analysis on short term, long term and vocational missions

Dan O’Deens, Executive Director of CPR-3 – March 9, 2015 

On Mission has become a popular phrase in the modern day mission movement. Historically we have categorized missionaries into two groups. Long Term Missionaries and Short Term Missionaries.   There is a huge upswing in short term missionaries.   Generally we think of them similarly but with different lengths of stay.

Here lies the problem.   There is no such thing as a part-time Christian. There is no such thing as a follower of Jesus who is not called to be ‘on mission’ full-time.

The calling out of ‘all’ believers to be followers of Jesus comes directly from God the Father. If we call ourselves Christ followers then we are accepting the call to be ‘on mission.   The essence of this calling out is that each one is to be ‘sent out.’ It is the great commission from our Commander in Chief, Jesus. GO, into all the world.

This commission has a personal, local and global reality.   We are the hands and feet of Jesus wherever we are.   Every believer must leverage their relationship with Jesus and influence and steward the gifts and talents that we have been given for His honor and for His glory. We are called to be the light in a very dark world. We are called to plant the seed of Jesus deeply into the soils on which our feet have been established.

Every believer should consider how they will organize the spiritual journey to allow the Spirit of Jesus to use them in their daily personal endeavors, in serving the needs of their local communities and considering their role in a global effort to serve in ‘compassion’ ministries that are multiplying the Kingdom of God as He raises up leaders in His global Church around the world.

Perhaps you now see the misleading nature of the former terms; “long term mission” and “short term mission.”    The Church must embrace the church as all of God’s people being ‘called out’ to be ‘on mission.’   Paid clergy has ruined the concept of God’s full intent on global multiplicational efforts.   Every believer, Going everywhere, to preach the Good News to everyone.   The Church should also recognize those who ‘vocationally’ have been called to serve in a more focused role serving the global mission agenda of God’s Church.   The Church should be sending out the church around their communities and the world.   The church’s health is never determined by it seating capacity but by its sending capacity.

I propose a shift from “short term mission trips” to “experience trips.”

Sitting in New York City, the most influential city in the world, I sat and listened to two top tier Mission Agencies tell their audience to QUIT sending people on short term mission trips. Collect that same amount of money and send it to ‘us’ and we will do more good with it than you can do.   They reprimanded that church for being poor stewards with God’s resources.   I have the privilege of director a mission agency.   There is a part of me that totally understands the idea behind this challenge.   I also have the privilege of being a pastor and a huge believer in God’s program called the Church.   I do believe that the Church is the HOPE of the world…when it is working right.

It is estimated that over 1.5 million people from the United States participate in short-term mission trips every year. That is a lot of people. And those 1.5 million people spend close to $2 billion for these trips.

I believe my colleagues miss the mark. They get the money but they don’t win the ‘hearts’ of God’s people to a global mandate from God the Father.   Although giving financially is necessary and needed, the presence of the Body of Christ is also essential.

Let me attempt to provide a rationale for “Experience Trips.”

The first reason is that without vision people perish.   The church needs to be an eye witness to the plight of the movement of God first hand. There needs to be a focus on compassion ministries lead by the church rather than mission agencies and humanitarian organizations.   What the eye has not seen the heart cannot grieve. When we are exposed to the realities of global poverty something happens within the core of our being.   We are irrevocably re-shaped by what we have seen.   The benefit is that the people of God receive a ‘vision’ from God.

The second reason is that learning experiences are exchanged. When we travel as learners, eager to have our minds expanded and preconceptions challenged, we will not be disappointed. We tend to think of poverty as the absence of things. Poverty is much deeper and far broader. There is no doubt an uncomfortable level of material poverty.   There is also relational and spiritual poverty. The benefit is that we, the people of God have the privilege of building relationships with people different than ourselves and that we bring the Good News of the Gospel to a spiritually hungry world.

