This article is part of a series on missions and the local church. We trust that this series will encourage both faithfulness to Christ’s bride and obedience to the bride’s mission.
“How should my church do short-term missions?” Pastors, missions pastors, or local church missions committees that desire to involve their church in short-term missions opportunities should probably consider this question in deciding how to engage their church in the world missions endeavor. That’s especially true when we desire to do biblical missions. If we as churches and church leaders desire to be “people of the Book,” doing missions biblically should be our ultimate aim.
Missions experience or missions strategy?
As pastors and church leaders, we need to ask ourselves, “Do we want a missions experience or a missions strategy?” Some churches look for trip opportunities that will yield a captivating report at the end of the trip. Unfortunately, sometimes little thought is given to what of eternal value will be accomplished on the trip. If we are going to be investing large amounts of money, personnel, and time on a missions trip, isn’t it wise to consider what it is we hope to accomplish for the Kingdom?
As we look at missions opportunities, we need to pass each opportunity through a biblical sieve to make sure that what we are doing actually fulfills what the Lord would have us do. The gospels give us statements of Jesus that every Christian should heed. The Great Commission (Matt 28:18-20) commands us to “make disciples,” “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and believers in the Great Commission, we need to take seriously the both the “make disciples” and the “all that I have commanded you” parts.
Isn’t loving people enough?
Someone might push back and say, “But there is also the Great Commandment. Isn’t it enough to just love people in Jesus’ name?” It is true that Jesus did command us to love God with all we are and all we have and to love our neighbor as ourselves. This should be a part of every Christian’s daily walk. Sometimes churches plan missions trips around “helping ministries.” Some missions trip participants may not be comfortable with evangelism or discipleship projects, but they are comfortable with helping ministries such as medical missions, construction projects, or feeding projects. I am not arguing against any such projects. We should be doing them where they are needed, but we must keep the mandate of the Great Commission in mind at all times—“make disciples.” Sometimes our people need to be stretched in the area of making disciples.
Sending the discipled to disciple
In the past, when evangelical churches and denominations have thought about how to fulfill the Great Commission, the emphasis has often been strictly on evangelism and church planting. However, the longer and often the messier task is to ensure that believers are growing into true disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. Likewise, it is a different challenge to not only plant churches, but to plant churches that are doing the job of making disciples effectively.
Disciples are made by disciples, therefore the task of fulfilling the Great Commission truly begins at home. Those we send to the world need to be disciples themselves.
Some action points toward the goal of sending true disciples to the world for the purpose of disciple-making might include:
- Utilize discipleship small groups to emphasize Great Commission goals.
- Plan evangelism outreach as with built-in opportunities to mentor church members
- Model evangelism and disciple-making before our members.
- Send out members to plant churches locally
There are surely many more ways to be prepared as a church body to fulfill the Great Commission worldwide, but this is a start.
Planning a strategy to disciple on the mission field
Once we have teams that are called and prepared to do what we have practiced and accomplished at home, we need to think of effective ways to put them to good use in a foreign setting. This requires some planning, but can be accomplished by churches and leaders who approach the task prayerfully and creatively.
Some strategies for being intentional about discipleship on the mission field might be:
- Ensure there is an evangelism and/or discipleship component involved on every trip.
- Focus on ways to strengthen the local church on the field.
- Mentor national leaders while you minister on the field—Don’t just do, but teach to do.
- Leave national leaders in charge of ongoing follow-up and teach them how to do it.
- Focus on one place in the world and set goals for strengthening churches and believers in that place over several years.
These are a few suggestions, but certainly not an exhaustive list. Pray about other ways to be intentional about making disciples through short-term missions. When churches take such an intentional approach to making disciples on the mission field, national churches are strengthened, the work is multiplied, and disciples are made—biblically.