You can read enough of the chapter to get the gist, but out of respect for Thomas Nelson Publishers, if you want the whole enchilada, you’ll need to buy it.
It really is worth owning (I don’t get any royalties, and I’m not bitter about that).
Supporting and Directing Those We Send –
by Clint Archer
William Carey, widely regarded as the father of modern missions, volunteered for his pioneering mission to India with this challenge to his supporters: “I am willing to go into the pit, if you will hold the ropes.” The echo of that need is what drives churches to continually explore more effective ways of supporting missionaries. Short-term missions (STM) is one significant way of tightening your church’s grip on the ropes of support.
The very phrase “short-term” may conjure up ideas of quick-start ideas, shortsighted goals, and skin-deep impressions. STM, however, reflects God’s eternal endeavor to extend His fame to all the people groups of the earth. And the effect of a short burst of ministry can last eternity. The power of a bullet is not measured by the time spent in flight, but the impact made on the target; STM proves that ministry effectiveness can never be measured by a stop-watch.
MISCONCEPTIONS OF STM
Ideas of what an STM trip is, are as abundant as youth pastors who want a free ticket to overseas adventure. But understanding what STM is, and what it is not, can help shape an effective outreach strategy for your church and can make a short burst of energy resound with lasting results for God’s kingdom.
STM and Missions
An STM trip is not “missions.” An annual two to six week visit abroad does not have the same effect a lifetime missionary does. The misconception that STM is missions leads to churches thinking they are doing missions, when in fact they are not. Missions is when called, trained, and commissioned Christians and their families uproot from their home to be transplanted on foreign soil. They sacrifice the comfort, familiarity, and often safety of home for one purpose—to propel Christ’s gospel enterprise to yet another corner of the globe. To call a three week trip to dig a well in a village “missions” is to undervalue their sacrifice. But though we are not living in Carey’s “pit” with them, we can hold the “ropes” of financial support, fervent prayer, and physical assistance.
STM and Church Planting
The STM endeavor can never be divorced from the local church. To think that it can, is a misconception that leads to loose cannons rolling around the mission field potentially doing more harm than good. Neither the sending agency nor the receiving group should be free from the careful oversight of an established local church.
“But,” the objection goes, “what if there is no established church to which to send the team?” The desire of global-minded believers, naturally, is to plant a church, but STM trips are not best suited for starting churches in new areas. Church planting is a highly technical ministry that takes specialized training, long-term strategy, and enduring support. It is not the place of the STM to usurp this ministry, but to support it.
Unfortunately some trips are less effective than they could be because they are sent to an “unreached” region, the gospel is preached, souls are saved, and then the team returns home abandoning fledgling believers to a new spiritual life with no church to incubate them.
The team may even report with great excitement to their home church that they “planted a church” on their two week excursion. But at best there is a loosely affiliated group of brand-new believers with no qualified leaders and no suitable pastor.
This is why STM evangelism must be done in conjunction with an already established, native, local church devoted to the equipping and nurturing of the new converts. STM has an important role to play in church planting—it supports churches better than starting them.
STM and Personal Spiritual Growth
Another common misconception is that an STM trip is merely an opportunity for immature believers or those with stagnating spiritual lives to have an experience that will boost their walk with the Lord. STM is treated like a Christian Club-Med or day-spa for spiritual invigoration. This is when those who have been believers for a while, but feel their walk with the Lord has reached a plateau, want a shot of spiritual adrenalin to revitalize their waning passion for Christ. This is disastrous on many levels.
A team populated primarily with “baby believers” is doomed to fail. STM trips are often very difficult to cope with, they require great levels of patience, wisdom, humility, sacrifice, and even physical endurance. It may have the desired result that the members of the team learn and grow a lot, but this will happen at the expense of the effectiveness of the trip. The usefulness of the team depends largely on the spiritual maturity of its members. The trip is not a time to get spiritually mature, but to be spiritually mature.
STM and Finances
“STM trips are an inefficient use of funds.” This common objection stems from the misconception that if there were no STM trip in a given year, the money used on the trip would be allocated to some more worthy project. But STM funds are generally raised by the team members from family and friends, not just paid for by the church. So money is not being diverted from one project to another, it is being raised and designated for the STM.
