Don’t Go on a Short-Term Mission Trip Unless You are Willing to do These​ 4 Things.

Short-term mission trips can be one of the biggest life-changing moments in our lives. Going to another city, another country to learn, serve, and grow is a privilege some of us have in this world that few others do. As Americans, most of us have been blessed with so much and it is good to want to give back and serve others. But when we go, let us go with the right mindset and the right preparation for these trips. There have been many people who go with good intentions and also leave with good intentions, yet miss the mark. As you pray about, prepare, and plan for your next trip, don’t go unless you are willing to do these four things.

1) Fulfill your promises – Short-Term mission trips can be highly emotional. We experience and see things we never have experienced before. We meet people in some horrible situation and out of the goodness of our hearts, we want to do whatever we can to help. We work hard all week. We build houses, pour concrete, frame, hand out food and clean water. But at the end of the week, even after everything we have done, we see that there is still much work to be done. Out of the goodness of our heart and a desire to want to continue to help even after we leave, we begin to make promises to the ministries, organizations, and people we have met during our trip. 

      • We promise that we will come back. 
      • We promise that we will pay for projects. 
      • We promise that we will support a child at an orphanage. 
      • We promise to send supplies. 
      • We promise

But when we get home and the rat race of our lives pick up, we either forget, something comes up, lose the connectedness of the community, or make excuses why we can’t and we never follow through on these promises. 

There are some ministry leaders you have connected with are depending on these gifts you promised. Others have come to expect that mission trip participants are full of empty promises and broken commitments that they don’t believe you anymore and they understand that this week really wasn’t about the ministry, it was really about you the trip participant. So when you go, only make promises you are willing to keep or don’t make them at all. Be true to your word.

2) Follow their vision and leadership – I recently talked to an indigenous leader in Mexico that shared with me that a church in middle America that is supporting him is expecting him to fall under the American’s church vision for his community in Mexico. If he refuses, the American church has threatened to cut off their financial support. Think about this for a moment. An American church who is doing good ministry in America is trying to tell a Mexican church how they should reach their community with an American vision. Yes, your church may be killing it back in the States, but this is a different country, different culture, a different way of doing things. This is the ultimate colonization that we want to avoid. 

This ministry leader in Mexico lives in this community every day and He has lived in this community longer than the American church has been supporting him. Who do you think has a better understanding of reaching the Mexican community? Obviously, the Mexican ministry leader has a better understanding of how to reach his community. When we go on our trips it is our goal to come under the vision and leadership of the ministry we are serving and not put our expectations and American ministry model on them, unless they ask for our help. Even then, we should be careful about how we proceed. Remember the ministry we are partnering with is not ours.

3) Meet people not just their needs – Many mission trips do a great job of meeting people’s needs on their trip. We build houses, host VBS, build churches and schools, cook meals, etc. We love to see a need and meet a need. But sometimes the need becomes our focus and not the people. Do we know their names, their stories, their family or do we just know their needs? It is easier to meet a person’s need than it is to take time to sit and hear their story. But if we were to take the time to meet, know and understand the people we are serving, we will better know and understand their true needs. We as Americans are doing people. We like to get work done and make a difference. Take a moment and think about the people who have made the biggest difference in your lives. What project did they do for you? What construction project did they complete on your house? Or what kind of time did they spend with you? What did they do to share your burdens? How did they get to know you? People want to be known for who they are not for the needs they have. Our socioeconomic situation does not define who we are as a human being.

4) Serve similar people groups at home – It is easy for us many of us Americans to go to another country and to serve in Mexico, Haiti, or Central America (or wherever you go). We can go and do some really good work. A few years ago I had an adult express his frustration with the immigration in the United States and how people are crossing our southern border illegally. He expressed to me how we should go on these service trips to help these countries do better so they don’t come to our country. Though I understand the frustration people have about the influx of people coming to our southern border, I disagree that our focus should be to go serve “there” so they don’t come here. Jesus has commanded us to love our neighbor. He did not put exceptions to this neighbor, documented or undocumented. He simply said, love your neighbor. How often do we go to another country on our mission trips to serve the people there, but are unwilling to serve the same people group in our own town or city? Why do we stop short of doing this? What keeps us from loving the same people group in our own back yard? Yes, go and serve people in another country, but be willing to serve the same people group back at home.

