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Missions 101

Posts Tagged: Missions

Short-Term Missions or Glorified Tourism?

Sep. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

George Houssney, the President of Horizons, has written a helpful article on the strengths and weaknesses of short-term missions. Below are what he sees as negatives and positives. You can read the entire article here.

The Positives

1. A good percentage of short-termers end up going long-term. Some statistics claim 50%. Many would never go to the mission field were it not for these short- term opportunities.

2. Many gain a heart for missions, and they return often and/or become supporters, prayer partners, and mobilizers.

3. Short-Term mission trips are eye openers for many. It is one thing to read missions newsletters and reports, it is another to actually be on the mission field and see the poverty, the hardships, and the spiritual depravity of people of other cultures.

4. Some who have never witnessed back home become bold in witnessing when they are with a like minded team witnessing in a cross cultural context. This can even help them begin to witness when they return home.

5. Those who are hesitant because they are not sure about their calling use short-term trips to test the waters and see if career missions might be what God is calling them to?

6. Some cannot be career missionaries because of job and family considerations. However, they do want to make a difference, so they use their vacation time or a break from school to do something for the Lord, rather than spending it on themselves.

7. Many who go on mission trips come from affluent families. They are not used to doing dirty work. Manual labor gives them an opportunity to serve others and to experience hard work like they never have before.

After looking at some of the pros and cons of short-term missions, let us see what the Bible says about this.

Missions is a word that came out of the Greek Apostolos, a messenger who is sent to accomplish a certain mission. To better understand the meaning of Apostolos, we must look at the life of Jesus and the apostles, and what they did as missionaries.

Negatives and Drawbacks

1. Many who go on mission trips have no cross cultural experience and due to the shortness of the trip, they are sent with little or no preparation or training. As a result they are likely to behave in ways that are not culturally appropriate or sensitive. I have seen young men dress in shorts and women in tank tops in conservative countries where men and women cover the majority of their bodies. Young people also tend to behave immaturely, with coarse joking, flirting, and inappropriately touching others of the opposite sex. On the other hand, some come with their expensive clothes, expensive gadgets, computers, phones, ipods, Cd players, BlackBerries, and flash money around while people in the target culture cannot afford such luxuries. This results in either disgust or adoration of the missionaries. In either case, it is not healthy.

2. Many go on short-term mission trips in response to short-term guilt trips laid on them by preachers or missions speakers, who rightly challenge them to do something about the unreached people. For many, going on a short-term mission relieves them of their guilty feeling. Rather than consider a longer term commitment, they settle for a trip or two here and there. Some feel that they now have missions checked off on their "To-do in my lifetime" list.

3. Due to the excitement associated with going to a foreign country, some fall in love with the new culture and do not see beyond the facade of its external expressions. Rather, they become enamored by the culture’s music, folklore, dress, and lifestyle. In fact, some expect to see a much darker side of other cultures than they discover. As a result, they fail to see the lostness and spiritual depravity of people from the target cultures.

4. Recruiters who are anxious to sign up people for these trips tend to exaggerate how great these trips are. They raise the expectations too high. The result of unrealistic expectations is usually disappointment. Some expect to love the people in those counties but find out they are not as kind or attractive as they were promised. Some expect to see many people saved. They end up painting walls and laying bricks and hardly seeing any natives. Some return from a short- term mission disappointed because they did not lead anyone to Christ and they feel that they have failed and that they are not made for missions.

5. A percentage of those who have a positive experience on short-term mission trips end up returning for a longer term. They often discover that living in that country long-term is not as exciting or intense, so they get disappointed. They reason that if they had so much fun for two weeks, living there would be even better. By some estimates, half of those who go on long-term trips return home disillusioned. Long-Termers cannot maintain that level of intensity and excitement over a long period of time. It is like going on a honeymoon or vacation; you do not have to go to work, and you enjoy every moment. Then reality hits and you are back to real life, where there is work, tiredness, shopping, cooking, cleaning, and countless other things that keep you busy. Many missionaries expect that when they return full time and for a long time, they would have the same experience as they did when they went short-term. They end up disillusioned and frustrated. Some missionaries do not realize that just figuring out how to live in a foreign country takes up a huge chunk of their day. I know missionaries who have taken a year or more to settle down, spending time looking for a house to live in, furnishing the house, dealing with shopping, transportation and doing many more things.

6. Short-term trips are expensive. Once I was on a prayer walk trip in Morocco. Four hundred came from many parts of the world for the five day journey. I estimated that no less than one million dollars were spent on travel alone (400 X $2500). Some have argued that it would be better that we send this money to the mission field where it can make a much greater impact.

