The one-to-one rule in missions funding

short-term-fundingOne of the great controversies regarding short-term missions is the impact they have on the funding of long-term works. As the amount of money given to short-term missions grows, that given to long-term works shrinks. But coincidence doesn’t mean causality; just because two things happen at the same time doesn’t mean one causes the other.

Churches that do short-term missions need to make a special effort to make certain those funds aren’t taken from support that would go to long-term works. In her famous article “Short Term Missions: Are they worth the cost?“, Jo Ann Van Engen suggests:

One good rule of thumb for short-term missions is to spend at least as much money supporting the projects you visit as you spend on your trip. Invest your money people and organizations working on long-term solutions. If you are interested in evangelism, support nationals who want to share the gospel. If you are concerned about the health issues, support programs that are seeking to address those problems. Better yet, find programs that minister to people wholistically by meeting their spiritual, physical, social, emotional, and economic needs.

I think the one-to-one rule is great. I’d put it this way: spend as much money on the long-term work in the place you’re going as you do on sending short-term workers. If you are spending $20,000 to take a team to Buenos Aires, give $20,000 to the long-term workers there.

But that makes short-term missions too expensive!” Well, that’s kind of the point. Not to make those trips more expensive, but to make sure that the funding for those trips isn’t coming from funds that would be available to long-term workers. If your mission trip is that important, take the funds from your building maintenance funds, from your Sunday doughnut budget, or some other part of the budget.

Let’s make sure that short-term works and long-term works aren’t competing with one another for funding. The one-to-one rule will do just that.

Training for short-term workers

short-term-trainingOne common mistake that churches make with short-term groups is to send them out without any training. This is especially true when the focus of the trip is physical labor. The thinking is: we know how to paint, we know how to build, we know how to fix a bus, etc. Also, many churches feel that because the project is of short duration, there’s no point spending much time preparing for it.

To my thinking, if a project is worth doing, it’s worth preparing for. And if it’s being presented as a “mission trip,” it should be treated as such. Here’s the kind of training we should be offering those going out:

  • Cultural sensitivity: Workers need a general knowledge of how to deal with cultural differences. Above all, they need to learn to not show disdain or rejection toward things that are different. If people greet with a kiss, the workers need to accept it without recoiling. The food should be eaten as the locals eat it; Americans are famous for traveling the world with salsa, ketchup, and peanut butter. What is often communicated is: your food isn’t as good as ours.
  • Cultural specifics: Short-term participants need to learn some basic concepts of what is done and not done in the host culture. How do people greet one another? (There was a great book a few years ago called Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands) Do people regularly touch one another? (Latin America = yes, much of the Orient = no) What are the basic concepts of modesty? (One missionary wrote of how in her host culture it was acceptable for a woman to show her breasts in public, but never her knees)
  • Language: While short-term workers shouldn’t be expected to be fluent in the language of their host culture, they should make the effort to learn some basic phrases, especially those used when meeting new people. They should also go with the intention of building on this basic vocabulary.
  • Sharing their faith: Every short-term worker should know how to tell others how to become a Christian. Doesn’t matter if they’re on a medical mission or going to paint a church building. If you are on a mission trip, you should be able to tell the good news of the Kingdom.

Choosing short-term objectives

short-term-objectivesWe’ve been looking at common problems that arise in short-term missions projects. Now let’s take some time to offer some suggestions.

In the first place, I think we need to carefully choose our short-term objectives. Too often we say, “We want to take a group to Canada” or “We’d like to minister in Nicaragua,” yet we don’t have clearly defined objectives.

  • Most groups should focus on learning. The goal, stated or unstated, is to provide an experience that will help the participants grow in understanding of other cultures, of missions, and of the service options that will be open to them in the future. Openly embracing that goal will help us achieve it.
    Take the emphasis off doing. Emphasize observing. Emphasize relationships with hosts. Emphasize learning.
    We want to go as experts when we should go as students. We bring our way of building, our way of teaching, our way of reading the Bible. And we miss the opportunity to learn their ways.
  • Other groups will focus on strengthening a relationship with a long-term missionary. If your church is supporting a missionary, it is very valuable to take a group to get to know them, to observe their work, and to create fellowship with members of that missionary’s church. This will often involve some form of service, but that shouldn’t be the priority. State up front that relationship-building is the goal and structure the trip around that.
  • Another set of mission trips will be performing tasks wanted by the host Christians. That’s the key, allowing the locals to define what the trip will look like. Too often we tell them that we’d like to go and paint houses; rather than lose the free aid, the locals accept, even when that’s hardly a major need where they are. We must ask, we must listen, we must be willing to serve in whatever way the locals choose.
  • A very few will offer unique expertise that is needed in the target location. We have a woman in our congregation who goes to Africa and teaches water safety. She is an expert in that field, and drowning is a major cause of death in the places where she goes. It makes sense that she go and share the knowledge she has.
    The problem is, too many of us think that we fall into this category. It’s just not true. Expect your short-term mission to fall into one of the previous categories. Be realistic. Pray. Listen. And be humble about your talents and how they fit the situation.

