Getting the Most from your Short-Term Missions by Dr. Mark Adams

Short-Term Missions for Long-Term Impact

I am excited to begin a new Research Spotlight section at Kingdom Upgrowth. I will be seeking out people who’ve done quality research with implications for life and ministry in order to highlight ways that churches can put these ideas into action. I have a number of guests in mind, but I thought it made the most sense to begin with my own research.

I completed the Doctor of Ministry (DMin) program at Lipscomb University. It was a terrific experience that expanded considerably on what I had already learned through the Master of Divinity (MDiv) program I had completed at Harding School of Theology a few years earlier. I loved the DMin because unlike other doctoral programs, its primary focus is the practice of ministry. As I begin this Research Spotlight feature at Kingdom Upgrowth, I’m confident that many of my interviewees will also be DMins.

What I’ve found to be a sad irony is that while it is the DMin students who are producing the best church-focused original research, because you must be working in ministry to be in the programs, we are all too busy in ministry to do anything with our research in terms of writing, sharing, and publishing. The chances are slim that anyone will want to read our dissertations, and so what I’m trying to do with this new section is to create a space where people can share the research they’ve worked so hard to complete through conversations about what they discovered and how churches can put this information into action. I knew this was a direction I needed to go when it occurred to me that I would want to do this, whether anyone ever looked at it or not. In the upcoming weeks and months, I hope to make Kingdom Upgrowth into a hub for fresh research into healthy congregational practices. For this first post, I’d like to share some of my work related to Short-Term Missions.

In the video, I walk through:

  • Basic info about short-term missions and their rapidly growing popularity
  • Brief information about the missional church movement, and why I believe missional theology and short-term missions are a great fit for each other
  • Recommendations for the three key groups involved in mission trips: those who receive, those who go, and those who send
  • A few statistics from my research to demonstrate the missional impulses that emerged in my congregation as a result of our mission trip

It was and is my conclusion that when mission trip leaders involve as much of the congregation as possible in the preparation, going, and debriefing of the mission trip experience, mission trips can be great catalysts for promoting better missional practices in established congregations. 

Here’s some info about my research, and a categorized list of resources to consult:

Starting around 2006, an indicting article by Kurt Ver Beek of Calvin College about the inefficiencies, poor practices, and often non-discernable impact of short-term missions spawned important research for how short-term missions can be carried out with excellence. The research has moved in the direction it should have. Specifically, the first resources dealt with the receiving locations. How do we help people in ways that actually help? How do we discern better what we can do that is of genuine benefit? The next wave of resources has centered around the going participants. How do we organize our trips with excellence? How do we make good plans? How do we ensure that the people who go on our trips experience meaningful change and transformation in their lives?

I noticed a research gap in a third category of people. Specifically, what about all the people who help make the mission trip possible, but don’t actually get to go? What about those who send? Obviously, if we are going to take mission trips, the receivers and goers should have been the first beneficiaries of research, and I’m happy that more information is now available for these categories. But in my area of study, nothing has been done! No one that I could find–and I searched hard–had ever done an academic study of the effects that short-term missions had on a sending congregation. I am pleased that through what I discovered, I was able to talk about where and in what ways short-term missions are capable of impacting the congregations who send. I’ve presented on this topic on a couple of occasions, and I generally title my lectures Going There and Changing Here(For example, look at the pages numbered 38-39 here.)

Resources to Consider:

  • Short-Term Missions and Missional Formation at the Kings Crossing Church of Christ. Have a look at my dissertation! Its readability may surprise you. Especially in the last section, I make recommendations for churches.
  • David Livermore, Serving With Eyes Wide Open. A great book about increasing your cultural intelligence in how you work with others different than you.
  • Corbett and Fikkert, When Helping Hurts. Especially if your mission work involves going to impoverished areas, this is a must read. Context and current events have a huge impact on what sorts of things are actually helpful. Many well-intended mission groups can have the effect of making things worse if they aren’t careful about how they put their trip together.
  • Craig Altrock, The Shaping of God’s People. Craig Altrock works with Let’s Start Talking, who produce excellent resources for short-term missions for people who want to use the Bible as a way to teach people English. In this book, Craig shares his own research about how short-term missions can have a powerful effect on the people who go on the trips. His book is the only other resource I found that kind of dabbles in my area, which is the people who send.
  • Maximum Impact Short-Term Missions. While there are a slew of new books about how to plan, prepare, and lead mission trips effectively, this was the first of the books that was written at a higher academic level with an effort to establish terminology and clear definitions for the field. It’s a bigger book, but with excellent information.
  • Missio Dei Journal, volume 3.1. The entire issue of this online journal is dedicated to Short-Term Missions (STM). All of the articles here are worthy of serious consideration, but the one by C. Philip Slate on the history of STM in churches of Christ is especially well-done.
  • Fitch and Holsclaw’s Prodigal Christianity. This book lays out several missional “signposts” that informed my criteria for my research.
  • Hill’s Salt, Light, and a City. This book brings together perspectives from numerous Christian traditions to help reach for a common definition of what missional ecclesiology is.
  • Just for fun, here’s a full summary of how we do our Corn Bowl Cornball Extravaganza event that I mention in the video. And here is where you can get your very own corn hat!

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