Always a Missions Tripper, Never a Missionary
by Jake Taube
When I was 18, I went on a missions trip to Ukraine. Our work was fairly typical of the sort of short-term missions trips that have in recent decades become a common feature of Western Christianity. We held youth activities, passed out literature, and worked with our hands.
In that last category, my friend and I were given shovels and set to digging out a foundation for a new church building. After a couple weeks of backbreaking work, the church hired a backhoe to speed things up a bit. In just a few short hours, that guy on the backhoe made more progress than we had in a week. Curiosity got the better of me, and I asked someone what it cost to bring in the backhoe. About six bucks an hour. My friend and I were spending about that every day at McDonald’s to help us recover from our digging!
I’m far from the first to have such a revelation. Western Christianity is increasingly aware of the imprudence, and sometimes even harmfulness, that characterizes the short-term missions movement. But my own biggest complaint about most short-term missions is not that they are wasteful or unproductive. Rather, it’s that they are not missions.
We may indeed believe that there remains a global need for Pauline missionaries who enter other cultures, preach the gospel in the native tongue, and plant churches, but our approach to short-term missions is not at all informed by it. Short-term missions are not miniature versions of Paul’s mission; they are on a totally different trajectory. A student could go on a dozen such missions trips and emerge without knowledge or experience of missions as it would be recognized by the early church. As a result, they are misled about what it means to be a career missionary.
A while back, I was talking with a student about missions. A faithful church member, a diligent servant, and a student of the Word. A perfect candidate for missions in my book. He didn’t feel the same way. “I know missionaries are needed,” he said. “But I just really love preaching and feel my gifting lies more in that area.” It took me a second to see what was happening. He thought that people who love preaching and leading churches belonged at home. Missions was for people who like digging, painting, and feeding orphans. For Pauline missions to increase, this is the perception that must change.
It is precisely the young men lining up at our seminaries to learn about theology and preaching and church-planting that need to be sent overseas. If you are a young person in this category, I would implore you to consider long-term missions. And if there are students and young couples in your church’s pews like my friend, consider getting them a copy of Send Me, I’ll Go. It is my attempt to show that there is no more needed work in the world today, and that it is an endeavor worthy of a lifetime commitment.
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