Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Yuppie Missions?

In the category of ways technology makes our lives worse comes the latest gadget for idiots who fancy themselves as brave explorers: personal locator beacons, or the “Yuppie 911.”

It used to be that life was full of risk and people dealt with it. Today, people seem to think that every danger can be anticipated and avoided, so we have all manner of protections—even warning labels that warn us of the danger that the safety devices pose. We have become obsessed with safety.

At the same time, we have convinced ourselves that we are so safe that we have forgotten that the world is a dangerous place. In our affluence, ignorance, and naiveté we have begun to think that we are invincible, like some sort of entire society of teenagers who think we are immortal. So we now have a whole new breed of idiot explorer. Well, we have always had idiot explorers, but now we have a whole lot more who are a whole lot more idiotic.

Back in the day, people who enjoy outdoor activities would prepare and plan, train and plan some more, and then set out on an adventure where their experience and the required expertise were somewhere close to each other. Today people don’t give anything much thought and take along an electronic safety net. About a month ago, some inexperienced idiots decided to take on the very challenging Grand Canyon Royal Arch Loop. In the course of three days, they summoned rescue helicopter teams three times. The third time was because they had drunk some water that tasted too salty and were scared that they had endangered themselves.

You can imagine all sorts of discussion topics that these guys triggered, everything from who should pay for the rescue teams? to why do we not let natural selection take its course? There is another thought that occurs to those of us in cross cultural ministry. How similar is this event to short term mission endeavors.

To be sure, short term missions have their place, but…

How many short term trips represent people wanting the adventure without paying the cost?

How many short termers cause more problems than they help?

Is enough attention given to training and preparing short term volunteers?

How much damage is being done when many corner churches think their short term adventures should take the place of life-long, committed experts trying to do the job right?


  1. I'm hearin you!! Basically the very reasons Mum and Dad were always against them...except recently they had opportunity to see the effect on the people who went on one - marked difference apparently, and something worth taking into consideration.

  2. I know you're speaking generally and we all know the damage some teams do. But I'd have to say the long-term effect of short-term missions is what it does to the people who go. From our short-term trips the past 10 years, we now have 5 full-time missionaries on the field and dozens of people who support the long-termers financially. Plus I think the missionaries in Asia would say our trips are very benficial. I think the benefit is well worth it!

  3. Thanks Phil and Becky!

    I knew as I finished up this post I was in a little trouble. The whole thing really started as a desire to comment on the hikers and the way it is a perfect picture of some of the flaws in our culture today, and then the missional aspect hit me. This thought on short term missions is just one of the many aspects I see on this subject.

    I used to say the ONLY benefit from short term missions was the way it changed the lives of the people who go. Today I have to admit that I have seen God use them to affect His plans on the field as well, but that tends to be a secondary result.

    Missions is really not much different than normal ministry, when you live where you minister. That was always one of my problems with short term missions. Sure, it changes people but should we really have to go halfway around the world to wake up to what God wants from us? And most people come home and go back to normal life--except for the annual trip away from home to be a real Christian. That is why I never did mission trips in college. Everyone always asked me why I didn't go, and I said it was because I was already where God wanted me to minister.

    So, in the first place I like what missions does to the volunteers but find it a pity that it takes a trip to affect people and a shame for the church that most don't bring the change into their own neighborhood ministries.

    The second BIG problem I see with the increasing popularity of short term missions is the negative impact it is having on "real" missions. Baptist churches in the United States have seen NO DECREASE in the money that passes through their accounts in the past couple of years. However, missions giving is down by over 50%! Part of this is because more and more money is being used in the churches and communities themselves, but a big part of the decrease is that churches are deciding to use the money they used to use to support missions on their own mission trips and projects. It is great that churches are getting more involved, but sad that people who are called to give their lives to missions are being told they can't go because of lack of funds.

    I wish their were a way to distinguish between people God has called to short term efforts and those that are into a little "missional tourism."

  4. I guess what I see is diametrically opposed to what you see. Not only are our people going, they have always been involved in local missions. Now maybe even more so. And our Lottie Moon giving is still up there! I know each church is different....

