Originally Published on the Upstream Collective
It’s almost a guarantee that were you to find yourself transiting through an airport over Spring Break or in the summer months, you wouldn’t pass too many gates without seeing pockets of short-term mission teams. Andy Johnson writes in his book Missions, “The advent of international short-term mission trips has probably done more than anything else to change the world-wide missions landscape.”  Some estimate that with the rise in short-term missions from the 1960s to today, we have seen perhaps millions of volunteers deployed to the nations.  Yet, some look at the landscape and argue the value that short-term missions truly holds. They see it as a waste of time, resources, and dollars that could be spent on long-term work. Is it just a means of creating a ‘spiritual high’ or providing a ‘spiritual vacation’? Why would we go ‘over there’ when the need is so great here? While a number of short-term volunteers lined at departure gates do have ulterior motives in going, many are going seeking to know, discern, and do God’s will—even as it leads them to long-term service.
As we take a step back and consider the call to missions, some ask if there is a true Biblical basis for a missionary call. Zane Pratt highlights in his book Intro to Global Missions an argument against a specific call; one that says everyone has the same call, and a third that claims the call is specific to the individual.  Pratt, as well as J.D. Greear, writes that we are all called to be about the mission of God: “God never pulls you into himself without hurling you back out into mission. Jesus doesn’t pull you in to stay and soak; he pulls you into salvation to send you out as a part of his global mission.”  We can attest how a knowledge of God, his Word, prayer, personal desires, experiences, and giftings all play a part in discerning this inward call to missions. But particularly, how do short-term mission trips help fuel and funnel people to long-term cross-cultural service?
First, we see a biblical basis for short-term missions, as the first time the gospel left Jerusalem, it was through the service of Phillip who carried the gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26–39). God used Phillip’s witness to the Scriptures to draw the eunuch to faith and then send him back as a church planter in his own context.
Second, short-term missions enable the circumstances and the context through which we evaluate a calling. While there can be dangers of seeking the spiritual high or the romantic experience of a new culture, or desiring to find the furthest frontier opportunity, short-term mission experiences are in essence a laboratory for the Lord to fuel the flames of long-term service
Closely connected with the context for cultivating long-term service, short-term missions also provide an intense time of discipleship that would otherwise be spread across multiple weeks, months, and years. It helps give shape to the spiritual formation of the individual. The trip is not meant to punch another stamp in the passport or create a new photobook, but rather to serve as an extension of long-term ministry. The discipleship begins through pre-field training of reading books, memorizing Scripture, sharing testimonies, and engaging with field personnel. This discipleship continues through on-the-field service, serving side-by-side with those whom you are already in covenant community with through the context of a local church. It does not end as the plane departs for home but extends into the re-entry and debriefing from the trip. Many looking for the ‘experience’ give testimony to God’s shaping their hearts for the nations as a result of short-term opportunities.
Fourth, short-term missions help propel goers in giving and even leading future trips. J.D. Greear attests, “People who see mission firsthand typically give more in missions offerings. In other words, money spent on short-term trips multiplies itself by creating greater willingness to give in the future among those who go.”  He further notes how in his own church, many who go one year as a volunteer wind up leading a team the next and then leverage their lives for the cause of Christ in vocational ministry across the globe.
As one who has traveled extensively short-term and mobilizes college students and adults, I found it helpful to reflect with current sent ones on the impact that short-term missions had on their landing long-term on the field. When they consider their platform as a career missionary, they noted areas they would encourage short-term volunteers in when discerning full-time missionary service:
- Have the mindset of going to serve rather than just looking for the experience, even if that means doing something un-romantic. As the STM acronym aptly states, ‘be a S.L.O.B. – Servant, Learner, Offering, Blessing.
- Examine the ‘why’ behind going and not just the ‘where’ or the ‘what you’ll be doing.’ Scriptural motivations are key in rightly following the path the Lord has laid for you.
- A variety of short-term experiences can be beneficial, but don’t just go to gain more stamps. Truly use short-term experiences and vision trips to discern character, competency, giftings, fit, and a burden for the lostness of a particular people and place.
- Do not allow the short-term trip to be the only influence in going but use your involvement through membership to a local church, service within that church, and affirmation of that church as markers in the sending journey.
Short-term missions is shaping. Some call it ‘catching the bug.’ Pratt terms it a “repetitive deployment . . . serving a larger strategy.”  Ultimately, though, it is a call for all Christians. Short-term missions does fuel long-term vocational service, yet Christian discipleship is a call to be on mission exactly where God has placed you. Greear writes, “Christians do not need to be specially called to go overseas, no more than they need to be called to live missionally where they are—it is inherent to being a disciple. Each person must evaluate how he is best suited to fulfill that call.”  So as those seeking to discern the direction of the Lord in going and those faithfully sending, encourage, advocate, and be involved in short-term missions—but do so with a biblical motivation, a heart to serve, and a life willing to lay your ‘yes’ on the table. It may be that on the next trip to the airport, your return tickets aren’t in hand yet because you have answered the call to ‘lay your hand to the plow and not look back.’