A New Vision for Short-Term Missions

Short-Term Missions has done and is doing a lot of damage around the world. There have been numerous books, blogs, and podcasts bashing short-term missions.

Many would say we should stop going on such trips due to the amount of harm that has been done. One of the biggest reasons why short-term missions have done so much damage is because it only benefits one side of the experience: the trip goer. Our interaction with our short-term mission host community can quickly become a consumeristic transactional relationship where we end up using the poor solely for our benefit.

Youth groups and short-term missions organizations go because of the benefit they see that it has on their students and adults, which isn't a bad thing, but do we seriously consider the effects it has on the community in which we serve? Maybe a better question is, “Do we care?”

I genuinely believe that none of us want our short-term mission trips to do damage or use the poor for our benefit. Therefore, if we truly want to make a lasting impact on the community we are serving and on our team, then we must be willing to change our paradigm in how we do them. We should consider approaching our short-term trips through reciprocal relationships.

“Re-cip-ro-cal” adjective. definition. “when two or more people are carrying out or have carried out a similar action with both receiving mutual benefit or consequence.”

In John 13:34 Jesus says, ”A new command I give you, love one another as I have loved you.” The Greek word for one another is allelous. Allelous is a reciprocal pronoun.  A reciprocal pronoun is used when two or more people are carrying out or have carried out a similar action with both receiving mutual benefit or consequence. Jesus calls us to live into reciprocal relationships with each other, where both are learners, both are givers and receivers.

Our relationship should be mutually benefiting, and it is up to us, the trip-leaders, to do the hard work of helping facilitate a reciprocal relationship. As we serve together, mission trip goer and mission trip host, there is no us and them. There is just us. We are both suffering the effects of the pain and brokenness of this world. We are both in need of saving. We are both in need of what each other has to offer in helping reconcile ourselves to God, each other, and this world. 

I grew up in a small country church in Northwest Ohio. I always looked forward to church potluck dinners. Let me tell you: my church knew how to do potlucks. There were at least three Sunday school rooms full of food lined up on eight-foot tables. The potluck always had its staples. The classic green Jello mold with fruit and nuts inside, countless varieties of casseroles, several kinds of pasta, and crock pots full of yumminess.

There was the salad table section, including my favorite, the seven-layer salad. You could always count on a KFC bucket of chicken from a family who either forgot or ran out of time. What made potlucks so great wasn’t just the fact that there was so much food, but it was because everyone was invited to contribute to the meal. Everyone had a place, and everyone’s contribution was different. The potlucks brought our church together. Everyone felt valued, and there was something for everyone. And we all enjoyed the bounty together. 

A potluck is an excellent illustration of what it means to have a reciprocal relationship. Everyone has a place and something valuable to share. Everyone gives, everyone receives, and therefore everyone is honored in the process. Far too often short-term mission trips feel like a catered event rather than a potluck—an event catered by American groups for the community they’re visiting. 

But in missions, it’s not our table or theirs. It’s God’s, and He invites us all to bring our best and enjoy together. God has laid out the table of what He is doing in the world. He is already at work where we serve. When we step into another community on our short-term mission trips, we’re not catering the event and getting all the credit. Instead, we’re guests who bring a dish to a dinner that we have been invited to by God. 

Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serve Everyone outlines how we can facilitate short-term missions where everyone is served and everyone wins. It will challenge arguments against short-term missions by providing a new way forward. The authors write from a combined 45 years of experience, DJ Schuetze who has been the American leader at an orphanage in Mexico for over 25 years who hosts hundreds of short-term mission groups a year and myself, who has facilitated short-term mission trips for the past 20 years for hundreds of people every year.

Topics include: how to develop a reciprocal relationship with those you are serving. how do we have good and right motivations, the importance of addressing our assumptions, how can our impact better benefit the local community, the critical discussion on money and missions, a biblical case for short-term missions, how to facilitate a reciprocal mission trip, what host organizations and ministries wish short-term mission groups knew about their presence, as well as much more.

We hope that this book will provide a new way forward for good and healthy short-term missions that will serve and benefit everyone involved.

Phil Steiner veteran youth director an avid runner surfer, and justice advocate is the President of Be2Live a non-profit that provides leadership development through service and learning experiences. For twenty years Phil has been leading students and adults out of their comfort zones to wrestle with the deeper issues of life, Jesus, and justice. He has an M.A. in Social Justice from Kilns College. Phil has recently published a book called, “Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serve Everyone.” You can keep up with his latest thoughts on his blog. He is married to an amazing wife, Mindy, and has two beautiful kids.