Experience has proven that the money raised for STM trips is almost always given by those who have a personal connection to the travelers. The donors are usually giving to someone they know because of their relationship with that person, so if that traveler were not going on an STM trip, it’s not as if the donor would necessarily increase their contribution to their church’s building fund. Also, many donations for STM trips come from those outside the church. A church member would probably not ask their co-workers or extended family to contribute to a building fund, but they would ask for a contribution to support them personally as they travel abroad for missions.
Another reason people object to the cost involved is because it seems like a waste of money to do a project that locals could do more cheaply. And frankly, some STM trips do waste money; they are essentially overpriced ways of accomplishing what a donor’s check could do better.
The blame for this belongs to the sending church. When a missionary needs a roof repaired, he can either request the $2000 it will cost him to buy the materials, hire unemployed locals, and skilled artisans, or he can ask his sending church to send ten unskilled teenagers at $2000 per ticket, to patch together a roof for him. Unfortunately experience has shown that he is more likely to get his sending church excited about the inefficient, ineffective STM trip, than he is to get an unglamorous check.
To avoid this the STM trip needs to have more objectives than simply being overpriced manual labor. A carefully selected STM team can do what local artisans cannot do:s minister to the missionary family, encourage the local believers, be an example of sacrifice and selfless service to young believers, and play other spiritually supportive roles. In a sense the water tower they build is incidental to the relationships they forge, the lives they impact, and the spiritual encouragement they bring; you can’t put a price tag on that.
STM is not a novel idea. The concept wasn’t the hatched by a retired tour guide; it is clearly modeled for us in the Book of Acts. Although Scripture does not command STM trips, we certainly see the example of brief visits being employed in the initial spread of the gospel in Europe and Asia Minor. [...content removed...] Most of what we refer to as “Paul’s missionary journeys,” could be more accurately called “Paul’s STM trips.”
Some of Paul’s journeys were neither church planting nor primarily evangelistic in nature, but had a goal of encouraging those were in the church plants. One example is found in Acts 15:36 “And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.’”
And when Paul himself was detained for long periods, away from home and in need of fellowship, we read of him requesting small bands of believers to join him for the purpose of ministering to him, and to bring supplies. For example Paul asked for Mark to come to him with parchments and a cloak (2 Tim 4:13). This is what STM does best—encourage, minister, and bring resources to those who are laboring for the gospel away from home.
When done well STM trips can be valuable tools for international outreach. Rather than being a burden on the receiving church, STM trips can provide encouragement for the weary missionary couple, company for lonely missionary kids, examples of godliness for the community, and helpful assistance in building projects, vacation Bible schools, and community evangelism outreaches.
STM trips export the soothing balm of fellowship and encouragement to the missionaries, and brings a slice of their homeland to them. The role of the STM is to bolster the missionaries’ capabilities for ministry and reinforce their frontline assault on the enemy’s fortress. Our mission is to assist them in their mission.
Conversely a poorly planned STM can place unnecessary burdens on missionaries. Imagine you had to host twelve rambunctious, immature teenagers who are constantly whining about the local food and pining for their Playstations. Those three weeks would not seem “short-term” to you!
There are choices that can be made early in the process of planning a trip which can make all the difference in how effective the trip is. Careful planning and considerate decisions can go a long way to making the long journey worthwhile for everyone involved.
Select the Right Target
There are five basic groups that can be impacted by the trips I have arranged these in a suggested ascending order of importance: the STM traveler, the local unbelievers, the sending church, the local believers, and the missionaries. It is possible and preferable for all these targets to be impacted by the trip. There is always overlap. But the primary target—the bull’s eye—needs to be the missionary. Focusing on the wrong target causes your trip to miss the mark of its optimum effectiveness for the kingdom, and it can leave donors, missionaries, and travelers disillusioned.
