As one of the elders of our church who oversees and works directly with our mission projects, I have come to the blunt conclusion that many short-term mission trips are a bad idea. Yes, you’re reading this correctly. In fact, I have come to believe that many short-term mission trips are a complete waste of time, money, and energy. Why would I suggest that many churches should consider canceling their summer mission trip?
Beware of Scams
Yes, scams and scandals come in every shape, color, and size. The world of mission trip scams is alive and well. There are reported cases of fake church buildings that have been erected, never used, and only occupied as a false image when the Americans visit in order to get additional “mission” money for their efforts. Additionally, some groups have been known to exploit their children as a means of receiving relief funds as a result of the big hearted Americans who see their “needs” during their visit. Unless the work on the field can be properly documented with trustworthy eyes and boots on the ground, beware of sending money and teams to random areas without a plan.
Not only are there scams on the field in third world countries waiting to take money in Jesus’ name, but there are scam artists in many churches too. These people are unwilling to walk across the street and share Christ with their neighbor, but they are willing to board an airplane and fly thousands of miles from home in order to “win the lost” to Christ in the jungles of Peru. Beware of the sightseeing tourist who wants to go see lions, tigers, and bears on the dime of faithful saints who sacrifice of their money to get the true gospel of Christ to other nations.
Unless your team from your church is properly trained and accustomed to the cultural practices and lifestyle of the people group that they will be ministering to, it’s quite possible that this team will bring a false report back home to the church. When was the last time you heard of a mission team reporting 75 to 100 salvations in one village during one week of evangelism in Africa? These false conversions happen because of two primary causes:
1. Improper Preparation: Without the proper knowledge, it’s possible to lead many people to pray to receive Jesus Christ as Lord in a village in Zimbabwe without knowing that they are polytheistic in their religious practices. Although they worship their ancestors, they want to be sure to have all of their bases covered. Therefore, they’re happy to accept any deity figure presented, no matter if you present Jesus as God or the Easter Bunny – they will pray to either one. Unless you know this up front through proper preparation, you will not know how to present the gospel so as to strip them from their false god worship practices and reveal to them the exclusive Savior – Jesus Christ.
2. Flawed Methods: I’ve been on the mission field and watched groups walking around door-to-door with little gospel cubes. After they twist it around and tell a little story about Jesus, they quickly invite people to bow and pray to invite Jesus into their heart. Not only should you stop telling people to invite Jesus into their heart, you should be careful when dealing with someone’s soul. More times than not, people are willing to pray a prayer when directed, resulting in a false conversion that appears on a report and perhaps confuses the person into a false sense of security that may entrap them for the remainder of their life.
It’s a very common thing to have laborers on the field for years before they see a hand full of genuine conversions. So, the authenticity of these inflated reports that often appear in nice PowerPoint slides during mission reports at the end of the summer should be questioned and scrutinized. Additionally, if the mission teams are in it for the notches in their belt, they would do the church of Jesus Christ a great service by staying home.
Church Planting Is a Superior Model
Stop wasting time and resources through short-term mission trips. Too often these trips turn into sightseeing adventures rather than actual gospel missions. Rather than simply visiting a new country, talking to a few random people about Jesus, snapping some nice photos and then heading home – the church planting model provides a lasting source of gospel light long after the American team returns home.
This model is best served through an American church assisting while an indigenous pastor leads the church in the specified country. Yes, American missionaries can be of assistance in the area of support, training, and equipping, but the most fruitful mission projects are those where the indigenous pastor is raised up by the Lord to pastor and lead the people. As the mission teams visit, they have a point of contact, a plan to follow, and a reoccurring effort for years to come.
In closing, I want to be clear, I support mission trips and believe that God wants the church of Jesus Christ actively engaged in the work of local and foreign missions. However, I do believe that many short-term mission projects are a massive waste of time, resources, and potentially dangerous for the people. A biblical model of church planting and a perpetual support strategy from a local church is a good model to follow. We must be careful not to confuse people with the gospel, empower scam artists in Jesus’ name, and return with an inflated report of false conversions. Proper planning, strategy making, and church planting efforts will bypass much of the waste that occurs in the name of Jesus each year “on mission.” Before you plan that summer short-term mission trip, make sure it will be well planned and thought through prior to jumping on the airplane with an eager group of Americans.