4 Reasons Short-Term Missions Really Work

There’s a new book out entitled Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help (And How to Reverse It) by Robert Lupton.

I haven’t read the book (I do plan on reading it, as I think this is a very important topic) so I’m not really sure where Lupton is going, but he’s already creating some controversy. Apparently, he’s in favor of seeing sweeping changes when it comes to American charitable giving.

The news here is painful. Our self-centeredness contributes to the problem. We evaluate our giving, Lupton argues, “by the rewards we receive through service, rather than the benefits received by the served.”

Short-term mission trips are a case in point. Such “junkets” involve expenditures of between $2.5-5 billion annually, yet produce little lasting change, often displace local labor, and distract indigenous church leaders from more important work. We get more than we give when we go.

Meanwhile, our relief oriented, commodity based charity flourishes at home because even though its effects are irresponsible, it feels good to the givers. Lupton grieves that “our free food and clothing distribution encourages ever growing handout lines, diminishing the dignity of the poor while increasing their dependency.”

I often get similar questions asked of me when it comes to short-term missions. Cross Point takes a dozen or so (and we hope to add many more soon) short-term mission trips every year to the Dominican Republic, India, Africa, Honduras, and Haiti.

I’m sure there are some people who go on these trips simply to feel better about themselves, but I think that overall, these trips are very productive. Here’s why:

1) Trips stretch people.

Every person that goes on one of these trips is generally stretched beyond their comfort zone. These trips build enormous confidence in people and allow them to more freely trust God in the future.

2) People who go on mission trips tend to give more.

Typically, people who go on these short-term mission trips are more likely to give financially toward missions. They’ve seen the need firsthand, and their hearts have been softened.

3) People who go on mission trips serve more.

I’ve noticed that people who go on international short-term trips tend to serve the poor more actively at home when they return. They don’t use their trip as an excuse to sit on the sidelines as if they’ve met their serving quota. Generally, it’s quite the opposite.

4) Trips call people to action.

Sure, there are people who go on these trips and little to nothing changes, but often, it’s a life changing catalyst for them. I could go on and on with stories of people who are now changing the world because of a short-term mission trip.

My friend, Rhonda, went to Africa a few years ago and since then has helped us start micro businesses that are employing women with AIDS.

My friend, Melissa, went to Africa and has since helped start an orphanage.

My friends, Seth and Andy, went to India with me a year ago. Since then, they’ve returned on their own and are starting a nonprofit that’s going to impact hundreds there in India.

So what do you think? Do short-term mission trips make a difference, or is it just something we do to make ourselves feel better?

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Pete Wilson
Pete Wilson is the founding pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN and author of a new book entitled Plan B, his thoughts about what to do when life doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would. He is a frequent blogger on his popular ministry blog, WithoutWax.tv. Pete is married and has three sons.