Short-term missions are a controversial part of the missions landscape today...From stories of modern day colonialism, to hyper-emotional narratives about participant life change (separated from any tangible impact on the ground), to missions “tourism,” where it seems like the trips are more about visiting an exotic new place (and taking an inordinate amount of selfies) than they are about partnering in ministries for the long haul.
As a part of the landscape, we believe that short-term missions are here to stay, but we also believe that somewhere along the way, our posture became a bit skewed. Wrong posture leads to misalignment, often resulting in pain or damage done to the Body. By reassessing where we’ve gone wrong, and focusing again on solid biblical (not cultural) missiology, we can redeem these short-term experiences for the benefit of the Church.
Here are two of four posture shifts that we believe the Western Church needs to make:
MOVING FROM SAVIORS to PARTICIPANTS
Poor posture: We're coming in to "save the day," and narratives of only hyper-spiritual experiences like: casting out demons, exponential conversions, physical healing, etc.
Expectations for God to move are not wrong – in fact, they are probably one reason we do see God move, often in big ways, on trips! There’s a freshness of faith that we often experience on short-term trips. However, there’s also a crushing disappointment or even confusion if God does not show up in this way. We feel we’ve somehow done something wrong, or failed, or begin to doubt our relationship with Jesus… There is a narrative in STM of us saving, us doing something really grand for “the other”. Instead of confusion setting in when we don’t experience this, we need to turn to the bigger story of the gospel.
Let’s reflect on Israel, God’s chosen nation to demonstrate to the world the unfolding gospel story of rescue. God chooses them specially, rescues them from Egypt, and brings them out to be evidence of Him in the world. But we see over and over again that the ones called to be rescuers are themselves in need of rescuing! Jesus instead comes in the flesh, as the perfect Israel, to save those who need his help to in turn incarnate His presence to the world. This help comes in the form of the Holy Spirit.
When we remember God’s saving work in our lives, our own rescue from captivity to sin (from Egypt), and when we rely on the Holy Spirit, we can enter into participation with Him in His work. We move from saviors to participants. Our job is to remain connected to the Spirit, to the truth of the gospel, and to remember that God is continuing His redemptive work He’s been doing since the beginning. He doesn’t owe us anything, but by His Spirit’s power, we get to be grateful (and excited) participants.
MOVING FROM EXPERTS to LEARNERS
Poor posture: We know what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, and how much time it’s going to take.
This is a pretty myopic (and Western) view of the world! And it goes by another name: paternalism. Paternalism happens when those in authority or with power assume they know what’s best for those with less power, and make decisions in their best interest, often without their consultation and with ramifications for their freedom and responsibility. By placing ourselves as “experts” we are restricting those who actually know best, and exalting ourselves to a place we weren’t meant to be. This happens when we come into short-term trips and want to dictate what happens, whether the projects we serve on, or the manner in which they’re carried out, and when we make demands to those on the ground, with the expectation that they need to listen to us, rather than the other way around.
The needs of the local church and the community are known best by those invested there long-term and those from the community. We are to enter as learners, not experts - ready to listen, ready to serve in whatever way is requested, regardless or not we think it’s the most effective or best use of our time. We need to prep our teams to come in this posture of learning, of listening. Only when we posture ourselves humbly, to learn from and partner with our brothers and sisters, can we bless our ministry partners through short-term trips.
Stay tuned for our next email on the last two posture shifts for short-term missions!
Britt Cooper serves as the Trips and Communications Coordinator for Envision, facilitating short-term trips to our Envision sites and handling website, social media, and marketing. Britt is originally from Iowa, and enjoys hiking 14ers, baking pies, and gathering around the table with friends.