of ministries were you and your family involved in? And what type of ministry did the short-term missions trip group do while there?
- What type of groups did they come from? From churches? Schools? Medical teams?
- Would you say it was more of a burden for your parents and to the other long-term missionaries and organizations there to have people coming in and out? Or an encouragement to them? How did the locals feel?
I have learned a lot even through these interviews.
Liza’s Interview Answers
Liza, growing up in Ecuador her whole life, mentioned how common it was to see teams of people coming mainly from the U.S. wearing the typical Jesus sandals and colorful flowy pants walking around in groups all over the city.
She said they got used to seeing foreigners, and locals typically would just ignore them, or take advantage of getting what they can from them (American groups typically handed out free things at some point at some kind of event while they were there).
The locals didn’t have too much of an opinion about them, other than the fact that they saw them as ignorant and could get free things from them from time to time.
She herself said, as a teenager would also typically just ignore them. Thinking back she mentions, she wished she would have talked to some of them a bit more when she ran into them staying at their guest house.
But as a teenager, she said she just kind of stayed out of their way and did her own thing. She grew up speaking Spanish, knew the locals well, Ecuador also feeling like home, and grew up going to the public international schools there.
Liza mentions she didn’t see much of a point getting to know the short-term mission group people well because she was so used them just coming and going.
Bradyn’s Interview Answers
Bradyn, also saw groups coming and going too from time to time. She was younger while she lived in Africa though, and the people she saw that mainly came back and forth to visit them, were actual friends from back home.
She said that the people who visited were an encouragement to her family. It could get tiring for her parents to be in a place far from home, working endlessly, and going through ups and downs in the ministry.
She said when friends would visit from back home, her parents felt refreshed afterward (even if it did take effort to host them), it was worth it.
Isabelle’s Interview Answers
With Isabelle from France, short-term groups who came in and out often came from churches who supported her family back in the States. She said that usually, it was a good experience, and while of course was more work to host, it was fun to see the French people getting excited to learn about American culture in the English classes.
If short-term trips came from other organizations (who had no previous connection/relationship with them) for just a week, it was riskier.
One instance she could remember was a group of teenage girls coming from another organization staying for a week. Isabel said she would always remember it being a bad experience because they were disrespectful to their French host family.
Isabelle could tell they seemed more interested in exploring France than helping out in the church or ministries.
For this reason, she said if one truly wanted to see what life was like as a missionary and help out in ministries there, one should come for a few months, not just a week.
Pros & Cons of Short-Term Missions
There is a lot to consider when thinking of going on a short-term mission trip. Depending on the location, like in some European countries, the locals may enjoy learning more about American culture having groups come in and out.
In third world countries, it can be seen as disrespectful on some occasions when some American groups may come off as showing pity or being ignorant.
Pros of Short-Term Mission Trips
God can move when people are on short term mission trips. These short term mission trip teams can also be an encouragement to the local missionaries. Here are a few more pros to short term trips:
- If one knows the long-term missionaries already there well, or have some kind of connection/relationship with them, it can be an encouragement to them.
- For big projects within churches or ministries who are just starting out, or may not have that many workers available, manual work can get done faster with a large group working together (Valentina, another student at Bethany Global University said that a trip she went on to Mexico with her church, was able to do several projects within the church there that would’ve taken the Pastors months to do on their own). Isabelle from France also said that projects came up that they didn’t have the money for, and groups from the States would either provide the funds or come with a group themselves and do it which was a blessing.
- It can show individuals the need there, and God can work on their heart calling them to full-time missions. Or it can encourage them to raise funds for the missionaries there, and they can tell others about the needs.
Cons of Short-Term Mission Trips
While short term missions can be done well, they can also do more harm than good. Here are some cons to consider regarding short term mission trips:
- It can give an inaccurate description of what living on the mission field is really like.
- Depending on the group, can be more of a burden, than a blessing to the long-term missionaries there.
- Depending on the location, can make the locals feel like their country/village is a show to wealthy Americans making them want little to do with what they say or message they bring.
- Short-term mission groups can be a bad representation of Christ through their ignorance or attitudes, and make locals either ignore them or just try to get what they can from them.
- In certain situations, groups coming in can do more harm than good, and even if they can do manual labor fast, inexperienced workers can do a poor job or take work away from locals there who may know better and could use the work.