When you participate on an Experience Trip You are the ‘benefactor.’ There are plenty of reasons why you should go on a trip. I love what J. Lee Grady, the former editor of Charisma teaches us:

You will encounter God’s heart. Our God is big and He cares about the nations. He’s a global God. And His ultimate goal is to gather a family that represents “every tribe and tongue and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9). When you step into a foreign mission field, you will sense God’s amazing compassion for another culture and you will begin to know Him as Lord of the harvest. The world is ‘shrinking’, this can happen locally and globally.

You will expand your limited perspective. Too many of us are stuck in spiritual ruts. Even pastors can get bored with the sameness of ministry in one community. Every now and then you need to step out of your comfort zone and allow God to stretch you. Experience how other Christians worship God with fervor. Discover how they plant churches and engage in evangelism. Recognize that the way we do ministry in the United States is not necessarily the only way. And expect to learn from the people you are going to minister to.

You will be become more grateful. I receive an attitude adjustment every time I go to another country—especially when I am with poorer Christians. I always come back from my trips with a renewed appreciation for life’s little blessings—air conditioning, running water, nice roads and flush toilets.

You will discover your spiritual family. When you minister alongside Christians in another country, you find that the Holy Spirit bonds you together supernaturally. This happens within your own “Experience” community as well as the partnership between the you and the people you are there to love on and serve with.

You will build lasting and eternal partnerships. Expect God to link your church with a community overseas. Your connection to the same people over time can lead to the planting of a church, an orphanage or child sponsored, a victim of human trafficking rescued or a physical need met through the provision of a latrine or clean water or a nutritional meal.

You will expand the kingdom of Jesus. The Great Commission was not a suggestion. Christ’s kingdom cannot be built without bold, radical obedience to Matthew 28:19: “Go therefore…” Somebody has to GO. There’s no way around it. To share the gospel with the whole world, we must be willing to pack our bags sometime and leave home.

Not everyone can go, I know.   People have health limitations or family pressures that make travel impractical. Don’t feel guilty if you are in that category. Instead remember that those who can’t go to the mission field physically can go through prayer or financial support. And the reward will be the same.

When David defeated the Amalekites, he gave the same reward to the warriors who stayed behind to watch the baggage as he gave to the frontline soldiers who wielded swords (see 1 Sam. 30:22-25).

Let’s encourage every believer in Jesus to experience their role in God’s great plan to tell everyone about Jesus and His love.

The Real Deal About Experience Trips

We have experienced the good, the bad and the ugly of ‘experience trips.’ We continue to feel this tension with the short-term mission teams that we host. Do they do more harm than good? Do they perpetuate the cycle of poverty? Do they contribute to feelings of superiority? Or inferiority? Our work with families and communities in Haiti, as well as churches and schools from the U.S. has forced us to ask these questions daily.

We have learned that perhaps how we go might matter more that what we do.

Michelle Acker Perez in Relevant Magazine shares some hard truths with us about Experience Trips.   She now calls Guatemala her home where she writes about cross-culturally living, social justice and faith.

Here are a few things hard to hear but will give you a more healthy view of what your “experience trip” is about:

You’re Not a Hero.

Before you go and when you get there, commit to getting rid of the hero complex. Developing countries do not need short-term heroes. They need long-term partners and Kingdom investors. If your group just wants to be a hero for a week, then you may be doing more harm than good.

Poverty Can Look Different Than You Expect.

If at the end of your trip you say, “I am so thankful for what I have, because they have so little.” You have missed the whole point. You are poor too. Maybe you are hiding behind all your stuff. There is material poverty, relational poverty and spiritual poverty. We all have to acknowledge our own brokenness and deep need for God before we can expect to serve others.

Understanding their SOIL is paramount to your Success.

Have you studied the history of the country or neighborhoods where you’re going? Do you understand the role that the U.S. has played there? Do you know what the role of the Church and missions has been? Do you know the current needs and issues of the people? Have you asked these important questions to the leaders of the communities where you are going to serve?   Did you listen? Are you imposing your agenda rather than coming along side of theirs?

Don’t Do For People What They Can Do for Themselves.

Last time I checked, people in developing countries can paint a wall, so why are you doing it for them? If painting a wall or school is really a need in the place where you’re working then invite students from that school or people from the village to do it with you. Use some of the money you raise to hire national workers who desperately need jobs.

