What’s Missing in Your Short-Term Missions Program
Today, many churches and leaders are asking, “Is there a better way?” The book When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert has shown some of the pitfalls of doing Short Term Missions the old way. It has inspired church leaders to want to do STM differently, to make sure they are having a positive, strategic impact for the Gospel.
Part of helping instead of hurting involves four principles. When these are implemented well, your church will develop a dynamic STM program.
The First Principle is to make sure that STM, both local and international, is an integral part of the overall strategy of your church ministry. STM needs to be seen, not as something that a church tries to do once a year, but as an extension of the ministry of the church that starts right where you stand (your neighborhood) and extends in some way to the “ends of the earth,” all year long.
The true mission of the church is far more exciting and varied than what most churches portray. Acts 1:8 expresses this in a nutshell: “You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the uttermost ends of the earth.” Every Christian has the responsibility to take the Gospel from where they stand all the way to the ends of the earth. Is STM integrated this way into the overall vision and mission for your church?
With this vision, it is possible to get everyone engaged in ways that will help them be a witness in word and deed locally and internationally. The ways a church can provide touchpoints varies from becoming prayer partners for missionaries, sponsoring children for schooling, helping with feeding programs, participating in local ministries and many other opportunities in between. When STM is a normal part of your church vision, you will find most of your people being engaged in some type of ministry.
With STM being a part of your church’s DNA, a natural transition will be to seek out Principle Two, which is Long-Term Partnerships. If your church is looking for true ministry impact, then it has to be for the long-term. As you engage your people, you will need to focus on long-term partnerships that complement your church’s make-up, interests and resources.
By developing relationships FIRST before providing resources, you will be involved in ways that your partner truly needs. Long-term engagement through relationships will help you understand your partner, their situation, their culture and particularly what their true needs are.
God calls us to partner together with Him in reaching the world for Christ. He has called us as the church to be INTERDEPENDENT on one another. As the Body of Christ we need each other. Our ministry partners will challenge us in ways that we can’t imagine. As many team members have said over the years, “We were ministered to, when I thought we were going to minister.” As we edify one-another and minister together into the community, we experience the oneness we have through the Holy Spirit. Your people will have a much better understanding of what the church is all about.
Successful long-term partnerships demand Principle Three: a holistic impact strategy of engagement together. Your partnership should encompass evangelism, discipleship, social compassion, education/leadership development and community development. These five “impact points” will provide you with a holistic ministry into the lives of both churches. By examining the needs of these impact points together, you will develop a strategy that encompasses both the spiritual and the practical. This strategy should enable the members of the U.S. church to get involved in many ways over time, even if they never go on a trip. With this strategy you should have “touchpoints” for everyone in your church. This strategy will provide you with a pathway for your partnership into the future.
To maximize our partnerships, we need experts that understand both partners and their cultures, as well as help the partnership achieve maximum potential. This is why we need Principle Four, which is a Third Party Facilitator. This is the most overlooked aspect of STM. Yet it is one of the most essential components of a successful STM program. Most direct relationships to a local or foreign church or agency will eventually experience conflict that frequently destroys the partnership. This is usually because the partnership has no one to help them maneuver through the minefield of cultural and practical differences. Having a good Third Party Facilitator that will guide both of you to cultural relevance to one another is worth its weight in gold. If they are doing their job right, your partnership will thrive and have life-transforming impact on both your people and your partners.
Try NEVER to go directly to a church or agency whether local or global even if it sounds good. ALWAYS try to find a third party agency that can represent and facilitate your ministry with your potential partner. Not many agencies can help you have a long-term partnership that will have strategic impact. Many agencies say they can help you with a church to church partnership (the new buzzword in STM) but most have very little experience or infrastructure to provide help. It is well worth the effort to find an agency that can actually help facilitate your partnership effectively, not just handle a team.
“No” is one of the most important words in STM. It can help keep you out of a host of problems. However, in many cultures or situations they cannot tell you “No” as they don’t want to harm the relationship or miss out on being helped. Having someone who understands both cultures and is able to tell both sides “No” when needed is imperative for successful local or overseas ministry.
These four principles should be a part of any STM’s program:
1. Integrated ministry bringing local and international missions together within the church
2. Long-term partnerships that engage the whole church
3. Holistic Strategy of Engagement and Relationship for maximum resourcing for ministry
4. Third Party Facilitator to maximize ministry, impact and cultural relevancy.
STM done using these principles will engage your church both locally and abroad in life transforming ministry. They will enable you to “help and not hurt” wherever you are working. They will help you to be culturally relevant as well as providing the appropriate resources to empower your partner in ministry. May the mission of your church reflect God’s heart: to be His witnesses from your home, your hometown, all the way to the ends of the earth.