3 Factors Contributing to STMs “Done Poorly” (Short-term missions Pt. 3)

In missions circles “short-term missions” is referred to as STMs. The following is an excerpt of an essay written by missions mobilizer, Roger Peterson. As I read this recently I felt like it echoed a lot of my thoughts on the subject… it is just put more eloquently and organized. 😉

(Read my Part 1 & Part 2 on short-term missions)

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The most prominent factors that contribute toward STMs being done poorly are fortunately amendable. In each of them, it is STM leaders who have the greatest role in making needed changes. Three common mistakes are:

1. Failing to recognize, understand and connect with the missio Dei or God’s already- at-work global purpose. Without a clear vision of a greater work being accomplished that has been taking many lifetimes to fulfill, it’s easy to see how the very idea of mission can become trivialized as people serving other people in need. While such compassion is a noble thing, too often STMers become over-impressed with what they have to offer and what they can accomplish on their own.

Stay humble and realize that God has been working in that area for some time. You are just a part of it. And what a privilege that He invites us to participate! What often surprises me about some mission groups is hearing the things they credit themselves for… and sometimes several groups take sole credit for the same thing! …which can easily happen if we make the mistake of…

2. Planning and acting independently of the seasoned time-tested mission agencies and national/local churches. Who are the believers, churches or missionaries who will be continuing in the work for years to come? Serving alongside of these servants of God is the easiest way to participate in the admittedly grandiose notion of missio Dei (mission of God.) Unfortunately, many highly energized and godly sending churches often don’t know how to coordinate their well-intended endeavors with other sending entities or with the partners and churches of host locations. Without connecting in significant ways with existing missions and churches, they sometimes return home without even realizing that they may have been burdensome or sometimes even harmful in sensitive situations. STMs may keep busy and return with interesting stories, but sometimes their disjointed efforts overlap and prove to be futile instead of fruitful. For example, one Mexican pastor had his church painted six times in one summer— by six different short-term teams. One Brazilian orphanage director found that a church-sent STM had built a simple but very nice concrete block wall right in the middle of his kids’ soccer field, simply because the church mission-trip leaders had taught their youth that STMs build walls when they go on “mission trips.”

This is one of the main things that Natán and I would like to tackle with the Honduras Missions Center that we are planning for the future. Let’s unite our efforts!

3. Using STMs primarily as experiences to further personal discipleship. You often hear of STMs referred to as “short-term mission trips” rather than “short-term missions.” That shift in vocabulary may reveal that the primary value for many STM leaders is not so much to accomplish mission, but to exploit the experience to build participants as growing disciples. If the stated or unstated goal is to disciple believers instead of helping to disciple the nations, what could have been significant moments in the missio Dei turn out to be more of a “missio me.” Discipling short-term team members is certainly not a bad byproduct of an STM, but not at the expense of missing out on the mission of God. If all our STMs aim at is building up believers or some other personal blessings, we’ve got the cart before the horse, and all we really end up with is expensive jetlag.

Note that in all three factors, it’s not that the short-termers themselves do poorly, it’s that many STMs have been designed and led in ways that result in STMs being done poorly. STM leaders can do more than anyone else to be sure that short-term ventures connect solidly with what God is already doing and therefore contribute significantly to the fulfillment of His age-old global purpose.

Next, we’ll talk about STMs done well. 🙂 Thoughts?

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4 thoughts on “3 Factors Contributing to STMs “Done Poorly” (Short-term missions Pt. 3)

  1. This resonates strongly with me…I had the chance to partner with a JuCUM (YWAM)base in central Mexico on a short term mission trip and found that it was unusually effective. It helped that another lady and I were able to interpret for the group and interact with the families who hosted us. Plus, I had the confidence that the discipleship process would be continued. This is not a typical STM experience, and I am thankful that I got to be part of one done well. It also helped me find ways to better serve my coworkers back in the States.
    My take on ‘short-term’ has changed quite a bit since then, especially here at the seminary; ‘short’ now sounds more like ‘two years’ than ‘two weeks’.

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