Matthew 28:19 “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”
Mark 16:15 “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all nations.”
For some, our motivation is to go and fulfill the great commission, this is a worthy calling, but if we are honest with ourselves, is it best accomplished on a short-term trip? The Gospel message is vital, but are our methods most effective? Is it best for our short-term missions teams to go into other communities to “preach the Gospel,” performing skits in the park, asking for decisions, without having a growing relationship or a follow-up plan? If your host church is asking you to help put on an outreach and they have people prepared to follow up with others long after your team leaves, then join them.
My years as a Campus Life Director in North East Indiana taught me the importance of relational ministry. Many of us approach ministry by building relationships with people who are far from Christ in hopes of “earning the right to be heard” so that you can share your relationship with Jesus with them. Usually, these relationships take months, if not years to develop. If this is the case for us back at home with neighbors and co-workers we so often see, then should we not apply this same reasoning to our short-term missions trips? If we as a church or organization teach relational ministry to our students, adult volunteers and congregation, but don’t practice it on our short-term missions trips, then we are hypocrites.
On one of our summer trips, we were working with a ministry partner in town while they were doing an outreach event to the community. Along with our group was a group of American Christian doctors and nurses who were performing medical exams and meeting the physical needs of the people in the community. Our students were asked to do arts and crafts with the children while they waited to see the doctor.
One of the American nurses learned that our students that were doing the arts and crafts were not believers and this nurse was intent on leading one of them to Christ. At lunch, the nurse cornered one of our students and began trying to evangelize her, peppering the student with questions and pleading her case for the “Gospel.” Let me remind you this student had never met this nurse.
Eventually, our student relented and said the prayer of salvation. The nurse went away rejoicing that she had led a student to the Lord never to see or follow up with her again. After this interaction, they both had two very different stories of what happened.
The nurse relayed how she had led one of our students to the Lord and how excited she was that she was able to do this! Our student’s response was completely different. “I could not get out of the conversation, so I repeated after her some prayer so I could be done. I have no idea what I said.”
This is not a responsible way of sharing the Gospel. But this was someone’s idea that they were called to share the Gospel with no follow-up or relationship with the person. This is not what God intended for us to do with the Good News!
If you are partnering with a church or ministry and they ask you to do a salvation skit or to present the Gospel, if it was their idea and their direction, then, by all means, proceed. If while on a short-term missions trip you feel as though God is leading you to share the Gospel with someone, then, by all means, do so. But let us bathe each nudge by the Holy Spirit in prayer before we step out and attempt as best we can to connect the person we’re sharing with to a person or ministry who will be there long term to help them grow in Christ.
Maybe there is an Unconscious Motivation – “We need to validate the cost of the short-term missions trip.”
During my time at Youth For Christ in Indiana, I had to sit down and fill out my weekly ministry report and turn it into my supervisor. On this ministry report, I had to write down what I did for the week and what the results were. How many students came to club that week? How many building times and appointments did I have that week? But it was known that the most important stat was, “How many times did you present the Gospel and how many students made decisions?” We knew that every week we were expected to “present the Gospel” to students whether through one on one appointments or at our clubs. The number of presentations and decisions was also important as it related to our YFC chapter as well as the prayer letters we sent out on a monthly basis.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am all for sharing Jesus with as many people as possible (and YFC does a lot of incredible work with students). But when we boil the Gospel down to a number and an expectation of decisions made then we are not being responsible with the Gospel. Nor am I sure that we are being responsible with the relationship. It is far too easy to see a person as a project to be saved over getting to know them and genuinely caring for them, just as they are. Jesus did this so well. He saw the individual and met them where they were. I wanted as many students as possible to make decisions to following Jesus, but if my motivation was about how many decisions were being made, what was my true motivation for presenting the Gospel? Yes, it was for students to know, love and follow Jesus, but to say that my motives were completely pure would not be true. Many times it seemed as though my motivation for presenting the Gospel was more about me and my ministry report and prayer letters than it was actually about being sensitive to the Holy Spirit. My unconscious motivation was so that I looked good in doing my ministry. It made me feel better about myself and my ministry.
There are many churches today who go on short-term missions trips with the expressed purpose of “presenting the Gospel.” But we must be willing to dig deeper into our motivations and consider the following questions: Why do we do Gospel presentations? Is it so that we can report back to our church how many decisions were made for Christ so that we can validate that our trip was worth the cost?
If the Gospel is our priority, there are many questions to consider: What if there was a different way of presenting the Gospel? What if we help provide for a church so that they can be more effective in presenting the Gospel to their community? What if we were able to give what is needed to churches to reach their community in the way they feel is best? Can we develop a sister church in the community with a long-term ministry relationship that celebrates with each other, prays for each other, and ministers to each other?
Let’s periodically check ourselves and keep working towards the bigger long-term impact that can be had when our churches invest in indigenous churches to reach their community.