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A History of Short-Term Missions Associated with Churches of Christ in North America

Short-term foreign missions by North American Churches of Christ began in the early 1960s, slightly later than but parallel to Evangelical developments. Initially, whether large or small, they were all evangelistic. Within three decades STMs became more numerous and more diverse: medical, construction, instruction, and evangelistic efforts were all called “missions.” Effectiveness also varied; some were well organized and well executed while others were amateurish with very limited benefits. Currently, STMs remain quite numerous and diverse in nature and purposes.

The subject of this article is restricted to North America, because members of Churches of Christ in other countries are also engaging in short-term missions (hereafter STMs), though to a lesser degree than in North America. Further, although the focus is on Churches of Christ, the study will make some reference to the Protestant experience with STMs since, especially among the Evangelicals, similar dynamics and categories of concerns are found in both groups. Moreover, both groups experience successes and failures.

When participants in STMs undertake biblical justification for the activity, they point routinely to Jesus’ sending out of both the twelve (Matt 10:1-42) and the seventy-two (Luke 10:1-20) on a short-term basis.1 Others would refer to the short-term evangelistic and church-planting journeys of the apostle Paul and his companions. In many cases, however, leaders and participants undertake STMs on the basis of various pragmatic assumptions: “more workers will hasten the progress” or “with many abilities we can have a greater impact,” and so forth.

The Beginnings

Members of Churches of Christ have undertaken numerous short-term efforts within North America for many years, though not called “short-term missions.” Many groups and individuals have been sent or have gone voluntarily to help small churches with vacation Bible schools, to repair or erect a church buildings, to contact people in homes and streets to advertise a forthcoming evangelistic effort—all to accent local church work. In the 1940s and 1950s, Andy T. Ritchie, Jr. led students from Harding College during the summer periods to various places in the USA and Canada to make contacts during the day and support the evening evangelistic meetings. But STM work outside of North American is another story. Prior to the 1960s, most of the workers who went out on “mission trips” headed to distant countries with plans for long-term work.2

North American Protestants point to 1945 as the beginning date of short-term international work because in that year the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Church became the major initiator of that type of effort.3 As for Churches of Christ, Barney Morehead claimed “the first planned campaign of this generation” occurred in 1929 when Mr. & Mrs. S. P. Pitmann from Nashville visited Japan and joined six American missionaries and fifty Japanese Christians in the city of Ota. “This effort included personal work, tract distribution, and street preaching.”4

Otis Gatewood, American missionary to Germany following World War II and a prominent promoter of global evangelism in the late 1940s, ‘50s, and ‘60s, claimed that the 1961 campaign in London, England was the first full-fledged effort outside of North America both planned and conducted primarily by North American personnel.5 Through discussions with an English evangelist, Leonard Channing, the Hillsboro congregation of Nashville, TN conceived the idea as early as 1959 of planting a church two years later in the Wembley section of northwestern London. They decided to begin the effort with a “campaign for Christ” with workers going door-to-door during the daytime in an effort to advertise the meeting and, when possible, set up studies with the local people. Each evening for nearly three weeks in June, Batsell Barrett Baxter, preacher at Hillsboro and professor at David Lipscomb College, would preach. About thirty-five guest workers from the USA and Canada participated in that effort. Both the Christian Chronicle and Gospel Advocate gave ample coverage to this new mode of evangelizing outside of North America.6 In the same location the Hillsboro church conducted a similar campaign in the summer of 1963 in which a much larger number of people of all ages, from teens to those in their seventies, engaged in the daily work. The time was divided between Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (some 30 miles away) and Wembley, with less tangible results from those efforts than from the 1961 thrust. In those early campaigns it was already clear to those who did evaluations that some principle of “diminishing return” emerged when more people spent less time in short-term work, at least in the UK.7

Soon after those two initial short-term campaign-type evangelistic efforts occurred, several others from the USA began leading such groups to other parts of the British Isles, especially England and Scotland. Fred Walker of Lipscomb led a group from Tennessee to Glasgow, Scotland, as did Ivan Stewart. A group from the Broadway church in Lubbock, TX went to Liverpool, England, and another group went to Edinburgh, Scotland with George Bailey of Abilene, TX preaching each evening. All of these occurred in the British Isles in the 1960s. Results were mixed.8

The number of short-term efforts mushroomed within a decade or so as various people led “campaigns for Christ” to several English-speaking countries, including Australia and New Zealand; and similar efforts were conducted in various cities in the USA. All of those efforts, at home and abroad, were evangelistic in nature. At that time (unlike today) “missions” meant “evangelizing.”


Several things seem to have fostered those early international efforts. Theologically, members of Churches of Christ had convictions that people were lost without Christ and that they needed to be taught the gospel of Christ. Further, after the Second World War several cultural conditions made possible the efforts. The War sensitized people to a larger world, and international travel had become more available and affordable after the War than before. Churches of Christ were numerically larger than ever and the national economy enabled churches and members to have more funds for various uses. Additionally, going on a short-term basis and doing what they were able to do gave ordinary people the opportunity to help with the task of evangelizing outside of North America, previously not possible on a short-term basis. Further, a more competent and visionary leadership had emerged from growing churches and several decades of work by the various Christian colleges and universities. For some of the same reasons there was a huge jump in the number of long-term missionaries who went out at that time.9

Evangelical Parallels

A comparison to the development of Evangelical STMs is useful at this point. In the 1960s “a Chandler survey of 85 predominately evangelical mission boards disclosed that in 1965 only about two percent of their personnel were considered short-term (appointments usually between three months to two years).”10 By 1970 the percentage had increased significantly. Specifically, in 1965 some 580 persons were involved in short-term missions, but by 1970 their number had increased to almost 4,000. At the same time long-term personnel experienced a slight decrease. By 1973 short-term personnel comprised between 10% and 12% of the total work force of 118 US mission boards that made short-term appointments.11 In the first twelve years of the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (1964-1976), no less than twenty articles on short-term missions appeared. From 1979 to 1989 the number of short-term workers increased 600%, from 20,000 to 120,000 among Evangelicals. Church periodicals urged people to turn vacations into vocations.12 By the mid-1980s it was estimated that over half of the Evangelical overseas personnel were short-termers. The number of organizations which promoted short-term missions grew in the 1980s from a dozen or so to 450.13 It is noteworthy, however, that some missions boards made no provisions for short-term efforts. In addition to North American efforts, Evangelicals from Korea, Hong Kong, Thailand, Guatemala, Brazil, South Africa, and other countries were engaging in STMs.14 Many organizations that specialize in short-term work had sprung up, like the STEM Ministries in Minneapolis.15 Numerous publications are now available; indeed, their number is legion. They include training manuals for both visiting workers and hosts. Today, wisely or not, welcome or not, thousands of Evangelical people and millions of dollars are involved in short-term missions annually.

For Churches of Christ in the USA the data are not as complete as they are for Evangelicals, but the available evidence reveals many parallels. In 1973, Churches of Christ could count 1,623 active missionaries outside the country, practically all long-term workers.16 That number gradually decreased for several reasons while the number of short-term workers increased. In an average year after the fall of the Iron Curtain there may have been as many as 5,000 or more persons from Churches of Christ in the USA and Canada who raised funds to go on STM trips. When students from the Christian colleges and universities are counted with preachers who went on preaching/teaching trips to India and the former Soviet Union annually, and the very large number of young and older people who went to Belize, Mexico, Honduras, the West Indies and the British Isles with church groups, the number easily reached 5,500 to 6,000 or more in the 1980s and 1990s. For the 20th edition of the Missions Handbook, the 2007-2009 edition, Missions Resource Network (Bedford, TX) reported that Churches of Christ had 695 people who were serving 4+ years while those serving less than one year were 7,790. Tentmakers numbered 14. Churches of Christ ranked 5th in the number of short-term workers sent out.17 The most recent count (2011) indicates there are around 450 family units involved in long-term work outside the USA.18 In other words, if two workers are counted for each family unit, Churches of Christ may currently have nearly ten times as many people involved in short-term as in long-term work. Two factors only slightly mitigate this reduction in the number of full-time workers. First, the bulk of current evangelistic work in India, sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and possibly Asia is conducted by nationals. That is an occasion for rejoicing. Second, some American missionaries completed their assigned tasks and returned to the USA, leaving behind functional churches.

Diversification in Forms and Purposes

Initially, practically all short-term work was evangelistic in intent and practice. In recent decades, however, STMs have taken on very different forms with varies purposes among both Churches of Christ and Evangelicals. Evangelistic efforts themselves have varied. Michael Landon’s “descriptive analysis” of evangelistic efforts reduced short-term works in the 1980s to four types: (A) College or Preacher Training School students who do door-to-door work in English; (B) Older people in large numbers, as with Ivan Stewart’s and Fred Walker’s groups who do door-to-door work; (C) Multi-age adults in smaller groups who seek to teach; and (D) Preachers who go to developing countries to provide teaching at a higher level for national preachers, teachers, and other Christian workers.19 Landon did not study the non-evangelistic STMs.

Certainly since the 1980s “missions trips” have proliferated in both number and nature. STM groups began to go out from churches, schools, and campus ministries. For many years groups of university students from Texas A&M have gone on STM trips, especially to Thailand. In recent decades many have gone out under the auspices of Eastern European Missions for a variety of purposes. But multiple individuals, too, have mustered groups to go with them. Some entities were created to promote and operate short-term work fully or partially. Cases in point are Let’s Start Talking, Demar Elam’s Open Door Ministry, Health Talents International, and groups that mobilize people to go to China to teach English in the universities and speak of Christ as they have opportunities. Such entities may or may not do their work under the auspices of a congregation or a school. The diversification of forms and purposes was seen in groups’ going out to build or repair buildings, provide medical and health care, teach English as a means of making contacts, work with youth or orphans, do camp work, disciple people, plant churches, strengthen churches, do research, build water towers, and sing in the plaza to attract people—all billed as “missions trips.” People in large churches who answer requests for help on “missions trips” are familiar with the plethora of requests for financial support of a wide variety of “missions opportunities.” I once answered a request from a 16-year-old girl who had already made 12 trips to Mexico and wanted to go again. She gave no details about what she planned to do. Specific terminology, however, reduces confusion. For example, when health care workers conduct “medical mission” they identify what they plan to do.

At some point STMs ceased to restrict themselves to English-speaking areas. They began going to areas where they could not speak the language. In such cases students often learn a few songs in the local language. Others use local translators when there are no bilingual people in their group. Some efforts assume the dual roles of compassionate service and evangelism, or medical work and evangelism. Yet, in cases where the visiting workers do not know the language they are largely “advertisers” or interest creators while local men do the preaching. In some cases “medical missions” are undertaken where the purpose is to help hurting people in various ways while attaching their works to the local church to enhance its image or identity. In other cases students have gone on “mission trips” to do little more than “play with the children” or to be “good examples.” Thus, among the current plethora of short-term “missions” one may find efforts that range from serious evangelism to helpful medical service to little more than manual work that local people could do at a fraction of the cost of sending in foreigners. One university allowed upperclassmen to lead spring break campaigns. In one case, the students went to Haiti to “help” at an orphanage, but when they arrived the orphanage did not know they were coming and had nothing for them to do. Thus, the spread of STMs has been very diverse.

Even without appropriate evaluation, it is clear that some short-term efforts have been successful in achieving their goals while others have failed. As a general rule it seems very difficulty to plant a viable new church by short-term efforts alone.20 Yet, Dr. Tommy South and members of the Glen Allen church in Virginia succeeded in planting a church in the Ukraine through a series of short-term efforts. Dr. South insisted that they followed Paul’s model in working among the Thessalonians. Their work groups, usually very small, had the advantage of making repeated visits over several years that enabled ongoing teaching and more meaningful relationships with local people.21

On the other hand, a retired military career man led a large number of workers to a city in the former Soviet Union. They talked about the large number of contacts they made, but a longer-term worker in that city followed the man and his group to the airport in a fruitless effort to obtain the list of contacts. The point seemed to be to go on a mission trip more than to help the local church.

