Friday, July 23, 2010

Thoughts on Short Term Missions

I hope this is as constructive and inspiring as it is challenging and convicting. Let me know what you think.

I began writing this almost exactly two summers ago (07/29/2008), but never posted it. In light of the Internet Monks Open Mic on Short Term Missions, I decided to resurrect it. It still seems relevant.

For sake of transparency, I have been on two short term missions trip. One service trip to Post Katrina New Orleans and another to do an English camp in Ukraine. I treasure both of these experiences and am eternally thankful for them being a catalyst of discovery in my faith.

The following words are from a debrief of any one of thousands of short term mission trips that have been or will be sent this summer. If you've ever been on a short term missions trip or attended a debrief I'm sure you these words are familiar:

"Amazing experience, amazing stories, looking forward to going back..."

They are clear to communicate it's not the traveling to foreign countries as exciting as that is. It's not the interaction with new cultures, as eye opening as that is. It's not unique experiences, as fun as those are. It is:

A time of unity
A time of prayer
A time of encouragement
A time of shared purpose/mission
A time of extraordinary community
A time of serving
A time of intense growth
A time of testimonies to the power of the Spirit
A time of building relationships
A time of supernatural energy
A time of passionate living
A time of reaching out
A time of loving

And it's for these reasons they can't wait to go on another short term mission trip for 2 week next summer.

Let that sink in for a couple minutes. What are we communicating? What are we modeling to the youth of the Church? What has been modeled to us as the appropriate fulfillment of the mission of the Church? WHY are we settling for something SO much less. When I look at the list of attributes that typify short term mission trips I see a list of attributes that describe a time of true authentic Christian living.

It is clear there is something so appealing about the time that is experienced on a mission trip. But how and why have we structured our lives at home to not facilitate this. And why don't we think about restructuring our lives so that we can?

Is it because of distractions that we aren't willing to cut out?
Is it because of costs we aren't willing to pay?
Is it because of risks we aren't willing to take?
Is it because of comforts we aren't willing to let go of?
Is it because of pleasures we aren't willing to sacrifice?
Is it because of ourselves that we aren't willing to surrender?

16 comments:

nick mucci said...

found my way here through Samuel Nagel...i believe you are right on point...it is amazingly unfortunate how we allow the rest of 'life' to crowd out the life that He came to give

DK said...

Thanks for the affirmation. Short term missions are great at getting us out of our American lifestyle and experiencing a life on mission, but only if that equips and informs your worldview to live on mission the rest of your life.

The values of our heart are made manifest by what are we willing to let go.

Sadly, when we get back from a short term mission trip, the first thing we let go of is the mission.

Makes you wonder what the motives were in the first place.

You have a fellowship you are a part of in North Portland? You know Sam through Multnomah?

Peace

Anna said...

Part of it may be the distractions and lack of full commitment that we allow ourselves to slide back into. But you have to beware the sort of thinking that says that we should be having intense experiences all the time. A lot of growth and a lot of relationship-building is slow, simply because it takes a lot of time. It can even be boring at times. But that doesn't mean that nothing is happening or that we've gotten off-track.

DK said...

Ahhh, Anna, Excellent point. If there is one thing I have learned from the last too years it is that much Kingdom work and much of the mission is accomplished through the mundane.

You are right that short-term mission trips are often times intense experiences, but that is obviously a small part of the mission. When you look at my list of 13 elements that typify a short term mission trip, none of them necessitate an intense experience, and only a few could be directly related to the intensity.

In fact, the majority of them are best fulfilled in the slower paced mundane of life, which is all the more unfortunate that we relegate them only to the intense short term mission trip experience.

Always appreciate your input Anna!

Anna said...

Of the 13 things that you listed, I would say only about 5 of those are things that should be expected to be happening all the time: prayer, encouragement, testimonies, building relationships, and loving. The rest of them are things that should be happening some of the time, maybe even most of the time for a couple - but not all the time.

DK said...

"all the time" is sticky semantics.

I don't mean to say every breathing moment. I'm talking regular rhythms of the Christian life. That could be daily, weekly, monthly within the context of your neutral state (as in, you don't go to a far away place just to practice service).

I agree with your 5. But I would add 3 more. Would you say shared mission within your local Christian community, service to others, and reaching out to others shouldn't be regular practices in the Christian life as well?

This is great because it's helping me think through more on the categories I named and how they are defined.

Anna said...

Shared mission is a tricky thing. There should certainly be times and places where you share a mission with those in your community. But there will also be times when some people in the community are called to be working on one thing and others are called to be going in a different direction. For example, wouldn't you say that you are no longer being called to share the mission with your little group at Barberry? It seems to me that there can be entire months or even maybe years in which God calls a person to do a work that they can only do themselves.

