By Paul Van Der Werf
Paul lives in Washington D.C. and is the national lead facilitator for SVM2-USA.
Over the last decade, participation in short-term missions has exploded here in North America. In fact, it is estimated that over 350,000 North Americans participated in some sort of cross-cultural mission trip last year alone.
To give that some perspective, there are a total of 35,000 full-time cross-cultural message bearers from North America that are currently serving cross-culturally.
Ask anyone these days what their church or fellowship is doing regarding missions, and the answer is invariably about a recent or upcoming spring break or summer trip to Mexico or China.
The problem is that most churches, fellowships and students these days equate a short-term mission trip as the culmination of involvement in missions.
This is a problem for several reasons: First, the fact is that almost all short-term mission trips don’t take place among those that have the greatest need and the least opportunity of a gospel witness. This is because the vast majority of short-term trips partner with existing churches and ministries, and rightly so.
However, the definition of the ‘unreached’ in our world is that they need someone to go and live among them, learn their language and incarnate Christ to them. This isn’t possible in a short-term trip.
Why a Renewed Long Term Mission Vision is Needed Today:
There are three key reasons we need to lift our eyes and refocus our efforts. First, bringing the gospel to the least reached is a central theme of the whole bible. God’s on a mission to bless all peoples, and bring people from every nation, tribe and language to be a worshipper of Him.
Given that God’s mission of bringing all peoples in relation to himself and his chosen method of doing that is us (humans!), Peter Wagner is correct in asserting that “Once you decide to ask Jesus Christ to take control of your life, involvement in world missions is no longer optional.”
Second, our involvement must be modeled on the life of Christ. Philippians 2: 5-11 shows us how Christ was a cross-cultural message bearer. He left his home culture and comforts (heaven), and became like those he wanted to reach (humans).
He learned our language, ate our foods, walked our streets and showed what living the God life that we have all been called to was to look like. He didn’t commute. He didn’t come for just a summer.
He came and lived among us. In order to reach those that need it most, we need to do the same, and by definition, this can’t be accomplished through a short-term assignment.
Third, as stated above, the two billion unreached will not be reached through short-term missions. It will take a longer term vision and many longer term workers to go and be Christ’s hands and feet to the lost and the dying of the world.
God has called us to make disciples of all nations, and making disciples takes longer than two weeks or a summer.
What Can I Do to Go Beyond the Current Short Term Mission Focus in My Church:
First, seriously consider going for a longer term yourself (2+ years). Given the globalized world we live in, there are more opportunities than ever for people of all types of skill-sets and giftings to be used in strategic ways to bring the good news to those that need it most.
We encourage you to formally make a commitment to be a GOer when you graduate by signing the Message Bearer Creed.
Making this step will connect you with resources you’ll need, ongoing email and encouragement from the Message Bearer Follow-up team and specific connections to strategic opportunities among the forgotten of the world.
Making a two year commitment to serve among the least reached is a great first step toward exploring how God’s best gifted and equipped you to be about his Kingdom global work for a lifetime.
Second, think about how you can use the current short-term focus of your fellowship or church group as a launching pad for longer term vision and involvement. Short-term missions trips are a great opportunity to get your peers more involved in ongoing prayer to cast the vision for the unreached.
A resource you can use is the GO Mobilization Packet (you can order these at SVM2.net.). This is a resource designed to be used out of the box to help cast a longer term global vision while your team is ON their short-term trip.
Finally, pray for our generation. Pray that we would go beyond the current short-term focus and that we would regain a vision for doing ministry as Christ did it, and truly make disciples of all nations.
Short-term missions is a great first step, a baby step actually, toward how God desires our generation to respond to His global dream of people from all nations, tribes and languages to be reconciled to him.
Take the first step, but don’t stop there. Let’s keep walking the path that God has for our generation!