As believers, when we hear the word “missions,” we often think of selling everything, moving to another country, learning the language and living in a grass hut for the sake of the gospel. We think of people who have given everything away in order to relocate their lives and their families across the globe. But in reality, when we say the word “missions,” we usually aren’t talking about anything quite so large-scale. We’re often talking about short-term mission trips—just a week or two out of the year when we go to an unfamiliar place to participate in the mission of God.
Unfortunately, short-term missions have often been called a waste of time and a burden to the long-term missionaries in the area. However, by investing in local churches and allowing short-term missions to propel us into missional living, these trips can be encouraging and beneficial, rather than burdensome.
Our Motivation for Missions
I’ll admit that when I was younger, all I wanted was to be a missionary in Africa. I believed that going to Africa to share the gospel was some sort of “varsity-level missions work,” and I wanted to be on the varsity team. I didn’t want God to call me to go somewhere in the U.S.—or worse, just next door—to share the gospel. That was not the “glamorous missionary life” I had envisioned. My perspective was skewed because my motivations were selfish—I wanted to receive praise and glory for doing something radical for God’s Kingdom.
Missions is never about us but always about God
When we consider missions with the proper motivation, we aren’t seeking praise and glory for ourselves, but rather giving praise and glory to God—as He deserves. God does not define missions as selling everything and moving across the globe. “Missions” is how His name is proclaimed, and it is God’s desire that all people come to Him (Matt. 24:14). NEXT Worldwide, a missions organization that partners with local churches on five continents, puts this succinctly in their statement of beliefs: “We believe God is a missional God. He is declaring His glory to every nation, and calls us to join Him. God uses the local church. It is His primary means of making disciples of all the nations. God calls us to missional living everywhere, all the time—not just on a mission trip.” Missions is never about us but always about God.
We Are All Called to Go Somewhere
Because God is all about missions, all Christians are called to spend the rest of their lives for the gospel. Yet, most of us do not feel the specific calling to sell everything and move to another continent. How do we reconcile these two callings? We must learn to live missional lives wherever we are.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Jesus intentionally names places that show both near and far proximity. First, He says to go to Jerusalem, the city in which many of His disciples already lived. Then, He says to go to the neighboring regions of Judea and Samaria. And finally, Jesus says to go to all of the earth, indicating that God’s name will one day be known among every tribe, nation and tongue.
It’s interesting that Jesus instructs them to start right where they are. The very thing I was asking not to be called to as a teenager is the very thing we are all called to do. When we consider missions from this perspective, it’s clear that God does not make distinctions of “varsity level” missions work like I had done in the past.
Matthew 28:18-20 is a command from Jesus, telling His disciples—His friends and followers—to go make disciples. This is a calling given to all believers (not just the disciples we know in the Bible) because the hope is that all nations will become His disciples. All nations will worship the Lord (Ps. 86:9), and He has invited all of us into that work as believers. But God has gifted and wired each of us with distinct, specific passions that pull us in certain directions regarding the call to proclaim His name to all nations.
As believers, we are all called to proclaim the name of Jesus to those God has placed around us. The specific place, people and timeframe you find yourself in is a unique calling. God will intentionally call some people to go to the other side of the globe to share the good news of Jesus, while simultaneously calling others to stay where they are and be rooted in proclaiming Christ to those with similar backgrounds, jobs and families as themselves. Some people are drawn toward refugees, others toward students or children, and some to Muslims or Hindus. But the overall calling is the same for all believers—to proclaim Christ. So, whether we go right next door or around the world, when we proclaim the name of Jesus we participate in His mission.
Burden or Benefit
Although we will not all go across the globe to proclaim the gospel, many of us will have opportunities to go on short-term trips. Short-term trips are often looked down on because they are not believed to create a lasting change. They are seen simply as a way to experience the world and do good acts of service without any true impact for the gospel. They can also be presumed as a waste of time and burden to the missionaries living in that particular place because hosting a team can be exhausting.
While this may sometimes be the case, I have experienced short-term missions that defy these nay-sayers. Looked at more positively, short-term trips allow us to experience what a life of vocational ministry or missions looks like. They may help us recognize a specific calling God is drawing us toward. They also give us opportunities to encourage the local churches and pastors in the area and propel us into missional living back home.
A few years ago, I spent a month with missionaries in North Africa—a couple who knew no other believers within a 300 mile radius. I remember sitting in the living room with these missionaries each morning, singing, praying and reading Scripture as the prayer call resounded from the mosque next door. They wept because through our presence they were reminded of God’s nearness to them in this dark country. This couple was greatly encouraged and strengthened in the Spirit by our presence with them, and I don’t doubt that many other vocational missionaries also enjoy having short-term missionaries visit to encourage and learn from them.
Along with encouraging vocational missionaries, investing in a local body of believers is one of the key ways we see lasting change through short-term trips. It is a joy and privilege to get to worship with people from a culture completely different from your own and to pray with them for their people and homes. Short-term trips provide encouragement to local churches and pastors, propelling them back into their own community to live missionally every day.
And as the ones going on a short-term trip, we should be equally propelled to live missionally when we return to our homes. Missions should not be defined by the length of the trip or the distance of the flight, but should be a daily lifestyle we lean into because of Christ’s call on our lives to declare Him as King.
The gospel compels us to go. We are not called to save people because only Jesus saves sinners. But if we truly believe in the gospel and abide in His Word, then it should be impossible not to share the good news of Christ with others.
Will You Go?
Missions exist for the same reason that you and I exist: for the glory of God, to make His name known and to declare His excellencies to others. So ask the Lord to give you a heart for the nations and to show you how to live missionally at home. Ask if He wants you to go on a short-term trip to encourage believers, experience daily life on mission and see His name proclaimed, propelling you back to live missionally wherever you are. Then go with obedience in the direction that God has called you. Whether you go on a short-term trip or move permanently across the globe, we should all be on a life-long mission, with one purpose as one body of Christ.
Declare his glory among the nations,
his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised;
he is to be feared above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols,
but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
strength and beauty are in his sanctuary.
This post written by Morgan Marshall at https://www.tvcresources.net/resource-library/articles/mission-trips-burden-or-benefit, and used by permission of The Village Church.