Learning Takes Place in the Context of Reciprocal Relationships.

Be willing to share about your family, your pain and your needs. You are not their ‘savior.’   You need a savior too.   Be real. Sometimes people in developing countries think everyone in the U.S. is rich, white and happy. We know this is not true. Take the chance to share honestly and vulnerably. Prioritize building relationships over completing projects.

You are an ambassador from your country commissioned by Almighty God. Thanks to globalization, YouTube and Facebook, most developing countries will have certain ideas about the U.S. before you arrive. Be willing to ask questions and share about yourself and American culture, as well. Along the same lines, before you take a picture, ask yourself, “Would I mind if a foreigner took a picture of my daughter/son/sister/brother in this situation?” If the answer is yes, then don’t take it. Come back with stories and name of people, not just an entire album of “cute” nameless kids.

There is Something Special About Going.

Jesus left His home. You like a lot like Jesus when you GO and when you are present among His people. So go, be among the people. Live with them. Learn from them. Eat what they eat. Observe what they do. Don’t spend your time at the Mission Compound on the internet or International Café’s that offer you air conditioning and the comforts of home.   Let those who are there long term find their rest in these necessary Oasis’ of replenishment.

Don’t Raise $1,000 for a Week, and Then Give Nothing Else the whole Year.

You probably wrote letters and had fund raisers to go, right? What keeps you from still doing that? We work hard for a one-week trip, but then what? What if your experience group worked on matching every dollar you spent on your one-week trip to send down to the place you served over the course of the year? Think differently.

You Don’t Have to Fly in an Airplane to Serve the Poor.

Why not focus on seeking justice in your neighborhood? Ask yourself, “If Jesus was here where I live, who would He be talking to?” The kid with disabilities who sits in the back at youth group? The Spanish-speaking man who cleans your office? The woman who collects cans in the local park? The local city mission? Ask God to give you eyes to see what He does. It might change your life.

In Defense of Experience Trips “1881”

We all know Acts 1:8 but do we know Acts 8:1?   I call this the 1881 Principle. Luke goes out of his way to show his readers the gospel spread around the world faster by the people in the church than by apostles themselves. Acts 8 begins, “They were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. . . . Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.”

Luke is getting after something really vital here. God used ordinary people, not professional Christians, to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth. Fast-forward to the end of chapter 8, and you’ll see the first experience trip in the New Testament. And who heads it up? No surprise: it’s Philip, an ordinary man. The first person to take the gospel across cultures is not an apostle, but an ordinary guy 

The way that movement of the Spirit looks will vary based on you the church and the experience of the people from within your church.

The next wave of Mission will be on the shoulders of ‘business men/women’ being who they are and multiplying who they are in BAM experiences. (Business As Mission). It will be in ‘fair trade.’ It will be ‘causal.’   This is great especially when the ‘gospel’ is not compromised.

The Church should be present where the Gospel is not present.   The Church should be present where we have done dis-service to the poor and done ‘ministry to’ rather than ‘mission with.’   If the seed of Jesus has not been planted ‘deeply’ and if the seed is not multiplying then the Church should GO.

Most American churches still don’t have the nations on their horizon. Missions—long-term, short-term, or whatever—is still a fringe idea for the most “elite” Christians. We intentionally blind ourselves to a world that is lost and dying, a world in which millions upon millions of people will never hear the gospel. Are we really content with that?

Seeing God at work in the world is one of the strongest motivators to join what he’s doing at home personally and locally. I don’t know what God will let you experience ‘over there,’ but I guarantee that once you put your foot on foreign soil you will never be the same.

Pastor, Author and Theologian J.D. Greear has given some keen insight on

How we can overcome the objections so that we can get every believer to be ‘on mission?’

 “I’m not qualified.” You are exactly who should go. Paul, possibly the greatest missionary ever, knew that he wasn’t qualified on his own (2 Cor 2:16). God doesn’t call those he has equipped; he equips those whom he has called.

“I can’t take 2 weeks of vacation.” I get this. We have tried a different approach with 6 nights for this very reason. A lot of the people I know never use all of their vacation time. If you have vacation time to use, why not use some of it for the glory of God? 

