How Can Short-Term Missions Best Advance God's Mission?
How would you reform the guiding narrative of short-term missions?
The place to start is a robust theology of mission. It's not about just evangelism or just humanitarian aid, but the missio dei—God reconciling humanity to himself and reconciling humans to one another. Everything we do on a short-term mission trip should be seen through that lens. So, the time that we spend in work, building a home or spending time with orphans—that's mission. But so is going to a museum, talking with the mayor of a local town, or even going to a beautiful beach.
Doesn't this make short-term mission trips sound like Christian tourism? What makes it specifically a missions trip?
We think of tourism—things like visiting a beach or museum—as being "self-centered," "shallow," and "secular." By contrast, we equate "mission" with being "spiritual," "generous," and "sacrificial." So we might plan a "tourist day" into our trip, but we might feel bad about that, or think that the "mission" portion is over. But I'd actually like to see this distinction broken down. When we travel—whether we're building a house, visiting a beach, or even just moving through the airport—we're on God's mission. We shouldn't differentiate between "mission" and "not mission." The whole trip should be an experience of learning, growing, and serving God. Listening and learning from people, about people, about places, about what God is doing—this is God's mission, and it should be ours as well.