7. The impact on the national church is not always positive. Some churches are inundated by short-term teams that demand a lot of attention. This takes national pastors away from their regular routine and disrupts the ministry

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The Training of Immigrant Christian Leaders

Aug. 30, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Last year I spoke at a TGC-Twin Cities event at a Presbyterian church plant that also hosted an Ethiopian congregation. A few weeks later I ran into a friend who was trying to help a Hmong speaking congregation in the Twin Cities. These two situations caused me to pause because we have been working on translating our curriculum to Amharic and Hmong to teach abroad while at the same time we have immigrant church leaders in the US, who for a variety of reasons can not access theological education that is available to them.oc-pastors-conference

On top of this I have been researching migrant church movements as part of PhD research.  

These two things made wonder whether TLI could help immigrant and migrant pastors in the US and Europe by providing training for them in their own language. The statistics are staggering and have led some to call it the "Great Commission in Reverse." Just in Minneapolis, MN we have 90,000 Hmong, 77,000 Somali, 37,500 Liberian and 25,000 Oromo. Or take London, where there are more non-English speaking churches than English speaking church. Or Athens, where up to 20% of the city are non-Greeks.

We now have 29 US Staff. We have the teachers and church partnerships to be able to do this.

We want to appoint someone whose focus would be to direct this specific kind of training and get like-minded churches involved in cities in the US and Europe that would continue training. This could also be a wonderful way to foster partnerships between English and non-English speaking churches that worship in the same city.

If you know someone who might be interested in leading this, you can read the job description here.

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The Ethics of Missionary Strategy

Jul. 25, 2016By: Jackson WuAuthor Bio

Do you have an ethical ministry strategy? I’m guessing most people have never asked this sort of question. What does strategy have to do with ethics?

What’s strategy to do with ethics?

A few months ago, I heard a book survey different ethical approaches (e.g. utilitarianism, virtue theory, etc.). It dawned on me that the same basic ways that people think about morality orScreen_Shot_2016-07-18_at_5.01.05_PM ethics also shapes how missionaries (and pastors) determine their methods of ministry.

This is significant. Recognizing the connection enables us to evaluate more critically ministry methods. At times, the very same people who would reject a given approach to ethics in fact use that approach when choosing ministry strategy. As I explain more below, ask yourself which categories best describe you or the people around you.

We all have to make choices about what is good and best. In ministry, our sense of right and wrong will influence our priorities. In ethics, people try to identify consistent principles to guide our choices and behaviors.

Therefore, we have to ask ourselves, “What principle(s) do we use to decide our behaviors (e.g. strategies) in ministry?” Do we prioritize what is truly best? How do we choose between options?

Three Principles Shaping Ministry

I’ll briefly summarize an ethical perspective before showing how it bears on ministry practice.

1. Utilitarian 

In “utilitarian” ethics, the goal is maximizing the most good for the most people. At one level, this sounds ideal. Yet, the problems are apparent. How do you measure “good”? What distinguishes good from best? In the end, this approach easily devolves into pragmatic relativism that can overlook those in the minority.

What might this look like with respect to mission strategy?

Put simply, missionaries use a more utilitarian approach when strategy is largely shaped by speed and numbers. In a single sentence, they ask, “What method ensures the most people hear the gospel in the fastest amount of time so that the maximum number of people can be saved?”

Certainly, this is a worthy goal. However, the challenge comes when applying this ideal standard. More often than we’d like to admit, “success” cannot be measured empirically.

God defines success. The prophets Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Jeremiah were successful because they were faithful yet God told each one of them that no one would listen to their message (cf. Isa 6:8–13; Jer 1:19; 7:27; Ezek 3:7). 

Not surprisingly, one danger of this ministry approach is pragmatism. “Blessing” = numbers. When numbers and speed become the standard for success, what stops us from choosing any method that gets the result we think we want?

2. Rules vs. Freedom 

Some people emphasize freedom. In order to make moral/ethical decisions, a person must have the freedom to choose one action over another. The view certainly has merit. This perspective contrasts rigid, rule-based (“deontological”) approaches. Highlighting freedom need not imply lawlessness. The point is simply this: no set of rules can adequately guide a person in every circumstance.

How does the “rules vs. freedom” debate shape our ministry methods?

On the one hand, I know of mission leaders who compel or pressure people under them to adopt a certain type of ministry. Perhaps, everyone is expected to use T4T, C2C, 4 Fields, chronological bible storying, etc. This rule-based approach can take other forms.

