Thinking Out Loud

November 27, 2008

Short Term Missions Trips: Yea or Nay?

Filed under: Christianity, Church — Tags: , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 1:52 pm

Our pastor and his wife returned Sunday night from North Africa.   He said it was a very busy trip, with early morning starts and late evening events, and travel to several cities.   I have never questioned the value of them going; especially in a denomination that puts foreign missions high on the list of priorities.

On Tuesday night, a group of twelve from another church returned from Thailand, just before things started to go a little crazy over there.   I actually know about half of the youth that were on this trip, and they are young people who I believe that God is going to use to do great things in the future.  I’m sure this was a life changing event for them, and again, I don’t question the trip for a single minute.

Andy Stanley’s churches, Northpoint, Buckhead, and Billings Bridge are organizing something in the neighborhood of a hundred short-term missions excursions over the next twelve months, involving something like a thousand people.   That’s a lot of trips.

Some people are critical of the whole short term missions thing, calling it “missions tourism.”  Not having been, I can’t say, but Trevin Wax, who blogs at Kingdom People and knows a thing or two about missions, has an article called Are Short Term Missions Trips Worth The Trouble? He outlines three negatives and four positives, though I think his first and third negative are really the same point.   Still, I’d recommend reading this, just to get you thinking.

Tim Guptill at Crosspoint Wesleyan Church in Fredericton, New Brunswick gives just positive reasons in Top 5 Reasons to Go on A Short Term Missions Trip.

But if you really want to shake things up a bit, you might want to read this article from The Wall Street Journal (yes that Wall Street Journal) called The Great Commission or Glorified Sightseeing? by Evan Sparks of the American Enterprise Institute.

Kent Shaeffer at Church Relevance condenses stats from a Barna Group report this October item, The Truth About Short Term Missions Trips.

At Deacon and Usher’s Weblog, the issue is put into dialogue form: Short Term Missions – The Real Truth (They do all their posts this way; I’ve just bookmarked this blog; you might want to check out some other content on it.)

We could keep going here, but this one from the Washington Post (yes that Washington Post – funny how this phenomenon is attracting so much media) couldn’t be left out.  Churches Retool Missions Trips is a very comprehensive article.



  1. The argument against so called “missions tourism” is that a lot of money is spent to do a little. A couple from the U.S. might spend $2,000 or more in American dollars to fly to Africa for a week or two. While there, they would likely work with a missionary helping him do his ministry for that short term. The same amount of money could support mulitple local pastors in India for a year. $2,000 would buy a lot of smallpox vaccine, and potentially save many lives. The “mission tourists” come home feeling like they’ve done a great work, although for a short time, in God’s kingdom. Some consider it a big waste.

    That’s the criticism. I can understand the argument, but I’m not completely on board. If that American couple comes home to the U.S. and speaks in their church (and perhaps other local churches) of their trip, the effect can muliply. If that couple comes home with photographs and personal stories of native people in need, they could be responsible for helping collect much more money than was spent on their trip to support the career missionaries in the field. So many Americans are unaware that America isn’t the world. The short term trip itself may only be the beginning of the work that is ultimately done. I can see both sides; it’s a touchy subject. For certain, Americans have been blessed, and we should use that to bless others.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — November 27, 2008 @ 2:52 pm

  2. I will have to agree with the last commenter. The effect often does multiply. I also think that not only does have an effect that multiplies by getting more money, but sometimes these short term missions trips can help awaken a calling to go to the missions field, thereby giving another missionary, which is potentially better than a whole bunch of money. I am personally saving for a trip right now, beccause I might want to be a missionary when I am older (see my username to know why I have too wait :)). I think they are a good tool. Of course, you always need to check your motives, but as long as they are pure I think they are great.

    Comment by teens4evangelism — November 27, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  3. I haven’t read all your links (lynx??!) yet, but my immediate response is — if I hadn’t been on a short-term missions trip in ’96 (at the age of 52, by the way!), I would likely not have ended up as a missionary in Romania for 10 years, from ’97 – 2006; I’d have not produced a book of missions stories; I’d probably not be the missions prayer facilitator that I am now for my denomination, or have the awesome privilege of ministering effectively to missionaries when they are home on furlough.

    And that’s apart from: trusting that those 10 ministry years were extremely profitable for the Kingdom of God, rejoicing in the salvation of those whom I led to the Lord, watching in awe as Romanians who had been so surpressed under communism walked out into the freedom of an abundant life in Jesus, the continuing friendships/input into the lives of those Romanians with whom I still have regular contact; the young people who went on the initial STM trip with me who continue to have a heart for missions, pray for missions, give to missions, have taken other STM trips themselves, now teach their children about missions etc etc!

    In my 10 years of missions, I never a met a team (and we had lots of them) who came for glorified sight-seeing. They were earnest in their desire to be used of God in that country, to grow in their relationship with Him and in their understanding and knowledge of missions.

    Although I am not on the field at the moment, my heart beats passionately for missionaries, their ministries and their countries — all because of a 10-day ‘introduction’ to the world of missions.

    Comment by kaybee — November 27, 2008 @ 5:37 pm

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