Faith Time: Short-term missions

Faith Time

Director of Education and Leadership with World Methodist Evangelism Dr. Rob Haynes joins us to talk about short-term missions.  You can find out more about his book here.  Here’s a look at our conversation.  

Chad: Spring Break is coming up and some kids will be going on short term mission trips–what is a short term mission?  

Guest:  two million Americans participate in STMs annually. Approximately 83 percent of these trips last two weeks or less. The average length of an STM trip is eight days. Therefore, I define a “short term” mission trip as one that lasts two weeks or less. STM teams serve on nearly every continent in a variety of contexts. Typical projects include evangelism, outreach activities aimed at children, repairing existing buildings or constructing new ones, giving technical advice to business leaders, and providing medical and dental care.

Chad: You wrote a whole book on the subject–Consuming Mission.  What makes this such a rich topic for study?

Guest:  The theology of STM is underdeveloped. Developing appropriate mission theology is important because theologies shape motivations and motivations shape practices. There are many STM resources out there that provide a few lists, or even a handbook, of “best practices.” However, many issues remain unresolved. In order to address these issues, we must move beyond simply trying to correct a few “best practices” and move deeper to their underlying causes. If we want to make a long-lasting change to the practices, the theologies that shape them must be further developed.

Chad:  How do short-term missions more easily fit into someone’s life who wants to do service work but can’t commit for years on end?  

Guest: STM is a unique phenomenon for exactly the reason you mentioned: it easily fits into someone’s life when they can’t go overseas. We live in an age where the world seems to be getting smaller every day: travel and communications are getting faster and cheaper all the time. A generation ago, going to another continent for a mere 10 days would have been unheard of. This all leads to an increased awareness of global issues on a grassroots level to the degree we have not seen before. The “people in the pews” are aware of their peers around the world in a very unique way.

Chad: In the title, you mention Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage. What’s the connection between Short-Term Mission and Pilgrimage?

Guest:  Historically, a pilgrimage is an event when a group of people from different walks of life would come together to travel to another place where they understood God to have worked before, could work again, and they expected God to work in their lives while they were there. They expected to come home different than when they left. They expected to be transformed by the experience. Consuming Mission illustrates that many people are using STM to do just that: to use acts of service, done in the name of the mission, for self-edification that functions as a pilgrimage. The cathedrals and shrines of historical Christian pilgrimage perceived as sites of the miraculous are replaced with what is perceived as substandard housing and malnourished children. The STMers behave as pilgrims in that they then reaggregate in the society they left while hoping to find themselves somewhat different than what they were before they departed..

Chad:  Where did you get the name Consuming Mission?

In my research, the evidence indicated that churches and individuals are participating in a transactional exchange designed by their pastors and ministry leaders. When talking about their STM activities, participants often describe their time, money, sacrifice, and service, applied in the name of the mission, as a way to purchase an experience akin to personal growth commonly sought by pilgrims. Many STMers are using service, time, and money to purchase an experience. They are consuming “mission,” functioning as a pilgrimage, for self-edification. However, through careful engagement with biblical mission theology, I point out the ways in which the Mission of God should be the Consuming Mission.

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