  5. Praise God! I am glad to hear about what is happening in Borger, and I know a lot of churches where giving is steady. The figures I referenced above are for the SBC as a whole. Giving is way down, and sending has been almost frozen for the near future. It is sad.

  6. I see the benefit of both and realistically think when done correctly they benefit each other. 5years ago we decided that over the course of the next ten years we wanted all of our members to have participated in a short term mission trip. And now 5 years in we are about 2/3 of the way of completing that goal. One of the things we have seen is that our mission giving is up. BY mission giving I do not mean the money spent on the trips rather on support of full time missionaries. In fact it is higher than it has ever been. Now I recognize that that is not the norm but I think it is a model of what can be. It is all about proper management and educating on the subject. I have always thought and still do today that the IMB has the best support system and organized network of missionaries. But I think in the past few years they are failing to evolve in the way they make missions relevant to the church in the US. As the world gets smaller in lieu of social networking and advances in television and information gathering and dispersing methods and as travel is becoming more and more cheaper and accessible. The means of once a year Lottie Moon efforts and occasional newsletters from missionaries leave much to be desired for the ordinary member here in the US. As organizations like Compassion international and Toms shoes have kept up with the marketing of the world today the IMB has relied on what has always worked in the past to a certain degree. This is fine as long as it has been working but now it isn't going to cut it. People here want direct involvement and I don’t mean going I mean they want to feel like they are having a direct impact. The IMB should look into better and new ways to form partnerships not just between states and countries but local churches here with local works abroad. They need to tap into the social networks and media better. And a personal pet peeve of mine, they need to be more concerned about spreading the gospel than the denomination. I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to hook up with IMB missionaries to partner and take groups to work with and been told that because we are a Methodist church they wouldn’t work with us. For a denomination that is lacking in its mission efforts and to be a missional church it is so frustrating to want to do short term missions that are partnered with missionaries on the ground who know what the best "bang for the buck" is and can follow up and we can support not just by going but by supporting financially and through prayer only to be told that because we aren’t Baptists are money, prayers and partnerships are not desired. Naturally we have to turn to other mission sending agencies. Giving for causes in countries outside the US is up across the board right now, I just got back from a conference with some bishops and UN reps as part of a effort the United Methodist Church is launching with the UN, NBA, MLS and FIFA to end Malaria by 2015 Our denomination alone is giving 75 million dollars and the studies show that Americans are giving for causes like never before. The sad thing is the organizations that could make a real impact by understanding the need for the gospel to make real change are being so reclusive and exclusive that the average ordinary Christian wanting to feel like they made a real impact is giving to causes like this one.
    I agree the full time missionary is essential and I believe any short term missions should not be done in lieu of supporting them nor should they be done without working submitted into a partnership and under their guidance but for those of us who want to do so we need an avenue to do it.

  7. Good points Jeff.

    I would just point out that in many ways the IMB has changed a lot in the past few years, just a lot of people don't know about it. There are lots of ways that churches can be involved more than giving and praying. Some churches now are completely taking over the strategic work for whole countries or metro areas. The develop the strategy and supply all the personnel for the project both long and short term.

    Then there is the Upstream Collective and Sky Bridge. Both cutting edge attempts to do missions in new ways.

    As to the walls you've hit as a Methodist. It may have less to do with the denominational issue than you think. We can work with other denominations on tons of stuff, and almost everything short termers do. The hard part is getting a trip planned. It helps when your church or people have a relationship with someone on the field. Most full time missionaries are wary about working with short termers due to the fact that often experience tells them that short term trips are: time consuming (sometimes time wasting), babysitting difficult groups who want to do what they want and not what will help, and require a lot of work afterwards to fix what the team messed up.

    Of course, not all volunteers are problems. I think it helps when people are truly called to missions and not just doing it out of a sense of obligation, adventure or for fun. You know that for my part I would have you here in an instant whenever we can work out the timing and details!

  8. I can see that and I also have been out of the Baptist church for some time so in all fairness I haven't kept up with the IMB all that much.


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