Monday, December 14, 2009

In Short-Term Mission, Who Serves Who?

I recently came across an organization with a web site that offers mission-adventure and mission-wilderness trips.

For anyone serious about quality short-term mission work, this should be a real concern. Because the focus of these types of mission adventures is almost always primarily, or first, on the person going.

In a practical sense, let me give you an example. I was recently contacted by a church about serving with us alongside one of our partner ministries in Mexico. In order to make sure that their students were not exposed to anything too different from their home church, they asked me to get the pastor in Mexico to agree to limit the way he and his church worship God.

I don’t know about you, but that kind of self-centered thinking worries me. Unfortunately, many of us in the short-term mission world are as guilty as anyone in perpetuating it.

We regularly talk about, and even promote our ministries as places where you can come and really experience God’s passion, as if that is not possible in your home church.

Short-term ministry advocates call on people to leave their comfort zones and go serve, yet the emphasis is typically on the benefit they will receive as a result of going. You are changed. You are discipled. You will never be the same.

I have used those same phrases myself!

How do we square this with the Gospel account in Matthew 16 that to really seek after Jesus, one “must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me [Him]?” Isn’t a discipleship model focused primarily for our own benefit not what He desires for us?

The church example I cited above is a logical outgrowth of this type of me or my church first thinking.

When our primary concern is about our own growth and discipleship, as opposed to those with whom we serve, we make demands. Demands that we be served or that things be how we want them.

If we truly believe that we are called to emulate Jesus and serve others as part of living a missional life style, then we have some work to do.

Any thoughts?

2 comments:

Michael said...

I love your challenging thoughts Dave.

Affluence and consumerism will always be detrimental to the effectiveness of short term missions. Affluence has a way of making things that aren't important important and everything gets out of alignment. We no longer work to survive and provide the necessities for our family. Now the goal of work is to make enough to pay someone else to do all our "dirty work" and to live in luxury. We hire someone to mow our lawn, clean our house, fix our car, care for our children, we buy cars with TV's in them and each of us has a personal entertainment system in our phone. And now in the last couple decades "experience" has become one of those ultimate pursuits. So now we pay hundreds and thousands of dollars for great experiences. Short Term Missions have become like an experiential summer camp. The vast majority of the time the participants and leaders do not have the best interests of the hosts in mind. Most often its innocent ignorance.

I don't know that there is a "solution". But I'm grateful for Dave and organizations like AIL and stmstandards.org that are really tackling the problem rather than expanding their kingdom with slick pitches and a great price point.

Dave Miller said...

Gracias Miguel, you have been one who regularly asks how you are serving and I believe that is so important.

I have, and do appreciate that!