Friday, September 19, 2014

Maybe Bucket List Christians are the problem and not short-term mission...

Dave Miller, Adventures in Life Ministry, Short term mission, Notes from Dave
AIL Ministry Executive Director
Dave Miller
Recently Noel Becchetti, formerly of the Center for Student Missions wrote an article titled “Why Most Mission Trips are a Waste of Time, and how to make sure yours isn’t” that was shared by a friend of mine on Facebook.

In his article, Becchetti brought up all the requisite failures we’ve heard for years about short-term mission and ministry, and they all start with our need...

• to control
• to define the ministry
• to see results

As someone who has served in short-term mission [STM] for over 20 years, first leading teams and then ultimately, receiving teams and participants, let me begin by affirming Noel’s list.

There are few leaders in short-term mission, myself included, who would not agree heartily with each of these issues. As leaders, and in many cases, pioneers of the short-term movement, we’ve been guilty of each of the offenses Noel cites, and probably more. Look closely at each of the problems mentioned and you’ll see a central theme... US! Broken, sinful, prideful, controlling people who have grown up in a world that tells us it’s all about us. Sadly, lest we get too puffed up, that includes our churches too. 

What’s encouraging is that in response to a history of at best lackluster short-term mission, those of us in short-term mission leadership chose to do something radical about it.

We looked critically at our mission. We examined our methodology, our ministry, our planning, everything. You know what we found out? Our critics were right. About the only good thing we saw were hearts that were beating for people to come into an eternal relationship with Jesus Christ.

And with that as a backdrop, we set about to change the way short-term mission was done. No longer would our mission trips be all about us, the primary villain Bechetti finds in his Pogoesque “the enemy is us” critique.

This effort soon came to be known as the US Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission, an accrediting and resourcing body for those who send, receive, facilitate and support short-term mission. Not only did we not want mission trips to be waste of time, filled with busy work like painting fences for the 100th time, we wanted them to truly be about God and His glory, lived out on the mission field. 

7 Standards were soon developed by the short-term community that literally address all the issues that critics of STM have raised for years. Unfortunately, not enough people involved in sending short-term teams are even aware of the standards. Worse, some people and churches have simply decided to reject them as too difficult to embrace. I believe Standard 1, calling for a God centered life and Standard 2, calling for empowering partnerships are the biggest stumbling blocks for large numbers of churches and groups, known as senders. 

Let me explain.

Standard 1, a requirement of a God centered life would seem to eliminate many people without a faith in Jesus. As logical as that may seem, this requirement smacks up against the desire of many leaders, particularly those working in student ministries to use short-term mission as an evangelistic tool.

What should a youth pastor do if little Johnny wants to join his friends on a short-term mission trip, yet has never made a profession of faith, or is not currently living a faith centered in Jesus? Should he be allowed to participate in the hopes that he might make a life changing decision as a result of his time serving?

Let me put that question another way. Should churches and groups be sending people on mission trips to hear about Jesus, or should they be sending people whose lives already testify to life changing power of our risen Lord?

Standard 2 clearly states the primary focus of your mission needs to be on those we serve. Focusing on those we serve means that our mission isn’t about us or our spiritual development. Sadly, that realty stands in direct opposition to how many leaders and participants currently think about mission trips. 

Recently I have started hearing from people, God centered committed people, that going on a short-term mission trip has been on their “bucket list.” Even a best case interpretation cannot find a way to interpret this as putting the primary focus on someone else.

There is no calling from God involved in Bucket List Missions. An understanding that a short-term mission can, or even should be reduced to some sort of ‘bucket list” of things to do in life is very hard to square with Standard 2.

If people are still struggling with even the idea of short-term mission, and the comments I see whenever anything STM is posted bear that out, then there is still work to be done. But maybe all of the fault does not lie with the short-term community itself.

Short-term mission is here to stay. Making sure STM is not a waste of time will take all sides of the mission experience, senders, goer-guests and hosts, working together to more effectively grow God’s Kingdom.

Noel Bechetti’s post raises some valid issues that many in the short-term mission community have taken seriously and strived to improve. The next step I believe, is for the leaders on the sending side of this issue, those in churches and other faith communities to also step up and accept responsibility for their part in improving short-term mission.

More on that later.

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