A long-term missionary in a Moscow congregation informed me in 1993 that short-term groups from the USA would announce to him that they were coming at a specific time. They had their own agenda and never asked what had been done before or what was needed. After several of those experiences a local Russian member asked the long-term worker, “When are we going to study something besides Acts? We have been through it four times!” That insensitivity to local needs and circumstances is also illustrated well by an incident reported by Michael Anthony. He led a group whose goal was to dig an irrigation ditch, although they had not consulted with local people. They worked hard, Anthony reported, but when they arrived back home they realized all they had done was to dig a ditch. When Anthony returned the next year he found that the ditch had been filled in!22

When STM personnel have gone out with insufficient missiological insights and personal preparation, all sorts of failures and damages have occurred, and often the workers have never realized it. Ethnocentrism, cultural arrogance, displays of wealth, insensitivity to local culture, sub-standard motives, and a number of other blunders have made many short-term efforts more harmful than helpful in the long run. Even compassionate medical workers have had to be careful about the kind of treatments they give lest they infringe on local physicians’ income. These types of incidents lead to the next consideration: evaluating the effectiveness of STMs.

Assessment/Evaluation in Historical Perspective

Many short-term efforts have been at least partially successful in reaching their stated goals. Others have not. But any history of STMs by members of the Churches of Christ must notice a marked lack of realistic evaluations and assessments of their work. Where assessments have been made they evidently have not been written up except perhaps in unpublished papers. Some group leaders have assessed their work and sought to tweak it for greater effectiveness; few seem to have raised the larger questions about the achievement of desired aims and the balance between expenditures, efforts, and definable results. Of the STMs this study considers, several seemed to have only a hazy idea about their objectives since they were never stated. A local preacher in a Western European country told me, “We have hosted these campaigns year after year. Once finished, our local people are worn out and the church has not increased at all over the years.” The STMs were evidently doing more good for the visiting students than for the local church.

Part of the difficulty of assessment is that there is a tendency to evaluate too few components of the STMs to make much difference. Peterson sees short-term missions as having eight dimensions: the time spent in the effort, the nature of the activity, the size of the group, on-field location, participant demographics (age, abilities, and qualifications), sending institutions, ministry philosophy, and leadership/training.23 Realistic evaluations would take into consideration all of these components.

The Evangelical STEM organization evaluated its own work and produced the Leader’s Guide and a study document, Can Short-Term Missions Really Produce Long-Term Career Missionaries?.24 To the basic question raised in the document they give a qualified affirmative answer, providing such STMs follow their recommendations about careful preparation prior to leaving, strategically guided activities on the field, and meaningful debriefing processes after arriving home. Interestingly, they insist that the last step may be the most critical for long term benefits to the workers. Massaro makes the same point: “One of the most important dimensions of any short-term mission is careful reflection at the end of the experience.”25 Among the plethora of books on STMs several are experience-oriented, indicating that the authors have learned something from their efforts that they want to pass on. Many writers readily admit that they have seen their share of irresponsible, ill-planned, and poorly managed projects. Friesen reports that among the Evangelicals “concerns have been raised about the ethnocentrism, relational shallowness, self-serving impact, and overall cost of short-term missions.”26 A vital aspect of evaluation would necessarily involve feedback from the host church. The same is true for STMs generated by Churches of Christ.

Among Churches of Christ there seems to have been a notable lack of published evaluations. Usually when students return from summer or spring break campaigns they disperse to their homes or return to their classes without serious debriefing and often without reporting to donors or sending churches. Among the most responsible efforts along this line is the procedure followed by the “Let’s Start Talking” group in Fort Worth, TX.27 They have a clear set of goals or objectives, prepare workers carefully for what they are to do, put in place a good framework for activities while they are on the field, and require workers, once they return, to do three things or groups of things. Craig Altrock, staff member at LST, reports:

  1. LST sends to our missionary hosts an instant feedback form after every project to get their immediate feedback on improving future projects.  So, for example, if Natal, Brazil hosts 5 LST teams through the year then they will submit 5 instant feedback forms.
  2. LST sends to our missionary hosts an annual evaluation in which they can tell us what went wrong/right, and how to make things better.
  3. LST sends more than one annual evaluation to workers so that they can offer critique/praise on the projects as appropriate.28

That is a very responsible way of going about evaluation and assessment, although this writer has not seen the details of each instrument. Effectiveness is not the only interest in evaluation. At least some leaders and participants in STMs display no awareness of the harm they can do by irresponsible short-term missions.29 It is doubtful that LST does any harm since they make careful preparations and assessments, cooperate with hosts, and sharply define the work to be done.

A common justification for short-term work is that it contributes to the pool of long-term workers. Some studies indicate that it does,30 while research by others indicates either no long-term effects or only minimal ones.31 Obviously the form of the STMs and the manner in which they were conducted would have much to do with outcomes. Painting an orphanage or building a water tower, while good works, would not give the workers even a hint of what is involved in long-term evangelizing with accompanying church planting and development. Sunset International Bible Institute’s two-year AIM program provides more realistic exposure to long-term evangelistic work. All in all, it has not been proven to be a general rule that STMs produce more long-term workers in Churches of Christ or other churches. While many long-term missionaries have previously gone on STM trips, especially after the 1970s, it is not known to what extent those trips produced rather then simply accompanied decisions to become long-term workers. The huge number of people who made multiple short-term trips but never became long-term missionaries heightens the question. Indeed, one reason for the escalating number of short-term workers may have been simply their desire to do something to evangelize even though they had no plans to be long-term missionaries. In retrospect, the ratio of long-term workers to short-term workers seems so miniscule that persistently striving to produce full-time missionaries by STMs would be a colossal case of poor stewardship of funds. It is true that short-term efforts have produced some lasting interest in global evangelization.32 It does seem clear, however, that as the number of short-term workers increased, for both Churches of Christ and Evangelicals, there has been a decrease in the number of long-term workers. Cause and effect have not been established. Other factors may account for the decrease in the number of long-term workers.33


This has been a limited account of STMs associated with Churches of Christ. A full history of fifty years of STMs would require a standard volume. While the chief purpose of this article has not been to evaluate but to reconstruct a partial history of STMs as conducted by members of North American Churches of Christ, and to take a look at efforts to evaluate them, it is appropriate to sum up and make a few suggestions out of this history.

Overall, the results of short-term work are mixed, depending on their objectives, size, how they are conceived, preparations of workers, execution, and evaluation. But what would the past tend to indicate for the future?

First, it is likely that several short-term efforts are effective in what they undertake and are worth supporting. This would be especially true of medical work and higher levels of teaching by qualified teachers. Just this week (Dec 2011) I received an e-mail appeal for workers to go to a recently opened Asian country “to teach some of the 4,000+ Bible correspondence course students in one on one, face to face, English Bible studies” several hours per day for five days a week. Those students want to be taught further from Scripture. The appeal was for a few months, not a few days. That would likely be a good short-term effort, evangelistic in nature and tied to local churches.

Second, with the broad array of activities designated as “mission trips,” from the amateurish to the responsible, and a corresponding elastic use of the term “mission,” churches and individuals deserve to know precisely what a particular “mission trip” is designed to accomplish.34 If ten students want to raise $3,000 each to go to India only to paint an orphanage, it is hard to justify calling it a conventional “mission trip.” When everything becomes “mission,” then preaching the gospel tends to diminish or disappear.35 Careful delineations need to be made between evangelistic efforts and compassionate services. Both are important but they yield different results.

Third, those who organize and conduct short-term efforts owe it to themselves, the workers, and the host culture or church to engage in vigorous periodic and responsible assessment of their efforts. Historically, there has been a notable lack of such evaluation and assessment.

Fourth, it seems to be the case that both Evangelicals and some workers from Churches of Christ have learned by experience what the STEM organization has argued for many years, namely that effective short-term work consists of thorough and appropriate training before going on the trip, creating precise frameworks and goals for work on the field, and careful and responsible debriefing upon returning home. Potential supporters have a right to know whether these three dimensions are in place.

Fifth, although in recent years there is evidence that organizers of short-term work have learned from those who have written books and articles on the subject, an appalling number or organizers seem to form their own plans without recourse to the pool of knowledge available on short-term efforts. It seems foolish to ignore valuable information learned through trial-and-error or by research.

If short-term efforts are regarded as work for God, as service for Jesus Christ, then Christian stewardship of money, time, and people’s lives argues that these efforts need to be done well in the future.

C. Philip Slate is a missions consultant for Churches of Christ worldwide and Missions Coordinator at the North Boulevard church in Murfreesboro, TN. He holds a DMiss from Fuller Theological Seminary and has authored and co-authored numerous popular and scholarly works. Dr. Slate was a missionary in Great Britain for over a decade. He has also served as the dean of Harding School of Theology and subsequently as chair of the department of missions at Abilene Christian University. He can be contacted at


Altrock, Craig. The Shaping of God’s People: One Story of How God is Shaping the North American Church Through Short-Term Missions. Fort Worth: printed by author, 2006.

Anthony, Michael. The Short-Term Missions Boom. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994.

Brewer, Charles R., ed. “B. D. Morehead.” In Missionary Pictorial. Nashville: World Vision, 1966.

Corbett, Steven, and Brian F. Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishing, 2009.

Dayton, Edward, ed. Missions Handbook. 10th ed. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1973.

Elkins, Philip W. Church-Sponsored Missions: An Evaluation. Austin: Firm Foundation, 1977.

Friesen, Randy. “Short-Term Missions.” In Encyclopedia of Missions and Missionaries, edited by Jonathan J. Bonk, 409. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Landon, Michael. “A Descriptive Analysis and Categorization of Foreign Campaigns.” MA Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1982.

Long, Meredith. “The Increasing Role of Short-Term Service in Today’s Mission.” In Mission Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas, edited by Edward R. Dayton, 10th ed. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1973.

Makuku, I., and V. Calver. “Short-Term Mission.” In Dictionary of Mission Theology, edited by John Corrie, 360-62. Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2007.

Massaro, Dennis. “Short-Term Missions.” In Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, edited by A. Scott Moreau, 875-76. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000.

Maust, John. “Summer Vocation.” Latin American Evangelist 48, no. 1 (January-March, 1991): 8.

McDonough, Daniel P., and Roger P. Peterson. Can Short Term Mission Really Create Long-Term Career Missionaries? Results of STEM’s Second Major Scientific Study on the Long-Term Effect of Short-Term Mission. Minneapolis: STEMMinistries, 1999.

Palomino, Migual A. “If Everything is Mission, Nothing is Mission: Reflections on Short-Term Missions.” Journal of Latin American Theology 2, no. 2 (2007): 249-59.

Peterson, Roger, ed. Team Leader’s Notebook. 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: STEM Press, 1992.

Peterson, Roger P., and Timothy D. Peterson. Is Short-Term Mission Really Worth the Time and Money?: Advancing God’s Kingdom Through Short-Term Missions. 2nd ed. Minneapolis, MN: STEM Press, 1991.

Reapsome, Jim. “The Peril of Drive Thru Mission Work.” World Pulse 28, no.12 (June 1993): 12.

Slate, C. Philip. “What is a Missions Trip?” Gospel Advocate 151, no. 6 (June 2009): 31-33.

________. Field Notes, 1969-1970. Unpublished document in possession of the author.

________. Lest We Forget: Mini-Biographies of Missionaries of a Bygone Generation. Winona, MS: J. C. Choate Publications, 2010.

Thornton, Phillip, and Jeremy Thornton. “Why They Don’t Go: Surveying the Next Generation of Mission Workers.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 44, no. 2 (April 2008): 204-10.

Ver Beek, Kurt Alan. “The Impact of Short-Term Missions: A Case Study of House Construction in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch.” Missiology 34, no. 4 (October 2006): 477-95.

Weber, Linda J., and Dotsey Welliver, eds. Missions Handbook: U. S. and Canadian Protestant Missionaries Overseas. 2007-2009. 20th ed. Monrovia, CA: MARC Publications, 2007.

1Dennis Massaro, “Short-Term Missions,” in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions, ed. A. Scott Moreau (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2000), 873.

2Phillip W. Elkins, Church-Sponsored Missions: An Evaluation (Austin, TX: Firm Foundation, 1974); C. Philip Slate, Lest We Forget: Mini-Biographies of Missionaries of a Bygone Generation (Winona, MS: J. C. Choate Publications, 2010).