STM Traveler. This is the worst group to build an STM trip around, yet it is the most frequently targeted group from a marketing perspective. Perhaps you have seen advertisements for STM trips in church bulletins promising a “life-changing experience” as the primary draw-card for the trip. The Navy tried this with cheerful posters inviting potential recruits to “Join the Navy See the World” as if the primary objective in having a Navy was to provide sight-seeing opportunities to bored young men. Unfortunately this strategy of marketing a team is missing the point of STM. Yes, there will be personal benefit for the traveler, but if enriching the STM traveler is the goal, the trip will be organized around what is best for the team, rather than what is the most benefit for the missionary.
Unbelievers. Another target group which may receive benefit, but should not be the primary focus of the team’s efforts, is the local unbelievers. Converting the lost so that they bring glory to God is the ultimate goal of missions, but it is not the primary focus of the STM team. (Remember that it is a misconception to think of STM trips as missions.) Unbelievers are best reached by the long-term witness of a faithful missionary, not the blitz-evangelism of visiting travelers. When the STM leaders bear this in mind, they can plan a trip that will support the missionary’s long-term strategy for that region.
If the goal is to evangelize unbelievers, a trip may be organized apart from any native local church. For example, a church might send ten travelers to a random “needy” area to preach the gospel with no knowledge of what local churches exist there. One of three possible scenarios will develop: first, the team is disappointed at the lack of converts, and the expense and effort feels like a waste. Second, eager for results, they interpret the least sign of interest as a certain conversion story to report to their home church. I.e. they declare confidently, “We had fifty converts!” because fifty people repeated the sinner’s prayer after an open-air sermon. Or the third possibility is that many people are converted, but then left as spiritual orphans with no local church leadership to guide them.
Sending church. The church which sends the STM team will undoubtedly receive the blessings that accompany sacrificial giving. They will also gain an appreciation for global outreach, an enlarged sense of God’s redemptive worldwide work, and a cadre of enthusiastic travelers who, on return, will inject zeal into the missions work of the church. But, like the above groups, this should not be the primary target.
If the sending church is treated as the primary focus, the team can end up being a burden on the missionary. The church will send teams to more exotic locations or ministries where the fruit of ministry is more tangible. The sending church gets most excited when it received reports of conversions, sees slides of very foreign-looking places and people, and hears that buildings were erected (however shoddily the work was done). But the ministry with the greatest need might be one without much photogenic glamour. [...content removed...]
Local believers. The native believers (e.g. converts who were saved under the missionary’s ministry) are frequently neglected to be seen as a viable target group for STM trips. Yet, this is one of the more helpful activities a team can be involved in. Often these local believers are in a discouraging minority and are not exposed to other people who believe the same teachings they do. The value of a team comprising godly strangers who give up vacation time and money to spend time with these isolated saints in fellowship and discipleship cannot be overestimated. It is immensely encouraging to meet people who are like-minded, and to experience the instantaneous bond of love that Christians enjoy.
Relationships with foreign visitors forged in service and fellowship that begin on STM trips can last a lifetime, and can be a great source of encouragement. Also the congregation can see that what they have been taught is not as marginal as it seems in their community. Local believers are a worthy target group to consider.
Missionary. So how is it that a short-term blitz mission can have long-term impact that serves the kingdom of God? The answer lies with the on-field missionary. The missionary is the bull’s eye of all the target groups. He is the one who has the training, experience, and cross-cultural expertise to plot a long-term strategy to reach the lost in his field. The policy of an effective STM program is simple: give the missionary what he needs. Your task is to support his task.
Start with the missionaries expressed needs and desires, not what you can offer. If the two don’t match up, tell him you are unable to meet that particular need at this time. Do not be a desperate match-maker for an unsuitable pair.
Here are some questions to ask your missionary to ensure your team meets a real need:
1) Do you want an STM team this year? Do not skip this question. Many churches assume that their team is God’s gift to the missionary. Many missionaries, however, think of the teams as a test of their sanctification. Remember your missionary is the one who knows his field best, and some situations are volatile and require sensitivity to the culture for which untrained volunteers are not equipped.
2) When suits you? Often missionaries have a long-term strategy which would require a team at a particular time of the year suitable to their country’s school calendar. Your Christmas break might not best suit a Muslim calendar, and your Summer vacation period might coincide with a formidable Russian winter (quite an obstacle to outdoor street evangelism in my experience).
