Seven Misconceptions About Short Term Missions
By: Seth Barnes
We've all been victimized by lies.
My guess is that the plot in half of all sitcoms is based on a difficult situation wherein one of the characters is tempted to shade the truth.
Not only does our enemy trade in bald-faced lies, but he also has a fondness for the subtle misconception. Sometimes it can be just as effective.
In undermining the validity of short-term missions as a tool in the discipleship of students, misconceptions are particularly useful.
There are many. I've made a list of the seven most common ones here:
Misconception #1: Everyone should have a shot at going on a project.
FACT: Missions has always been a privileged calling. Only in recent years have entire youth groups gone on missions projects. Such an approach devalues the experience. Youth leaders should establish criteria that allow group members to self-select. Those whose hearts aren't in it should be left behind.
Misconception #2: Only a select few should go on a project.
FACT: Some set an arbitrary limit on numbers based on finances available. If God calls your youth to the field, let Him find a way to pay for it.
Misconception #3: As the youth leader, I have to go on the project to make it a success.
FACT: You're not indispensable. If you've developed solid lay leadership, consider trusting them with the job of running your project. Doing this frees you up to sponsor several projects in a given summer, one for more advanced students, and one for entry-level students.
Misconception #4: Projects need to cost a lot to be worthwhile.
FACT: The average entry-level project should not cost more than about $300 plus transportation. Taking your students to Russia for $3,000 the first time out of the gate gives us all a black eye. It's simply poor stewardship of scarce missions dollars. It gives ammunition to those who want to call a halt to the flood of student missionaries.
Misconception #5: I can do projects more cheaply on my own.
FACT: Your time is money just like anybody else's time. The hours you spend setting up a missions project are hours you take away from ministering to your students. Your church is paying you to do ministry, not to do logistics.
Misconception #6: Work camps are short-term missions projects.
FACT: Many are really more of a hybrid camp/missions project. They often pose little cross-cultural challenge, little socio-economic challenge, and little spiritual challenge. That's not to minimize the good they do. However, a good short-term mission trip produces a high incidence of life change because of its corresponding high level of spiritual challenge.
Misconception #7: U.S. projects should always be alternated with overseas projects.
FACT: This strategy is frequently used by groups that experience boom and bust cycles of fundraising. Jesus said, "Go into all the world" in the same breath as he said, "Go into Jerusalem."
These mandates can be pursued simultaneously. U.S. projects are more appropriate for entry-level groups, whereas those who have ministry experience may need the challenge that an overseas project offers.
I saw a good example of this last misconception in action when I spoke with Lee Balinas, former youth pastor at Slidell Baptist Church in Louisiana.
Years ago, he took 60 students from his group on a Mexico missions project. Another large Baptist church from Slidell had planned a very similar experience that involved staying in the same area of south Texas. Yet, there was a key difference between the two projects.
Balinas recounts how this difference surfaced: "The other group did VBS in a nearby Texas town in the morning, took the afternoons off, and held revival services in an Anglo church each evening. Our students crossed the Mexican border into a different culture, country and world on a daily basis. They were confronted with poverty like they had never seen before.
"They had to confront the person in the mirror daily as to their own selfishness, greed, and laziness. They had to give thanks to God for the grace of the situation they found themselves in at home. Our group was never the same! The other group also had a good time. But they were slack-jawed as they met our students at the start of school that fall and shared experiences."
Both trips cost approximately the same amount of money, but the group that went into Mexico had a brush with truth that radicalized many of them.
Short-term missions can be the best tool in your toolbox as you disciple your students. But this tool comes in all different shapes and sizes.
As youth pastors, we need discernment about not only the big, bold lies that we confront every day, but about anything that diminishes the truth.
Understanding the misconceptions about mission trips is an important step in selecting the one that's most appropriate for your group.
Seth Barnes is the executive director of Adventures in Missions, www.adventures.org.