It is fashionable to have short-term mission trips. I am suspicious of some (not all) short-term missions because they look like "christianised" overseas holidays. I have two questions: (a) What should be the biblical characteristics of short-term missions? (b) To what extent should a church fund those lay people who want to go on short-term missions?
There are valid concerns in the church today regarding the misuse of short-term mission (STM) opportunities. As in all areas of our Christian walk, we need to carefully and prayerfully examine our motives for those things we do that, at the surface, may appear to be good things, but could be done poorly or for the wrong motives. STMs ought not to escape this examination.
Without claiming to be an authority on "biblical characteristics" of STMs (particularly since the topic is not directly addressed in the Bible), I would suggest three (of many) aspects that should be a part of a short-term missions opportunity properly executed.
First, since the purpose of missions in general is to expand the kingdom of Christ through the gospel preached and applied, STMs ought to assist or enable that purpose in some fashion. This could happen directly so that the team is teaching or evangelizing those with whom it comes into contact. This could be indirectly through a team relieving full-time missionaries of diaconal concerns or technical problems, further enabling them to carry out the preaching of the gospel. Or that team could also set the stage for the full-time evangelist to carry out the gospel ministry.
Second, STMs ought to be performed in connection with a full-time missionary or local indigenous church. Gospel recipients need to be further nurtured over the long haul. They need to have a local church to join themselves to or a missionary who can help establish a church in that area.
Third, as in all of life, STMs need to be done to bring glory to God. At every moment, team members need to ask themselves how they can bring glory to God in what they are doing, in how they are acting and in the words they use. Prior to the trip, the participants need to prayerfully examine their own attitudes and motives for becoming part of the team.
Your second question is a question of stewardship. We need to examine the uses of all the funds (church or personal) that the Lord has entrusted to us to see whether that is the best use of those funds, and often this is a matter that is just between us and the Lord. Some questions we might ask ourselves might be: Is this expense within the scope of the church's budget? Might there be benefit in each participant raising some outside support and/or paying some of his own expenses so that he has invested more into the opportunity? Does the potential blessing of the opportunity outweigh the financial cost? How does the duration of the trip affect its potential benefit vs. cost? Might God use this overseas mission trip to whet a person's appetite for future long-term service as a missionary? Will this trip promote greater partnership between the local church at home and the church abroad? Is the participant spiritually mature enough to benefit from the trip to a degree that justifies the cost?
These are only a sample of many questions that might be asked and considered. I hope that you find these answers helpful to you as you wrestle with considering what role short-term missions should have in Christ's church. May God bless your quest for what is right with wisdom from above.
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