Short-term missions trips can get a bad rap—and understandably so. But we think there’s a way to redeem short-term missions trips for the glory of God. The key is approaching your trip with humility as the learner, not the leader.
The Role of a Short-Term Missionary
If you take a short-term trip to partner with national believers (national partners as we call them) doing the Lord’s work overseas, your primary role as a short-termer should be to listen and to learn.
The trip provides an opportunity to gain a new understanding of how God is already at work in different ways around the world. And maybe you will begin to think differently about how you fit into God’s plan to redeem some from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation through Christ.
How a Short-Term Missionary Should Serve
The short-term missionary should always yield to the national partners. They are the ones who know the language, culture, ministry climate, and so much more. They live and serve in their home context every day.
For the partners who are doing ministry in their own regions, it can sometimes be helpful to have a short-term team come complete a specific one-time task that will enable the long-term ministry to continue in this location.
The short-term missionary should also always seek to be an encouragement to the partners as well through prayer and fellowship. Often the relationships between the partners and the Americans formed on these short-term trips can last for many years and even result in long-term global partnerships to the praise of God’s glory.
Six Tangible Ways to Take a Helpful Short-Term Trip
1. Never Force a Trip on a Partner
Wait to be invited to make a trip. You want to be sure you and your team are not a burden or hindrance to the partner and their ministry.
2. Pray and Seek Counsel
Before you recruit a team and buy plane tickets in response to the invitation you’ve received, pray for the Lord’s wisdom. Ask Him and read His Word to learn whether God would have you take this short-term trip. Also, seek counsel from wise members of your church about this matter.
3. Meet a Real Need for a Partner
From time to time, the partner may have a specific, tangible need or desire that they cannot fulfill with the current resources they have. Maybe they need to reconstruct a building, run a children’s camp over the summer, or do a medical outreach to a nearby village. These are great opportunities for a short-term team to help. Never assume that you know what their greatest need is.
4. Follow the Lead of the Partner
The short-term traveler is not the leader on a short-term trip. The partner is. That’s because the partner knows the culture, the language, the need, the ministry climate, and how their ministry normally operates. The short-term traveler is there to assist in the ways they’re asked.
5. Pay Your Own Way—and More
The most helpful thing for the partner is to have their needs met without incurring any additional expense. As a short-term traveler, you should pay or raise funds for your entire team to sleep, eat, and travel. You should pay for the project you are completing. And you should even leave behind more funding when you depart in case there were expenses you didn’t know about that the partner will have to cover in your wake.
6. Plans Will Change—Be Flexible
It’s possible that between the time when your short-term team signed up for the trip and the time your plane lands in the destination, the need you were expecting to fill has changed. Maybe the original plan was to fix houses but now the partner’s greatest need is for people to help deliver food to a nearby village. The partner’s ministry is always moving forward and they are responding to the circumstances in their location. The short-term team needs to know ahead of time to expect changes in the itinerary and be okay with trusting the Lord that He has them there for the right purpose at the right time.
Ready to Dive In?
If you think you are ready to explore taking a short-term missions trip, take the first step by exploring possibilities at LiveGlobal.org. Read about national believers doing God’s work in their own countries across the globe. Then, visit our Short-Term Trips page if you’d like to dialogue about how to get more involved.