Short-term missions gain popularity and criticism

By May 1, 2007

luggageInternational (MNN) — As summer approaches, many youth groups and college students as well as adults are in the midst of preparing for a short-term missions trip. Many have been anticipating their trips for months. Have the incalculable number of people who go on short-term missions worldwide thought about the impact of a short term missions trip? Or is it just a fad? Whether it involves an ambitious plane ride across the ocean or a bus ride just a few hours away, short-term missionaries will depart. The trip may involve many kinds of outreach whether or not that includes specifically sharing the gospel. In the past, there has been much debate about short-term missions. Many questions arise: What effect does the trip have on those going and those being ministered to? What are the motivations for going: vacation, sharing the Gospel, or something else? Can we place rules on what constitutes a true missions trip, and does the Bible say anything about short-term missions? David Livermore, Executive Director of the Global Learning Center at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary and author of Serving with Eyes Wide-Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence, helps shed some light on the issues. “One of the things that we tend to do as Americans in order to prove a case is to overstate its impact and its value. So we want to call short-term missions the most important thing that’s happening in the world of missions today, or, on the other hand, to say it’s pointless and we shouldn’t do it. I’d say it’s somewhere in-between,” said Livermore. One of the primary reasons short-term missions began was to create a future generation of long-term missionaries. “We’re not necessarily seeing that. I don’t think that it means it hinders it, but we’re not watching the number of American missionaries increase because of all this emphasis on short-term missions,” said Livermore. The hype may have spread since the accessibility of going on trips has become easier. “I don’t think that’s necessarily bad, but sometimes I think we try to spiritualize it by saying that we discovered this by looking at Scripture. And no, I don’t really think that’s what’s driven the move to short-term missions.” Some proof-text the Bible to find instances of short-term missions. Livermore says there is little there, but the idea is not anti-Biblical. “Don’t overstate its impact. Realize it’s not the only thing God is using in the world today. But don’t understate its impact, either. God can do some pretty amazing things through His people who are willing to be used of Him and through the Holy Spirit. I think those would be a few words of caution and encouragement to us as we think about short-term missions,” said Livermore. We must explore the good and bad of short-term missions in order to improve its effectiveness. “Increasingly I was hearing a different perspective from some of the locals who live in the places we visit compared to what we as North Americans would often say.” Tomorrow we look at the good of short-term missions.

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