This may sound critical, but here goes.
(Actually, since reading this a few more times, it does start off sounding critical. Please read past that vibe and understand the heart of the issue.)
A few years ago, I heard a senior pastor say to another senior pastor regarding short term missions:“Where is it really happening? We want our kids to go and have a great experience”.
I understand the sentiment behind those statements. The pastor who was asking wanted his High School kids to go to a foreign mission field and have a life changing experience. He wanted them to go somewhere where God was obviously moving, and where the power of the Gospel could be clearly (and quickly) seen. I assume that that was what he meant. By the way, this pastor is a great guy, and very gifted and “successful” as a senior pastor. I could have totally misunderstood his heart.
And yet, his question struck me as sounding very wrong.
His question sounded as though what was needed for a “successful” missions trip was to be somewhere where it was “really happening”. I thought to myself that his group shouldn’t go to South Baja, or to many other places in the world where sharing Christ wasn’t visibly and immediately exciting. The only place that would fit that kind of description is a place where people are lining up to get saved before you arrive.
Another reason that that statement bothered me was this: This is a pastor with a large church, and a man of influence. Will that kind of mentality become a standard of where short term missions groups ought to go? I understand that there are varying degrees of commitment, abilities, and experience within groups of people. Maybe a first time trip to where it’s “really happening” is appropriate. Stoke the fire, that kind of thing. Well, of course it’s appropriate, as God leads. But I think you can see my point, right? Please tell me you can see my point.
Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20) Many accept that definition as a description of “church”. I am one of them.
There are “churches” all over the world with only handfuls of Believers gathering to worship God. They have no church building, and probably never will. They have no ordained, salaried pastor. And yet, they are groups of people that Jesus loves and wants to bless. He also wants to add to them others that will be saved. The most that those groups will ever consist of is perhaps dozens of Believers. Does that make them not worth our time? Don’t they need edification too?
We pastors do spiritual work, but it collides with the material world. Missions trips cost money, and travel expenses are rising. The dollar is losing its strength in the international marketplace. Should we overlook the smaller gatherings of Believers and potential Believers, and go to where the fishing is really good? Do we consider giving our short term missionaries the most “bang for their buck”, or do we go where we believe that God is calling us to, even though there might not be an immediate “wow” experience?
I do believe that short term missions trips should be life changing. I believe that as God leads a group somewhere, their lives will be changed. Their lives may be changed because they see the terrible poverty of kids living in a dump. They may be changed by meeting Christians that walk miles to meet in less the comfortable conditions. Their lives will certainly be changed when they meet Believers that love Jesus without much of the clutter of American Christianity.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I am all for having great trips. But are short term missions trips mostly about those who go? Do we need to find out where “God is moving”? How about going to where God is “waiting and wanting to move”? How about breaking some new ground, and being trailblazers? Yes, even with High School kids.
Please don’t misconstrue my convictions as me thinking that I know it all. I know that I don’t. But I do have convictions, and I think there is a lot of truth in some of these ideas.
Praise God for any person that is willing to spend money and time to visit another country and tell people about Jesus. I just pray that we don’t have a consumer mentality in deciding where “God is leading us”. I also pray that we don’t just do things that seem logical. May we hear what the Spirit is saying to our churches.