This blog concludes our series on short-term mission. This was originally posted on 

Part 5 – The Ugly

A serious issue
Having flagged up a few things that should be avoided I want now to consider ‘the ugly’. This is the potential for short-term teams to hinder rather than help, to create damage and dependency rather than to serve God’s purpose and promote health. This a significant issue which needs to be taken seriously. It happens when teams simply ignore many of the issues already raised and pursue an approach that’s marked by cultural pride rather than humility, independence rather than relationship.

1. Pride and patronage
This happens when we assume that the elements of our own culture are more accurate representations of God’s Kingdom than what we find in the cultures we’re visiting. The result is that we adopt a posture of patronage and assume the role of spiritual benefactors rather than humble learners. Such an approach may be reminiscent of some of the uglier aspects of past colonialism and has no place in God’s mission, where humble servanthood is the model Jesus has set before us. Whenever we enter other cultures we need to remind ourselves that however adept we may be in our own worlds we all wear ‘Learner Plates’ when it comes to serving God’s purposes in other cultures.

2. Knee-jerk solutions
The result of entering into a situation with this assumed posture and with a limited time frame is that we can very quickly generate solutions. The western culture has a ‘fix it’ mentality. Assured of our superior knowledge we can be far too quick to identify perceived gaps within the cultures we’re visiting and create ten-point plans to alleviate poverty and advance God’s Kingdom among them.

Listen and Learn
If we’re prone to activism then we can find ourselves dreaming up plans and projects rather than engaging in the far more reflective and relational process of listening and learning. This danger is even more acute when we have access to funds and resources to throw at what we see as rather simple problems. If we’d just spend time listening and learning then we’d perhaps begin to realise that these problems are not simple and that hastily dreamed up pop-up ‘solutions’ don’t work.

3. Missional shortcuts
Short-term teams have a positive place in the economy of the Kingdom if approached in a healthy way. But if they replace longer term cross-cultural commitments then they will have hindered not helped the cause of the Great Commission. Jesus’ words in Matthew 28 are not a description of what we occasionally do during a 2-week trip to sub-Saharan Africa or a Gap Year in India. They describe the on-going, life-long task of taking the good news of Jesus to every people group, planting churches and promoting Kingdom living.

The progress of that task has always required long-term cross-cultural commitments that are both costly and creative. Our ability to criss-cross the globe in relatively short spaces of time does not change that and shouldn’t become a replacement for that. Short-term teams have many benefits and may be the seedbed for some of those longer-term commitments. But they must not be thought of as 21st century shortcuts to fulfilling the Great Commission. As more and more peoples become ‘reached’ those that remain ‘unreached’ are those who are culturally and geographically more difficult to reach. This increases the need for more long-term cross-cultural commitments, not lessen it. Short-term teams have some value, but they cannot and should not detract from the call for some to invest not just two weeks in the summer but their lives in the foreseeable future in the cause of the Great Commission.

Part 6 – The receiving church’s perspective

What about the receiving church?
So far I have addressed ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ of short-term teams from the perspective of the sender. What about the receiving church? In the final part of this series my close friend, John, will give you his perspectives on this aspect

Concluding this short series David Lockyer puts some questions to John Pradhan as leader of a church that has received many short-term teams.

What has been the benefit to you and your family personally of receiving short-term teams?

Every time a team visits from UK we feel personally very blessed. At times we can feel quite isolated and the visit of a team brings much encouragement to us. We become freshly motivated to continue the work of reaching out and building the church here in Nepal. We find God uses these times to provide us with spiritual guidance and there is a further strengthening of the relationships we have with our friends overseas. We have an opportunity to share both our joys and struggles when they are with us, and we feel loved and cared for.

What have been some of the benefits to the church of receiving short-term teams?

The church here has been tremendously blessed through the visits of teams. It really helps the church to feel a part of an international family. We often hold church conferences when the teams are with us, and the input and teaching during these times leaves the church blessed and strengthened. The church enjoys hosting and spending time with the team members who visit and this fellowship plays a vital role when we host a team as we always learn from one another.

What have been some of the challenges of hosting teams?

There’s quite a bit of organising to do ahead of a team arriving. The weather is unpredictable so flights and other travel plans can change at the last minute. Sometimes team members can fall ill and need to be taken care of. There is also always the language barrier.

I am so grateful to David and John for sharing about short-term teams. There are no absolute ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’, but through their in-depth experience many valuable lessons have been shared. My hope and desire is that this series will help avoid future teams from replicating ‘bad practice’ – even long-term damage – which sadly I have personally witnessed on several occasions as I have travelled internationally among churches. Let’s do well in future and ensure that short-term teams travel with an attitude of humility and servanthood.

Finally, I would like to recommend some very good resources.

  • When helping hurtsThis book touches on many of the points included in this series. It seeks to show that hosting short-term teams can be a very negative experience, even when the team members return home and report that the visit has been ‘life-changing’. While they mean it has been positive for themselves, for the host it can have been ‘life-changing’ for all the wrong reasons.
  • Cross Cultural Mission TrainingThis 6-part series has been produced within the Commission apostolic sphere of the Newfrontiers family. An excellent series covering the whole cycle from how to confirm an initial sense of calling to go on long-term mission, through going and ultimately the return and re-integration, together with the necessary support en route.
  • Reaching the nationsThis updated version by Mike Frisby draws on a wealth of experience in helping church leaders to identify, prepare and support local church members to become cross-cultural servants.

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