3 Meredith Long, “The Increasing Role of Short-Term Service in Today’s Mission” in Mission Handbook: North American Protestant Ministries Overseas, ed. Edward R. Dayton, 10th ed. (Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1973), 17.

4Charles R. Brewer, ed., “B. D. Morehead” in Missionary Pictorial (Nashville: World Vision, 1966), n. p.

5Gatewood made this statement in my hearing in London, England in 1961. Ten days before the campaign I had arrived to join Canadian E. P. Lake to build the Wembley congregation.

6From May until August numerous articles appeared in the Advocate and Chronicle. Articles and notices about the campaign also appeared in the Lipscomb College paper, The Babbler, and the local Nashville Tennessean.

7It is likely that this method of evangelizing was modeled after similar efforts in the USA. Already by 1960 several city-wide “campaigns” had been conduced along these lines, using preachers like Jimmy Allen of Harding College and Batsell Barrett Baxter of Nashville. These activities were modifications of the Billy Graham “crusades” that had been conducted for several years prior. Graham’s and Eric Hutchins’s crusades were similarly limited in effectiveness in the UK. (Interview with L. Roy Barker, Vicar of St. Mary’s [Anglican] Church, Upton, Cheshire, July 1970, in C. Philip Slate, Field Notes, 1969-70, 46-47). Barker worked closely with the Graham campaigns and served as statistician. According to Barker, methods developed in one culture did not readily transfer to another without appropriate adjustments.

8In one city the only person, of the 15 or so “converts,” who remained faithful a year later was the son of the local preacher, who would likely have become a Christian anyway.

9On these points see Elkins, 6-7.

10Quoted in Long,17.

11Long, 17. The numbers for short-term workers who went out from individual churches and para-church groups were not reported, likely because they were unknown.

12John Maust, “Summer Vocation,” Latin American Evangelist (January-March, 1991), 15. Articled adapted and reprinted from The Brethren.

13Long, 18.


15The STEM organization has produced a Team Leader’s Notebook, 2nd ed. (Minneapolis: STEMPress, 1992) and two research documents: Roger P. Peterson and Timothy D. Peterson, Is Short-Term Mission Really Worth the Time and Money? Advancing God’s Kingdom Through Short-Term Mission: Results of STEM Short-Term Mission Research (Minneapolis: STEMPress, 1991) and Daniel P. McDonough and Roger P. Peterson, Can Short-Term Mission Really Create Long-Term Career Missionaries?: Results of STEM’s Second Major Scientific Study on the Long-Term Effect of Short-Term Mission (Minneapolis: STEMMinistries, 1999).

16Edward Dayton, ed., Missions Handbook, 10th ed. (Monrovia, CA, 1973), 197. This figure counts a husband and wife individually, which was appropriate.

17Linda J. Weber and Dotsey Welliver, eds., Missions Handbook: US and Canadian Protestant Missionaries Overseas. 2007-2009, 2nd ed. (Wheaton, IL: Evangelism and Missions Information Services, 2007), 143. The figures for short-term efforts are necessarily imprecise because of the large number of individual- and church-generated short-term efforts not reported. The same situation pertains among Evangelicals since many independent churches do not report to the compilers of the Mission Handbook.

18Data from Missions Resource Network, November 2011.

19Michael Landon, “A Descriptive Analysis and Categorization of Foreign Campaigns” (MA Thesis, Harding Graduate School of Religion, 1982).

20In this connection see James Reapsome, “The Peril of Drive Thru Mission Work,” World Pulse (25 June 1993).

21Information conveyed by e-mail and personally to the author by Dr. Tommy South in 2011.

22Michael Anthony, The Short-Term Missions Boom (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1994), 54-55.

23See footnote 15.


25Massaro, 874.

26 Randy Friesen, “Short-Term Missions” in Encyclopedia of Missions and Missionaries, ed. Jonathan J. Bonk (New York: Routledge, 2007), 410.

27A recent appeal to me by a Harding University student indicates that a very responsible approach is being taken for an extended summer STM in Chile.

28E-mail from Craig Altrock to Philip Slate, 11 November 2011.

29Steven Corbett and Brian F. Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor . . . and Yourself (Chicago: Moody Publishing, 2009). See also articles on short-term work listed on the website of World Missions Associates:

30See McDonough and Peterson. They measured changes in STM participants’ prayer, giving, education, and return to the mission field. Thus this research gives a qualified “Yes” answer to the question, providing the STMs are conducted along the lines advocated by the STEM program. See also I. Makuku and V. Calver, “Short-Term Mission” in Dictionary of Mission Theology, ed. John Corrie (Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 2007) and Craig Altrock’s DMin research reported in his The Shaping of God’s People (Fort Worth: Self, 2006), 28.

31Kurt Alan Ver Beek, “The Impact of Short-Term Missions: A Case Study of House Construction in Honduras after Hurricane Mitch,” Missiology 34, no. 4 (October 2006): 477-95.

32Peterson and Peterson, i and 28. The data for Churches of Christ are so anecdotal and unrepresentative that generalizing is not possible.

33Phillip Thornton and Jeremy Thornton, “Why They Don’t Go: Surveying the Next Generation of Mission Workers,” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 44, no. 2 (April 2008): 204-10.

34See C. Philip Slate, “What is a Missions Trip?” Gospel Advocate 151, no. 6 (June 2009): 31-33.

35Migual A. Palomino, “If Everything is Mission, Nothing is Mission: Reflections on Short-Term Missions,” Journal of Latin American Theology 2, no. 2 (2007): 249-59.

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Standards for Short-Term Missions

Many congregations have been involved in short-term missions for decades, yet they have not taken advantage of the wisdom and experience of others who have thought deeply about short-term missions practices. By heeding industry best practices, congregations can take important strides toward more faithful and fruitful short-term mission work. This article employs the experiences of one short-term missions organization, Let’s Start Talking, as a lens for examining some established best practices known as Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission.

Several years ago, I was asked to defend short-term missions (STM) at a conference of missions professors. I must say that I was surprised by the antipathy of some participants. Yet, even though I disagree with their negative conclusions, I do understand that Christians have made many mistakes in the name of STM.

Attempting to help churches and ministries avoid the worst mistakes, over four hundred missions leaders came together in 2001 and began a two-year process of establishing standards for short-term missions. Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission (SOE), a non-profit organization, grew out of their efforts.

SOE advocates seven standards of excellence for any STM project.1 I am going to borrow their outline and expand on it. I will offer a practical explanation of each standard, with examples of their implementation from my experiences.

Standard #1: God-Centeredness

Every person planning a mission trip—whether as organizer, host, or participant—should be clear about the purpose of the trip. Is it totally for the glory of God? Is each activity planned in such a way as to express godliness? Are the methods used biblical as well as appropriate for Christians in the hosting culture? And will the expectations or desired results advance the kingdom of God?

These questions appear at first to have such obvious answers that the reader may wonder whether to continue; nevertheless, asking some additional questions may suggest where some STM groups could get off track.

  • What do the workers see as the highlight of the trip: closing night of the mission or the two days on the beach before coming home? Which of these is emphasized in the promotion and recruiting?
  • How much time is planned for team devotionals, prayer time, or spiritual conversations?
  • Is the mission group sent off and received on site with prayer by those sending and receiving?
  • Is the biblical basis for the team’s activities thoroughly taught, rehearsed, and explained? Do they buy into the spiritual nature of the mission trip?
  • What are the real goals of the mission trip? Are they Spirit-driven or self-determined?

All Let’s Start Talking (LST) mission projects are described as “Sharing Jesus, sharing ourselves!” With this phrase, LST has tried to capture its purpose and method. People want to travel, to experience new things, even to grow spiritually themselves, but LST believes that all of these other desires should be subjugated to the primary objective of sharing Jesus. To encourage this spiritual dimension, LST plans prayer time as the first activity of every day so that it does not get lost in the business of the day. LST does, of course, plan free time for the teams, but workers are supposed to use it so they are refreshed, not exhausted, when they return to their mission activities.

In addition, the primary method of faith-sharing for LST teams is centered in God’s very Word. LST teams read the gospel’s own words and use their own experiences with God to illustrate the truth of the Word. The biblical basis for this approach is John 20:30–31: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples. . . . But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”2

Whatever else an STM might shortchange, it must not neglect God-centeredness, or the whole mission is in danger—not in danger of taking place, but in danger of being misplaced!

Standard #2: Empowering Partnerships

After God-centeredness, SOE’s next standard is empowering partnerships—and for good reason. Out of inexcusable ignorance, American Christians have often viewed themselves as the only source of mission strategy, the only spring of mission compassion, and, regrettably, the only well of resources that God can use for taking the gospel to the world. Lord, forgive us of our arrogance!

This flavor of hubris shows itself concretely in STMs in the following ways:

  • A church is looking for a good STM for its youth group, so they call their missionary and announce that they will bring 40 kids for 10 days in July—and they know the missionary will be grateful!
  • A church sees a small but vibrant mission church in a developing country and decides to send down a band of construction workers to build them a building.
  • A church sends a note to their missionary contact stating they are prepared to come with puppets and all to do a two-week Vacation Bible School, if the locals will put them up in their homes.
  • The local evangelist agrees to provide food and housing for the STM workers if the workers will provide the funds. The workers will provide the funds but need receipts. The national minister is highly offended, but the American workers find the evangelist’s actions very suspicious.

Some readers may not even recognize a problem in the above scenarios, but the idea of an “empowering partnership” is absent from each one. In its place, a one-sided, power-based, culturally insensitive, and paternalistic attitude exudes from the American Christian side of the equation—mostly because such STM participants do not really believe that they are in a partnership. Many seem to prefer a charitable relationship over an empowering partnership.

LST made some of these mistakes early in its ministry but has tried to learn from them. Below are some concrete actions that LST takes to avoid these mistakes:

  • LST only sends teams when prospective hosts have sent a formal invitation. Many mission sites feel compelled, virtually coerced, to receive mission teams for any number of reasons. If a host cannot say no because the sending church supports them, or because the STM participants are Western, or because of any reason whatsoever, then there is no real invitation.
  • LST respects each missionary and/or national evangelis as a true host. Participants are thankful for their invitation, grateful that hosts want to work with them, and eager to serve them. The hosts are the initiators, just as if they were inviting guests into their home.
  • Both sides mutually agree upon the important details of every STM project before making any final commitments. From the dates of arrival to the times of every event to the cost of using the telephone, LST tries to clarify details prior to arrival so that participants do not even accidentally trample feelings of the local church. This is tricky cross-culturally and takes great effort, but it is essential.
  • The real needs of the host are foremost. If it is not good to host American groups during US school holidays—which is rainy season and/or winter in other countries—then do not expect a host to want an STM team to come during that season. If the burden of hosting twenty people is too great, then either cut the group sufficiently or do not send anyone. If the hosting church needs funds rather than two weeks of preaching, which would be the better gift? And if the sending church does not know what the needs are, it should ask.
  • LST meets with potential hosts, gets to know them, and does not accept invitations until there is mutual trust. Of course, STM teams trust themselves, but what about the indigenous leaders of the local church? Do STM participants trust them to tell the truth? To handle team money and supplies for the project? To determine the best time to receive a group? Is the STM team flexible about its own plans but feels the hosts are irresponsible when they change things? Do hosts even have the power to change anything? Such questions are very telling for an STM.

The word “partnership” in this context is what the New Testament also calls “one another.” STM participants should re-read those “one another” passages, apply them to their relationships with potential STM hosts, and then reflect upon whether or not they are acting as empowering partners.

Standard #3: Mutual Design

An STM team several years ago was building a church building in a majority world country.  After working for about a week, digging the footing, pouring the concrete for the foundation, and building up the wall about 2-3 feet, someone realized they had not put any doors on the building!

So the Americans spent the rest of that mission trip tearing down a major portion of the wall they had just built and rebuilding the wall, this time with gaps for doors. Another group went to the same area a year or two later, and the church had torn the whole building down because it never met either their needs or their standards.  There is a message in this story for those who would plan STM projects: just having manpower and money will not get you to the goal. Mutual design is also imperative.

