Short-term missions are near and dear to my heart. We are living in a time where more and more people are going on STMs and these STMs are transforming and adapting to our ever changing world. We are reanalyzing STMs; the motives, the goals, and how to make them more successful.
People still have mixed feelings about STMs, and I completely understand some of the negative thoughts towards STMs. There was an article being thrown around the social media that discussed the problem with “voluntourism.” It brought up some good points that we should be aware of. However as this article pointed out, the end of our Huffington Post article presents us with a false dichotomy*:
“Before you sign up for a volunteer trip anywhere in the world this summer, consider whether you possess the skill set necessary for that trip to be successful. If yes, awesome. If not, it might be a good idea to reconsider your trip.”
I want to continue the defense for STMs as we take a look at what this Huffpost article talks about.
The Huffpost author explains how the mission team attempted to construct a new library for an orphanage but they were not very successful. The local bricklayers would come back each night to fix the construction. As the author writes, “Basically, we failed at the sole purpose of our being there.”
Oops, do you see the problem with this sentence? It sounds like the teams main motivation for serving abroad was to build a library. But that is not the ultimate goal of missions. Instead the goal is to share the Gospel.
It is so important for STMs to refocus their ministry away from construction/aid efforts towards sharing the Gospel. I understand that aid efforts are extremely important, but the end result of these aid efforts should not determine whether a trip is successful or not.
All STMs should adapt the mindset that they are a continuation of the Great Commission. Jesus’ last command before ascending into heaven was, “Go and make disciples of all the nations…” (Matthew 28:19) That is the ultimate goal of missions, short or long-term, to make new disciples by sharing the Good News. I think it is important that STM teams begin to pursue evangelism training in addition to any cultural training and other prep work that occurs before they head out.
It may seem daunting for a short-term missionary to evangelize successfully. But, is it not possible that a short-term missionary could make a strong connection with a local, and lead this person towards salvation through Christ? It is absolutely possible! Even if the short-term missionary doesn’t have the best luck in sharing with others perhaps they may help connect new people towards the long-term missionaries ministry. That is why it is essential that STMs should empower local missionaries and leaders, because they will continue the work long after the STM team leaves.
Any believer has the potential to evangelize to nonbelievers. Looking back at our false dichotomy, having the ability to do construction, plumbing, or whatever should not determine whether you should go on a STM. By switching the focus of STMs away from physical needs towards spiritual needs we can see that all believers have the right skill set and God can use anyone to help guide others into a relationship with Him. And He needs all hands on deck in order to save lives in all nations.
There are many other positive points about STMs that I would love to go into detail about, but none seem nearly as important in comparison to sharing the Gospel with nonbelievers. So the next time someone says they can’t do STMs because they are not a trained bricklayer, tell them that the goal of STMs is not to build a new library, it is to share the Gospel and help guide people into a relationship with Jesus, their Lord and Savior.
*aka, only two options. Don’t worry I had to look up the phrase for it, I’m not that smart.