Here’s David Platt, now president of the International Mission Board, answering a question about short-term trips in other countries. This is taken from a breakout session in Together for the Gospel 2010 called “An Unadjusted Gospel in an Unreached World: Connecting Gospel Theology with Urgent Missiology” (T4G, text below from Justin Taylor).
If pastors and lay folks want to spend their time in another country or another context doing ministry, do you have any suggestions of where they should start in order to do real ministry (instead of just doing a feel-good inspiring short-term trip)?
There are so many abuses when it comes to short-term mission trips, and we certainly need to be careful to avoid various pitfalls. The goal is always long-term impact through short-term mission . . . on a couple of different levels.
First, we want to be a part of long-term impact in other contexts in the world. Obviously, we are not going to be able to go into another setting and make disciples in a week or two. So our goal should always be to connect relationally with long-term disciple-making processes in other contexts. Whether it is missionaries who have moved into another country/context, or nationals living in another context/country, we want to connect with brothers and sisters who are carrying out long-term disciple-making in that country/context. They know what the best uses might be for a short-term mission team, and there is great confidence in going to a place and serving alongside brothers and sisters like this, knowing that you are a part of supporting a long-term disciple-making process in that country/context for the glory of Christ.
But the long-term impact is not just about what happens in that country/context during that week or two on a short-term mission trip. We also want to promote a long-term impact in the people who are going on that short-term mission trip. This is a part of the disciple-making process in our own churches. In the church I pastor, short-term mission trips are a huge component of our long-term disciple-making processes. We want people that we are teaching and training in Christ to go into other contexts in the world, to see the glory of God in ways they may have never seen before, and to expand their understanding of the global purpose for which God has created them. So for anyone that is looking to go on a short-term mission trip, the goal is not just to focus on impacting another part of the world; the goal is to focus on impacting the people you take with you to another part of the world, so that when you come back to your own context, you and the people who traveled with you are that much more committed to obeying the Great Commission in the context of where you live every day.
This is why I went on a trip to Malawi, Africa, this past December to support the seminary of a friend (and long-term missionary) from Grace Community Church. It’s why I’d like to go again. Going on a short-term missions trip helped me see what God is doing in a place completely different from Los Angeles, California, where water and power are unstable and only provided for the middle and upper classes. God is working in Malawi, where the faith commanded by Christ has been compromised and polluted by the Western prosperity gospel and native traditional beliefs. God is working, and He is looking for laborers (Matt. 9:37-38). It strengthened my commitment to the Great Commission, not as a goer, but as a stronger sender, to pray more regularly and look for opportunities to serve missionaries.
If you have a chance to attend a short-term missions trip, especially one where you can “connect relationally with long-term disciple-making processes in other contexts,” supporting missionaries or nationals in disciple-making work, I would highly recommend it. There’s a place for medical ministries and house-building, especially if they use that as an avenue for evangelism. I’m all for those things! But I’m convinced that the most effective use of a short-term team is to pair with a long-term disciple-making partner for maximum leverage in the area. Utilize their knowledge of the region, and learn from their wisdom and godly character. (Clint Archer writes well about this topic in his book Holding the Rope.) In short–see if you have time in your schedule to go on a short-term trip. It’ll have a long-term impact on the missionaries and their ministry, and on you! Most importantly, brothers and sisters in Christ will come together for His glory preached to the nations.