In Defense of Short-term Mission Trips

One of the most curious things about the book of Acts is how Luke goes out of his way to show his readers the gospel spread around the world faster by laypeople than by apostles. Acts 8 begins, “They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.” I can just imagine Peter and John saying, “Wow, Luke. Really appreciate you calling us out like that. ‘Everyone went around preaching the gospel except for us.’ Thanks for that.”

Luke is getting after something really vital here. God used ordinary people, not professional Christians, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Fast-forward to the end of chapter 8, and you’ll see the first short-term mission trip in the New Testament. And who heads it up? No surprise: it’s Philip, a layman. The first person to take the gospel across cultures is not an apostle, but an ordinary dude. Is that not an indication of how the Holy Spirit will spread the gospel around the world today?

The way that movement of the Spirit looks will vary based on your circumstance. For instance, I’ve often said that the next wave of missions is going to come on the wings of business. Uprooting from your current life and planting yourself somewhere overseas long-term is going to be a crucial part of that. Even for those of us who go overseas in more traditional mission capacities, the importance of long-term workers who “go deep” in language and culture is absolutely central.

But there is also an enduring place for short-term mission trips. At the Summit, we send a lot of short-term trips to places in the world that are in most need of the gospel. Most of these go to the “10/40 Window,” that area of the world where most non-Christians live. There they get to partner with our people on the ground, briefly sharing in their ministry among the most lost populations in the world.

The problem is, most American churches still don’t have the nations on their horizon. Missions—long-term, short-term, or whatever—is still a fringe idea for the most “elite” Christians. And so we intentionally blind ourselves to a world that is lost and dying, a world in which millions upon millions of people will never hear the gospel. Are we really content with that? Shouldn’t it bother us that even though only 5% of the Christians in the world live in North America, 95% of every dollar given in Christ’s name gets spent here? Is God that bad at math, or are we missing something?

But for those of you who have been, you know how exciting a short-term mission trip can be. Every now and then, as with Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, someone on a short-term trip will meet someone that God has prepared, and they’ll have the opportunity to lead them to faith. I’ve seen this happen, and believe me: it makes an enormous impact on the lives of those overseas and on the lives of our church members who go. Seeing God at work in the world is one of the strongest motivators to join what he’s doing right here at home.

I don’t know what God will let you experience over there, but I guarantee that once you put your foot on foreign soil you will never be the same.

Talking about missions always raises some objections. Let’s look at a few:

 “I’m not qualified.” Well, you are exactly who should go. Paul, possibly the greatest missionary ever, knew that he wasn’t qualified on his own (2 Cor 2:16). God doesn’t call those he has equipped; he equips those whom he has called.

“I can’t take 2 weeks of vacation.” I get this. In fact, we have tried to have different length trips for this very reason. And most people I know never use all of their vacation time. If you have vacation time to use, why not use some of it for the glory of God?

“There’s so much need here.” Again, I get the heart behind this. And God puts in each believer certain passions and ways to be involved in his ministry to the world. But reaching the unreached has got to be a part of that, because it is so central to God’s heart.

“I hate foreign food.” Someone on our staff can teach you how to say “no” in every language. I specifically remember a couple of key phrases that saved my life in Southeast Asia. I still sometimes wake up mumbling, “I’m not touching that, but if you cut off its head, maybe I’ll think about it.”

“I don’t have the money.” Most people don’t…by themselves. But we’ll train you in raising support. It’s an amazing experience to watch God provide. I’ve seen him do it again and again and again.

“I’m not comfortable sharing my faith.” Here at the Summit, we will train you leading up to the trip. We notice the most remarkable transformation in people who go overseas: they might be timid as they prepare to go, but they often come back with a vision for the world and a renewal to share their faith, sometimes for the first time!

At the end of the day, you go because it’s not about you and your preferences; it’s about him and his mission. Doesn’t the urgency of the gospel demand this of us?

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