- Short-term missions groups often bring supplies, build, and then leave. This can leave locals (specifically 3rd world countries) with buildings or systems they are not familiar with. Liza from Ecuador, said this actually happened often where workers from America came in bringing their own supplies (in this case they would build wells or clean water systems) and when something later on broke, the locals either didn’t know how to fix or it, or didn’t have the supplies in Ecuador to be able to fix it.
- Groups coming in then leaving, especially in orphanages or kids programs, can sometimes leave the kids confused and sad, or eventually getting them used to people coming and going in their life. This can sometimes cause emotional distress or attachment issues later on in life.
What the Bible Says About Short-Term Missions
Jesus doesn’t mention the word, “missionary” instead he uses the term, “followers” or “disciples of Jesus,” or apostles for Christ.
The word missionary is a term we have come up with, comes from the Latin word mitto, which means “to send.” It is the equivalent of the Greek word apostello, which also means “to send.”
In John 20:21 it talks about the Father sending Jesus. In Matthews 28, it talks about Jesus’ authority to send believers out making disciples and baptizing in His name.
And Jesus said, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am always with you even to the ends of the earth.”Matthew 28:18-20
But it wasn’t only in Matthews 28, that we find this command or Great Commission. It is found throughout all the gospels commanded to not just Jesus’ disciples, but to other large groups of believers.
This is also the last commandment He leaves us recorded in the Bible before Jesus ascended into heaven, us now awaiting His second coming.
In Corinthians, Paul says that it is Christ’s love that compels us to preach the good news. The Holy Spirit convicts and works on the heart and we share about Jesus defeating death on the cross and rising again because we ourselves are convinced in the power of the gospel and the authority of Jesus.
For the love of Christ compels us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.2 Corinthians 14-15
So a missionary or apostle for Christ is one who is sent or commissioned to preach God’s word.
Jesus’ disciples were the first missionaries and Apostles for Christ. They were the first body of believers who became the church. As followers of Jesus, we are now considered the church to take this same message throughout the whole world.
The entire focus of the Bible leads up to the cross.
Jesus defeated death once and for all; the sins of the world placed on Him. Because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice, Jews and Gentiles (which is anyone who is not a Jew meaning the whole rest of the world) can call on Him as Lord.
This is the will of the Father; that none should perish and all know Him.
We are designed to be in communication with the Father. We are not meant to do life on Earth alone. Once we receive Jesus calling on Him as Lord over our lives, the Holy Spirit enters us to be our comforter, friend, to show us things, and convict us of things.
Jesus doesn’t just teach us how to live our lives, He shows us and His whole life on earth is a demonstration and example of how we are to live our lives as humble servants.
We are now free from the law, and anyone can be apart of the family of God.
Now is the time to receive God’s gift of salvation and receive His grace during this time; the Age of Grace. The Great Commission is an urgent message because it is only applicable for this time period. God wants all to hear and accept this gift before Jesus returns. We do not know the exact time when Jesus will return.
What we do know is that all prophesies have been fulfilled, and Jesus can return any day.
As Christians, we are called to be a light in this dark world and abide in truth. We are called to teach and be a witness of the Gospel using our gifts and talents to serve others for the sole purpose of glorifying God.
Jesus called ordinary men and women to follow Him and be His disciples. We are to not only be willing, but actually take up our cross daily to surrender to His Word, God’s commandments for our lives, and live by it.
Jesus’ disciples went through a period of time learning first, being transformed by God themselves, then becoming Apostle of Christ.
We are to be students of God’s Word, then bring the message of salvation to the ends of the earth.
For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth.’Acts 13:47
We are to be a testimony of what Jesus has already done for us and proclaim truth.
And that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.Luke 24:47
Being a testimony of the Gospel and proclaiming truth should start now wherever we are. The first apostles of Jesus started in Jerusalem, and Jesus says believers and disciples of Him, need to continue to spread His word and message to the ends of the Earth.
For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”Romans 10:13
In order to be a witness for Christ, we are called to love those around us. We are to love in deed and truth. We are called to seek justice for the hurting and take care of the sick, poor, orphans, and widows.
Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.
We must be aware to not be practicing these things to be seen by others or to feel good one’s self, but solely for the purpose of doing the will of Christ.
When you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others… But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.Matthews 6:1-4
Missions has nothing to do with us. It is about sharing the message of who God is, and what Jesus has done for those who call on Him. It is not about doing something to make us feel good, or to be seen by many. It is not meant to be “short-term,” but should be continuous throughout our entire life on earth.
Being a disciple, apostle, or missionary for Christ starts in our own home, in our own community.
