by H. Porter Speakman
If you ask someone to describe short-term missions, you will probably hear him or her say, “Short-term missions is a life-changing experience.” Although this phrase is well worn and used often, it embodies deep truth. Millions of people, including myself, have personally experienced and witnessed this life-changing experience.
THERE IS A PHRASE that is often used to describe the experience of short-term missions. As a former mission pastor at a large church for over twenty years, I have heard and used this phrase so many times that I am afraid it has become a cliché and perhaps has lost the real meaning of what it truly expresses. If you ask someone to describe short-term missions, you will probably hear him or her say, “Short-term missions is a life-changing experience.” Although this phrase is well worn and used often, it embodies deep truth. Millions of people, including myself, have personally experienced and witnessed this life-changing experience.
Whenever I would talk to a group of people about how to begin their training and preparation for going on a short-term mission trip, I would always tell them that there is an inherent danger involved and that they need to be aware of this danger before entering into a commitment to participate. Most of the time this was received with wide eyes and open mouths since many thought I was referring to the physical dangers they would encounter.
Dangers & Risks
Although you can never dismiss the risks involved whenever anyone travels to a foreign destination (whether for leisure, business, or ministry), I would quickly tell them that I was not talking about physical danger. I would tell them that the danger was in the fact that they would not be the same person when they returned. They would return from their trip so confused and bewildered by what they saw and experienced that they would have a hard time returning to their everyday, normal life among their family, friends, and church. Their lives would be turned upside down and they would have no idea what God was trying to teach them or know what God wanted them to do now that they were back.
That was the picture I painted to more than 2,600 people whom I sent out on more than 250 short-term mission teams. I told them that if they were comfortable in their relationship with Christ, if they didn’t want to discover things about themselves (both positive and negative), and if they didn’t want to discover the deeper purposes that God had for their lives, then they should NOT go on the trip.
The Reason for Change
I have often thought about what it is that causes such a dynamic change in an individual during this one or two-week experience. This change can be so dynamic that: (1) it causes some people to forsake their own career plans and go in a totally different direction; (2) they are no longer comfortable with just sitting on a pew every Sunday, and/or (3) it causes family members and friends to worry that the person they knew before the trip has gone “overboard” and lost all contact with reality. I have seen this happen time after time to so many people that I have come to believe it is mostly due to selflessness.
We live in an American culture that is very self-centered,
and this extends to our spiritual lives as well.
We live in an American culture that is very self-centered, and this extends to our spiritual lives as well. When we go to church on Sunday, we typically enter with the attitude of how we can be blessed, rather than how we can be a blessing. The seminars we attend, the conferences we participate in, the fellowship groups we join, and the worship services we engage in are largely motivated by a desire to make ourselves feel good about ourselves.
This is not necessarily wrong, for, as believers, we do need to be fed and equipped; however, it is never for the purpose that we may feel good about ourselves. We need to be fed and equipped so that we may go out into a world that is lost and dying, bring light into the darkness, and proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ.
However, when people go on short-term mission trips, there are typically no personal or self-centered motives or agendas involved. In fact, they sacrifice their time, resources, and energy in preparing to go someplace where they have never been, to people they have never met, and sometimes to do things they have never done before, for no other reason than to simply serve others.
It makes no sense whatsoever to a world that only understands doing things that serve one’s own personal interests. That is why you hear many people, both here and in the countries where short-term mission workers go, ask, “Why do you want to do this?” or “Why would you come all this way for us?” They just don’t get it.
It is this very sense of selflessness that causes short-term missions to be a “life-changing” experience. It is what God created us to do and to be. Ephesians 2:10 says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Matthew 20:28 tells us, “Just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
We empty ourselves for the sole benefit of others. We sacrifice self-interest for the interest of other people. We give of our time and resources, with no ulterior motive in mind. We do it because that is what he commanded us to do. We are changed because we are finally fulfilled in Christ. We who are “new creations” in Christ Jesus are finally living that truth by focusing on others and not ourselves.
The changes in individuals when they return from a mission trip have everything to do with their new perspective. They have a new sense of purpose, sacrifice, and fulfillment, and when they return with their newly-opened spiritual eyes, they are stunned by the very “me”-centered world and American Church they encounter.
They are no longer satisfied with the prayer groups, fellowship groups, ladies dinners, men’s breakfasts, seminars, conferences, and even worship services they were so engaged in before going. They have experienced the very essence of Jesus Christ, a servant, and have been totally fulfilled in him by being totally emptied of themselves. They understand that it is not about “me”; it is about “them.”
It is a simple truth—changed people change churches.
Every individual needs to experience the power of short-term missions.
It is a simple truth—changed people change churches. Every individual needs to experience the power of short-term missions. Every church, whether it has ten or ten thousand people, needs to offer their members the opportunity to experience this change. A church that focuses inward will never grow. It will stagnate. The churches whose members follow the mandate of Christ to “go” are the churches that will experience change, growth, and the power of short-term missions.
H. Porter Speakman served as mission pastor for a 5,000-member church for 22 years and was responsible for sending over 250 short-term mission teams to more than 38 countries around the world. He is currently president of MissionsToGo , which is dedicated to assisting churches develop and build their own dynamic mission program by providing resources, consulting, and outreach opportunities in over 20 countries.
EMQ, Vol. 51, No. 1 pp. 88-91. Copyright © 2015 Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.