Thinking Out Loud

June 25, 2012

Another Critique of the Short Term Missions Movement

Filed under: ministry, missions — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:02 am

Holy Frequent Flyer Points, Batman, it’s another great article about a not-so-great phenomenon with Evangelicalism (and slowly spreading) that raises even more interesting concerns.  The author is Darren Carlson who teaches at Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis and is president of Training Leaders International.  The article appeared at The Gospel Coalition under the title Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips.

Here’s a sample or two — the parts not seen here have equal or better force — that will make you want to click through:

I have seen or know of teams of grandmothers who go to African countries and hold baby orphans for a week every year but don’t send a dime to help them otherwise; teams who build houses that never get used; teams that bring the best vacation Bible school material for evangelism when the national church can never bring people back to church unless they have the expensive Western material; teams that lead evangelistic crusades claiming commitments to Christ topping 5,000 every year in the same location with the same people attending.


How does someone say no to Christians from the world’s most powerful country? It is very difficult to create authentic relationships between people with such disparate power. So if the most powerful Christians (in your mind) say they are coming to help you (even if you don’t want them to), how are you supposed to respond? Plenty of national leaders I know have been notified by U.S. churches that they are sending teams. The national leaders then have to scramble to create something for them to do. It’s normally a disaster.


The Bahamas receives a short-term missionary for every 15 residents. Our generosity, sad to say, is often tied to a “cool” location and feeling good about what we do. The farther away from home we travel, the more spiritual-seeming the trip. We need to be the ones to paint the church, build the ditch, and put on vacation Bible school. We can’t just send money. We have to send people.

and toward the end, something to help you put this in true perspective:

Imagine a team from France calls your church and says they want to visit. They want to put on VBS (which you have done for years), but the material is in French. They have heard about how the U.S. church has struggled and want to help you fix it. They want to send 20 people, half of them youth. Only two of them speak English. They need a place to stay for free, with cheap food and warm showers if possible. During the trip half of the group’s energy will be spent on resolving tension between team members. Two people will get sick. They’d like you to arrange some sightseeing for them on their free day. Do you want them to come?

Again here is the link to Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short-Term Mission Trips.

Our previous recent article on this topic was the link to Jamie Wright’s excellent piece on April 17th. There was also a link listed devoted to this topic on November 27, 2008.



  1. I think an excellent use of the short term mission trip could be in cases of natural disaster. After Hurricane Katrina, many college students gave up their spring break week to help clear debris, hand out food and water, etc. Churches/ associations sent relief teams specially trained to respond to such events, and there was a need for unskilled helping hands for many months.

    I lived/work at a ministry for several years that thrives because of volunteers and short term missions help. That being said, the most “helpful” volunteers are the ones that can do carpentry work or other skilled/ semi-skilled labor. Many times exactly the right skill set or special equipment showed up right when they were needed. That being said, men and women sometimes show up in wheel chairs and/or sucking oxygen through a tube. Their hearts are in the right place.

    Comment by Clark Bunch — June 25, 2012 @ 6:20 pm

    • Excellent point. Hope you also have left or will leave this comment at Darren’s article.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — June 25, 2012 @ 7:37 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Your Response (Value-Added Comments Only)

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Blog at

%d bloggers like this: