The topic of short-term missions has become a hot-button issues in the American church. On one side you have people comitting the majority of their budget to short-term projects, and on the other side you have missionaries preaching agains the “sin of short-term missions.”
With all of the debate it is important for churches to have a plan in place. Over the next few days (and into next week) I am going to be spending some time on the subject of short-term missions. Specifcally I am going to be addressing the subject from the perspective of the local church.
Guidelines for Short-Term Missions
Every year more and more resources are directed toward short-term missions. Because of the great impact that short-term missions has on International Ministries it is important for each local church to establish guidelines on how it will participate in short-term missions. Each local church needs to define short-term missions, understand the purpose of short-term missions, decide when it will participate in short-term missions, and plan for how it will participate in short-term missions.
A. Definition of Short-Term Missions
There are almost as many definitions of short-term missions as there are churches participating in short-term missions. Without a clear definition for short-term missions it is impossible to determine how the local church is going to approach short-term missions. For this reason it is necessary for each local church to define how it is using the term “short-term missions.” For the purpose of this document “short-term missions” is defined as cross-cultural ministry projects or endeavors lasting no more than two years. Within this broad definition short-term missions can also be broken down into two more specific categories. First, there are “short-term trips” that provide members of the congregation with exposure to International Ministries. Because these trips will include lay members of the congregation and will be demanding on the International workers they must last no longer than twelve weeks. The second category of short-term missions is “short-term ministries.” These short-term opportunities can be used to provide a qualified worker to fill a specific and temporary need on an international field (i.e. a professor to fill for a semester), or as an opportunity for the church to assess candidates who desire to be International Workers. Due to the nature of these trips they should be limited in duration to no less than twelve weeks and no more than twenty-four months.
B. Purpose of Short-Term Missions
In order for the local church to be effectively involved in short-term missions it must understand what short-term missions can and cannot accomplish. The purpose of short-term missions is to enhance an already effective long term involvement in International Ministries. Short-term missions can not replace long term involvement on an international field. However, short-term missions can be used to increase the effectiveness of a church’s involvement in International Ministries in at least four specific ways. First, Short-term missions can be used to provide the members of the congregation with exposure to International Ministries. Second, short-term missions can help churches to effectively evaluate candidates seeking to enter an international field. Third, short-term missions can encourage and support international workers already on the field. Finally, short-term missions can also be used to accomplish specific tasks and work projects.