Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Team Nicaragua 2009 (And Why I am for Short-Term Missions)

On June 14th, our First Baptist Church down here in Fallbrook will be sending off its first short-term mission trip team in almost ten years. We will be headed to San Marcos, Nicaragua, with an organization called Beyond Partner Ministries. My prayer is that this trip will spark a passion in our church for reaching the nations (that means here and abroad). I am excited to see what God does on this trip and how he uses it in my life and the lives of our team.

Since we began planning this trip, which was around January (a super-late start, I know) I've had some conversations about short-term missions. In my planning I have come to find that many people have reservations about short-term trips and hence do not like them and do not send teams anywhere. I've narrowed these down to four reasons churches have reservations about short-term mission trips. And I am also going to give a defense as to why I believe short-term missions work.

First reservation: Often missionaries don't want short-term mission teams. They are a lot of work, they rarely leave lasting contributions, and they can be a burden. The negatives out-weight the positives.

My response: This is true, but it is not always true. The first rule of short-term missions is this: ONLY GO WHERE YOU ARE NEEDED. Never force yourself upon the missionaries. They probably feel a lot like Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:

"I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn?"

We don't want to add any pressure to the missionaries who are laboring for the lost where God's placed them. So never go to a place where the missionaries don't want or need you. Go where you're needed and wanted. In doing this, we completely bypass reservation number one.

Second Reservation: Short-term mission trips are costly, so why send a team out across the world when we can do the same thing here in our community?

My response: Yes, short-term missions trips are costly. But there is a big, huge difference between reaching out to your community and reaching out to the world. It is my conviction that a church should not be "either/or" with this issue-- churches need to be "both/and" here. Here's a few reasons why:

1) God has a passion for the nations. Therefore, God's church should too.

Acts 1:8 "And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth." And of course the Great Commission, "Go therefore unto all the nations..." God has the entire globe on his mind. So should his church.

2) Short-term mission trips breed full-time missionaries.

No one ever becomes a missionary without "tasting" and experiencing an overseas experience first. God uses short-term mission trips to turn lights on to the vastness of God. A healthy church is a church that is sending members to fulfill the Great Commission. And the best way to do this is to give little tastes of what it's like to be commissioned--what it's like to go.

3) The focus on global missions naturally translates into community outreach.

The common question short-termers ask themselves when they get back their trip is this: "Why can't I do that back home?" Short-term missions breed missional laypeople.

The truth is you can't do the same thing within your community. The difference between community outreach and global outreach is drastically different.

Third Reservation: Short-term mission trips tend to be impersonal, and not much can be done without relationship.

My Response: True. If a team shows up for a week, evangelizes and builds and church and then leaves, without true relationships being formed, it's hard to have a lasting ministry. Lasting ministries are built on relationships. But just because short-term trips are just that--short-term--doesn't mean the relationship has to be. There are things we can do to connect and cultivate relational, lasting ministry.
Here are some suggestions I would give in this regard:

1) This goes back to my response to reservation one--find a missionary that needs you. Don't bombard missionaries that are already overwhelmed and don't need your help.

2) As a church, limit the number of missionaries you support, so that the church can support a smaller number of missionaries with a more substantial amount of money. The smaller the number of missionaries you have, the easier it is to build relationship with them. You can know them more intimately. Think of it as "adopting a missionary" into your church family. Also, when you support a missionary financially that way, they feel obligated to spend more time with you. So again, the relationship is built.

3) Go and help them when they need you and bring people along. This way, the people in your church will put a face and a personality to the name they've been asked to support financially. They know how to pray and encourage the missionary.

Fourth Reservation: If we're not on mission in our community, why should we try to do it overseas?

My Response: Maybe the reason you're not on mission in your community is because the people don't know what it's like to be on mission. Maybe they need to do it and experience it. And maybe it takes an overseas trip to open their eyes to how people do it and how God's using it. Like my response to reservation number two: global missions breed missional laypeople. Missions help the saints see how we can be missional in our communities.

So there you have it. That's why I am for short-term mission trips. Short-term mission trips are not an end in themselves, but I think they are portals to achieving a greater end, that is God's global purpose: the spread of the gospel to all the nations.