Are your missions projects doing more harm than good?

Robert Terrell, pastor/friend/fellow Tide fan in Wisconsin, dropped this on his blog this weekend. If you’re not reading Robert – you need to be. He doesn’t post as often as I want him to but when he does – it’s good.

He starts with a quote from a friend, here’s an excerpt:

“How do you think kids see their church after one week of playing, eating candies, doing crafts and receiving gifts from americans in a VBS???” … i believe we are supposed to be a part of spreading the joy of CHRIST throughout the world. we need to be involved in sharing the good news of the kingdom of GOD in other countries. we just HAVE to make sure that we do this in a manner that helps the local church rather than hurting it.

His point is that most “American” mission trips are geared so that the Americans showing up are the experts, they do their thing for the week – VBS, program, medical help, etc. – then they leave. There is no way those ‘left behind’ can replicate what was done. Worse case scenario is that the way the mission trip was done – whether intentional or not – undermines the very cause they came for. There is probably no way to continue the work that was done. So it either stops altogether when they leave or they wait until the next year/trip shows up.

This brings up the fundamental question of why do we do mission trips in the first place? I know the churchy answer is because “Jesus said so” but it’s the second answer that I’m more interested in hearing. Do we go because there is a calling, a partnership OR do we go because of what it means to us? If not you’re not sure, here’s a little test. When you return from a trip do you sit down and deal with these questions: How did we improve Kingdom work? How did help the local church be more effective/successful? What will continue after we leave? What did we learn for the next time?

My first few mission trips could not answer any of those questions. Let’s shoot straight – most of my early mission trips were mainly for selfish reasons. Not that what we did was bad. Building houses and helping orphans are good things to do. But they weren’t long term strategic partnerships and what I mostly remember about those trips are what they did to me. Having a life change moment, a holy moment isn’t a bad thing, it’s not a bad benefit to a trip. But it makes for a horrible core reason for doing a mission trip.

So what is the answer? Here’s where I am at…

1. No more pop in, pop out trips. Long-term relationships matter. We want to be able to pay, pray, and play. Support through-out the year financially, pray and dialogue with them through-out the year, be able to go and ‘play’ with them as well. For years at a time. Not a one-time gig. NOTE: Play means visit, to show up, to work alongside. A couple of our partnerships are in closed places that we can’t just show up once a year. I understand that but we are trying to get somebody there when/if we can.

2. We are NOT the experts. We go to places where we can partner with an existing ministry already on the ground. The question then becomes what can we do to help them further advance the work of God that they are already involved in. They tell us what they need – not us telling them. This means once we leave, the work continues. Yes, we may bring something that only we can bring – technology, tools, services – but it’s done in the context of a ministry already going on. It’s connected to a larger body of work, a local ministry – not just the “celebrity Americans.”

3. Does it help make disciples that love God, live connected, and serve all? This of course is our vision/mantra. I want to make sure that who we partner with has this kind of heart and direction, that they too have a Kingdom, long-term vision of ministry. That they have the same heart of seeing people coming to know Jesus and growing up in Jesus. That a they too are serving all – all people, inside and outside the church.

I know it’s not perfect BUT it’s been helpful to keep us focused.

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6 thoughts on “Are your missions projects doing more harm than good?

  1. People coming on mission trips are a helpful part of the ministry here in the Czech Republic regardless of how long they are here.It is great if they maintain relationships with the people long term, but even if they don’t, the contribution they make while here is valuable.

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  2. The greatest missions project is breaking “Americans’” belief that when on mission trips they are saving the indigenous people. When the Lord breaks you and you fall to your knees before you help save the indigenous people while in the mission field, that’s truly a missions project. Then “Americans” will know the true meaning of live connected and serve all. I like how Rob T. thinks.

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