Links To Go (September 13, 2016)

Skip the Endorsements in Church, Say Most Americans

Eight in 10 (79 percent) say it is inappropriate for pastors to endorse a candidate in church. Three-quarters say churches should steer clear of endorsements.
Yet fewer than half want churches to be punished if they do endorse candidates.


The State of The Church in America: When Numbers Point To A New Reality, Part 1

Pew’s findings have led some to forecast the complete collapse of Christianity in the United States. The data, however, implies a more complex reality. Frankly, there is no credible research showing that Christianity is dying in America despite the flashy headlines we often see.
Instead, American religion is simultaneously growing and in decline. Fewer people claim to be Christians, but churchgoers—those who regularly attend services—are holding steady in some segments, and thriving in others.


Expatriate Patriotism

Although I live in the United States and even though both my paternal and maternal ancestry have branches going back to colonial days and one branch to the 1600’s, as well as some Native America ancestry (although it is just a trace), The United States is not my fatherland. My Fatherland is where my Father is. My citizenship is in Heaven and I am a resident of the Kingdom of Christ – His Church.


8 Hallmarks of Attractional and Gospel-Centered Churches

Went on a bit of a Twitter run yesterday with some thoughts on the essential defining characteristics of the church model I call attractional, followed by some constructive alternative hallmarks of gospel-centered churches. Hopefully they will bring more clarity to thinking through the relevant issues in evangelical ecclesiology.


Old Donkeys Needed!

We need people who will be the stabilisers to our youthful zeal.
We need people who will disciple our young couples.
We need people who will be mentors for young parents.
We need people who will model faithful perseverance.
We need people who will help us be a demonstration of a gospel family.
We need people who will exemplify servanthood until the very end.
We need people who will have time to invest in relationships.


Keep Your Mouth Shut!

Listening and asking good questions precedes giving gospel words. In a conversation with a either stranger or someone I know, I begin by listening to the person talk about his or her life and situation. Sometimes, I don’t even need to start the conversation—they may start it! God places us into people’s lives to represent Him in that moment. We are His ambassadors (2 Cor. 5:20). He makes His appeal through us, but in the context of a real person in a real moment (often in a time of need).


The Professional Mourners of Arlington Cemetery

Hoyt Vandenberg, Chief of Staff for the United States Air Force, was driving to his office in the Pentagon in 1948 when he noticed a funeral being conducted at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery. There was no sea of crisp uniforms or sobbing family members. Aside from the chaplain and the Honor Guard, there was no one there at all.
Vandenberg didn’t like it. Soldiers, he felt, deserved the presence of at least one civilian to bear witness to their burial. His wife, Gladys, agreed. She set about recruiting friends and wives of the enlisted to begin attending Air Force funerals, even though many of the deceased were complete strangers. They called themselves the Officers Wives Club and acted as both military representatives and as proxies for family members who might not be able to afford to travel to Arlington for services.


Hundreds miss seeing tallest structure ever demolished in UK being blown up – because they looked wrong way

Thousands of people watched one of Britain’s tallest structures come crashing down in a huge spectacle today.
But hundreds of others missed the incredible sight – all because they were looking the wrong way.


Misplaced focus of many mission trips

short-term-missions(Let me say again… I’m going to share some criticisms of short-term mission trips. I do that in spite of the positive experiences I’ve had with such. After the criticisms, I want to offer constructive suggestions. Please bear with me!)

Part of the concern that I have regarding short-term missions has to do with a misplaced focus, or, to be honest, several of them:

  • The trips are not focused on serving long-term missionaries nor local hosts. The intention is usually there, but when it comes down to it, most trips are focused on the participants: their interests, their talents, their comfort, their safety. That’s why many of the arguments in favor of short-term trips focus on the participants: they give more to missions later in life (not usually), they stay active in missions (not at a higher rate than others), they have an increased awareness of overseas life (no more so than peers who participate in secular overseas study trips)
  • Many short-term trips are focused on short-term goals which may or may not fit with long-term objectives. Questions about sustainability and reproducibility need to be asked. The lasting impacts need to be weighed and planned for.
  • Most short-term trips are focused on service projects that could be done equally well by non-religious people. Note this quote:

    And here is some not-so-good news: For many, the deeper meaning of such actions remains uncertain. As Paul Borthwick says in his book Western Christians in Global Missions, “although globally aware, these young people seem unclear on what the Gospel is beyond just ‘doing good.’” (A Deeper Mission)

    In our fellowship, the term “missions” has traditionally been reserved for efforts related to church planting in other cultures. That focus has been lost in modern-day short-term efforts.

Short-term missions need to be part of a larger plan, a broad vision of outreach. They need to be focused on the needs of the target area, focused on the long-term needs of that area, and focused on the spread of the Good News.