Abilene Christian University
Short-term missionaries include a variety of people who serve
for differing amounts of time in various ministries.
Those who opt for a short-term assignment overseas may be
early retirees, middle aged professionals, or students in college
and high school.
The short-termer may do disaster relief, build a church
building, participate in an evangelistic campaign, teach Bible
classes, or run errands.
Those on a short-term mission will stay on the field from
two weeks to two years.
Therefore, it is appropriate to say that short-term
missionaries come from all walks of life to do a variety of
projects that require a commitment as little as two weeks to as
much as two years of their lives.
According to some of the promotional literature, short-term
missions are "a vacation with a purpose" (Maust 1991:18). The
benefit of term commitments accrue to the ones who go and the ones
to whom they go. For example, the short-termers are encouraged to
"discover their ministry gifts" (Pocock 1987:154), to "stretch
their personal and spiritual horizons" as they "help the church in
another part of the world" (Maust 1991:18).
Growth in short-term missions
The growth of short-term missions has been nothing less than
explosive. From 1979 to 1989, their number increased six-fold,
i.e., "roughly 20,000 to 120,000" (Maust 1991:18). The number of
organizations doing short-term missions increased ten-fold, i.e.,
"from a few dozen to over 450" (Maust 1991:18). Such organizations
are not only in the United States but also in Korea, Singapore,
Hong Kong, Thailand, South Africa, Guatemala, and Brazil.
Miami '91, "a leadership conference to equip and mobilize
adults for short-term mission teams," drew almost 200 participants-
-double the number that turned out for the first conference which
was held a year ago (Maust 1991:18). It is reported that over half
of all overseas personnel are short-termers. Such growth is truly
staggering. It seems reasonable to say that in the foreseeable
future short-term missions is not likely to disappear (Day 1986:4).
Signicance of short-term involvement
The list of accomplishments of short-termers is both long and
impressive: vocational skills are shared, children of long-term
missionaries are taught, tracts and Bibles are distributed,
Christian charity is demonstrated, people are converted, local
church leaders trained, and the body of Christ encouraged. These
are genuinely worthwhile ministries. The name of God is glorified
The significance of short-term missions is equally profound on
those who participate. For instance, it is often the only way some
professionals-- doctors, nurses, dentists, and veterinarians--can
serve (Reapsome 1991:2). It is considered by many to be the best
way to find out if one is suited for a career in missions.
Perhaps, the most often mentioned benefit of short-term
service is that "it leads to long-term commitment" (Maust 1991:18).
This long-term involvement comes in two forms (Hicks 1986:8):
Most short-termers become informed senders, i.e., those
who return home and actively serve in the mission program of a
Some short-termers become career missionaries who take
part in a wide variety of ministries throughout the world.
Our experience at Abilene Christian University with an
apprentice program suggests that 40% of the short-term workers
become long-term missionaries. A similar statement is made in the
Short-Term Mission Handbook (Bridgeman, Johnson, and McAlpine
1986:9) and is born out by the experiences of The Evangelical
Alliance Mission (TEAM) (Pocock 1987:155,157). Assuredly, many who
aspire to long-term service have gotten their first exposure in
short-term involvement (Martin 1986:7).
Limitations os short-term work
In spite of all the good that is accomplished, short-term
arrangements cannot do everything that must be done overseas. One
should expect certain limitations as part and parcel of short-term
For instance, cross-cultural mission work is not for everyone.
For, if someone has emotional or spiritual problems at home,
usually these difficulties will be amplified in a foreign setting
Moreover, for some short-termers, the experience is
disappointing. They expect--whether appropriately or
inappropriately--to serve in the front lines of evangelism. Since
they do not know the language or the culture, it is impossible for
them to do what a long-term missionary does (Pencille 1975:227).
The problem is not so much short-term missions per se, but the
understanding of what short-term missionaries can rightfully be
expected to accomplish.
The lack of church planting skills is the most serious
limitation involving short-term workers. The reaching of the
unreached for Jesus Christ, the planting of responsible,
reproducing churches requires men and women who have learned the
language, immersed themselves in the culture and have "come to
stay" until the task is done (Works 1991:8).
Missionary personnel have been compared to military personnel.
The army trains thousands of short-term recruits. Though they come
and go, they are essential to battlefield success. However, the
army depends on career people to develop the strategy and to lead
the attack. The military knows it cannot replace long-term
personnel with short-term recruits without courting disaster. The
same is true for missions. Apart from the immediate service values
of short-termers, which are considerable, there are also serious
drawbacks to be considered. Seasoned leadership must not be
sacrificed at the altar of expedience (Reapsome 1982:112,113).
Potential in short-term appointments
Nevertheless, short-term service has some attractive features.