“There’s so much need here.” Again, I get the heart behind this. And God puts in each believer certain passions and ways to be involved in his ministry to the world. But reaching the unreached and the overlooked has got to be a part of that, because it is so central to God’s heart of compassion.

“I don’t have the money.” Most people don’t…by themselves. But we’ll pray with you as you raise support. It’s an amazing experience to watch God provide. I’ve seen him do it again and again and again.

“I’m not comfortable sharing my faith.” There is great training available. Your church can help you with this.


Relevant Magazine published an article by a young man and student entitled; How to Make Missions Trips More Effective by MICHAEL SIMMELINK

You know what’s right in the world? Young adults are understanding the words of Jesus to “go and make disciples” to mean spending their time and resources helping those less fortunate.

You know what’s wrong in the world? 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.’”

Mission work has become synonymous with good deeds, and that is the heart of the current crisis in missiology. A good deed can be defined as a usually spur-of-the-moment act that is not expected to be replicated or establish any sort of long-term partnership. For example: holding the elevator for a guy with his hands full or lending change to the woman who is a little short at the cash register. They say “thanks,” you say “you’re welcome,” and you can walk away feeling good about what you just did.

Missions is not that. Real mission work, what Jesus was really talking about when He said “go,” is a long-term commitment to preaching the Gospel while serving other children of God. It’s not quick; it’s not easy.

In 2005, Princeton released a survey that found 1.6 million Americans participated in mission trips that were less than two weeks long, at a cost of $2.4 billion. The trend suggested those numbers will grow annually.

Americans see the world is hurting and want to help, but only in short bursts and with immediate results. They see poor people in Harlem, Humbolt Park, Urban Hope, Guatemala and Haiti, so they get 15 people from their church to go to those places and try to help.

Western Christians want to help so badly that they end up doing things for the people they are helping, even when the people could be doing it for themselves. As Robert Lupton, who has served in inner city Atlanta for 40 years, puts it in his book, Toxic Charity, “Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people.”

Carrying out God’s mission is not about bringing our plans to the corners of the world; it requires defining the assets of a person and partnering with them so their gifts may be tapped for God’s glory. Once they are empowered, it is expected that the assets of a person can provide self-sustaining means.

Missional Shifts

Experience Trip groups should only be doing projects that are in partnership with long-term on the ground mission staff and the ‘national’ local church partner that you are serving.   A ‘vocational missionary’ is in it for the long haul, and it is both arrogant and ignorant not trust them and use their connections. God has ordained them with a task, and we should respect that.

Experience Trip teams need to recognize the type of aid they are giving and if it is appropriate for the setting. Is there a time to hand out food and clothing without any questions being asked? Yes, but that is four days after a hurricane has hit the city (relief), not four years (development). If working with long-termers, it’s a safe bet that development is the stage of aid.

The community that is being served must be included in the plans. This can be scary for people who have thought about policies, agendas and improvements. It requires a certain kind of Godly humility to ask a group of people for suggestions because it gives them governance, ownership and control.

As Ron Blue, a professor in world missions and intercultural studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, says, “It appears to me that those of us in the North America empire are rather slow to yield control to others.” That loss of control is essential to effective mission work.

We should not be discouraged from taking these life-changing trips, but encouraged to do them better and smarter. I sincerely think a cross-cultural project of any kind is essential to gaining a wider perspective on the world, and my personal experience has seen dramatic shifts in how I view poverty.

It is time that Christians look hard at the results of their “experience trips” and decide if we are tangibly making a difference in the world. Let us be the hands and feet of Christ to do that, but let us also do it correctly, efficiently, and lovingly to bring the Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

The Proper Perspective on Mission and Safety

“If you have nothing worth dying for than you have nothing worth living for” – dano

I could not say what I want to say more powerfully than to direct you to the thoughts of Mike Pettengill.   These words are powerful and necessary for each who even in the smallest way considers going on and being on ‘mission.’

