Short Term Missions: Are they Worth It?

There are a lot of Chrisitan leaders that I admire. There are also a few that I just don’t understand. The folks who worked on this study about short term missions are a good example of the latter.

There is a lot of talk, it seems, among professional mission-minded people about the effects of short-term missions. Some are touting short-term missions as an experience that will increase the level of giving by mission participants, or even recruit long-term missionaries. Others, it seems, disagree.

This type of dialog is very baffling because it strikes me that the purpose of short-term missions is, well, to do mission work. If mission work is done as a result of the mission trip, then why can’t we call it a success without factoring in all of these other issues?

I guess that it is a good thing if the short-term missionaries give more or experience an increase in their spirituality or think about becoming long-term missionaries. But none of those things are the point. The point is for a group of believers to get together and go bring the Kingdom of God into the world.

I’m pretty sure that this is what Jesus teaches us to do.

And I’m stumped by people who try to critize these efforts. As an example, take the study that I referenced above. In 1998, 127 American Christians went to the Honduras and built new homes for the native population after a devastating hurricane. After their return, the short-term missionaries were surveyed, and it was discovered that they apparently didn’t change their giving habits after the trip. Nor did they experience notable “life changes”, whatever that means.

Curiously, the article also notes that the Hondurans did not report any life changes. I say this is curious because, apparently, as a result of the mission effort either the population that was surveyed or other people in their community had new homes. How any sociological measurement of “life change” can fail to account for the impact of the newly constructed homes is beyond me.

There also seems to be some hand-wringing over whether short-term mission money is being spent in the most efficient way, what with all of the travel expenses involved and such. I suppose that, in some instances, concern over whether more cost-efficient ways of accomplishing mission objectives are available is a viable question, but I wonder about whether spreadsheet formulas are really the best way to decide whether a group’s desire to do short-term mission work, often borne of much prayer and spiritual reflection, ought to be approved by the powers that be.

I guess that I’m just a little frustrated because there are apparently those among our leaders who want to criticize short-term mission efforts using sociological data that measures things like giving and “life changes,” and I don’t think that you can measure that type of thing very well.

Why criticize efforts such as this? Like I said, I just don’t get it.

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