3) How many of us can you comfortably host? If you open your trip up to everyone who has a passport, your missionary may have to commandeer a school bus to get you home from the airport. As one who has received as well as sent STM trips I have found that it is most economical to host teams that come in increments that can legally squeeze into a mini-bus. That means (with luggage) seven or eight if one has an international license, ten if they are all thin. Eleven visitors brings the unwelcome expense of hiring an additional car and arranging another driver. These numbers will differ drastically from field to field, so consult your missionary before you tell applicants they are accepted.
4) What do you need us to do, and whom do you need to do it? [...content removed...]
5) How much is this going to cost you? [...content removed...]
Assure your missionary that this trip will not cost him a single rupee. Horde every receipt of every tank of gas he pays for, hijack every restaurant bill before it gets to him. Come with lavish gifts for his family, and get ideas of what they need including books, baking ingredients, local magazines, and football jerseys for the kids. Please, no used tea bags.
Select the Right Task
An effective team will have realistic expectations and organized goals. Your team cannot do everything. So decide what you can do, and strive to do that with excellence. Some examples of types of tasks usually done by STM teams include doing evangelism, providing labor, running projects, and providing specialized ministry services.
Evangelism. Trips that focus on evangelism are most useful in a local church context. Take the missionary’s lead on when, where, and how to approach people with the gospel.
Labor. Building projects can be done if the team has good builders on it. These trips can be useful in the missionary’s strategy to witness to the community, as well as provide skills that may not be available locally. If the team’s labor could be provided by local workers for cheaper, then the STM trip may be missing the point of their ministry.
Sometimes providing labor is only the backdrop for the real ministry the missionary has in mind for the team. Make sure the team is prepared to do the other tasks the missionary has in mind while wielding a hammer, for example sharing testimonies, engaging unbelievers in conversation on the building site, and discipling local believers in host homes.
Projects. Sometimes the presence of foreigners attracts people and lends excitement and even credibility to a project the local church has in mind. For example when Americans run a Vacation Bible School in Japan, more parents in the community are likely to send their children, in the hopes that they can practice their English.
Specialized Ministry. The local missionary may need the resources of specialized skills to accomplish a task. Examples of these trips include, medical, teaching in seminary, sports camps, music outreaches, and English classes with trained ESL teachers.
Select the Right Team
Tour guides assemble travelers based on if they can pay, but STM teams need to be more discriminating if they are to succeed.
Spiritual qualifications. If you select a team full of baby Christians, just be aware that you are going to be wiping their spiritual noses the whole time. This is not to say that everyone on the trip must have a Bible degree and be elder qualified. STM trips can be a good stretching experience for a young believer, as long as the leader is aware of that need, and the trip can support the spiritual deadweight. I have been on many trips where one ungodly apple begins to spoil the lot because the leader was not able to keep their whining complaints at bay.
Ideally you want the leader and a few others who are very mature, some who are ready for the stretching experience, and at most two who are immature.
Skills. Make sure that the team has people who can do what is required. Your elderly folk may be helpful in certain ministries, but basketball camp is probably suited for those with the skills and blood pressure levels conducive to sports ministry. If the water tower you build collapses, no one will remember the collective Bible knowledge of the team, just the cost of repairing shoddy work.
Travel experience. There should always be someone on the team who has had travel experience of the type the team is planning. A calming voice of experience can help when people get lost on the subway (and they will) lose their passports, or lose their patience. Someone who has haggled over a rickshaw fare in Calcutta is less likely to burst into tears when the team’s taxi driver begins negotiations.
Once the right target, task, and team have been selected, arrange as many training sessions as is reasonable. These times should include prayerfully familiarizing the team with the missionary family, preparing for the tasks, and bonding time for the team.
We all know from experience that thoughtful gifts can be far more useful than thoughtless ones. Your STM teams can be the most useful gifts your missionaries receive that year if careful thought and planning goes into the endeavor. It can make them feel loved, appreciated, missed, and supported. But when STM teams are sent without the correct strategy in place, money is wasted, hopes are dashed, and the burden on missionaries is increased rather than alleviated. STM trips should be treated as valuable ways of prolonging and deepening the ministry of missionaries. The tighter you hold the rope, the longer and deeper they can bring God’s light into the pit.