Mutual design does not guarantee a positive outcome, but it certainly increases the prospects and gives reason to hope for one.  Mutual design refers to a partnership between American Christians and hosting nationals with (to borrow from the French!) liberty, equality, and fraternity on both sides.

Here are some reasonable questions for both parties to ask in preparation for any STM trip:

  • What are the common goals of both guests and hosts? Is the primary goal to please the host or to please the American guests? Is there a way to plan the mission so both sides feel like their expectations will have been met?  Before an LST project ever occurs, an LST representative sits down with the hosting leader(s) and tries to describe in the local context what might occur when an LST team arrives. The representative talks about how LST spends money, how teams are typically housed, what each day looks like, what the teams typically do on Sundays—the conversation aims to cover every part of the project. Then the hosts explain how they believe an LST team could work best in their context. Where there are differences, LST makes a great effort to work them out—or both parties agree that perhaps some other form of mission would be better for their context.
  • What preparation and follow-up will the hosts/guests provide? What are the expectations of the hosts/guests both before and after the mission project? LST expects the host church to advertise prior to the team’s arrival, for instance, but leaves how they advertise to the expertise of the local Christians. If both partners find this acceptable, planning proceeds!  LST expects local Christians to make plans for follow-up. Local Christians expect LST teams to leave all contact information necessary for follow-up.
  • Who pays for what? Unfortunately, fairly simple questions like this create much of the havoc on STM trips. LST promises to pay for all food, local transportation, laundry, and the social events that are part of a typical LST project. Hosts are responsible for housing and advertising.  Some hosts have no housing options they can afford, in which case LST asks them to work out mutually acceptable housing arrangements before the team arrives. Often their solution is a nice American-style hotel—which teams most often decline because they cannot afford that either. So the dialogue continues until either there is a mutually acceptable solution or there is no solution. Even if there is no solution in the end, both parties know they have made a good effort to find a mutually acceptable solution but have failed—usually with a promise to try again next year.

Mutual design emphasizes the ability of both the American guests and the national hosts to implement what they have accepted as their responsibility.  When there has been full liberty to both negotiate and to decline, when there has been equality assumed by both partners, and when brotherly love (fraternity) is the framework of every conversation and interaction, then nothing short of a revolution will be the result–a revolution that both the church and God will delight in!

Standard #4: Comprehensive Administration

Whether it is a church organizing its own STM or an individual Christian wanting to join an STM project, one needs to be concerned about the comprehensive administration of the STM. SOE uses this broad term to include the following:

  • Integrity of the organizers
  • Competency of the organizers, especially in the area of risk management
  • Capability of the organizers to support and deliver

Consider these three virtues more closely.

4a: Integrity

The LST staff has had a fairly lengthy discussion about which countries to advertise as LST sites. It is tempting to use “attractive” countries in organizational promotion, even if teams seldom go to them. Likewise, the staff has debated at length a video clip that showed an LST worker reading with small children. Little children are huge emotional magnets for recruiting workers—but only seldom do our workers read with young children, so it is not typical of the LST experience. Such discussions, for example, are meant to ensure integrity.

  • Is there honesty in promotion of the STM? Check the motivations to which promotion appeals. Check the description of activities as compared to what the work will primarily be. Is the host culture as needy, as irreligious, as unhealthy, or as safe as advertising suggests? The world of modern advertising has skewed our sense of honesty—not to the point of lying, but to the point of spinning the truth. Speaking the truth in love will honor God!
  • Is there transparency in all areas of finance? Who determined the costs for the STM and how? Who will collect and disperse the funds, and is there an accounting process that includes accountability to someone external to the project? Do all participants have access to financial information?
  • For example, LST has three people who do nothing but work with the finances and accounting for the monies the organization receives and dispenses. There are strict protocols in LST’s office about who can open an envelope with money in it, for instance, and that same person cannot record and deposit that money. Each LST team does simple accounting with the money that they use in their LST project.
  • LST also has a yearly review by an outside accounting firm, which spends days in our office, going through receipts, deposits, even the accounting books of the individual LST teams that went overseas. Their audit is something that LST will provide to anyone who requests it. In addition, LST files a Form 990 with the Internal Revenue Service that discloses all important financial information—and much more. The Form 990 is public information, accessible to everyone. It is like publishing one’s personal income tax filing on the internet.
  • Are the reports of the STM results honest and accurate? Sometimes results are vague because organizers have no measurable goals. Other times, organizers skew results to justify the expense and effort. That is dishonest. Most often, no one really tracks or measures results. Failing to measure and assess also lacks integrity. How can STM organizations or participants honestly imply, much less report, that their effort and expense was fruitful without such accountability?

Nothing alienates people from Christian missions faster than the hint of dishonesty! STM organizers must ensure integrity at every level. Participants should make sure the organizers are transparent to a fault.

4b: Appropriate Risk Management

As the author writes, Guatemala is preparing for a volcanic eruption and a tropical storm. Belize is flooding, as is El Salvador. Tajikstan has an outbreak of polio, and there are still travel warnings out for Thailand and Sri Lanka. In addition, a major earthquake has struck the Philippines. Only this last item is listed in the CNN headlines, however. Whoever is organizing an STM should be aware of relevant natural, political, and cultural risks and have a plan for dealing with them.

Natural risks – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed and measuring the risks, however, are not acts of fear. It is unfortunate to be stranded in Cambodia because of a typhoon, but it is foolish not to know that July and August are peak months for typhoons in Cambodia and to have a plan in the event that one occurs. It is foolish not to know that malaria is also dangerous in Asia and the Americas rather than just Africa. Many travel sites, but especially the government-sponsored Center for Disease Control ( and the US State Department ( have important information for evaluating natural risks.

Political risks – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed and measuring the risks, however, are not acts of fear. LST has had workers in Moscow during a political coup, in Yugoslavia when civil war broke out, and most recently, in Thailand during the political unrest and violent demonstrations. Political unrest can occur almost anywhere and predicting how extreme or violent that unrest might become is difficult. How does one make good decisions about STMs in foreign areas where there is almost always some level of political unrest?

  • Rely on more than just the US media to stay informed. LST is a member of OSAC, the Overseas Security Advisory Council (, an arm of the Bureau of Diplomatic Security in the US State Department which publishes daily information on all trouble spots around the world. OSAC gleans and distributes pertinent information from foreign newspapers around the world.
  • During the most recent trouble in Thailand, LST actually evacuated two teams early because the violence had spread unpredictably. By following local news sources on Twitter (, LST was aware of surprising developments at least 12 hours before hearing it on US news.
  • Believe the local Christians! Local Christians tend to be more cautious and more concerned for the potential safety of their guests than the guests themselves. If they say to come ahead because it is safe, then their judgment may be a compelling consideration.

Cultural risks – Christians should not be fearful! Being informed and measuring the risks, however, are not acts of fear. Singapore laws forbid chewing gum. A STM team should know this. STM workers to China should avoid discussing the three T’s (Taiwan, Tibet, and Tiananmen) with Chinese locals. Pickpockets work every subway in the world, so workers need to carry their wallets in a different place perhaps. An official passport is the only way to positively identify oneself in a foreign country. These are just a few examples of information that STM workers need to know. Information diminishes risk.

Someone involved in organizing STMs should be responsible for researching cultural risks at the host site, and then all participants should not only be informed but trained to avoid risky situations and risky behaviors. Risk prevention begins long before an STM begins.

4c: Risk Management Plan

LST once had a team in Madagascar. A local gang looking for a ransom kidnapped the evangelist’s daughter in front of the church building where the college team was working. After just a couple of hours, the girl managed to escape unharmed. The family reported the name of the gang leader to the police who arrested and jailed him immediately. The gang leader bribed his way out of jail, however, and vowed to kill the missionary and his family. The LST team was staying in the home of this family.

What should a church or organization do now?

Here are the two most important questions to consider:

  • Is the church prepared to deal with this situation? Does the church have the necessary personnel, funds, and a plan to take care of its people?
  • How quickly can the church or organization implement its plan?

In this case, LST immediately moved the team into a high security hotel and then flew the team out of the country within twenty-four hours. In addition, LST staff met them in France, let them talk through their experience and their fears, then arranged for them to finish the last three weeks of their mission trip with a church in southern France. When they returned home, not only was the team emotionally and physically healthy, but they also could not stop talking about how God worked it all out for good!

Make sure that the church or organization has both an Emergency Management Plan and the personnel and funds to implement it twenty-four hours a day while a team is on the field. Here is a short list of the type of emergencies that one should be prepared to handle:

  • Travel emergencies – lost documents, canceled flights, unexpected fees, passenger error (goes to wrong airport, checks in too late, etc.)
  • Medical emergencies – accidents, illness on site, flare up of preexisting conditions, sudden death
  • Political emergencies – political violence, curfews, closed airports, police harassment (one LST team suddenly was required to get special visas), political extortion (demanding bribes)
  • Natural emergencies – typhoon, flooding, earthquake
  • Team emergencies – unexpected death or emergency at home, emotional/spiritual breakdown, unexplainable hostility (often culture shock), immoral behavior, disregard of authority, misuse of people or funds

Emergencies don’t happen often. Still, in thirty years of sending STM teams, LST has dealt with everything mentioned above at least once. One cannot remove all threats or prevent all emergencies—even with the best preparation and training—but it is possible to be intelligently prepared for conceivable risks.

Standard #5: Appropriate Training

A missions minister whose church wanted to begin requiring training for all of its STM participants was looking for a training model. He knew that LST teams had a reputation for being well-trained, so he consulted with the author. The missions minister literally went pale when he heard that the college students who go with LST receive approximately 45 hours of training in preparation for 3-6 week mission trips and that church members going for two weeks receive 20 hours! His church now requires one Sunday afternoon of training for their short-term workers—which is more than most churches provide or require.

The problem is not that STM leaders do not believe in training; it is that nobody wants to spend the time and energy that it takes to do it. Appropriate training is essential, however, for an excellent STM trip. Here are some of the characteristics of appropriate training:

  • Appropriate training prepares the workers for their spiritual work as well as their physical work. While getting materials together, practicing songs, going over assignments, or role-playing conversations is appropriate and essential, many volunteers are spiritually ill-prepared for the challenges of mission work. Many have never verbalized their own faith, so they have difficulty responding to questions like “Why do you believe Jesus is the Son of God?” Many Christians do not know where to start with the person who does not believe the Bible is the Word of God. When challenged, unprepared Christians may begin to doubt their own faith or to move toward an “all-roads-lead-to-heaven” faith. Mission trips are spiritual pressure-cookers and tend to bring spiritual weaknesses to the surface. Spiritual as well as physical preparation is essential.
  • Appropriate training includes how to work together with others! Just as “personality issues” (a euphemism for any number of our own selfish desires) are a major source of trouble between Christians at home, putting 5-6 people together 24/7 for 2-3 weeks in close quarters under less than ideal circumstances can quickly cause the façades of Christian charity to fall.
  • Appropriate training includes cross-cultural awareness and sensitivity. Who is telling the volunteers about appropriate dress? Who is preparing the team for the toilet facilities? Who is preparing the group for worship in a foreign language without translation? Who is training the workers how to “look and learn”—that is, watching and imitating the local Christians in situations that are unexpected or unfamiliar.
  • Appropriate training happens before, during, and after the STM trip. Most training needs to be done before the team leaves, but while on the field, situations and questions arise that catch all short-term workers off guard. Who helps them sort through their questions and feelings? And who helps them know how to return home? LST conducts EndMeetings with all of its workers. EndMeetings help workers frame their experiences, know how to report about their mission, as well as how to deal with reverse culture shock.
  • Appropriate training is done by qualified trainers. Heed one small warning here about the person who is the cultural expert because they have been in a particular country for a week a couple of years ago! If qualified trainers are not on hand, it is worth the trouble to find some and bring them in.

The lack of appropriate, high quality training is why churches quit sending and people quit going. Invest time and energy into appropriate training and God will receive more glory and honor! The added value to good training is that what one learns for the mission field is still valid after returning home.

Standard #6: Thorough Follow-up

An excellent STM will always include thorough follow-up with both the host and the members of the mission team. Following up an STM is asking probing questions designed to reveal both strengths and weaknesses in the project.

