As a child, I was taught to study missions, to pray for missionaries, and to give generously to missions (especially at Christmas and Easter). Yet, other than possibly becoming a vocational missionary someday, being involved in missions was not emphasized.
In college, I took my first mission trip—to New York City. It was transformative. In that brief week, I grew in faith and in my relationship with other students like no other time in my life, except maybe summer youth camp.
In the decades to follow, the short-term mission movement grew exponentially. It became a part of almost every church’s culture for both youth and adults to participate in mission trips for a few days or weeks every year.
Eventually, the emphasis in many churches began to shift from financially supporting vocational missionaries to supporting mission volunteers. An unintended consequence of this shift, not only for CBF Global Missions but for many other mission sending agencies, was a reduction in force of vocational missionaries. Many Christians and churches elevated short-term volunteer mission engagement while devaluing long-term missions personnel presence.
Over the last fifteen years, I’ve been privileged to participate in short-term mission trips with CBF Global Missions field personnel, including the Wyatts (Marc and Kim) in Canada, the Samples (Rick and Lita) in Northern California, and the Normans (Matt and Michelle) in Spain. In each of these experiences, I found my faith renewed, my desire to cross cultural boundaries for the sake of the Gospel strengthened, and my appreciation for incarnational long-term missions personnel deepened.
The separation of short-term and long-term mission engagement is short-sighted. Both are essential for the successful pursuit of God’s mission.
The Gospel is incarnational. There is no substitute for long-term missions presence. God’s mission can’t be accomplished by “parachuting in” for a week in the summer. As we’ve learned from books like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity, without a grounding in healthy missiology accompanied by the perspective that only a full-time presence can bring, even our well-intentioned efforts can do more harm than good.
At the same time, the global mission field benefits from the full participation of God’s people. Field personnel and local populations can receive tremendous encouragement from visitors. Modern technology makes it much easier today to extend relationships that are first established on a short-term trip. Also, even churches in the U.S. are now located in a global mission field. The world has come to us. Participation in short- term mission engagement in another country or cultural context provides training for you and me to serve as “home missionaries” in our own communities.
Recognizing that it’s not “Either/Or”—that is, either long-term presence or short term trips— the leaders of CBF Global Missions made a re-commitment to long-term missions field personnel presence while also encouraging short-term missional engagement. Now all field personnel have their basic needs met. There is still a need for them to raise funding for local ministries, but none of them must worry about whether they can pay for housing, food, healthcare, children’s education, and other basic needs.
What should a church do today to embrace this “Both/And” approach?
Engage in Year-round Missions Education
Use CBF missions education curriculum, the Offering for Global Missions materials, and other resources to teach your people about CBF Global Missions – principles, people involved, and places served. Invite field personnel to speak at your church.
Establish Relationships with Field personnel
CBF field personnel are some of the most dedicated and talented people in our fellowship. They have much to teach local churches. Consider becoming an Encourager Church by cultivating a close, intentional relationship with one or more field personnel.
Encourage Member Involvement in Short-term Mission Engagement
Continue to send youth and adults on mission trips, but be more intentional in how you go about it. Use the CBF Global resource, Pivot, to guide pre-trip training.
Give Generously to the CBF Offering for Global Missions (OGM)
Let’s be honest. As a Fellowship, in recent years we have neglected our historic Baptist commitment to provide financial support for missionaries. We can do better. I challenge every North Carolina Cooperative Baptist church and individual to renew financial support for the Offering for Global Missions by matching every dollar spent on short-term mission volunteers with a dollar for the OGM, 100% of which provides for the long-term presence of our field personnel. Whether you fund OGM through a special offering or the church budget (why not both?), make this funding a priority.
The world is changing. Our commitment to sharing the gospel with the world has not changed. God’s mission requires long-term vocational missionaries and short-term volunteers working alongside them. Let’s be faithful to both.
This originally appeared in the September/October issue of The Gathering.