For example, it is comparatively easier to recruit and support
short-term missionaries. And, for this reason, many have elected
to raise up and send out short-termers. Others voice some serious
questions: Are we limiting ourselves to mission approaches that
short-termers can handle? Are we bypassing the tougher
assignments? Certainly the danger exists. Yet, the truth remains,
short-term service will attract some that would otherwise be turned
off by long-term commitments.
The most significant potential of short-term approaches lies
in two areas: administrative concern and societal outlook.
Administrative concern. A short-term missionary serves
for a limited period of time. Hence, a review--expected and
anticipated--can precede an appointment renewal (Mellis 1970:43).
Such a review can be a positive thing--including redirection to a
more suitable situation. The bottom line is better management in
terms of concern for people and the results of their work.
Societal Outlook. The "baby-boomer" generation is
characterized by a frequent disenchantment with their jobs. Long-
term commitments are foreboding to them. They will switch careers
in mid-stream several times during their work life. Such career-
switching can be a boon to missions if experienced men and women
are recruited to spend short-term service on the field (Pencille
1975:228). Short-term missions--far from getting in the way of
long-term commitment--may actually prove to be the gateway to an
extended involvement overseas.
What, then, should be done to make short-term missions
contribute more effectively to world evangelization?
Recognize the need for both short-term and long-term
personnel. This is not an either-or issue. The business world
thrives on both part-time and full-time employees. The academic
world utilizes both part-time and full-time faculty. Likewise, the
missionary enterprise will be greatly enhanced when short-term and
long-term personnel are creatively incorporated into the processes
of finding and folding the lost.
In carefully selected assignments, short-term missionaries can
be extremely effective. This requires the examination of the
overall mission strategy in order to decide what type of people are
able to accomplish what kind of task. The critical ingredient here
is matching appropriate personnel with the specific aspects of a
mission program that will achieve the goal intended by our Father
Train short-term workers before they are sent to the
field. Unprepared people on the mission field can cause enough
harm to neutralize the efforts of several trained missionaries. A
minimal amount of pre-field orientation can eliminate a significant
amount of heartache for those who send, for those who are sent, and
for those to whom they are sent. If we are serious about our
stewardship of money and manpower, it behooves us to train the
troops before they are sent into the battle.
Encourage short-term recruits to become long-term
missionaries. Our experience with an apprenticeship program at
Abilene Christian University over the past fifteen years indicates
that certain factors will assist short-term workers to consider
long-term commitments. These factors are: (a) Choose candidates
that could later qualify for long-term service; (b) Select
competent field supervisors; (c) Inform both the short-term worker
and the field supervisor of their respective responsibilities; (d)
Assign the short-termer meaningful tasks that he or she is able to
perform; (e) Require the short-termer to bond with the local people
and make a genuine effort to begin learning the local language; (f)
Do post-field debriefing with each short-termer to deal with
negative feelings and experiences; and (g) Stay in touch with
short-termers after they have completed their mission experience.
Missionary work should be weighed on two scales: quantity of
service and quality of service. He serves best who serves well
over a sufficient length of time to accomplish what God has called
him to do.
BRIDGEMAN, Nancy, JOHNSON, Brett, and McALPINE, Bob 1986Short-Term Mission Handbook. Hamilton, Ontario, Canada:
Student Mission Advance.
Day, Warren 1986 "The Phenomenon That Is Not Going Away," Wherever. vol.
10, no. 2, Winter, p. 4.
Hicks, David 1986"Integrating Short-Term Efforts with Long-Term
Initiatives," Wherever. vol. 10, no. 2, Winter, p. 8.
Martin, Ruth 1986"Ad In Ad Out," Wherever. vol. 10, no. 2, Winter, p. 7.
Maust, John 1991a "Summer Vocation," Latin American Evangelist, January-
March, p. 15.
1991b"Short-Term Missions Boom," Latin American Evangelist.
April-June, pp. 18,19.
Mellis, Charles 1970"Is Term Service a Viable Option?" Evangelical Missions
Quarterly. vol. 7, no. 1, Fall, pp. 40-46.
Pencille, William 1975"Summer Missionaries--Are They Worth It?" Evangelical
Missions Quarterly. vol. 11, no. 4, October, pp. 227-
Pocock, Michael 1987 "Gaining Long-Term Mileage from Short-Term Programs,"
Evangelical Missions Quarterly. vol. 23, no. 2, April,
Reapsome, James 1982"Does Short-Term Expedience Spell Long-Term Disaster?"
Evangelical Missions Quarterly. vol. 18, no. 2, April,
1991"Short-Term Explosion, Career Dud?" Pulse, January 25,
1991, p. 2.
Taber, Charles 1970"What About a Lifetime Commitment?" Evangelical
Missions Quarterly. vol. 7, no. 1, Fall, pp. 34-40.
Works, Herb 1991 "Finding and Fielding," The Harvest Field. Summer,
1991, p. 8.
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Direct questions and comments to Ed Mathews,
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