NOTE: MissionSpeak is presenting a three-month discussion of Short-Term Missions. Only two contributors are writing each month, each with a larger word count so as to be able to express himself a little better on the question posed. Each pair of writers is addressing one question about STMs. This month we look at STMs and the missionary call.
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A major goal of short-term missions (STM) has been to increase the number of career missionaries. Hopefully young people working briefly on a mission field will (more easily) hear and respond to God’s call.
In reality, across the evangelical spectrum, STMs have not accomplished this. The number of people going on STM trips has grown to over two million per year, but the number of career missionaries has remained static during the forty-plus years of STM activity. Yes, there are some STM participants who are now missionaries, but most of them already either had a call or a strong interest in missions – the STM served to confirm God’s direction.
So how can we do better?
Pray the Lord of harvest. God is the One who calls workers to His fields, whatever means He uses.
Set a soul-caring tone in our churches. Most often, the local church is where God begins to speak to and direct the hearts of young people.
Design STMs to do more than just a project. Include Bible studies or other presentations regarding missions, spiritual need, or knowing God’s call. Provide opportunities for God to speak.
Design a follow-up for participants. Sadly, studies indicate that many STM participants are at a lower spiritual level a year after their trips. Encouraging and challenging them during that time can help them stay on track.
What is the purpose of STM? Is it to call missionaries? To impact young people, we must be intentional about their experiences during and after the trip. I've had the privilege of going on three STM trips. God used them to shape my life in His service.
In the inner cities of Indianapolis and Detroit, we have developed three goals for the 30+ STM teams we have hosted:
Inspiration - We want to share our story in a compelling way. We want them to leave knowing who we are, how we got here, and that God is at work here.
Education - We want to explain why we are doing what we are doing. We also want to show how they can take these lessons home and apply them where they live and worship.
Participation - We want them to get involved with what we are doing while they are with us. This normally includes a mixture of manual labor projects as well as outreach or evangelism efforts.
We have a plan that includes every meal and moment of their time with us. We also add a number of these young people to our “recruitment list” for the future. Lord willing, some will be working with us in the next few years. While STM may not cause every young person to become a missionary, more intentionally pointing them could help.