Follow-up with the Mission Site

Whether in written form or in person, the STM organizers must create the opportunity to ask the mission site all of the hard questions. If no one asks the hard questions, then assessors will only get the answers that they want to hear—which will not reflect the truth! Without the truth, how will one know if the STM has been helpful, if it has served the kingdom well, or if it has brought glory to God?

Here are some of the questions every STM project should always ask as follow-up to a mission project:

  • Did the visiting group provide all the information necessary in order to prepare well for their arrival? Did they provide it in time to prepare well? What should they have provided prior to their coming that was not available this time?
  • Was the visiting group a good size?
  • Did they seem prepared for the work they came to do?
  • Did they adjust culturally?
  • Did they seem to get along with each other well?
  • Were their leaders/sponsors cooperative?
  • Did the mission project meet the host’s goals for it?
  • Was the local church’s involvement satisfactory?
  • What would the hosts do differently with a future group?
  • How will the hosts follow up this mission project? Is there anything the group should have done that would make follow-up more effective?

The media ran a story recently about a plumbing company that always followed up its house calls with the request for a simple evaluation by the customer, “How would you rate our service on a scale of 1-10?” What made this plumbing company special was that although they almost always got an excellent evaluation, they were not satisfied with a 9.5 average. They always asked, “What could we have done that would have earned us a 10?” That is the attitude that all involved in the leadership of an STM should have.

Follow-up with the STM Worker

As with the mission host, participants cannot learn how to do their mission better if they do not explore questions that surface any weaknesses or problem areas. Before they return home, participants should evaluate their experiences in the following areas:

  • Training. Did the training prepare you well for the tasks you were given? Was there something missing in the training that would have helped? How effective was your team trainer?
  • Physical Arrangements. Beginning with the travel to site, then the housing, the food arrangements, the daily schedule, even the free time, was there anything that could have been better and made for a better mission trip?
  • Team Dynamics. How was the team dynamic? Were you able to make good decisions together? Were you able to handle conflict when it occurred? Did you get the help you needed when you asked?
  • The Mission Itself. Were you able to do the work you prepared to do? What surprised you about the work? Is there anything you wish you could have done better?
  • Personal Response. Are you glad you went? What was difficult? What was wonderful? Would you like to do another short-term mission? Would you encourage others to do one?

After asking for this kind of an evaluation, organizers sometimes believe themselves to be finished with follow-up. In fact, one more critical activity remains: preparing the participants for going home. While short-term mission trips typically do not allow workers to acculturate as a long-term mission would, the spiritual and emotional impact on the worker can be significant. Those who organize STMs are not finished until they have helped workers deal constructively with these new feelings and experiences.

At LST EndMeetings, staff members spend time with returning workers in these ways:

  • Helping workers frame their experiences. Frames contain the elements of a picture as well as keep extraneous items out of the picture. Workers have already begun deciding what they will include and exclude in their memories and feelings about their mission trip. LST encourages them to include everything that gives God glory and exclude the rest.
  • Celebrating workers’ experiences and helping them talk about them. Putting words to their feelings and experiences not only helps each worker understand what they did better, but it encourages and inspires others. Real community is built around shared experiences, so a celebratory—as opposed to an inquisitorial—environment in which to first “report” about a mission trip cements both the individual and the communal experience.
  • Affirming the faithfulness of workers. Especially in an evangelistic mission trip, workers often do not get to see the fruit of their work. A Ukrainian man was unmoved by the story of Jesus the first time he heard it in 1991. Fifteen years later, the LST worker who first shared with him returned to Ukraine to discover that this same man was now a Christian and had published three books defending faith in God to the scientific community in Ukraine. After hearing such stories, returning workers better believe that God can do the same miracle of faith with the seeds they have faithfully planted.
  • Preparing workers for reverse culture shock. Because the links of common experiences between people at home and the workers are broken for a period of time, some workers are shocked to feel like outsiders upon their return home. They also do not understand why people are only superficially interested in their mission project. Helping them understand the dynamics of unshared experiences ensures a better homecoming for each worker.
  • Teaching workers how to report well. Since the first question they will hear upon arrival at their hometown airport is “how was your trip?” LST teaches workers to have a 20-second answer ready. Participants also learn what to include (people stories, work stories) and what to exclude (free-time pictures, problems) from their private and public reports. LST encourages them to seek opportunities to report in order to motivate others to go and/or to give!
  • Encouraging the workers to continue the mission. The mountain-top experience that most short-term workers have does not have to be a one-time experience. God has given them special gifts to use in missions; that is why they have been able to accomplish this mission successfully, from the initial commitment to the fundraising to the training to the travel to the work itself. But special gifts bring special responsibilities, so what will they do with these gifts now?

Finishing well requires as much effort as starting well. That’s why an excellent STM will finish well with great follow-up.

Standard #7: Qualified Leadership

The last of the Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission is qualified leadership. Qualified leadership is a basic presupposition for each of the other standards. Will the mission be God-centered if there is no leadership? Will true partnerships between those who go and those who receive be established without leadership? Can there be thoughtful purpose and design, appropriate training, and thorough follow-up without leadership?

The ubiquitous nature of leadership is why everyone writes about leadership. But gifts in such great demand run greater risk of being neglected, imitated, or abused. Here are some examples in the context of STM:

  • Zeal trumps ability in many STM programs. Passion and good intentions are not the same as leadership, but they are common substitutes when qualified leadership is lacking. One might fairly suspect that the Christian group arrested and held for so long in Haiti for trying to leave the country with a busload of orphans was only guilty of substituting passion and good intentions for quality leadership.
  • People pretend to be leaders who are not! Again, not all of these people are aware of their lack of leadership gifts, but may in fact believe themselves to be leaders. One absolute test of leadership ability is whether people follow, and, if so, why. Jesus, the greatest leader, said about good shepherd-leaders, “His sheep follow him because they know his voice” (John 10:4). Sheep do not follow a stranger’s (imitator’s) voice. So it is with those who imitate leaders.
  • Abuse of power in any form is the polar opposite of qualified leadership. One can recognize either early warnings or potential abuse when:
  • The leader starts by reading the rules for the mission trip.
  • The leader starts by describing his/her role on the mission trip.
  • The leader threatens someone with summary dismissal from the team if they do not ________________[fill in the blank with any of his/her rules].
  • The leader either does not request input from others or dismisses input when volunteered.
  • The leader is not accountable to someone else.
  • The leader has sole control of all of the organizational elements of the mission trip—money, schedule, resources, planning.
  • The leader knows things but is unwilling to share the information with the mission group “until they need to know.”
  • The leader uses the “because I said so” line.

Leadership issues lie at the heart of many of the worst STM experiences. Potential workers would do well to investigate thoroughly the leadership of any STM which they might be considering.

Summary and Conclusion

Using SOE’s Seven Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission, the author has attempted to explain and illustrate the problems that these standards address as well as what they can look like in practice. The way LST attempts to meet these standards of excellence certainly is not the only approach to short-term missions, but the LST commitment to the highest standards can and should be emulated.

Churches and ministries who want to organize STM are bound to address all of these standards lest their work prove to be made of straw and not gold. Our awesome God deserves no less than gold.

*An earlier version of this article was posted in May 2010 by the author as a series of blog posts. You may find Dr. Woodward’s blog with many other posts about short-term missions at

Mark Woodward, Professor Emeritus of Oklahoma Christian University and Executive Director of Let’s Start Talking Ministry, holds a PhD in Humanities. Dr. Woodward has a broad range of experience in ministry, having served as Campus Minister at the University of Mississippi (1969-71), missionary in Germany (1971-79), professor of English and German at Oklahoma Christian University (1979-2003), and, with his wife Sherrylee, the founder of Let’s Start Talking (1980). In addition, he has served local congregations as preacher, elder, and teacher. He and his wife currently reside in Fort Worth, Texas. He can be contacted at

1You can visit their website at for their list.

2Scripture quotations taken from the New International Version.

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Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact

Nehemiah is the story of a Hebrew man who lived as an exile in Persia following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem. He served in the honored position of cupbearer for King Artaxerxes. Being a man that even the King trusted, Nehemiah gained great power and influence. In spite of all this, he would soon choose to leave his lavish lifestyle, having received word that the temple of God in Jerusalem lacked a wall to protect it. Nehemiah’s love for the temple and for God’s chosen people brought him to his knees as he wept, fasted, and prayed seeking direction from God. In many ways, the story of Nehemiah is a perfect example of how student ministers should be thinking when considering short-term missions for their students.

Nehemiah heard the outcry of a broken people. He assessed the situation and developed a plan. While rebuilding the wall, he asked questions concerning the condition of the people—he processed, reflected, and acted accordingly. He could have simply brought a crew, constructed a wall, and left, but this shallow approach would not have resolved some of the deeper issues the city of Jerusalem was facing. Because he prepared, listened, and processed, Nehemiah was able to bring long-term healing. This is called deep justice. It’s what happens in short-term missions (STM) when student ministers prepare students ahead of time, process and reflect with them during the STM trip experience, and translate that experience to life after the trip. All three stages (prepare, process, and translate) must occur if students are going to be transformed and develop a lifestyle of service that goes beyond extrinsic motivators.

Kara Powell and Brad Griffin detail this crucial three-stage process in their book Deep Justice Journeys (a must-have resource for student ministers preparing for STM).1 The authors refer to it as “The Before/During/After Model.”2 Unfortunately, as Powell and Griffin point out, many student ministries never get beyond the “M&Ms” of STM trips: Money and Medical Releases.

Let’s be honest. Normally we’re too rushed to thoughtfully help students engage in interpretation and application before, during, and after their STM trips. Our “preparation” before the STM experience usually consists of fund raising and medical releases. Our “process” during the trip boils down to a few minutes of prayer requests before our team tumbles into bed, exhausted. And our “debrief” after we get home is little more than organizing the slide show and the testimonies to share in “big church.”3

The cost of such oversight (or laziness) is shallow service. Lives are minimally transformed and the effects of the trip are short lived, and in some instances, harmful.

Kennedy Odede, a boy from the Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, gives a unique perspective as an individual whose community has experienced the effects of shallow service first hand. In his article for the New York Times, Odede addresses the issue of Slumdog Tourism (a voyeuristic industry that exploits poverty). From his experience we get a glimpse of how a host site might perceive an STM group that has not been careful to prepare, process, and translate with their students:

Slum tourism turns poverty into entertainment, something that can be momentarily experienced and then escaped from. People think they’ve really “seen” something—and then go back to their lives and leave me, my family and my community right where we were before. . . . There is no dialogue established, no conversation begun. Slum tourism is a one-way street: They get photos; we lose a piece of our dignity.4

You may be tempted to say, “but yeah, that’s a money driven tourist industry that has nothing to do with the church or STM.” While it may be true that there are differences, the results are the same. So let’s look at a similar scenario within a student ministry context. Eric Iverson works for YouthWorks, an organization that plans STM trips for youth groups. At one point in his life, however, as he points out in a presentation titled “Being There: Short-Term Mission and Human Need,” Eric hated missions. Listen to Eric’s experience with STM having grown up in the inner city:

I hated short-term missions!

As a young, inner-city African-American male from a single parent home, with a working knowledge of the welfare system, I saw short-term missionaries doing more damage in my community with their “drive-by’s” than the gun-toting gang-bangers ever inflicted with their own versions of this practice. I think it was the sense of powerlessness I felt as I saw again another group of white kids (that’s how I saw them at the time…) burst from their new vans every summer to “save” me, and others who looked like me, again that year.5

I don’t know about you, but that’s a tough pill for me to swallow. I confess as a student minister who has been doing this for a little over 11 years that I have been guilty of this. I think it’s time that we start reevaluating how we approach STM. We need to ask tough questions like, “will this trip simply be another event, or will there be long-term results both for those we join in service and for our students?” It’s a hard but necessary truth: the days of STM as an episodic trip must come to end.

