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Redeeming Short-Term Trips (Part 1)

Short-term trips have gotten a bit of a bad rap in recent years. With the publishing of books like When Helping Hurts by Steven Corbett and Brian Fikkert, the church in North America was awakened to the reality that some trips can be ineffective or even harmful to ministries that receive short-term teams. For example:

  • Churches spend huge amounts of money on short-term trips, amounts that could easily fund the workers and ministries they are going to help.

  • Short-term team members often make cultural mistakes that set back the work of long-term missionaries.

  • In an effort to make their trip feel like it’s “worth it,” trip participants may make paternalistic choices that fail to affirm the dignity of the people they are trying to reach.

  • Churches sometimes carry out short-term trips as a way to “check the box” for missions engagement.


These are serious issues to consider and can be great reasons for a church to reassess their vision for short-term trips. Some churches may even decide to cut them out altogether, but I think there is hope for redeeming short-term trips. By reworking the training, implementation, and follow-up of our short-term trips, we can redeem an existing structure that holds a special place in the hearts of many churchgoers. Here are a few ways short-term trips can be effective:


  1. They can be an incredible blessing to the Sent-One.

  2. When a Sent-One sees short-term trips as a part of their vision (beyond just getting more supporters), they can effectively use them to increase their ministry impact.

  3. They can broaden the perspective of short-term trip participants.


Here are some ideas for avoiding the mistakes that are common to short-term trips and helping redeem short-term trips to be more effective.

By reworking the training, implementation, and follow-up of our short-term trips, we can redeem an existing structure that holds a special place in the hearts of many churchgoers.

Consider Dropping “Mission” from Your Trip Titles

Using “mission” in your trip title is not wrong; in fact, it’s an accurate description considering your people will be crossing cultures to engage in the mission of spreading the gospel. But inherent in the term “mission” is a paternalistic, “do something” mindset. The nationals we intend to love and serve may view being the object of a “mission” project as an indication that they are somehow inferior to the people coming to work with them. Communicating a sense of superiority, even unintentionally, wipes away the dignity and value of the nationals in the culture you are going to serve. North Americans generally think highly of our culture and our standing in the world, and while we hope our team members would never directly insult someone else’s culture, national pride is so built into our identity as Americans that it is bound to come out in cross-cultural settings. This subtle superiority is often expressed when we point out materialistic needs that are not being met or get frustrated by the lack of urgency or timeliness we encounter in other cultures.


The North American worldview, while containing some great Biblical values, often produces judgmentalism and a sense of moral superiority. We are often guilty of elevating Western cultural values from preferences to universal standards, and our time-oriented culture, task-driven view of success, and direct communication style are certain to clash with the more people-oriented culture, people-driven view of success, and indirect communication style that is characteristic of most cultures we will minister to during short-term trips.


Alongside these cultural differences, short-term teams will often encounter standards of living that are different from what they are accustomed to. It’s natural for short-term trip goers to assume that what people need most is material, but if we were to ask the people we’re working among, they may tell us something very different. As Corbett and Fikkert point out, while many missions endeavors focus on addressing a lack of material needs, the brokenness we face in the world is much more complex.


It is a brokenness with God, self, others, and creation that primarily needs to be addressed, and that brokenness is universal. We experienced that same brokenness before God redeemed us, and it was only Christ–not our nationality or our cultural heritage–that made that redemption possible. Once we realize that the people we are working among have the same needs and desires we do, we’ll stop viewing short-term trips as projects to be completed and begin viewing them as opportunities to participate in God’s work of reconciling the world to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).


Describing short-term trips as “mission trips” isn’t wrong, but if your church views these trips primarily as projects to be completed, consider dropping “mission” from your trip titles as a way to redeem the short-term work your church is engaging in.

It is a brokenness with God, self, others, and creation that primarily needs to be addressed, and that brokenness is universal.

Categorize Your Trips

If you don’t call your short-term trips “mission trips,” then what do you call them? Instead of just calling your trips “short-term,” consider categorizing them by their purpose so your people know exactly what the nature of each trip will be. Here are four I would recommend:


  1. Exposure Trips

  2. Goer-Care Trips

  3. Specialized Trips

  4. Evangelism Trips


Short-term Exposure Trips

These trips are open to anyone in your church. They are primarily for the goer, not for the advancement of a particular mission or project. These trips are not “mission trips” in the traditional sense; their main goal is to expose church members to what is happening around the world and give them a vision and desire for being more involved in local and/or global missions efforts. Our church members need exposure to the nations, and dedicating certain trips solely for the purpose of providing exposure allows our people to experience cross-cultural ministry without laying an unnecessary burden on our overseas workers. At Cornerstone we believe these exposure trips are a key part of cultivating awareness in our church and leading our people to become globally-minded Christians, and we hope to see 50% of our members go on one of these trips over the next ten years.


In "Redeeming Short-term Trips: Part 2” we will focus on the three other categories of trips and how they can each help you make your short-term trips more effective and more beneficial for long-term workers and for the people you are trying to reach.


 

Mike Easton is the International Program Manager for Reliant Mission. Prior to that Mike was the Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa, for eight years, where he got to experience the ins and outs of being a sending church. He served on staff with Cornerstone 2006 to 2022 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Content for the Upstream Collective. Mike, his wife, Emily, and their four kids continue to live in Ames, IA, and serve at Cornerstone.



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