Send Me Your Short-Term Missionaries

Since the summer of 2008 our full-time mission team in Honduras has hosted 50 short-term teams consisting of 500 short-term missionaries. Many people ask, “Wouldn’t it just be better if all those people sent you money instead of wasting their resources and your time?” Our answer is an emphatic no. Money cannot hug a fatherless child or enjoy fellowship with Christian brothers. Money cannot play soccer with drug dealers or wipe the tears from a hungry child. We Christians are called to serve the poor, sick, widows, and orphans. Money can buy food for the poor and build houses for the homeless, but just as Christ touched the leper (Matt 8:3), the poor also desire the touch of a loving and merciful hand.

In 2005, 1.6 million U.S. church members took part in a short-term mission trip. Yet despite the popularity of such trips, church leadership and laypeople increasingly question the wisdom of sending short-term mission teams. Some argue short-term missions cause more harm than good. Objections include increased dependency, lack of compassion for local cultures, incorrect motivation, circumvention of existing ministries, and excess costs.

As an experienced host of short-term mission teams I will be the first to admit the problems when hosting teams. However, those problems can be reduced if not eliminated with communication and altered attitudes.

Before the Missions Trip

To the short-term missionaries: Churches sending short-term missionaries must stress that participants are going to assist and serve the long-term ministry. They seek to provide love, fellowship, and resources to people who minister in that community. Short-term missionaries must leave their expectations and cultural biases at the airport and trust the indigenous leaders and long-term missionaries. A mission trip should be approached with the desire to be a servant and not a burden.

To the long-term missionaries: Long-term missionaries and national partners who host short-term mission teams must establish guidelines before the short-term missionaries leave home. Then they must enforce guidelines on the field. The hosts must protect their ministry and advance God’s plan for their calling. If a short-term missionary did something to harm a ministry, you probably let it happen.

The leadership in your home church would never allow a visitor to walk in the front door and demand your pastor preach a different text or the worship leader play a new style of music. Short-term missionaries should go on short-term trips to serve as the long-term ministers deem appropriate. As John Piper has said, “If older people, or young people, or multi-generational teams are really serving, pouring themselves out according to the needs of the missionary, then it’s the best of both worlds.”

Why Are Short-Term Missions Positive?

As an former leader in my home church and a current international missionary I see short-term missions as beneficial to both the home church and also the receiving ministry. Here are a few reasons:

Christianity is a global fellowship. Christ calls us regardless of age, race, gender, ethnicity. or socio-economic status. Yet we frequently tarnish Christianity by viewing it through our cultural biases. Short-term missions allows those serving and those being served to see they have brothers and sisters throughout the globe. “I support short-term missions,” author Philip Yancey says. “Despite their drawbacks, such trips provide two distinct cultures a taste of the harmony that exists between members of the body of Christ.”

Believers can give and receive love. I often tell short-term missionaries that I don’t just need people to come to Honduras who have construction or language skills. I would welcome a team willing to sit on a soccer field and hug children for a week. We work in a culture where few homes have a father and mom is off working. The kids in our community don’t know unconditional love and seldom interact with adults. You can send a check, but I’d rather you hug a skinny, dirty, snot-nosed kid.

Missions can be expanded in our home churches. Missions is at the heart of Christianity. Unfortunately, it is under-taught and under-valued in our Western churches. Short-term missions can increase the importance of missions in the sending church. If your church sends a short-term team it is reasonable to think your congregants are thinking and praying more about their role in the Great Commission.

Increased prayer and giving in Christ’s name. If your church sends 10 people on a short-term mission trip, it’s likely each of those missionaries asked 10 others to pray for them and 10 more to write checks supporting the trip. Realistically, your short-term mission trip results in 100 additional people praying in the name of Christ and for the advancement of God’s kingdom and 100 people writing checks to the glory of God.

Increased participation in long-term missions. Our mission team consists of nine full-time, adult missionaries. Each of them got their first taste of missions through a short-term mission experience. Most current missionaries younger than 50 got their start in missions during a short-term experience. Not every short-term missionary is called to long-term service. But increased exposure to missions results in increased prayer and financial support for missionaries.

Let’s Go

The apostle Paul was a long-term missionary who advanced Christianity through short-term missions. Paul seldom stayed longer than a few months or even weeks in a single location. What about Jonah, Jesus, the 12, the 70? We see evidence in the Old and New Testaments how short-term mission principles were used to expand God’s kingdom on earth.

With a Christ-centered, servant’s heart, short-term missions can be used to aide the needy, educate fellow believers, and spread the gospel in all corners of the globe. Short-term missions has and will continue to have a healthy role in the advancement of Christianity.

  • Darren Blair

    Question – what about people doing missionary work *Stateside*?

    I’ve seen far too many people who were obsessed with what was going on elsewhere in the world but who turned a blind eye to what was going on around the corner.

    What advice would you give to people who wanted to help out locally?

  • Tim Wilcoxson

    “The hosts must protect their ministry and advance God’s plan for their calling. If a short-term missionary did something to harm a ministry, you probably let it happen.”

    That is not something mentioned often in these conversations. This is a very helpful exhortation. I love that Mike is willing to take the responsibility rather than blaming the group, that is wise and humble. Way to go!

    “I would welcome a team willing to sit on a soccer field and hug children for a week.”

    Wonderful! We throw checks at situations hoping that real-time, physical, merciful love for marginalized people really happens. Yet does it? Perhaps we should make sure it happens. We should go! How profound is it that people from distant places are coming, personally? Just knowing there is a world of Jesus-followers out there that really care, and come from great distances to show it in the flesh, says much of Christ’s outgoing embodied love.

    Thanks Mike. Good job!

  • Brian Considine

    Good article but the challenge that too often exists, for too many, is that short-term mission trips are an event instead of a life-style. We can easily go to some other exotic place in the world, engage in “mission,” return home and go about our lives having had a wonderful experience, while all around us, in our inner cities, in our suburbs, in our communities, people are suffering, in need of love, and apart from Christ. The later goes regularly unaddressed accept perhaps for some other event that invite the poor to our churches or a periodic outreach. I tell my students, if you are not willing to go across the street you have no business going around the world. The fact is that today if you want to have a cross-cultural experience and minister to people in need all you have to do is visit your nearest major city – God is bringing us the nations. What we should also think through is how we connect STMTs with long-term vision and leverage STMT’s through local outreach to similar peoples within our cities. Perhaps of most importance is we need to think about how STMTs become a mechanism for more people to live God’s mission everyday.

    • Darren Blair

      A few years ago, the Mormon congregation I attended at the time hosted the local chapter of Newborns in Need, a charity that provided baby blankets and infant care supplies to the parents of premature infants.

      Only a handful of us Mormons had the time on our hands to do the two- and three-hour get-togethers that making the blankets and organizing the baskets entailed; a few others tried to make blankets at home as time permitted, but we were obviously short-handed.

      We should have easily gotten non-Mormons to help out, right? After all, this was a major charitable push to help children.


      The woman who ran the chapter was told – to her face – by people who she was asking that they didn’t want to set foot in a Mormon chapel for *any* reason.

      That’s right: where I live, “religious differences” can even trump “charitable efforts”.

      What I want to know is: why?

  • Brian Considine

    Darren – two words – fear and ignorance. Recall the story of the woman at the well (John 4). Jesus had no problem with talking with the Samaritan woman but even his disciples were shocked (John 4:27) – one that he was speaking with a woman and two that she was not a Jew. “Othering” coupled with religious bigotry and a lack of faith in Christ supremacy is still a sad reality in too many churches. As Christians we profess the primacy of grace but too often we lack a knowledge of “common grace” and therefore respond with a lack of grace.

    • Darren Blair

      Often, I and other Mormons are accused of being bitter or argumentative towards mainline Christians.

      It’s not because we’re spiteful or anything, but because too many of us have stories about similar inexcusable behavior coming from so many of your fellows. Heck, some of what I’ve personally seen with my own eyes could well chill you to the bone.

      This is a large part of why I made my original post: to bring up the point that the same recommendations put in place in the article for short-term missions should also apply to *domestic* missions. “Displaying bigotry” is as counterproductive to God’s work as “laziness” or “incompetence in the position”.

      The more we Mormons get burned by people claiming to be Christian, the more determined we’re going to be to get *our* message out to counter the perceived hatred.

      • Brian Considine

        Religious bigotry is fairly widespread among all religions not as an indication of the values of that religion necessarily but of the poor understanding of that religion’s followers. However, our motivation for telling our story shouldn’t be as a response to what others do but what is good and what is true. If we’re motivated by something else we need to question our motives. Mission must always be motivated by love or we simply make a lot of noise (1 Corinthians 13:1-2).

      • Mike

        Well I understand your point and it discourages me that Christians who believe the major doctrines of the faith (Jesus is God, sin separates us from God and can only be atoned for by Jesus, etc.) refuse to work together especially locally.

        Darren, I hope you can appreciate that Mormonism is not Christianity. Most Christians identify Mormonism as a cult and that would certainly influence their decision to participate in something where Mormons would get credit for helping the poor and needy. Did you consider hosting the event somewhere other than a Mormon church building?

        • Darren Blair

          Put yourself in my shoes and you’d see how insulting that concept – us having to physically abandon our church just to get non-Mormons to render aid – happens to be.

          Even more than the logistics or anything else, you’re still talking about a dozen or so people having to go elsewhere just to seen acceptable.

          • Jeff D

            While I’m putting myself in your shoes, put yourself in your prospective helpers’ shoes, and see how insulting the conjugate concept – them having to appear to endorse something they disagree with just to render aid – could be.

            I don’t know how legitimate of a concern that is in your context, moving the meeting may be impossible, and it’s not unthinkable that the people you asked simply have an irrational and unchristlike hatred of mormons… but at least consider the possibility that they could not do it in good conscience, and that declining to participate in your particular charitable effort does not necessarily mean they weren’t participating in other charitable efforts.

            • Darren Blair


              Most of the churches in the area do garage sales and other such fundraisers for their various groups.

              I not only show up to them as time and money allow, a few places actually recognize me on sight because *because* I’ve shown up so often to their fundraisers and dropped so much money to help them out.

              In fact, they actually like me down at the local Masonic lodge because I helped them set up for one of their events; a rain storm had put them several hours behind, and so I gave them an entire afternoon to help get the tables and merchandise out.

              My being Mormon only became an issue when one church had anti-Mormon literature right by the door of the hall where they were set up, and even then I limited my response to e-mailing the denomination with an explanation of the fact that the literature presented incorrect information (if it tells you how poor the “research” was, the author had John the Baptist leading Joseph Smith to the plates rather than Moroni).

              So for someone like me – who sees no problem going into other denominations’ buildings to help them do what they regard as the good work – it’s quite galling to see people who are unwilling to do the same.

            • Darren Blair

              If you have a good ad-blocker program, such as AdBlock Plus on your browser, here’s the exact response I wrote to the document I found –


              I don’t make a lot of money in my day job, so I have to host my apologetics papers at art & literature gallery

              It’s free, but the trade-off is that every few months or so someone hacks the third-party ad servers.

              Yes, I intend to get my own site going once I get the money to pay for hosting.

  • ForeJeep

    “The kids in our community don’t know unconditional love and seldom interact with adults. You can send a check, but I’d rather you hug a skinny, dirty, snot-nosed kid.”

    Long Beach, CA is one of the largest and most populous cities in the USA. More than 40% of families in Long Beach, California are headed by single-mothers. There are 300 churches in Long Beach. As a resident of Long Beach, I have not seen churches send out men, families and their communities to care for my city’s fatherlessness. Why ought we to go abroad to hug the natives’ snot-nosed children?

    • Tim Wilcoxson


      No one is suggesting neglecting anyone. It’s not either/or, it’s both/and. But caring for the nations and cultivating a global heart is in itself important. God’s heart is global, ours should be as well. God is no mere tribal deity and we put that on display as we go out in love.

    • Darren Blair

      It’s person-by-person concerning who does what, but yes, domestic concerns should be addressed along with international ones.

      I myself am presently working with getting feral cats adopted; I live near a major military base, and with the deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan a lot of animals just got dumped. Right now I’m trying to get a trio of kittens adjusted to human contact so that I can potentially adopt them out; the parents are too feral to ever adapt to indoor life, but I’m pretty sure I can get the little ones to some place better.

      • ForBarca

        Somehow I don’t believe you. And I mean this in a humorous way: did you write this in jest?

        • Darren Blair

          What do you mean?

          If God can notice a sparrow passing away, He can notice people not caring for the animals of the world.

  • John Carpenter

    I served for two years as a missionary in Ethiopia and lived in Singapore for five years, married to a local. I’m American and now a pastor back in the US.

    I believe that short-term, cross-cultural missions can be useful for a youth, once in his or her life. After that, it is largely a waste of money. The short-termer probably can’t speak the language and so probably won’t be able to do any of those commendable things listed at the introduction. For the cost of flying a short-term missionary to Ethipoia, housing, feeding, and returning him/her, we could fund a local Ethiopian pastor or evangelist to do ministry for several years. And the reality is that most short-term missionaries aren’t going to be really involved with the local people.

    The way the article opens creates a false dichotomy: sure, money can’t hub a child. But it can support a local pastor or evangelist who can and who can do so for years with no language or cultural barriers.

    If we’re really a “global fellowship” then why not share what we have with brothers and sisters in the church world-wide?

    • JR

      Full disclosure, I’m a “repeat offender” when it comes to “short-term” missions.

      If short term mission trips are to be what they were in my church’s youth group when I was a youth, then I would agree–and perhaps go even futher. I think that God used those experiences in my life, but for the most part, they were probably a weak use of time and money at best.

      However, if we start to look at “short-term” missions a different way, they can be a wise investment. For instance, as I said, I’m a “repeat offender”. What I mean by that is that I have been on four “short-term” trips in the past four years. Each of those four trips was to the exact same place, working with the same local churches, loving the same people and doing the same kind of work. I’m a long-term short-termer.

      We go to an unreached people group to encourage the few local believers and to provide leadership training/discipling to the young adults there. I speak the trade language enough to get a solid friendship in place. Many of them, I now count as some of my dearest friends–not because they’re “exotic” (they’re really not), but for the same reasons I count some of my American friends among my dearest. They’re hilarious, they have a fiery passion for God, they love me for who I am, they work alongside me, they’re encouraging, I long to encourage them, etc.

      Could we fund a local pastors to do similar work? Yes, and we do. We’re also working with them to build and exhort the church to a place where they are sufficient on their own (well, with the help of God, but not of “the West”). The two of them can’t do it all though, and they have asked us to come once a year (sometimes more) to help with specific ministries. So, we’re working with the local church on a long-term basis. It just so happens that we’re only able to be with them in person for a few weeks at a time.

      In my opinion, a long-term investment in short-term missions working with the same church or missionary is a whole other category–not long-term missions and not short-term missions, but something in between. We need a word for it, because when we have these discussions about short-term missions, we need to realize that there are different types of short-term missions and avoid making too many gerneralizations. Some short-term missions probably are a a poor investment, but not all are.

      • Brian Considine

        “not long-term missions and not short-term missions, but something in between.”

        Not necessarily in between, in terms of duration, but connected for purpose, vision and strategy. I have recently adopted the term Interconnected Mission to intentionally connect strategy for short and long term together. Interconnected Mission is like a computer network with multiple servers but the sum is greater than the parts. We have planted a dozen churches in Uganda in the past 3 years across several short-term trips. This has been done with a local national leader with whom we have developed a relationship. The church planters are all indigenous workers but we help get the churches started in remote villages through medical outreach and evangelism. Then we turn the work over to the nationals but will support the work through other holistic works – digging a well etc. Our plan calls for sending a team to serve long-term in the areas we are working as support personnel for a long-term community transformation model. What will truly make this Interconnected however is when we have reserve teams coming from Uganda to teach us what they are doing.

        • JR

          Yes! That is what I meant when I said “not long-term missions and not short-term missions, but something in between.” I wasn’t talking about the time frame, but the relationship. Obviously, our relationship can’t be quite as deep as it would be if we were living and integrated in the local culture, but it’s far deeper than it would be if we saw each “destination” as a one-stop hotspot: get in, get out, move on, if you will.

          Too bad “get in, step away, stay in touch, come back, go home again, welcome guests, repeat” doesn’t sound as catchy ;)

      • John Carpenter

        I think you make a good point. It maybe that if short term work is to the same place, with the same people, with a partnership attitude that that could indeed be useful and good stewardship.

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  • paul cummings

    As someone who truly values short term international missions, I can’t tell you the zillion times I’ve heard “But what about domestic missions? Why go when we have so many in need here?”
    Ok…let’s put this one to bed and be done with it…
    1. No one advocating international missions ever says to do it instead of or in place of domestic mission…do them both.
    2. Even the poorest person in the USA has 100x the opportunity to services/ministries and programs of aid compared to 3rd World nations.
    3. We are one of the wealthiest Christian churches in the world (I use that term loosely mind you…) So we have the means to go, whereas other churches have the passion but not the means…

    So can we move on to other parts of the discussion now please?

  • dwainlove

    I have been on two short term mission trips. They were trips I was able to take my family on. Our whole thing is to go in and support the missions group that is there. Both trips were drastically different, but both times we were an asset to the missionaries that were there. We are able to do some things they are not able to do due to lack of money and man power. The real key is to discern if the Lord is at work and is the team called to this particular mission.We firmly believe as a mission team the Lord is at work and that we were definitely called to go. If the Lord isn’t working it’s all for nothing anyway. The missionaries in country do want and need us to come and assist them and the Lord has born fruit by using us. I do not think making a mission trip with the attitude that we are American’s and we have the answers should ever happen. We do not go to spread Americanism or to give material things away. This should also never prevent us from doing missions locally.
    If the Lord is at work in your short term mission trips it is life changing for the team and the people you are serving. The trips have taught me things about God that I may not have learned at home. The Lord has used these trips to change our congregation into a very missions minded congregation. Is it for every person, every mission group or every congregation ? Probably not, but there is no cookie cutter way in determining if we should go on these trips or not. Jesus Christ is not in a box and can work in a 1000 different ways to work His perfect will. We are to abide in Him to the point that His will is our will, and then be willing to do any and all things He commands.

  • the family international church

    Once a Missionaries always will be. God Bless you all Guys!

    the family international church

  • Jared

    I see lots of people saying why help others when people at home need help? That is a GREAT question but one that should be asked in the mirror or during prayer about yourself, not others. Many that take part in short term missions also provide that same kind of support and missionary work in their local communities year round. If you take a week away from home to share that compassion with some new children that does not take away from the 51 other weeks in the year helping the local community.

  • Tom

    Thanks for your insightful article. In writing a paper for a D.Min. at Fuller Seminary, I called Jesus and Paul short-term missionaries and was called up short by my advisor at the time. He said that short-term missons are a phenomenon of the 20th-21st centuries. He said Jesus and Paul were itnerant missionaries. I see his point since ST missions came about as a result of increased ease and moderate costs of travel, time availability as people moved out of the industrial and agrarian ages in the USA, the formation of labor unions that guaranteed time away from work, and the rise of the missle class in Americ. There are some decent articles on the web discussing what an itinerant missionary is. This does not take away from both the pluses and minuses of S/T missions, but does lend a more biblical and cultural accent to the S/T movement.