As student ministers we must regain our focus, our passion, and our mission. Providing trips for students merely to see and/or experience poverty is not only a waste of time, it is degrading to those in whom Christ dwells—those whom we are seeking to “save” (narcissistic, arrogant tone intended). STM should never be about what we can do to save them. In fact, there should be no “us.” There should be no “them.” And so, our renewed focus must come from our view at the foot of the cross as we join what God is already doing. Our passion must come from a heart that is broken by the same injustices that break God’s heart. It is a passion that is further driven by a desire to rejoice when God rejoices: those moments when he sees young and old, rich and poor, black and white fighting side by side for justice. Our responsibility is to resist the urge to program shallow service opportunities into our ministries and expect students to grow. Our mission is to develop, within our students, service as a lifestyle, but the question is how?

It’s time to get practical. We have already introduced the before/during/after model, but what does this look like in a student ministry context? Keep in mind I will be speaking from the ministry context with which I am familiar. On a given summer we will have 7–8 STM trips planned for students on 3 campuses (typically one trip per grade 6–12). On each trip we will take 45–120 students and adults (if you are starting to hyperventilate, welcome to my world). Planning this many trips for this many people each summer is a huge undertaking! My first area of focus is on the before stage of the deep justice model for STM. Our first responsibility (I obviously do not do this alone; I am part of an amazing team) is to ensure that all three campuses (as well as 7 ministers plus support staff) are on the same page as far as administrative planning is concerned. Due to the involved nature of this task, I developed what we call the “24:7 Mission Trip Planning Checklist.”6 It looks like this.

24:7 Mission Trip Planning Checklist

Nine Months to One Year Out

  • Meet and Pray with Special Servants (our term for deacons) regarding possible mission sites
  • Make initial communication with site leaders and select a site
  • Remain in communication with Special Servants (SS)

Seven Months Out

  • Coordinate dates of trip with 24:7 staff at December all day meeting
  • Determine dates for mission training
  • Determine dates for trip specific organizational and planning meetings
  • Create trip information document to be added to spring/summer packet
  • Continue to coordinate with mission site and communicate with SS
  • Determine budget needs for trip
  • Solidify housing needs

Six Months Out

  • Support Staff creates spring/summer packet
  • Conduct spring/summer meeting for all 24:7 parents, volunteers, and students
  • Hand out spring/summer packets
  • Sign-ups for all trips open

Five Months Out

  • Coordinate transportation needs with admin.
  • Recruit volunteers utilizing SS

Three to Four Months Out

  • Take survey trip to mission site
  • Coordinate with restaurant and entertainment venues
  • Write training thematic
  • Coordinate with volunteer specialists (trip nurse, cook, etc.)
  • Submit contracts to Executive Minister

One Month Out

  • Missions training
  • Print maps and driving directions of trip to and from destination, of all work sites, restaurants, and entertainment destinations
  • Create schedule
  • Create what-to-bring and trip-expectations sheet
  • Send letter to trip participants
  • Submit cash request to Finance
  • Report trip information and departure times to Shepherds
  • Coordinate supply needs with 24:7 staff (especially tools, first aid kit, and coolers)
  • Write devotionals for evening processing

One to Two Weeks Out

  • Gather supplies necessary for trip
  • Conduct organizational meeting with parents and participants
  • Assign loading/departure roles to volunteers
  • Create folders for trip sponsors (schedule, maps, work groups, helpful numbers, devotionals, etc.)
  • Verify reservations with restaurants and entertainment
  • Call elder assigned to pray for your trip
  • Gather radios for vans

Day Before Trip

  • Hook up trailers
  • Number vans
  • Ensure vans are full of gas
  • Obtain cash from Finance
  • Obtain all trip forms

Day of Trip

  • Have volunteers arrive early and report to assigned roles
  • Students arrive and check in and then filter to meeting area
  • Go over trip expectations and have elder pray

Trip Return

  • Return trailers, unload, and clean coolers

Obviously, if you decide that a checklist like this would be useful, you would want to adapt it to meet your specific context. There are some items within the list itself, however, that I believe are non-negotiable when it comes to the before stage and preparing students and adults for any STM trip. The first and most critical is that there must be caring adults involved throughout the process (especially during training). Why is this so important? The latest research has shown that “40 to 50 percent of kids who are connected to a youth group when they graduate high school will fail to stick with their faith in college.”7 That is an astounding number. Intergenerational STM trips are part of the solution, not only to having a faith that sticks, but also in deepening the impact of the trip itself. The key distinction between the two ratios is that 10:1 is mandated by the state regarding the number of chaperons needed for a given trip, and 5:1 is focused on intentional relationship building. We ask our adult leaders to deeply invest in the lives of our students for the seven years they are in student ministry plus one year after they graduate.8

There are several other key components to the before of mission prep. For instance, we try to associate our student ministry STM trips with the greater vision of The Hills Church where I serve. In other words, we give ourselves a better shot at going deeper by serving with people with whom we already have established relationships.9 In addition, we allow the mission site and/or missionary on the ground to give us the details of the trip rather than vice-versa. We ask questions like, “When would you like for us to come and what would you like for us to do?” We always take a survey trip so we can better convey to our students and adults why we are going, what they can expect, and what is expected of them. This information then becomes part of our mission training, which is a vital piece of the preparation puzzle.

In my experiences as a student in youth ministry, “training” was simply busy work given to students to help determine whether or not they were “serious” about going. I find this to be silly and a waste of valuable time. The last thing students need is more to do. Their pre-trip training has to be meaningful. They (along with the adults) need to be prepared spiritually, socially, culturally, and emotionally for the trip itself, which brings me back to Nehemiah. This year, our missions training curriculum was taken directly out of the Book of Nehemiah. The series consisted of three sessions written to prepare each mission team for their given trip. I have included a copy of the thematic I wrote. Notice how the themes from Nehemiah track with many of the principles behind the three stages necessary for moving beyond the episodic trip toward mission becoming a lifestyle.

Nehemiah’s Vision

Series Theme

“The tenderness of Lincoln. The fire of Patton. The savvy of Churchill. All found in the same man. Nehemiah.” – Max Lucado

Nehemiah is one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. Through God’s power, he saw a need and with the help of others he responded to the situation. As the Body of Christ we too have a responsibility to assess the many needs of those around us. Whether he is calling you to go on a mission trip, sending you to your neighbors, asking you to walk down the halls of your schools as aliens and strangers, to be a light in Southlake, or plant a church on the Westside, God is calling us all to live a life of mission. In order to do that, we must first listen to his voice. he will reveal his plan as we begin to serve in the places where he is already working. When we join God’s mission, there will be difficulties along the way. Nehemiah faced opposition. However, because he stood firm and was willing to ask tough questions, he discovered that God’s people were being oppressed. Still, Nehemiah focused on God’s vision and led the charge to fight injustice and rebuild the wall. In short, Nehemiah’s story, like our story, is one of hope, restoration, and faith. In this series students will be challenged to assess the areas in their lives God has called them to serve, develop a plan that enables them to join God’s work, and to listen and respond to the many stories of those to whom God has called us to serve.

SESSION 1 – Assess the Situation

Key Text – Nehemiah 1; 2:11-15

Session Theme

Assessing the situation is a critical step in moving beyond shallow service toward deep justice. Having returned from a survey trip to New York, I gained valuable insight about the people, the culture, and the city. While this is the first time we will have worked with the Everyday church, it is an important first step in developing a deeper relationship with them and the people they serve.

Nehemiah did the same thing before rebuilding the wall. He questioned people from the city about its condition and sought the Lord’s guidance before responding to their need. In this lesson we will attempt to get a better understanding of the situation God is calling us to. You should make attempts to share stories with your students about the people you are serving and the culture they live in. Finally, spend time in prayer confessing your own faults (1:6-7). Pray also for the people you will be serving with and for the success of your trip (1:11).

SESSION 2 – Develop a Plan

Key Text – Nehemiah 2:1-9 (seeking favor from leadership); 2:17-20 (recruiting workers); 3 (responsibilities divided); 4:7-22 (confronting opposition)

Session Theme

Nehemiah had a clear vision for how he would undertake the monumental task of rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall. He was a master at utilizing people and gathering the necessary tools for the job. He even had a plan for when things went wrong and opposition arose. You too will need a plan. During this class you will develop a mission/vision statement for your specific trip. Encourage students to be mindful of what you talked about last week in assessing the situation. Also, discuss any setbacks you may experience along the way. How will your group work through those situations? Having a clear vision and direction will give you the focus you need to overcome any obstacle.

SESSION 3 – Hear the Outcry

Key Text – Nehemiah 5

Session Theme

While busy rebuilding the wall, Nehemiah starts to receive reports from the poor in Jerusalem. He listens to their outcry and hears how they are being oppressed having to sell their land and even their own children into slavery simply to have food to eat. Unjust laws and abusers of power are the cause of this great injustice. Nehemiah responds by making personal sacrifices and deep level changes that help the people for years to come.

We too can respond to injustice if we are willing to ask good questions and listen to the stories of the people God has placed before us. In chapter 5 we see that Nehemiah had a relationship with the people (they saw him as a leader who worked among them), he had compassion for their condition, and he addressed the issues that directly affected their situation. In this lesson we will discuss ways we can begin to develop deeper relationships with the people we serve alongside, begin to understand their condition by hearing their story, and begin challenging the students to look for deeper issues that cause injustice. For example, explore case studies such as with homelessness. Which is better, to bus people to Lancaster and hand out sandwiches in assembly-line fashion and disappear until next time, or, to sit down with the homeless, share a meal and conversation together, and discover more about yourself and the person you had lunch with? In the latter scenario one is able to listen to their story, develop a relationship, and possibly come to understand why the person is homeless in the first place. At the very least, you will have gained a friend. For the 6th grader in Como this may look like a student developing a relationship with one of the kids from the center and hearing about the high drop out rate for kids in their neighborhood. The hope is that the 6th grader may begin to ask why this is the case. In Port Arthur, students may begin to wonder why so many years after the hurricane people still have not received the help they need. Only by hearing and identifying the outcry of people God places in our path can we begin to identify questions that will eventually lead to deeper resolution to core issues.


Using Nehemiah provided the perfect backdrop for preparing our mission teams and provided a framework for initiating long-term change. We continued to utilize Nehemiah’s story during all of our trips, which, coincidentally, is the second stage of getting beyond shallow service. In this second phase it is the student minister’s goal to lead students through an ongoing process of experience and reflection.10 Often, we become overly focused on getting the job done and fail to recognize all that God is doing among us. We must learn to slow down and master the art of capturing the moment.

This process should begin as soon as you gather each morning. I typically have one of my students give a morning thought, which is followed by prayer and instructions for the day. As the day unfolds, students are encouraged to watch and listen to process their experiences with those around them. In student ministry we call these “teachable moments” where every experience becomes a learning/growing/loving opportunity. In other words, the goal is not, in and of itself, to get to the end or complete a project. The goal is to love people and become aware of how God is loving people. Mother Teresa embodied this principle. Kathryn Spink writes this about her when referencing her work in the home for the dying:

To Mother Teresa and those who worked with her, restoration to health was not the all-important factor. What was equally important was enabling those who died to do so “beautifully”. For her there was no incongruity in the adverb. “A beautiful death”, she maintained, “is for people who lived like animals to die like angels—loved and wanted.”11

When we rush through a trip, or each day for that matter, we miss moments to love. We miss moments to grow spiritually, socially, psychologically, and intellectually. Besides, it is shared experience and reflection that will drive the evening devotional.

Ending each day with a devotional is important. Having witnessed and experienced such amazing acts of God, we end in celebration. We give “shout outs” (words of encouragement) to other team members, sing, and share stories. Yes, by this time we are all exhausted, but bringing everyone together and processing what they saw, felt, heard, and experienced is one of the most critical aspects in making this more than a short-term experience. After all, our mission is to develop service as a lifestyle; and for this to happen, we must begin the translation process.

How do we do this? The answer (at least in part) is that we ask good questions (e.g., Where is God calling you to serve within your context—school, church, neighborhood, or somewhere else? How are you different now from when you began this STM journey? Can you think of scenarios or conditions at home that may be similar to those you experienced on this trip?). Ultimately, however, the most important tool we use in the after trip translation process is our small group ministry and the adults who lead them. Our groups meet three times a month and on the third Sunday they serve. I like this for a couple of reasons. One, because I question the effectiveness of large group service projects, and two, because our groups connect with service opportunities within their context. By connect, I mean our groups are given a list of organizations that our church has established relationship with through our neighborhood connections ministry and they choose one with which to partner.12 In other words, we ask our small groups to serve with one organization, once a month, for four years! As a result, relationships are developed and it is the students, not I, asking questions. They begin to ask deep-justice kinds of questions, like why are so many of the kids we are serving with dropping out of school? Where are their parents when they get home from school? Why is there such a high divorce rate among this community? Can you imagine, teenagers asking these questions? That’s exactly what happened with Alex.