Missions: Not safe, but good. By Mike Pettengill

A quick search produces a dozen missions organizations advertising “safe” mission trips. But they cannot guarantee this promise, nor do they have the biblical authority to do so. While these organizations make promises they cannot keep, the apostle Paul was more honest with Christians when he said, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Timothy 3:12 ) Suffering, an expected element in Christian living, should not be hidden from the faithful.

It is sad how in recent years the words sacrifice, martyr, and submission have become less popular and considered more extreme in evangelical churches. We teach believers today to avoid pain and suffering, even if it means avoiding Christian service. Hudson Taylor, the 19th century pioneer missionary, did not agree. Taylor said, “For our Master’s sake, may he make us willing to do or suffer all his will.” Jesus himself told us, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account” (Matthew 5:11 ) In the next verse Christ said we should “rejoice and be glad” when we are persecuted. We were never promised a lack of pain or suffering, only the unwavering knowledge that the Creator of the Universe loves us. 

Your Body Is Not Yours

To be clear, I’m not telling you to put yourself in harm’s way. Christians should not be foolish, dangerous, or cavalier. Missionaries are no exception; we should neither crave danger nor seek martyrdom. But never forget, this body we covet and try to protect was not intended for our use, but for God’s glory.

Our modern church culture seeks false safety at the cost of service to God. We are making an idol of our control at the expense of God’s sovereignty. If God is sovereign, and he controls all, there can be no tragedy or mistake, only the divinely orchestrated rolling out of his perfect will. If we were less focused on comfort in this life and more focused on the kingdom of God, our idol of safety would not infest our decision to serve. In John Piper’s Desiring God he tells us, “This is God’s universal purpose for all Christian suffering: more contentment in God and less satisfaction in the world.”

God created us, breathed life into us, and purposed us for his glory. The grace and mercy he gives warrants our love and obedience. Jesus Christ endured an inconceivable persecution and death to pay for our sins. In response, we boldly proclaim his greatness.

Missions Is Sacrifice

Missions is a form of sacrifice in the name of Jesus. However, not only missionaries are called to sacrifice. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who gave his life for Christ in Nazi Germany, said, “A Christian is someone who shares the sufferings of God in the world.” God’s love for us is deeper than any other love we have known. This comfort and joy should defeat all our fear and worry. Paul declares, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship” (Romans 12:1).

The Bible never says missions is safe. In Isaiah 40:9 we are instructed in a single verse to both “herald the good news” and “fear not.” Evangelism and suffering are again joined when Paul says, “As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). We are called to make a sacrifice in our lives to help spread the gospel around the world.

Truly submitting to the gospel of Jesus can only result in a heart turned towards saving the lost, feeding the hungry, and healing the sick. Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century British preacher, said, “A man is not far from the gates of heaven when he is fully submissive to the Lord’s will.” Sacrifice in the name of missions is not seeking martyrdom—it is submitting to whatever the Lord wills in our lives.

Christ Is Worth the Cost

According to Martin Luther, “A religion that gives nothing, costs nothing, and suffers nothing, is worth nothing.” When we can acknowledge our perceived security is false and that safety is an illusion, we can begin to risk everything and accomplish great things for God’s glory.

If you can manage your own life, you have not sold out for Jesus. The life he wants for you is full of risk and peril and requires relying on him.  “God, who foresaw your tribulation, has specially armed you to go through it,” said C. S. Lewis, “not without pain but without stain.” We must trust God’s sufficiency and serve him completely, no matter the cost.

Our life on this earth is only a blip in time. We do not seek false safety and fabricated security. Glorifying God should be our purpose. In the end of life on earth we hope to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master” (Matthew 25:21).


God chose the church to be the vehicle to spread the good news of the Gospel to every nation. As Richard Stearns so clearly states, “The world we live in is under siege – three billion people are desperately poor, one billion people are hungry, millions are trafficked in human slavery, ten million children die needlessly each year, wars and conflicts are wreaking havoc, pandemic diseases are spreading, ethnic hatred is flaming, and terrorism is growing. And yet in the middle of that stands the Church of Jesus Christ in America, with resources, knowledge and tools unequaled in the history of Christendom. We have a defining moment.”