For instance, mission organization might say or suggest that all missionaries should be “church planters” or “evangelists.” Accordingly, people who are not spending the majority of their time doing these “main things” are not actually doing the real work of missions.

On the other hand, the Apostle Paul highlights the freedom individuals have when doing ministry. This is evident in at least two ways.

• God intentionally grants believers a variety of different spiritual gifts (cf. Rom 12:3–8; 1 Cor 12:4–11; 1 Pet 4:10–11).

• Paul models flexibility by becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.” (cf. 1 Cor 9:19–23)

Should not Christian workers enjoy and exemplify this pattern of ministry?

The Spirit who sovereignly equips each individual so that God would be glorified by the diversity of ministry by the church collectively. In different times and contexts, we will need to adjust our ministry methods.

Without this freedom, do we usurp divine authority and undermine practicing genuine unity?

3. Virtue 

In general, “virtue ethics” emphasizes the importance of character (above rules and goals). A person develops habits of mind and action that guide his or her when it’s time to make decisions about right, wrong, good, and best. No doubt, this approach is not easy because it’s not formulaic.

What does this look like in a ministry context?

Missionaries with this perspective lay stress on discipleship and the church’s character. They will be concerned with balance so as not to be one-dimensional and stunt the church’s growth. As a result, they might not see rapid visible results but they will more likely see fruit that lasts. Their holistic approach accounts for what is needed for long-term growth in the Christian life.

What drives them? The conviction that God is glorified in diverse ways. Professions of faith, planting churches, etc. are just one possible way God can get glory. Faithfulness, healthy families, and service to the needy glorify God as well.

They do not want to compromise by only glorifying God in a single, narrow aspect of ministry.

I think we should seek to be consistent in our ethical thinking and our choice of ministry strategy. What’s intriguing is that most Christians would reject pragmatic utilitarianism when it comes to ethics; yet, when doing ministry, they are unaware that they re-embrace the same sort of thinking.

How do you see the connection play out in your life?

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The 14 Worst Types of Missionary Newsletters

Jul. 20, 2016By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio


From Amy Walters at SEND.

1.    The Banker. Nothing but support updates and requests for money. Oh, and maybe a story about visiting a church and asking for money. “It’s not too late to join our team.”

2.    The Paper Cut. Focused mainly on the long, paperwork-filled process of getting legal documents, like visas or residency permits. As boring and painful to read as the actual process of gathering the documents and waiting in line. “The officials did not accept our documents (which is very normal for the first attempt, although it was over very small mistakes). However, to get a second appointment would mean waiting the next day in a long line (this whole process has been full of long lines all over the city for different steps) to see if the quota is still open. So, the next day Leon* waited in line for 5 hours, only to find out that no, the quota is closed. This means that we cannot apply for the temporary residency until after the New Year.”

3.    The Cluster Bomb. No communication for months and then a sudden rush of updates. Often this happens when the missionary needs something, like more support or home service is coming. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will give another report about how wonderful our time was on our recent trip!”

4.    The Itinerary. Basically, a long list of activities, locations and events in paragraph form. The audience feels tired after reading it and bouncing from one place to the next. “We were able to combine visits to see Kim’s* father in Pennsylvania, children and grandchildren in Lynchburg, Virginia and Buffalo, New York to meeting friends and attending a new career conference in Ocean City, New Jersey.”

5.    The Treasure Hunt. Mostly filled with cultural tidbits and mundane details. But buried somewhere deep inside, like in a sidebar or at the very end of a long letter, is a great ministry story. [After nine paragraphs about other things] “Praise God for a girl in my class who has now received assurance of salvation.”

6.    The Novel. Anything longer than three pages. This usually happens because the missionary hasn’t written in months. “And one more thing…”

7.    The Christmas Letter. Almost entirely made up of family updates, with little or nothing said about ministry. Added bonus: long description and pictures of a recent family vacation to an exotic location. “Another family invited us to join them at a nearby resort.”

8.    The Cliff Hanger. A desperate call for prayer or help that is not followed up and resolved in the next letter.“Ended up in hospital, trying to find what’s going on. Our life here is but a moment, so easy to take it for granted.”

9.    Generic. As boring as the title, either from lack of interesting details or mainly focusing on day to day stuff. So general that it could be cut and pasted into anyone’s newsletter and still apply. “While at home, I did a lot of cleaning, sorting, and washing windows.” 

10.    The Shock & Awe. Too much going on, from too many different styles of fonts, to too many colors and clip art and photos and graphs and sections. The eyes don’t know where to look first. “Above: My fourth great-nephew and I pose for a comical photo on Thanksgiving Day.”