When I first met Alex, he was a fringe kid who hated church, and for good reason. His dad had just kicked him out of the house for getting in an argument with his stepmother. It was the summer before his senior year, and with nowhere to go, Alex’s future looked bleak.

But God had other plans. Finding out about his situation, Jennifer (a student at our church) simply responded in the way she had seen her parents do for years: she reached out. It wasn’t long before Alex was living with the Wilson family.

The last thing Alex expected to find at the church services the Wilson family required him to attend was teenagers and adults who cared, but that’s exactly what was waiting for him. He quickly latched on to our worship minister, and their shared love for music began breaking down the walls he had put in place for protection. I approached Alex about attending a high school small group series, which he joined. He also participated in our annual senior transition class.

His lack of desire and effort in school quickly gave way to a desire to graduate and a determination to get into college. With the help of other families and adult mentors, Alex graduated from high school and was accepted to a local university. Alex was adamant that he did not want to commit to being a follower of Christ until he was ready to give up everything. Out of nowhere one Wednesday night, he approached me and said, “Let’s do this—let’s dance!” He made it very clear that this dance was an eternal decision to follow Christ.

This summer we took Alex on a mission trip to New York. While there, we worked with a new church plant sponsored by our church. Through this trip God continued to work transformation in Alex’s life. Following our return, Alex decided to move to New York City and join what this church is doing there. He is now heavily engaged in ministry and is scheduled to start college next spring. Alex managed to make his experience in New York more than about the trip itself. For Alex, service became a part of who he is.

Do I sound like a proud student minister? You bet! But it is not anything that I have done; it is a testimony to the power of the Holy Spirit transforming lives. Do I think short-term missions are a valuable tool in student ministry? Of course! Yet, it is time for student ministers to get out of the business of shallow service. My belief is that transformation doesn’t take place one week out of the year, but that it occurs before, during, and after that one or two week trip. It may not be rocket science, but hey, neither was building a wall around a city in 445 BC.

Jason Herman is the High School Student Minister/Coordinator for 24:7 Student Ministries at The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas. In his role, Jason strives to incorporate an intergenerational model of ministry in which caring adults pour into the lives of students. He attended Lubbock Christian University where he received a BA in Youth and Family Ministry as well as a MS in Bible and Ministry. He can be contacted at Jason Herman


Clark, Chap. Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers. Youth, Family, and Culture. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011.

Clark, Chap, and Kara Powell. Deep Justice in a Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Iverson, Eric. “One Cross at a Time: The Mission Agency’s Role in Building the Missional Church.” Lecture presented at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Conference on Short-Term Missions, Deerfield, IL, July 30-August 1, 2009.

Odede, Kennedy. “Slumdog Tourism.” New York Times. August 9, 2010.

Powell, Kara E., and Brad M. Griffin. Deep Justice Journeys Leader’s Guide: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.

Powell, Kara E., Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A. Crawford. Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Powell, Kara E., Terry Linhart, Dave Livermore, and Brad Griffin. “If We Send Them They Will Grow…Maybe.” The Journal of Student Ministries.

Spink, Kathryn. Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography. New York: HarperCollins, 1997.

1Chap Clark and Kara Powell in Deep Justice in A Broken World: Helping Your Kids Serve Others and Right the Wrongs Around Them (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007).

2Kara E. Powell and Brad M. Griffin, Deep Justice Journeys Leader’s Guide: 50 Activities to Move from Mission Trips to Missional Living (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009), 9. The Before/During/After model was originally proposed as Focus/Action & Reflection/Learning Transfer by Laura Joplin, “On Defining Experiential Education,” in The Theory of Experiential Education, ed. K. Warren, M. Sakofs, and J. S. Hunt (Dubuque, IA: Kendall/Hunt, 1995), 15-22. See also Clark and Powell, 105.

3Powell and Griffin, 8. The full article, “If We Send Them They Will Grow…Maybe,” can be found at

4Kennedy Odede, “Slumdog Tourism,” New York Times, August 9, 2010,

5Eric Iverson, “One Cross at a Time: The Mission Agency’s Role in Building the Missional Church” (lecture, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Conference on Short-Term Missions, Deerfield, IL, July 30-August 1, 2009),

6While some elements of this list are geared toward spiritual preparation, keep in mind that this particular document’s intent is organizational in nature. Spiritual preparation will be covered in greater detail in the curriculum portion of this article. In addition, it is my belief that God is actively involved throughout the planning process (note prayer being the first step in the process). This belief correlates with a statement I make later concerning joining the work God is already doing on any given mission site.

7Kara E. Powell, Brad M. Griffin, and Cheryl A. Crawford, Sticky Faith: Youth Worker Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 15.

8Ibid., 79. See also Deut 6:4-9. For more information on systemic abandonment and the growing need for caring adults deeply investing in the lives of students please read Chap Clark, Hurt 2.0: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers, Youth, Family, and Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2011).

9It is nearly impossible for us to accomplish this with every trip due to cost, but when possible we join the vision of the church.

10Powell and Griffin, 10.

11Kathryn Spink, Mother Teresa: A Complete Authorized Biography (New York: HarperCollins, 1997), 55.

12Please notice the importance of giving adult volunteers support, training, and resources. If volunteers are allowed to sink or swim, they will sink.

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Relief Missions: Short-Term But Essential

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese Proverb

This proverb suggests that the solution to this man’s hunger problem is found in teaching him a skill that will provide for his lifetime of need; in particular, hunger. Giving him a fish to eat will only satisfy his hunger temporarily. He needs a fish because he doesn’t know how to catch one. I don’t know who would, or could, disagree with this wisdom. Viewing this situation in a long-term perspective, it appears as if the giver really isn’t helping by simply giving what is needed at that moment. Teaching, therefore is a better solution than giving.

This view and perspective is currently being posed to Christian-based relief agencies like the one I work for: Christian Relief Fund. We are being told that the work we are doing, and the help we are providing, are not really ideal long-term solutions for the people we are feeding, protecting, and serving. Other non-profit organizations focus their efforts and resources towards programs that provide job training, teach a skill, or focus on education to help the needy improve their situation. Some suggest that groups like CRF may not be providing real assistance through charitable giving, and our resources could be better put towards solutions and programs that teach people to fish, in a figurative sense, of course. Here’s the strange part: some of the sharpest critics of our work are also the same ones asking us to assist them with short-term disaster relief or sponsorship of the orphans coming to their programs.

Let me stop the argument by first saying, “The Christian Relief Fund agrees!” We may not like the passive-aggressive style of the message, but we acknowledge that under the right conditions, we need to focus on solutions that give people in need real long-term solutions to poverty, hunger, homelessness, and lack of education. BUT (and this is a big but), how can you choose not to meet the immediate needs to keep people from dying from thirst or hunger? How do you teach a starving adult, let alone a starving child, how to fish when death is so close? They may not make it through, or even to, lesson one: “How to make a fishing net.” While starvation, thirst, and death are powerful motivators for survival, they may not make the best motivators for learning a new skill.

Baxter Loe founded the “John Abraham Christian Relief Fund” (the former name of the CRF) in 1971. He originally named the organization after John Abraham to remind him of how imminent death is to people in great need. Baxter, an Amarillo preacher and businessman, went on a short-term mission trip to India. He met John Abraham, a preacher and missionary in the village Baxter visited. The area was experiencing a tremendous famine, and John asked Baxter for help to feed his family. Baxter promised to send money upon his return to Texas. After returning to the US, Baxter got caught up in his own busyness and forgot to send money back to John. Much later, he received a telegram from India with these four haunting words: “John Abraham is dead.” He had starved to death anticipating help would soon be arriving from the US. Baxter began having nightmares of John Abraham’s death. He was hounded by the thought of seeing John hopefully waiting for the gift that never came. After many troubled nights, Baxter decided that God was calling him to support the orphaned children of John Abraham. He didn’t stop with those children. Christian Relief Fund has programs in 30 countries, focusing on the most vulnerable of the world—children without advocates. Our mission is based on Luke 2:52, “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man.” Our belief is that the best we can do is to care for those that are the most vulnerable, and that care involves meeting not just physical needs, but spiritual, educational, and social needs as well.

I doubt John Abraham needed to learn how to “fish.” I am sure he had the skills necessary to provide for his family. John needed a fish or two to see him through a difficult time. The situation there was so dire that many people could not make an adequate living. Extending our use of the Chinese proverb, there was no possibility of “fishing,” or catching any “fish.” This happens, whether through an act of nature or in a man-made situation. There are many hot spots of human suffering in our world today. These areas are so impoverished from drought or ravaged by warfare that “fishing lessons” would be useless and a waste of resources. The greatest needs are immediate relief aid: clean drinking water, food, firewood, health care, safety, and compassion. The modern day tragedy that is the Horn of Africa comes immediately to mind. Hundreds of thousands of displaced people are starving to death. Teaching them a skill is pretty far down the list of needs. Keeping them alive and giving them hope for the future is on top. I think the best biblical example is found in 2 Cor 8:1-4. There is a great famine in Israel causing large-scale starvation, and the new churches in Macedonia have taken up a generous contribution to send to the churches in Jerusalem. It is giving aid with no strings attached and no conditions required.

I am not sure that the Chinese proverb asks the reader to judge which action is right. It does not say that feeding a man for a day is wrong. It compares two ideologies that can, and should, coexist. The idea of “yin and yang” must be applied here. There are situations that call for compassion and short-term relief aid, just as there are situations that require a more sustainable form of assistance. Christian Relief Fund believes there should be a balance. Our care of orphans is focused on the long-term needs of children. Giving them an education teaches skills they will need to succeed in society. Teaching them about Jesus Christ helps to concretely identify the real priorities in life. We are also applying microfinance in whole communities to help them better provide for their own needs. It’s not an “either/or” situation; it’s both because the needs of the poor in our world stack up higher than the resources charitable aid groups have at their disposal.

Larry Wu is the Director of Field Operations for Christian Relief Fund ( He previously served three years on the CRF board of directors. Larry spent the first twenty-eight years of his career in the Food and Beverage industry. Contact Larry at

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STMs and the ‘Missional’ University

What should distinguish a Christian university from any other institution of higher learning? Does it merely provide a Christian setting for secular vocational training, or should it be something entirely different from a secular institution? Scripture gives us the answer: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov 1:7). Colossians 2:3 informs us that all treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ. Is this hyperbole? Not if one considers the Christ hymn of Colossians 1:15-20. Christ is the center of God’s activity to bring into being and then redeem his creation. Christ is over all, in all, and holds everything together (continuing presence). Genesis projects the theme of creation as that which brings glory to God. All was created according to the will of God and it so functioned in the beginning. It was very good. Humankind was created to continue the creative work of God: tending, developing, and filling God’s garden. When sin is introduced into the story in Genesis 3, the consequences are devastating—both to human life and work as well as creation itself. It is the truth of God, the wisdom of God, the word of God becoming flesh that brings back the possibility of creation functioning according to the will of God—another way of describing the inbreaking of God’s kingdom with the coming of Jesus.

So, yes, we may say that all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge are found in Christ. Without him at the center of our worldview, all knowledge is skewed in some way. Knowledge, in and of itself, cannot be of true and full value outside of God’s creative and redemptive activity. Those of us who are believers pursue further knowledge for the sole purpose of making ourselves more fully available to the purposes of the Holy Spirit in all facets of our lives. As Jesus came to demonstrate a life of godly power and direction, he came proclaiming the gospel, healing the sick, reprimanding those who lived falsely under God’s name, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and modeling a life of complete service for the good of “the other.” To follow him, we must deny ourselves and daily pick up our cross. This was not only his teaching, it was the essence of his life. He trusted God to lead him to help others through the gifts he was given for that very purpose.