Service to others should be very common, but again, a community might be called to work on its own internal issues for some length of time, or an individual might be too sick or too weak for service to others to be a significant portion of their spiritual life (and that includes the less physical forms of service, such as praying for others). There are also things which *are* service to others, but which don't necessarily *look* like what we think of as "service to others" - like being a good mom, or being a good accountant. Someone who is looking for their community (or Christians in general) to make service to others be a more significant part of their life can easily miss out on all that hidden service that is happening, and put too big of a burden on people because of it. It takes listening to God to know when you are being called to any particular kind of service to others, and when you aren't.

Reaching out to others, again, should be pretty common. But sometimes an individual or community is called to work on internal things. There was some 4 or 5 years when I was living in Minneapolis where the primary thing I felt from God was "wait"; only after I moved to Portland did He really start pushing me towards reaching out to people.

DK said...

Shared missions with other Christians who you are in fellowship could even look like each individual has a different calling, but you are "sharing" that calling with others for support and encouragment. If we aren't sharing God's mission, we will never be able to collaborate as the Body.

Actually, we will continue to share the mission at Barberry over the next couple months to facilitate a smooth transition. But we are also very actively networking and connecting with Christians in our new neighborhood to see what God is up to and discover where our place is in that.

If we are in fellowship, we must be sharing God's mission. Otherwise for what purpose is the fellowship?

Anna said...

If God calls you to live in the desert for 2 years on your own, you are participating in God's plan for the universe, but to call it a shared mission with your fellow Christians is making the words just about meaningless.

If you are, say, putting on a Life in the Spirit Seminar, and one person gets to do the babysitting and another person gets to give a talk and another person gets to make the flyers for it, that is a shared mission, even if the people are not spending all their time together. It's a shared mission because they are all working towards one identifiable purpose - putting on the seminar.

If, on the other hand, God tells someone that they need to work on evangelizing the people at their work, that is not a mission that they share with the other members of their community. The community might offer advice or encouragement or prayers, but the mission itself is not really a shared mission. (or at least, I think calling it a shared mission is more misleading than helpful).

Does that make any sense?

DK said...

I see what your getting at Anna.

But I feel like you are really grabbing at straws to find an exception. My point is that Christians should actively be in dialogues with other Christians about God's missions.

We are not all called on a mission to serve God individually. I think the general rule of thumb is we are called together. God's mission is discovered and implemented within the Christian community together. Yes, some may be called out for a time to the desert, as you explained, but that is not the default state.

Anna said...

I guess I think that it is the default for Christians to be called to BE in a community with each other. I'm not particularly convinced that it is the default for those communities to be called to share a common work/mission, rather than to support and encourage each other, pray with each other, worship together, while each person has their own work cut out for them.

DK said...

The more we drill down into this definition the more I think we agree at the heart of the issue. :)

I would define the shared mission of Christians being to "support and encourage each other, pray with each other, worship together".

In so doing a dialogue is ongoing about what work is cut out for each and how we can often work together or work to support each other.

Anna said...

Practically speaking, I would say that one of the things that is exciting about short mission trips is that there is one clearly definable goal or purpose that everyone is working together towards. Having a mission, having something concrete that you are working towards, lifts your spirit and focuses your mind and energy on the task; sharing that mission with others makes it even that much better (generally).

Being together in a more ongoing Christian community doesn't necessarily have that dynamic going on. There are other dynamics going on - encouragement and prayer and whatnot - but unless the community actually decides to engage in some particular work together - some work with a concrete, visible goal - (as communities sometimes should), then that particular dynamic of a shared mission in the style of short mission trips is lacking.

Anna said...

Practically speaking, I would say that one of the things that is exciting about short mission trips is that there is one clearly definable goal or purpose that everyone is working together towards. Having a mission, having something concrete that you are working towards, lifts your spirit and focuses your mind and energy on the task; sharing that mission with others makes it even that much better (generally).

Being together in a more ongoing Christian community doesn't necessarily have that dynamic going on. There are other dynamics going on - encouragement and prayer and whatnot - but unless the community actually decides to engage in some particular work together - some work with a concrete, visible goal - (as communities sometimes should), then that particular dynamic of a shared mission in the style of short mission trips is lacking.

DK said...

You said it better then I could have Anna! :)

Rob L. said...

Really liked this blog post, David. Would love to discuss it further with you in person. Appreciate your thoughtful dialogue on this too, Anna and David.