In the first three parts of this series, we considered some of the possible benefits of short-term missions. Now in this final part of the series, we turn to another important aspect to consider: the possible pitfalls. While most people enter into short-term missions with honorable intentions, things can go awry if the sending church misses some key components.
The following are a few of the missteps short-term missions groups should avoid when seeking to craft an overseas experience that is beneficial for all.
1) The wrong fit.
Sometimes a godly, talented person or team goes to a location and/or project that is less than ideal for hosting international workers. This can mean a lack of suitable infrastructure, and/or a ministry that is better done by locals. Alternately, a project can be poised for an excellent experience for the visitors. But maybe the international worker(s) do not have the right skills, attitude, or belief system to be of significant assistance. The result of either of these scenarios? A challenging experience that could do more harm than good. The key to avoiding this is a healthy screening process to ensure the best chances for a good fit between the team and the project.
2) Lack of clear goals.
As with any serious endeavor, it is crucial to develop clear goals before entering any kind of short-term missions experience. Most times, it is most effective to partner with the host in creating these goals. The objectives created can be made in two specific areas. First, teams focus on developing goals for the work to be done on the ground while in country. This can range from completing specific projects to building relationships with local workers. Second, the goals must focus on the desired outcomes in the personal spiritual lives of the team participants. In all cases of short-term missions involvement, it is more important for participants to be, rather than to do. An overseas project that focuses only on activities and not personal attitudes is always less effective than one that seeks to transform the lives of those doing the work.
3) Lack of training and preparation.
Training is an essential part of preparation for any overseas/cross-cultural trip. This training should include interactive modules and sessions relevant to the trip goals. It should include cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity, as well as spiritual preparation for the experience to come. Without training and adequate preparation by veteran pastors/workers, it is extremely challenging to produce an effective experience. In general, this training is done over several months. It is best done in a team scenario, focusing on the practicalities of the short-term missions experience, as well as the holistic personal preparation participants need to bring their healthiest self to the trip. Some short-term teams even extend that training to the first few days on the ground and include the local workers after the team arrives. Without training and adequate preparation, the team risks both an ineffective experience and offending the hosts. Training is essential.
Overall, when done properly, short-term missions can be a huge catalyst for the growth and development of the team members and those whom they serve while overseas. Ultimately, it is to the glory of God that teams should seek excellence and effectiveness. The fulfillment of the Great Commission depends on it.