Over the past few decades there has been a rise in short term missions across the globe. It seems every other church youth group has plans to travel to Mexico and many of these types of trips have come under suspicion as of late. Christians are asking the hard questions such as are we really helping more than we are hurting? Is this a good use of the resources God has provided His church? Are those ministered to truly being followed up or is it just a flash in the pan? It is the challenge of the believer to honestly seek answers to these questions without operating in a spirit of cynicism and discouragement to fellow believers who, although sincerely desiring to minister cross culturally, may be misled in their methods. Some of these short term works can create an unhealthy dependence, promote a celebrity mentality regarding ministry, negatively impact local economics, or wastefully consume resources better used by long term missionaries or local churches. After a hard look at the potential negative impact of some short term mission efforts one may falsely conclude that the only way to truly make an impact is to move overseas long term but that would be a —– solution to a legitimate problem. While seeking out a way to truly and effectively obey the great commission in Matthew 28 a strong argument can be made that there very much is a place for short term missions works but that is requires a very thoughtful strategy so as not to fall into the traps listed above.
I want to offer three keys to a truly effective short term mission work that will help much more than hurt the global church as a whole. First, short term missions must always be connected to a stable, local, established church except of course when church planting is the primary goal because no local church exists in that area. Biblically, the kingdom of God is built upon the ministry of the local church therefore a partnership with a local pastor with a long term commitment should always be the first priority with the emphasis being serving as an extension of those serving locally. The second key to effective short term mission work is thorough preparation with well defined goals and follow up strategies. True reformation in any culture does not occur quickly but requires years of thoughtful strategies and follow through. Finally, the third key is a very careful distribution of resources with the long term impact in mind. Whether you are providing a service such as a building project, offering resources such as books and teachings or giving money we make every effort that our generosity is not hurting by doing for the poor what they are able to do for themselves or by distributing resources that will in any way negatively affect the local church. Following these three simple keys will carry us a long way in attempting to ‘make disciples of all nations’.