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  • Spiritual Klutz

    I thought this perspective from Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, is an interesting and contrary perspective:

  • Mandi

    When TGC came out with the articles on short term missions a few months ago, my husband and I pretty much said to each other what the author writes in this article. As an international missionary myself I would hate it if all of the churches in America decided short term trips were a bad investment and stopped helping us. I understand there can be many problems but just as the author said, if a short term trip causes damage to our long-term ministry then my husband and I take responsibility for that. Most of the problems can be solved with clear expectations and guidelines during the planning stages of the trip. It’s ok to tell a church “No” if we think they may damage our ministry. However, when churches send teams as part of an on going ministry with us, everyone is well served. We get extra hands, the people we minister to see that people in other places really care for them and the short term team members go back with better concern for ministry everywhere.

  • Christina Stanton

    Preach it, Mike! Spot-on.

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  • Charlie

    Thank you this message. You’re spot on with the Scriptural illustrations of short term missions. Good job pointing out holes in the “just send money” argument. It is so easy to allow sending money to become an excuse not to engage in missions. It’s a lot easier to send money than to actually use our hands and mouths to spread the Gospel. And we can lose sight of the Gospel ministry when all we do is send money, because we can be ritualistic about sending the same small amount every year while spending lavishly on ourselves. While God has called me to a country I did not feeling his calling to when I went on a short-term trip, I believe short-term missions are best when repeated to the same place.

  • Jared (not the one above)

    I really enjoy the conversation about short-term trips. I read all three articles by Darren Carlson on this website, and really thought he added a lot of clarity to the issue, and the bibliography he provided was quite helpful. Thus, in my response below, I am trying to add thoughtful consideration to the conversation, not malicious criticism.

    I do not think that the article really addresses the key questions of short-term missions (or to use a phrase coined by Mr. Carlson, short-term ministry). For example, yes of course we are called by God to not just send money, but to give our very lives for others. But that’s not the issue. The issue is that we are not really giving our lives for the lost, the poor, the sick, the hungry when we only go for a couple of weeks. We’re giving a couple of weeks.

    Also, the author mentions that a whole host of problems (outlined in the second paragraph) can be dealt with through communication, altered attitudes, and leaving our cultural biases at the airport. This is a vast oversimplification. The truth is that we can’t just leave our biases at the airport. The fact that we know we have biases is itself a bias. We are who we are and we can’t change that during a flight.

    Further, the whole section on “Why Are Short Term Missions Positive?” is based on anecdotal evidence. In Darren Carlson’s articles, he gives a bibliography that includes a very well done essay (A Philosophy of Short-Term Missions at Cornerstone Church, written by Preston Sprinkle, professor at Eternity Bible College) that refutes, almost point by point, every line of this section – there is no evidence that on the whole, “short-term mission trips” are causing increased giving, increased involvement, increased long term missionaries, etc.

    Again, I am not trying to be malicious. I really care about this topic, and I care about people in other countries having a chance to hear the Gospel and become a part of the Church. I do think that “short term mission trips,” as they are currently done in most North American churches, are done poorly and are detrimental to the spread of the Gospel. I am writing this post because I want them to be done well for the glory of God!

  • Honey

    I took a short-term team to Mozambique this summer and I feel like we went completely with the heart of going to serve and support the missionaries working there. One thing that really helped was a book study I did with the team. We read When Helping Hurts. There was one chapter in there about why short-term teams are bad news, but that was part of the purpose in us reading it, to not become one of those short-term teams that do more bad than good. I think it is about being intentional and both parties meeting somewhere in the middle.

    • Mike

      When Helping Hurts is a very helpful book in many ways. Thanks for commending it here and I second your motion.

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  • link for FCF FamilyCare

    It is a greatest award from God to be in the mission and help serving and spreading his gospel.

    God Bless!.

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