11.    The Snooze & Blah. No pictures. No colors. No graphics. Just words.

12.    The Judge. A negative assessment of the host culture, either subtle or blatant. “Is it possible to be both different and wrong?”

13.    The Gory Details. Goes into great detail about something incredibly gross or personal, like a recent surgery or explosive illness. Also could include pictures. “We could admire the iron in our toilet bowl.”

14.    The Bait & Switch.  Teases you with the promise of a great story but instead gets sidetracked with related but unimportant details. “So we landed in [the city], got in a van and rode out to join the teen camp that was starting the next day. 10 days later we took part in the English camp. The time at the camp definitely got us back into life here quickly.”

She offers to helpful tips here.

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Dependency and Missions – An Indian Perspective – Part 2

Jun. 29, 2016By: Vijay MeesalaAuthor Bio

Editor Note: Monday we posted an article by Craig Ott that noted his caution on supporting national leaders and missionaries. Today's article continues yesterday’s post from Vijay Meesala, who works in India for ministry that seeks support for national Indian pastors and leaders.

I once received an email that read:

Hello Vijay, 

……..As for more churches and organizations for support… I will think and pray and let you know if any come to mind. However, I would also like to ask you if you have done your best to invite local churches in your area to contribute to your ministry. Please don’t be offended by this question…. But I want you and the churches of your area to experience the blessing and testimony of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5.

Here is how I responded: 

At the most fundamental level there is little comparison between the typical Indian village church and a Western church.  Below are some areas of comparison. (The following is from a Westerner who was involved in the mission work for more than 30 years and gained much wisdom from the mission):



Western Church

Indian Village Church


Cultural Hostility                     

Little or none                   

Much hostility


% of Believers Employed     

Above 97%    

40% full-time employed


Level of Education                   

Nearly 100% high school graduates       

Very low % educated



Care of Widows and Orphans           

Little/none care given        

Much care given


Economic Situation                   


Hand-to-mouth existence


Spiritual Development             

Reflects society more than Kingdom        

Prays, fasts, active in evangelism



Church Outreach                    


Involved in starting new fellowships


I'm sure there are many other areas of comparison. 

I hope you understand my heart; I am not saying these things to judge which churches are superior and inferior.  However, there is a general misunderstanding from the churches in the west that we (Indian and Asian Churches ) only and always seek help from the West.  Yet this is not accurate for all the churches.  Indeed, it is an exaggeration.

I am not denying the fact that there are many who seek Western help, including our own mission work, and receive enormous amounts of generous support from the West.  Praise the Lord!  I also want to acknowledge that there is a danger of being dependent on the West.  But that the Church in India or elsewhere is existing only with the support of the West and there is no local support is definitely not true.  In our context in Andhra Pradesh rural area, I estimate less than 25-30% of churches only receive help from outside India.

The support that we seek from the West is to enhance and further the work of God more effectively  and faster. It is also because more than 75% of the wealth is in the hands of Western Christians (according to some mission statistics).  Someone has said that if the Church in the West thinks that she is doing a favor to the churches in developing countries by giving money and other things, then that is not a biblical attitude but an attitude of worldly superiority.  The Church belongs to God and God will build His Church.  But by supporting each other I believe we are doing our part in God’s family.

For these reasons I firmly believe that the Church in India enjoys the joy of 2 Corinthians 8:1-5 much like other Churches in similar contexts.  Believers in Indian villages give to the Lord out of their extreme poverty and they give it willingly as said in the Scriptures.

I hope to continue dialoguing about this, and I am willing to learn more as well.  I just wrote what is on my heart with much prayer and reflection.  These are my general feelings about the Church in the West but not against any particular individual or church.  Please let me know what you think of this.  I will be happy to hear from you.

My request is this:  Please does not generalize and make hasty decisions based on some past experiences or because someone said it was so.  Moreover, let the Western Church/Pastors/Mission leaders also examine themselves to see if they are too dependent and yet not seeing it, while they point fingers at indigenous missionaries.

One last thing, I am saying this with much caution and love: I am not sure if a Western Pastor/Mission Executive/Leader/staff of a mission of organization would continue to serve and minister in the same ministry/organization if/when he knows that the next months check/money/support is not going to come.  He would try to find another job placement because he has a wife and children.  (I am not seeking to generalize; there may be exemptions)….But I am sure that almost all the indigenous missionaries I personally know of in Asia or Africa would continue to serve the Lord no matter what may come…may it be persecution/famine/or anything.

Please do not mistake me for being harsh….  I would be happy to hear from you and learn as well.

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