For several years now I have been heavily involved in leading short-term mission trips. Through the years much has been said about these short ventures into the mission field to work along side the local church and missionaries. Some of this discussion has been constructive. Most of the talk has been critical of the importance, effectiveness and even necessity of these short-term trips lately. Throughout my ministry I have continually evaluated the process of ministry based on a few critical elements of faith I learned early in my journey. This is my ponderings concerning the short-term trip and its role within the scope of global disciple-making today!
Early in my faith journey I was blessed with some great men of God who poured truth into my life. These men had a profound impact on my world view and my ministry "philosophy". The truths that I learned early on have remained very important throughout the now thirty years in ministry. As I look back, I realize a few critical truths have shaped everything along the way. I believe these truths are vital to the life of ministry and especially to the life of short-term mission ministry within the local church.
The Word of God, the Bible, is the only source of absolute truth we have and is without error in its communication of the message of the redemption of God and the Gospel of Jesus. This is the life-transformational truth every man, woman and child is in need of hearing and understanding! In every turn of my journey men were pouring the Word into my head and heart. The Bible is essential to every missional effort of any size or scale in any location. It is this Gospel that has power to convict, redeem and save!
Prayer is an essential element of our daily journey with God. Our strong desire, in fact need, to experience peace with God is dependent upon us engaging in conversation with God. The Holy Spirit is the agent or means by which God speaks to us today. And it is this same Holy Spirit who helps us learn His ways and know how to communicate with God! It is this communication that unlocks new levels of relationship with God and allows for wisdom to grow in our hearts along the journey. It is this practice of daily conversation that teaches us to ask the Lord of the harvest to send workers into the field, for they are ready to be harvested.
Fellowship with other believers is a vital part of this journey of faith. Through the regular gathering together with other believers we are able to worship in a larger setting and experience the passion and excitement that comes from all of us in agreement together as we respond to God for what He has done for us. It is also this relationship to other followers of Christ that we are challenged and held accountable for authentic belief with actions that demonstrate faith. The community of faith is a critical element to the journey as it strengthens, encourages, challenges, and disciplines the individual faith journey to remain true to its roots in the Word and obedience to the Holy Spirit.
The expression of faith, however, may be the most debated and essential element of the journey of all characteristics. Think with me for a moment. There is very little room for disagreement in the need for the Bible to instruct our paths or for prayer to be a practice of regular relationship with God. Fellowship is an element of this journey that most every member of the body seeks and desires, even in the tough times. Yet, expressing faith with actions that share and show the Gospel message is not embraced with excitement by every member. In fact I have heard in the past a member of the body say that "missions" just is not my thing! If we could agree that "missions" is an expression of faith, then "missions" must be all of our things! In fact without an expression of faith actively being pursued by each follower of Christ, I believe we will become that branch that does not bear much fruit and must be pruned vigorously by the gardener!
If a pool of water gathers in an open field and remains standing without an outlet, eventually, no matter how deep or clear or good the water is to begin with, this water becomes a stagnant pond and will become unfit for anything to benefit from it. However, if a pool of water develops with a continual flow of water into it as well as a controlled and steady flow of water out of it, it will become a life giving source for all who can access it! Our lives, without an outflowing expression of faith, become stagnant water that no one desires to taste and see how good He really can be.
The Gospel message, that transformed our lives from hopelessness to depending on a hope that does not disappoint, must be central in every missional work we seek to fulfill. Every short-term missions team must be focused on Gospel showing and sharing in every aspect of the experience. The essential, life giving power source of every missional experience is the Gospel and must be at the core of every movement of the Body of Christ. Without this central focus our missional efforts become no different than those outside the Body of Christ seeking to offer humanitarian aid and have compassion on our fellow man. These things are good causes in light of the physical poverty of cultures and communities. However, these efforts without Gospel centeredness lack the power to address spiritual poverty.
Jesus said in Matthew 26:11 the poor would always be with us. This is not a statement that should drive us away from meeting urgent physical needs when we have been given the resources by God to extend the assistance. However, this passage is rooted in the midst of Gospel truth. We so often focus on the material possessions of an individual to determine their level of poverty and here Jesus refers to the oil being used to anoint him as something preparing Him for His role as Savior and Redeemer. Poverty is something that demands our attention. Spiritual poverty must be our chief priority. The time is coming when Jesus and His Gospel will no longer be the message to share with the world as His time to finish what He started is drawing near. Our responsibility must be to center every work of ministry and mission on the Gospel and making His story known.