There is no government nor is there a non-government agency on the planet big enough or bad enough to handle the global giants that we are facing today. God in his infinite wisdom chose the Church to take the message of the Gospel to the entire world. This is no small task, nor does it come without cost.

If you have nothing worth dying for then you have nothing worth living for.

Jesus modeled the ultimate sacrifice when He gave up His life on the cross. He then calls on His followers to do the same. He demands, ‘take up your cross daily and follow me.’ The cross is not a piece of jewelry. It is an old rugged cross that is stained with blood. This Gospel is revolutionary. It is causal. To each serious and dedicated follower of Christ there is but one mission in the war that is fighting for souls:


If we are going to be like Jesus we must leave the comfort and safety that we find in the four walls of structures that we fallaciously call ‘church’ and ‘go’ out into the world obeying the first word in the great commission, GO! The Church is the vehicle to care for people’s needs both physically and spiritually. We do that best when we SHOW GRACE!

Acts 1:8 “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

1. Personally SHOW GRACE – Jerusalem – Every Christ follower is personally responsible to SHOW GRACE in their neighborhood, workplace and school.

2. Locally SHOW GRACE – Judea-Samaria – Every small group should be a missional community involved in SHOWING GRACE in their local community.

3. Globally SHOW GRACE – Every person and small group should SHOW GRACE globally as they turn their focus on the physically and spiritually poor.

The world is in serious need of fully devoted followers of Jesus who choose to demonstrate the love of God by showing grace.

Show them How: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Values are caught not taught. Let’s take the time to ‘show’ them how to care for the physical and spiritual needs that we all have.

Help Them Out: People have needs. Everyone falls. The essence of poverty is hopelessness. There are three kinds of poverty: material, spiritual and relational. The Church is best equipped to breathe life and hope into our world.

Observe Them Doing It: In order to ‘observe’ you have to be present. Your presence matters. When you are there, people know that you care. As you see lives transformed, take the time to encourage. What is rewarded will be repeated.

Walk Them Through Doing It Again: Don’t walk away when you are ‘done.’ Stay in the game and coach them through the steps of multiplication. Reproduction is God’s plan for growth.

Through showing, helping, observing, and walking, you become a parent. Parents nurture their kids. Grandparents love their grandkids. They visit often. They are present to provide wisdom and coaching for the new parents in their family. The world is up against some very serious problems. I believe the church is the driving force and the vehicle that God is using to bring healing to a hurting people.

There are 5 major problems in the world. 1). People are spiritually blind. 2). Leaders are corrupt and self-centered. 3). Poverty of every kind is a serious issue. Material poverty alone reveals that 50% of the world lives on less than $2 a day. 4). Disease is spreading. 5). Most of the world is illiterate and uneducated.

God’s fix for these problems is G.R.A.C.E.

Go and Make Disciples: The number one problem in the world is that people are spiritually blind. The answer is not ‘church planting.’ The answer is to GO and make Christ followers who are making Christ followers. Be the Church. Demonstrate God’s love. Show compassion to the poor.

Raise up Servant Leaders: Position and power is what we are told matters. Sacrifice and service are overlooked. As we ‘go’ into the world we must demonstrate and model ‘servant’ leadership. We must speak the truth in love as we equip and train young leaders.

Assist the Poor: We have been blessed and therefore have a responsibility to bless others. Enabling the poor ends up hurting the very people we are trying to help. Assisting the poor balances the tension of sustainable responsibility and being blessed so that we might bless others.

Care for the Sick: Most of the world is dying from diseases that are preventable. We have the resources to help. Clean water and hygiene education go a long way. Your presence matters. Our mind is strong. When people feel cared for they feel better. Medical care is now a reality. Mobile clinics allow us to help people where they live.

Educate the Next Generation: Every child deserves an education. Not every child will read, but every child needs to know the ‘love’ of Jesus. While we would love to effectively change the literacy rate, the Church is capable of demonstrating the love of Jesus by telling the stories of Jesus to the children of the world.

Hey Church! To whom much has been given, much will be required.