How to Do Short-Term Missions Well

Savannah field trip 2011

A couple of months ago, a few leaders from Grace Church drove to Allendale, to talk with a local church about Grace’s vision and plans for their work in Allendale.

To their credit, this local church had already been supporting Grace Church’s efforts, even before knowing the details about the overall mission. But as this partnership grows deeper, further clarification was needed.

In about 45 minutes, these leaders cast a clear vision, and answered important questions from the congregants. As for me, I heard two points that all churches should know if they want to do short-term missions: commit to relationships and partner with the local church.

Relationships > Projects

God’s story is about redemption. But the message of salvation is not about the work of the Father alone. His story is about Jesus working through Spirit-empowered people to bring others to salvation. (Granted, a full theology is more complex than this sentence, but let’s just move on here.)

Especially with the book of Acts (but, in truth, throughout scripture), what brings unsaved people towards Jesus are not programs and events, but relationships. When people have their lives changed by Jesus, the world notices. Not the global world, but the “world” right around each regenerated person.

Of course, loving relationships must originate with the body of Christ (John 13:35). Nothing will turn off an non-believer like a lack of love, as well as disunity in the church (trust me, I know).

But a church must not be content to focusing on what happens with the walls of the church building. As one leader rightly spoke,

“If the only people in your community that you are connected to are those in your church, you are falling short of what God has for you.”

The good news must be shared, and these gospel conversations should occur through meaningful relationships.

Resource the Local Church

For long-term and sustainable change, this “sending” church must not only think about its own relationships and efforts in the community. A missions-minded church must make all efforts to support the local church in the region it wants to serve. To do otherwise can easily foster a system of unhealthy dependence and paternalism.

The local church must be supported, with funding, people, prayer, etc. As one leader from Grace put it,

“We want to resource the local church. We would like to dream with you. What would you want to do if you had more people, money, and resources?”

He further explained,

“We never want to be down here working, and NOT be working alongside local people.”

Though he said that they have failed at this many times, what I appreciate is that they have an overreaching vision that they have stuck with and succeeded in, most of the time.

To sum it up — How do you succeed in missions? Focus on relationships and the local church.

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