Balancing the Why and the How of Short-term missions

The Why and the How

Yesterday, United Methodist Communications posted an article titled “How to do short-term missions the right way”.  It’s a good article, with seven important points to consider when planning a short-term mission trip:

First, participants are encouraged to learn about issues with short-term mission trips in general.  We should be aware of issues regarding money, the needs of the community we plan to serve, and examine some of the common assumptions about short-term mission work.

Second, mission participants should consider their motives for going on the trip, and consider using the term “journey” instead of “trip”.  This shift in vocabulary helps us remember that any short-term mission trip is actually part of our spiritual journey with God and our neighbors.

Third, mission participants should do research before their trip.  Know the organization you partner with, learn all you can about your destination (international or domestic), and be aware of how the work you plan to do fits in with the community’s needs.

Fourth, groups should pick the right project for their team size, their skills, abilities and limitations.  I know I’ve gone on mission trips when my lack of skill with cement block and rebar was a limitation on the main project but I was able to plan in advance to use my talents in other ways with the host church.  Know before you go.

Fifth, the article suggests keeping open to the possibility that not going may be the right decision.  It may be that connecting virtually with a missionary and supporting their work through a gift to UM Advance Projects is the best use of resources.

Sixth, mission team leaders must train their teams.  The United Methodist mission agency, General Board of Global Ministries, recently published a terrific resource for short-term mission teams, and there’s a link for “A Mission Journey” in the article.  This blog will have a series on that book in the near future.  Rev. Dan Wunderlich, the article author, states that training “will help keep your team focused on the ‘why’ behind your journey”.  More about the “why” in just a moment.

Lastly, teams are encouraged to tell a responsible story about their trip.  By keeping the focus on the local community and remembering to listen with respect to our mission hosts, we can make the story about what God is doing instead of about ourselves.

You can read the entire article, which has many excellent links for further reading, here:

Balancing the How and the Why

Many of these tips are about the “how” of short-term mission trips.  Planning a short-term mission trip seems easy at first, but if you’ve ever had the responsibility of organizing a group for a trip, you know that there are a multitude of details to handle before, during and after a trip.  The UMCom article raises some key questions for mission teams to consider well before their trip – no matter if that trip is several hours away by plane or a couple hours away by car.

It is often assumed that if people want to go on a mission trip, they already understand the “why” of mission.  Another assumption is that if someone goes on a mission trip, then they will “get it”, thinking that if they just experience a mission trip, then they will come to understand God better.

In “Grace Upon Grace” we read about the “why” of mission.  “As the goal of mission is God’s reign of grace, we live toward that vision and from that vision.”  We participate in mission work because God’s grace is freely given to us, and that grace gives us a vision of God’s reign, in which those who are thirsty and hungry have food to eat and clean water to drink; in which justice and mercy roll down like mighty waters; in which the oppressed are freed and the brokenhearted are comforted; in which people of all nations worship God together; in which people know Christians because of their love for others.  This is the vision that motivates us to participate in mission – and it is the ultimate goal of our mission work, even if our work looks like laying tile or brick, or singing hymns in a language we don’t know very well.

The Why of Sister of Hope Ministries

This “why” of short-term mission is the focus of my work with Sister of Hope Ministries.  People who go on short-term mission trips have a unique experience that can be fruitful for thinking deeply about faith, life, and God’s work in the world.  That’s where I come in.  I work with local church groups to reflect on their mission trip experience and to discuss some of the questions they may have after their trip, to “unpack” the depth of the vision of God’s reign that both motivates us and is our goal.  Sister of Hope Ministries is about the “why” of short-term missions.  If you’d like to know more, send me your contact information and we’ll set up a phone conversation to discuss how Sister of Hope Ministries can help you in your mission journey.



For further reading:

“Grace Upon Grace” is the 1988 Mission Statement of The United Methodist Church.  The General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Professors of Mission recently had a blog series on this document, with links to the full text of “Grace Upon Grace”, read more here:


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