Short-Term Missions (STM) have earned a bad name in a lot of circles. There are books coming out on the woes of STMs. And, sadly, there truly is a lot of legitimate criticism of short-term missions. Much of the cause for concern stems from two things.
First, the local missionary and/or indigenous church are often not included in the process of planning the STM. This means that many STMs are coming in without an understanding of, or appreciation for, the cultures, traditions, ways of life, etc, of the people, group or church with whom they are going to work. The end result in many cases is unintended consequences; often including the infliction of significant damage on the gospel ministry that was present before the STM team ever showed up! In the OPC, we strive to avoid this stumbling block of STMs with a heavy emphasis on the need to work with and through the local missionary, pastor, or Session when going to any field – foreign or domestic.
Second, teams depart for an STM inadequately prepared and return without much reflection on what was learned. It is easy to get so caught up in “just getting there”, that very little emphasis or time is put into our preparation: physical, spiritual, mental, etc. After the STM, we can get back so exhausted with “life” piled up in front of us, that we jump right back into our normal routines, without investing much time, if any, for considering what the Lord has taught us on the STM. We inadvertently rob ourselves of much of the value of the STM by cutting short the pre-trip and post-trip activities. (I am guilty of both of these myself!)
Last year I had the opportunity to attend the National Short-Term Missions Conference. Despite coming from a broadly evangelical perspective, I was impressed by the desire of those running this conference that short-term missions work recoup its good name. When done well, STMs can be very positive, not only in the life of the one who goes, but for all those involved including those who send and those who receive. In an effort to help leaders and participants of STMs be more intentional in their preparation and reflection, Delta Ministries (a non-profit organization that works with churches to send many teams throughout the US and around the world each year) put together some curriculum specifically designed to aid in this process. The author of much of this material, Brian Heerwagen, encourages “working smarter, not harder.” The wheel does not need to be reinvented. The work is already done. Consider whether “The Next Mile” curriculum might be a help to you in planning your church’s next STM.