I have often felt that short-term missions held the key to funding long-term missionary work around the globe.
Thinking about this, I struggled to discover a way to connect the dots.
Dr. Larry Hovis of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina gives us a clear path to exactly what I believe can be the key to our ongoing missionary witness across the globe. But only if our churches and both career and short-term missionaries are willing to see themselves as interconnected as part of the global mission of the church.
We are seeing a decline in long-term mission giving that predates the worldwide financial crisis. In the early 2000’s, both the American Baptists and the Southern Baptists were experiencing significant declines in their ability to sustain missionaries in the field.
Both of these historically robust missionary minded denominations were bringing more people off the field than they were deploying, primarily due to a lack in funding.
Yet as that was happening, the short-term mission movement continued to grow, both in participants, and its ability to get funded.
Little Johnny was showing an ability to reach out and into the wallets of his friends and family for his short-term journey to Uganda in a way the career missionary can only imagine.
The simple fact that someone spends his or her life on the field, halfway around the world, means that they do not have the personal relationships here in the United States to leverage into real support.
And they should not be expected to! Yet that was quickly becoming the new model for funding long-term missionary support.
If our career missionaries are doing their jobs properly, the majority of their closest relationships should be in the countries where they are serving, not the United States.
To ask these dedicated men and women of God to return to the US and drive around begging for support from thousands of people they only see once every four years is almost unconscionable.
What Should We Do?
This is where Dr. Hovis’ idea comes into focus.
He suggests that every short-term mission team that visits another country should raise double their cost, and give that extra money directly to the in-field host receiver or career missionary as part of his support.
Imagine the impact of an idea like this on our global missions movement.
On-field host receivers and career missionaries, serving the constantly growing short-term mission movement would see an immediate increase in support. This, I am sure, would lead to better relationship between these two divergent styles of ministry, and would finally cement what has been an uneasy, though necessary partnership.
Over the years, we have seen a hostility towards short-term mission, often from on-field career missionaries. There has been this belief that the STM people not only are engaging in useless feel good project ministries, but that they are also sucking needed financial resources from “truly important missionary efforts” done by the long-term missionary.
I refuse to see short-term mission in competition with our longer term global missionary efforts. I have always believed the Kingdom would be better served if we merged the two sides of this coin for a greater good.
A Radical Idea
What if career missionaries acknowledged the real accomplishments of short-term missions and changed their methodology to one of acceptance and even joy at the prospect of working together for His Kingdom?
What if the short-term mission teams acknowledged that without the career missionary preparing the way for their week long journeys, short-term mission could not exist and that as such, they have a calling to support that ministry, not only with their presence, but financially?
Perhaps Dr. Hovis is onto something. Using the incredible ability of little Johnny to raise funds not only for his personal journey, but for the larger missionary calling of the church.
It’s a radical idea and one that I believe the church ignores at her peril.
Will we continue to place unrealistic financial burdens on our missionaries in the field, or will we empower and expect the short-term mission movement to become part of the solution to our current missionary retreat?