29th Feb, 2008

First Short Term Missionaries? Is Short Term Mission Work Good?

There are critics of short term mission work. People worry about sending out less trained workers. People worry about youth going out and making immature mistakes or trying to date. People worry about cultural mistakes being made by people unfamiliar with the culture. In fact, YWAM was borne because Loren Cunningham (YWAM’s Founder) was rejected by his denomination’s leaders when he presented his vision to send out youth to do short-term outreach in the name of Jesus all over the world. Moreover, all of these concerns have occurred by people doing short-term mission work.

Does all of this mean short term mission work is invalid?? What does the bible have to say about short term missions?

Given my current ministry I think about these things from time to time. And, in an effort to continue to share about some of what we, the Riley family, are doing I want to tell you about part of my morning and why I was thinking of this today. I went to the current Discipleship Training School class simply to take pictures. As a part of that course, they are studying the ministry of the Holy Spirit this week, under the teaching of Bart Doornweerd, a Dutchman. After I had taken a few shots of the lecturer and the class, I listened. Bart was talking about Luke 9-10 and as he taught I connected it to the short term mission debate.

Paul was a short-term missionary. But it is also quite significant to look at Jesus’ ministry. A close study of the gospel accounts illuminates Jesus’ heart for short-term mission work. He sent out the 12 and then the 70 (or 72) “as lambs among wolves.” They didn’t go for the rest of their lives on these outreaches; they were brief. It was in the midst of all this sending by Jesus and going by His disciples that you see the disciples arguing about petty things – “Who is the greatest?” And they complain to Jesus because there was another ministering in Jesus’ name, but Jesus tells them they are wrong for forbidding the one from ministering in Jesus’ name. And, their sending even occurs prior to Jesus teaching them about a fundamental like prayer in Luke 11.

Given the disciples questions and attitudes, it would seem that these first short term mission outreaches were commissioned by the very Son of God, Jesus, using some very unprepared individuals. They were individuals from all walks of life, many of whom were not from religious backgrounds, and they were mostly fairly young. They clearly didn’t understand much about Jesus because they still weren’t sure if He was really the Messiah, God’s Son, or what He was talking about when He spoke of His death. They had frequent doubts and let storms frighten them mightily while He slept. Nevertheless, Jesus felt secure sending them out to minister in His name, preaching the Kingdom of God and healing the sick.

Now, some might say, “Well, that was Jesus. It’s different for us.” But I find that an odd response. The Great Commission involved Jesus imparting His authority upon His followers. In John 20:21, John’s concise version of that, Jesus told them, “Peace to you! As the Father has sent Me, I also send you.” In other words, just as Jesus went so must we go and just as Jesus was empowered by the Father so He empowers us. Moreover, John 14-16 gives us great words of encouragement as He explains how the Holy Spirit, the great comforter, will come and guide us. And, Jesus constantly exhorts His disciples to take on the faith and heart of little children, weak and utterly dependent upon our Father.

I write all of this to encourage everyone who might read this. You may feel like missions is important because of passages like the Great Commission, but you also feel afraid and incapable of going. THAT’S FANTASTIC!!!!! You are right where you need to be and are very prepared to go because you know you cannot do it, apart from the power and authority of Jesus Christ, and He has promised to give you it and to go with you. So, GO! Short-term, long-term, any-term, just GO! But go like lambs among wolves. Empty handed, broken, and spilling out God’s love and power, not your own. Let the Lion of Judah lead the way for you, the lamb, as you go humbly, simply, and obediently.

“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.” Habakkuk 2:14


I am trying to prepare for our trip to Ecuador, and this is very encouraging.
Regarding: “Well, that was Jesus. It’s different for us.”
I’ve always thought of Jesus’ life as the perfect example of how we should strive to live. HELLO…His life was as model for ours.


Thanks for this post. I saw your responses on Wade’s blog and saw much wisdom there and decided to click over and visit.
My own passion is to equip and mobilize the church to adopt a missional heart congruent with God’s. I agree short/long-term experiences in cross-cultural contexts can help followers of Jesus grasp the Acts 1:8 mandate to the nations.
(My background…just completed Ph.D. in missions–missional ecclesiology–and a mom of four intent on raising kids who have a passion for the nations.)

Blessings in your work.

Don’t forget Phillip. His trip to Samaria. Then his time with the Ethiopian eunech.

The question about mistakes is 1. Is God larger than our mistakes?

The second question and I think it is the critical question for all life in Christ – have you learned or are you learning to hear the Lord through the Holy Spirit. He can keep you from making a lot of those mistakes.

tursa, we are so excited for you and Josh as you follow God’s call.

Valerie, we have a similar call. We are passionate about discipling our children to have a heart for the Nations and we also hope to mobilize others, particularly families.

John, as always, you have great wisdom and add to any conversation. Thank you! yes, we must all learn to listen to God’s voice. All too often in today’s churches there is little, if any, teaching or discipling in this critical area, and life is so crowded with noise and busyness that few stop to listen.

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