This kind of missionary work is a sort of benevolent colonialism in which Americans enter a foreign culture and impose unneeded "good."

These mistakes might be the result of an underlying paternalism in the Western church. Westerners might think: We know what these people need. or We have a good idea to help these people. But when Westerners decide what kind of missions they will implement in foreign countries without legitimate local ownership, the result can be irrelevant work done with vast expense. This is damaging both to the local body of Christ and to the fulfillment of the Great Commission.

Toward More Effective Short-Term Missions
Ideally, a short-term trip would not only transform the life of the missionary but also be relevant to the community in which the missionary ministers. This ideal is difficult to attain when Westerners lead short-term missions without the equal partnership of the people in the mission field.

Mutual partnership is crucial to Hanciles' idea of successful short-term missions. Hanciles suggests that short-term trips are most effective when initiated by a local church to help sustain an already existing or envisioned local ministry. Hanciles also emphasizes that true partnership means that a Western church needs to be open to receiving short-term missionaries themselves (which he wonders if they'd be willing to do).

"We have to think in terms of partnership and interdependence," says Hanciles. "This starts by getting to know one another, appraising each others' needs, and understanding how the churches can benefit each other."

In striving for the goal of culturally relevant short-term missions with long-term impact, Lingenfelter has a radical suggestion: "The best thing we could do would be to make it more difficult for people to go," he says. "Instead of trying to get everybody to go, lay out a challenge and see who'll commit to a longer time of prayer and preparation to go."

Lingenfelter points to a short-term trip he led to Chad. When he initially announced the trip, 45 students showed interest. He invited the group to come pray with him weekly for a semester. By the end of the semester, eight kids remained. Lingenfelter says a small group is better because he can train them beforehand and coach them throughout the trip. In addition, because Lingenfelter's team worked in partnership with the local church in Chad, the trip has had a long-term impact.

Global partnership through short-term missions has the potential to connect Christians around the world and make an eternal impact for Christ. When done through interdependent local partnership, short-term missions are valuable tools that can change the lives of all those who participate.

Ultimately, each organization and team that takes international short-term mission trips must humbly evaluate their motivation, be honest about their goals, and be culturally informed about the effect of their methodology. And while it's true that one of the fruits of a short-term trip is a life change for the missionaries, this should be viewed as a result and not the motivation for the enterprise.

As Hanciles puts it, "If people are going for their own benefit, then why call it missions?"


Marshall Allen spent five years on staff with Young Life International, three as a missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, and two as a missions administrator in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Currently, he's a freelance writer and is finishing his Master's degree at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. This author bio was current as of the date this article was published.