Monday, October 19, 2009

Short-Term Mission and Youth Ministry

I recently returned from an annual conference sponsored by the Fellowship of Short-Term Mission Leaders. We bring together leaders connected to this movement that has become known as short-term mission to learn, dream, and improve what has become a one billion dollar industry.

We had people directing ministries, [like me] practitioners, church pastors, authors, team leaders, host receivers, and service providers. About the only folks missing were youth pastors.

That’s right. The leaders responsible for sending a great percentage of our short-term people around the globe were not represented. Not underrepresented mind you. They were not represented. There was not one youth pastor in attendance.

If you are like me, you wonder about stuff like that. You wonder why not one person who leads and inspires students today in churches across America felt four days of learning and training to be better short-term mission participants was worth their time.

So I started asking questions. I didn’t get a lot of answers at first. Most people seemed to say that youth pastors are a busy group. Or the cost [about $1000.00 once you add travel, lodging, and meals] was too much. Some said that as a group, these people we charge with providing religious leadership for our students are just bad planners and like many adverse to commitment.

Then I asked Don. He is a director for a large mid-western mission agency that sends hundreds of shirt-term participants around the globe in support of their long term missionaries. Don said his ministry was asking the same question. So they did some research using focus groups.

They brought in youth pastors from big and small churches. Urban and suburban. Rich and poor. And they asked questions. Trying to find out what they, as a ministry could do to better serve the youth pastors of America regarding short-term mission.

After two days of questions, conversations, and evaluation, Don, and his ministry got their results. The answers may surprise you. They should shock you. They should anger you.
  • Youth Pastors do not believe they need any specialized training to do short-term mission.
  • Youth Pastors do not want to participate in any training related to short-term mission.
  • Youth Pastors believe that those of us who invest our lives in short-term mission have nothing to offer or teach them.
I don’t know about you, but I find this troubling. I spent the better part of my conference talking to other leaders trying to disprove these results. Surely, I thought, these leaders had indeed come across youth pastors who were seeking out training and leadership in this important area of their ministry.

Nope. I found no one who regularly came across youth pastors that saw a need for stuff like cultural training, developing cross cultural ministry partnerships, or real language learning in short-term mission.

This means that the people arguably responsible for sending more Americans abroad than any other group, believe they are adequately trained and in no need of additional insight from some of the top short-term ministry minds in the country.

Is it any wonder people are questioning the effectiveness and indeed, the very idea of short-term missions?

What are your thoughts?