Short Term Missions: Are They Helpful?

Though I don’t agree with some of the biblical-theological aspects of When Helping Hurts, I found some of the practical discussions very helpful.  For one example, the chapter on short-term missions (STMs) was worth the price of the book (in my opinion).  Having been on a few STMs myself, I always wondered if they were worth the time, energy, and money.  In a nutshell, When Helping Hurts is quite critical of STMs.  However, the book also says that STMs can be done in a right way.  You’ll have to get the book to read it for yourself if you want to learn more.  Right now I want to highlight the stewardship aspect of STMs by quoting two paragraphs.

“The presence of these indigenous ministries [in other countries] raises some significant stewardship issues for North American STMs.  For example, a highly respected organization equips and manages national evangelists across the continent of Africa.  The total annual cost of these evangelists is $1,540 per year for salary ($1,200), mountain bike ($250), and backpack, team shirt, and bedroll ($90).  Another outstanding Christian relief and development organization employs community-level workers doing holistic development work for $1,500 to $5,000 per year.  Contrast these numbers with the expense of doing an STM trip.  Spending $20,000 to $40,000 for ten to twenty people to be on location for two weeks or less is not uncommon.  The money spent on a single STM team for a one- to two-week experience would be sufficient to support more than a dozen far more effective indigenous workers for an entire year.  And we complain about wasteful government spending!  The profound stewardship issues here should not be glossed over.”

“Some defenders of STMs argue that the money spent on STMs is new money for missions.  Because the giver typically knows the person or team and the gift is seen as onetime and without a deep commitment, money given for STMs is money that would not be given for other forms of missions such as supporting indigenous ministries.  If this is an accurate description of the nature of giving to STMs, it is very sad.  Why can’t God’s people be challenged – from the pulpit and beyond – to exercise better stewardship of kingdom resources with their missions giving?  While higher impact strategies may provide less satisfaction than STMs for the giver in terms of ‘personal involvement or connection,’ isn’t it a great modeling of the gospel to die to self so that others might benefit?  Yes, this goes against the current cultural demand to touch, taste, and experience for myself.  But the gospel has always called for challenging societal norms if they hinder the advancement of Christ’s kingdom.  It is not about us.  It is about Him!

That’s well stated; I don’t have anything to add!  Here is the full info of the book: When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert (Chicago: Moody, 2009).

shane lems