If we can’t love those around us right now, then how can we expect to love others in the most rural areas of the world?
It begins with calling on Jesus as Lord over our whole lives and loving others within our own family and community first. This verse comes to mind when God calls us to take care of our own family.
But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.1 Timothy 5:8
We are to look out for our own family, and especially if one is the head of the house, they should make sure their family’s needs are met physically, emotionally, and spiritually, before thinking of ministering to others.
God calls us to be a light and witness for the lost and hurting in our own home and community too, as well as to the nations.
Paul was a missionary for a specific people group, a large one- the Gentiles. Paul was influential in establishing Christian churches throughout the Mediterranean after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Peter’s apostleship was tied to another people group- the Jews (Gal. 2:8). Peter served as an advocate for the Apostles going before the Jewish religious court in Jerusalem. Each person has different roles God called them to.
Unreached People Group Statistics Today
Today we have identified 42.5% of people groups, 7,408 of which are defined as “unreached” by Joshua Project Global Statistics. That equals to 3.23 out of 7.75, billi0n individuals in the world who have in there country’s people group, less than 2% of evangelists sharing the good news of the Gospel of Christ.
An appointment to be sent is often associated in the New Testament was sometimes to a specific people group. In the apostle Paul’s case, the appointment was cross-cultural, while Peter’s was not.
Personal Experience With Short-Term Missions
Growing up for as long as I can remember I have had a burden for seeing souls saved and lives restored. I had a relationship with God from a young age and seen Him work in my own life.
However, as I got older the concept of missions perplexed me and I struggled to understand the concept of missions and what actually God calls us to as Christians.
I felt a deep burden for missions but also thought it strange how Americans are always the ones going places when in all reality we are in great need ourselves (just in different ways sometimes).
When a short-term mission trip opportunity came up with my school during my senior year of high school, I wanted to go but had several questions and concerns. Would a week in another country as foreigners do any good?
Would it be for my own benefit and my own curiosity? Is there a better way to help the hurting than by spending a week as foreigners overseas? What if the money raised was stretched further by just giving it to the long-term missionaries already there who knew best how to use it to benefit the people there?
Obviously I had a lot of questions and concerns. But I still ended up going. And I am still learning.
This is why I am doing more research on this topic and going to a missionary school. I am still seeking out input from teachers, students, and long-term missionaries.
I believe that if someone does decide to go on a short-term mission trip, a lot of factors should be considered.
How to Know if You Should Go on a Short-Term Missions Trip
We are to love God with all our hearts. Loving God equals obeying His commandments. God calls us to love our neighbor like ourselves. This doesn’t mean a one-time thing of loving others, but a continuous effort of abiding in Jesus, walking in the Spirit, and serving others well.
In order to reach people, this can look different for all. Sometimes it takes time for people to listen and even open up about God or spiritual things.
We can’t rush the Holy Spirit working and practically speaking, sometimes short-term missions can leave other’s (especially 3rd world countries sometimes more confused or hurt than reached).
If one really wants to reach people for Christ and wants to know what it is like to be a full-time, long-term missionary, one should go on a trip for more than a week (as Isabelle from France and Liza from Ecuador both explain).
Of course, there are exceptions and maybe there is a project needed to be done that you or a group could help out in. But after talking to the several missionary students, they really advised going for a few months over a week or two. Or even starting in your own home church doing ministries there first.
If you go for a short-term missions trip that is a few months vs a few days, then you can get more of a feel for what doing full-time missions is like, and you can build stronger relationships with the other missionaries and locals there.
If you still feel called to go on more of a shorter trip, here are some things to look out for…
- How well do you or the leader of your group know the missionaries there? Are they asking for a specific task to be done? Or trying to make it an experience for you charging unnecessary money to be raised?
- Are you considering full-time missions in that particular place or just want the experience of it for yourself?
- If you are considering full-time ministry, have you looked into the needs in your local area first?
- How are your relationships with people in your home town? Are you showing the love of Christ right now? Or are there still relationships needing work for you to be done?
Overall, seeking God and wise counsel before doing anything or going anywhere is vital, and obeying His commandments is the most important.
God calls us to pray and to be wise in our decisions. When reaching others, we have to put ourselves in their shoes and treat them as we would want to be treated.
How can we best represent Christ and how can we best reach people? Be smart and let the Lord lead and direct your path. Seek out opportunities to serve Him and be apart of the work He is doing and calls us to.