Something is awry in the mission commitments of many congregations. Enthusiasm is easily generated for short-term missions, yet career missionaries discover that few people want to hear about their work. Auctions and car washes raise funds for short-termers, while money for established projects can suffer.
Unfortunately, much of our short-term work fosters dependency instead of empowering people. And because of inadequate preparation, some short-termers damage existing Christian witness or exhaust missionaries and national leaders.
Harsh words? "Surely that's extreme," many readers may respond. "My grandchild went on a short-term mission and came home a new person." Granted, I too have sent my sons on short-term youth missions and will continue to do so. Christian parents should wish for their children a vision for mission.
But any strategy that deflects resources from long-term to short-term workers, even indirectly, is surely misguided. One flagship megachurch with a budget of $15 million aims to send 8,000 of its members on short-term missions trips annually, while supporting no career missionaries. This may be an extreme example. Yet why do so many congregations assume they must see missions firsthand before they will give? Why do they need to see videos of themselves on location before they care about missions?
Prayer, money, and enthusiasm must focus on long-term workers-both nationals and expatriates-viewing short-term workers as a complement to them. Writing on the downturn in career missionaries, Robert T. Coote says:
In a world where hundreds of millions have yet to hear the name of Christ and additional millions have not heard the gospel presented effectively in their cultural context, there is no substitute for the ...1