When we go on a trip, let us only make promises we are willing to keep. Let us submit to the leadership, vision, and authority of the ministry we are serving under. Let us meet the people first and not just their needs. Let us serve similar people back at home. Service is so much more than just a missions trip for a week in another country. Service should be a way of life.

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3 thoughts on “Don’t Go on a Short-Term Mission Trip Unless You are Willing to do These​ 4 Things.

  1. This is fantastic, and thanks for writing it.
    I must say, though, that I fully expected to read something about sharing the love and message of Jesus in point #3. Service should be a way of life — YES! — but so should the gospel, if we claim to be followers of Christ. Building a structure, giving someone food, or installing a well are wonderful and important ways of demonstrating the gospel, but we have only prolonged people’s death if we don’t also verbalize it to give them the foundation of the Bread of Life who is Living Water. Is a “missions trip” really even missions if the same work could be done by a secular group? Is it in line with the Great Commission?

    I’m encouraged to read your emphasis on working with and through local churches, because they are God’s primary vehicle for the advancement of the gospel. I hope to hear more about why you believe that’s important.

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    1. Hi,
      Thanks so much for your comment and good feedback. Yes, we should be sharing the love and message of Jesus, but I believe that if we are going to share the “message” (by words) it should be done in a relationship as we are called to make disciples (the Great Commission), not decisions. Discipleship takes a long-term relationship, something that we cannot do on a short-term mission trip. This is why it is SO important to partner with a local ministry that is sharing the message of Jesus and will do follow up and discipleship. Yet, if God leads us to share, we better follow through or if the ministry or church asks us to do it. I know people have different thoughts on this, but this is my understanding.

      Thanks for commenting and reading.

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      1. Thanks, Phil. I absolutely agree that we must depend upon and uphold local churches and their main calling to make disciples and care for those within their own contexts. That’s the ideal model for sustainable Christian missions. So, full disclosure: I serve full-time with International Commission, and such is our modus operandi. We partner with churches and associations globally to equip and enable them to conduct personal evangelism with prayer preparation and long-term follow-up in discipleship. All of our projects are coordinated locally by nationals, including our short-term international mission trips wherein visiting teams cooperate with them.

        But here’s where we may diverge in practice: all of IC’s projects are solely focused on evangelism because we believe God has already called each believer to share. That happens at the point of salvation. No, we visitors are not there long-term, but the churches with whom we work are and the personal evangelism is conducted within those relationships during home visits (in most cases). An extra benefit to the participants is that they get practice in sharing the gospel, they see God transform hearts, they realize how God can work through them, and they take that experience back home to their own neighborhoods and churches. That helps eliminate that common idea you mentioned in #4 that “what we do on mission trips is ‘mission trip stuff'” and instead promotes it as a lifestyle. I can only speak from my own perspective, but I’ve done a lot of construction work overseas on mission trips and don’t do any construction at all back home. It simply is not my lifestyle. I’ll do disaster relief as a mission project once in a while. It’s not a lifestyle for everyone. I have, though, met physical needs and shared Christ with asylum-seekers at the border along with my church and we also serve refugees in our community on a regular basis. In that scenario, WE are the local church with the primary charge of making disciples. That is a lifestyle, and one we’re all called to corporately and individually, right?

        I do think we’re mostly in agreement. I just want to offer my emphasis that when we encourage people to do missions in such a way that they can “bring it home”, it should be a natural fit. Unfortunately, personal evangelism isn’t in fact normative for Western Christians, but that’s another discussion…

        Blessings!

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