It is this fundamental teaching that ought to make a Christian school at any level remarkably different than any other institution of learning. Every discipline should be taught as the potential expression of God’s continuing creative activity. Unfortunately, all vocations and disciplines (including ministry, perhaps especially ministry) have been badly twisted by idolatry. Christian schools should be training their students to be God’s redemptive response and creative activity in the world, healing its brokenness through the actions and words of the believer. The kingdom, or life under the direction of Jesus Christ, is proclaimed and demonstrated through every “word and deed” (Col 3:17).

It is clear that if Christian schools are to be involved in such extensive and radical life training, the classroom will not suffice. “Life labs” in their various forms are essential. Lipscomb University requires each of its students to have at least two SALT (serving and learning together) experiences as requirements of graduation in any discipline. This involves some form of ministry to others, either domestic or foreign. There are different tiers that are required, meaning one of the credits must come from an entire course which involves ministry activity or a short term mission trip that meets the experiential and study requirements of our SALT program. The idea is clear: no student can claim a “complete” education experience in the absence of applied, intentional ministry.

Lipscomb continues to expand its involvement in STMs. Well over 40 trips are planned every year with more than 500 students participating. The numbers continue to grow as the missional call grows more deeply into the curriculum of each of our schools. The vision is to give each of our students an opportunity to hear the call of God to a life of service for the sake of the world to the glory of God. STMs are a critical part of this experience. The leaders of most groups are volunteer faculty and staff. The majority of these mission efforts are geared towards a particular vocation—medical clinics in various developing nations; working with youth in the UK, Australia, and many other places; teaching opportunities in India, China, the Bronx, and other inner cities; athletic camps for the underprivileged, and countless other missional activities. Their overarching purpose is to introduce or encourage a deeper participation in God’s call of giving of one’s life for the benefit of others. We boldly inform and model that only the life that is lost for the sake of the gospel of Christ (good news of the redeeming of God’s creation through Jesus Christ) will provide true meaning and purpose.

What we hoped would occur in the lives of the participating students has exceeded our goals. While recorded results at this point are mostly anecdotal, we are beginning a quantitative and qualitative statistical study including longitudinal samplings that will provide us with more reliable information. Many of our graduates (some with degrees other than Bible or missions) have continued in their lives of ministry as a result of their STM participation. Others have developed or are developing new programs for identifying needs in the world and recruiting professionals in their field of study to meet those needs (such as engineering, medicine, or teaching). It is particularly encouraging that a growing number of our graduates are choosing to live in mission fields using their vocations—not to support their ministry but as an expression of their kingdom proclamation. STMs are vital to this process.

I understand the negative reaction of some to STMs. They are expensive and sometimes of little value. My wife and I, while doing mission work in Italy, have been on the receiving end of student groups that were less than helpful. One group actually set us back in our community because of the poor attitudes of the students and their lack of desire to work. We, at Lipscomb, have had our share of negative stories and painful experiences. But such issues can and should be directly addressed. Obligatory training for both leaders and students is crucial. Such preparatory experiences should be intentional and creative. Debriefing after a mission experience is critical. We are attempting to do more follow up with our students, helping them embed missional learning experiences into the “DNA” of their lives. STMs as an end in themselves have little value. But as a means to developing in our students a missional understanding of life they are irreplaceable. The sending out of the seventy in Luke 10 was not a one-time kingdom event. We are a sent people – sent out to where Jesus would go with a message of the inbreaking of the kingdom of God.

The question of funding is another issue raised in this debate. I understand the concern of many that the money for STMs could be used in more “profitable” ways in long-term missions. I would argue that such reasoning is not valid. Very little of our STM funding comes from churches or sources that would otherwise be used for missions. This is not a zero sum game. The list of those contributing to our students is amazing and heart-warming. It consists of cousins, friends, grandparents, the participating students, their fellow students, their places of employment—the list goes on and on. I would suggest this is another benefit of STMs; it is an opportunity for individuals and organizations who would in no other way be involved in kingdom work to participate. Some have continued to contribute to our efforts even after their friend or family member graduated.

I am presently preparing a small group of students and another faculty leader to join me in a week’s work in Dundee, Scotland. I have been there multiple times, both with groups and without. The church is small, but growing and doing some marvelous works. We will have the opportunity to walk into six different high schools in that area and, with the help of the young people of that church, tell the story of Jesus in relevant and meaningful ways. We “older folks” have specific teaching and training opportunities with various groups, some of whom have never heard the gospel. It is a week of intense and meaningful activity. It will be followed up with our students maintaining new relationships via Skype and e-mail. The church will be strengthened, we will be encouraged, and I will have the opportunity to mentor in ways I would never have in the classroom.

The negativity sometimes associated with STMs is not due to their inherent ineffectiveness. In my view, it is a lack of clarity of purpose, or of planning for meaningful activity, or of preparation by those who participate or receive the group. Do STMs ultimately prove valuable in the expansion of the kingdom? After over 20 years of experience, I can say with confidence, yes. Lives have been changed for good on both the sending and receiving sides. Can we do this work more effectively? Absolutely – as stewards of God’s blessings, we must constantly evaluate and improve our work. At Lipscomb, we continually evaluate the results of our mission efforts. Some have been shelved due to ineffectiveness. But new groups spring up every year, many initiated by students, and most continue to expand and improve. The gospel is proclaimed and experienced in vibrant ways, God is glorified, the kingdom borders continue to grow. May God continue to give us wisdom to be faithful stewards of all we have been given. May the call of God’s mission to redeem creation be the purpose of our lives.

Earl Lavender is executive director of the Institute for Christian Spirituality and director of missional studies at Lipscomb University. Born to missionary parents in Italy, he returned there with his wife Rebecca for six years, planting a church in north eastern Italy. They have also been involved in domestic church planting. Earl has worked in mission efforts throughout Europe, as well as Australia, India, Russia, Brazil, Ghana, and China. Earl completed his undergraduate and masters work at David Lipscomb College and received a PhD in Historical Theology from Saint Louis University in 1991. He has written multiple books and published articles as well as contributing encyclopedia entries in several published volumes concerning patristics or ancient history. He can be contacted at

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Review of Edgar J. Elliston, Introduction to Missiological Research Design

Edgar J. Elliston.
Introduction to Missiological Research Design
Pasadena: William Carey Library, 2011. 229 pp. $15.99.

Donald McGavran claimed that the need for research was one of the ten major emphases of the Church Growth Movement that he fathered. He claimed that research was important to “ascertain the factors which affect reconciling men to God in the Church of Jesus Christ.”1 Since missiology is worked out in the context of human interaction, there is great need to mine thoroughly the behavioral and social sciences for missional purposes. While every academic discipline brings its own unique focus and intention to the research method, Edgar Elliston’s book is one of the very few linking missiology and research design. His book capably answers the question, “How should we missiologists go about doing our research?”

Edgar Elliston was a missionary in Africa for many years. Later as professor at Fuller Theological Seminary’s School of World Mission, he designed and taught courses in missiological research. He also supervised doctoral candidates in designing the research that would lead to the writing of their dissertations. He brings his years of practice and his lecture materials together in Introduction to Missiological Research Design, a book which could aptly be subtitled, “A Step by Step Guide.” The graduate student in missiology looking forward to a research project, thesis, or dissertation is in luck.

The volume revolves around the five interacting issues in research design: defining the central issue to be researched; evaluating previous research; designing an appropriate research methodology to address the central issue; reporting the findings; and finally, sharing the conclusions and recommendations. Chapters in Part One are devoted to each of these five issues.

Elliston is aware of research limitations in cross-cultural research. He writes, “When one crosses a cultural boundary, one can expect that the worldview will differ and the respondent’s assumptions will differ. . . . A questionnaire or interview guide that is valid and reliable in one culture cannot be expected to be reliable in a second culture” (65). (Would that those who practice specific evangelism methods, regardless of the location, shared this awareness.)

Chapter Seven, “Ethics and Missiological Research,” is one every missionary should read—and then read again. Table Ten lists the principle ethical concerns at every step in the research process (106-7). Then there is this powerful bit of advice: “Christian researchers should give special attention to their research not only to protect the ‘widow, the orphan, and the alien,’ but to work toward their salvation, empowerment, and nurture” (104).

As missiology is interdisciplinary, Part II of the book rightly includes chapters by missiologists who speak to research design from their backgrounds in theology (Charles Van Engen); education (Edgar Elliston); communication (Viggo Søgaard); history (Pablo Deiros); and social science (Daniel Shaw). Van Engen makes the same point as did Elliston about cross cultural dynamics: “The unrepeatability of theologizing in context is a major difference between most social-scientific methodologies and the methodologies of biblical mission theology . . . [because] each theologian is unique in his or her time, context, and worldview.” This realization does not lead to the relativism of truth but to a “multiplicity of understandings and interpretations of the same truth” (114).

The book concludes with nine helpful appendices, some of which are checklists. Particular attention should be paid to Appendix I, “Common Research Errors” (181-97). Other helpful aids are a glossary and an index.

My only complaint with the book is that it could have used more examples and illustrations. It would have helped to see samples of actual problem statements, research questions, thesis statements, and hypotheses (23-25). So, too, the book would benefit from more illustrations or case studies of the points being covered. Specific examples, like the one about the Turkana research (35), were few and far between.

Whether one is engaging in research to determine where to serve as a missionary, to decide upon a specific mission strategy, to study a specific missiological topic, or to design a dissertation proposal, Elliston’s book is one that needs space on the bookshelf.

Doug Priest

Executive Director

CMF International

Indianapolis, Indiana, USA

1 In Unto the Uttermost, ed. Doug Priest (Pasadena: William Carey Library, 1984), 255.

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Review of Craig and Jeri Ford, Short Term Missions Handbook

Craig and Jeri Ford.
Short Term Missions Handbook: A Guide for First Time Short Termers and a Reference for the Rest
Self-published, 2010. Kindle edition. $9.99.

Craig and Jeri Ford bring the essentials for short-term missions to the one preparing to go. They draw from five years of missionary experience in Papua New Guinea, where they have hosted short-term missions and gained some host-culture perspective. The Fords have followed as well as coordinated short-term missions plans. Reflective wisdom of other missions-experienced contributors—short-term, former, and career missionaries—makes its way into this STMH as well.

STMH promises to guide readers in introspective cultural and spiritual adjustment and financial planning for their yet-to-come short-term mission trip. STMH includes smart information on culture shock appropriately succinct for a short-term audience. The content of STMH is concise and intelligent. It is a mere 42 pages.

STMH touches on several emotional worries the pre-field short-termer might be internalizing and moves him or her to a broader and deeper vision of mission. It addresses criticisms by friends and family as well as personal feelings of safety, fear, and calling, moving the missionary to have a deeper theological reason for even a short-term mission and to see it in the context of God’s broader mission. Of particular interest in STMH is the succinct and intelligent explanation that “the Bible doesn’t have a missionary call: it is a missionary call.” These introspective pieces are all connected to checking motives and processing self-perception.

In many ways, STMH has what you’d expect: guidance for a short-term missionary in discovering his or her call and insights to prepare one’s attitudes toward money, whether in regard to raising money or in addressing poverty concerns in the field. STMH tends to meet these expectations with no less depth but a little greater conciseness than one would expect.

I found several strengths in STMH. One is the inclusion of practical action items. There is, for example, a motive-check directive. Another strength of STMH is the underlying spiritual depth related to very practical advice. Although there are concise and broadly applied steps given for, for example, fundraising, there is always a thoughtful introduction connecting the process to God’s nature and character as well as the personal character of the missionary. The Fords present spiritual groundings all along the preparation process that are consistently easy to understand. Finally, a great strength of STMH is the way it leads the preparing missionary in processing class and poverty issues (especially pp. 22–25).

STMH also includes a 10-day Journal, Devotional, and Prayer Guide. Each page includes a themed devotional thought, a prayer lead-in, and space to journal. Some of the themes include, “God’s Already There,” “A Dose of Humility,” “The Lord Is in His Holy Temple,” and “Costly Discipleship.” Each devotional thought presents between one and three relevant reflection questions like, for example, “How have the events of the last day shed new light on this passage?” There is a prayer focus for each day, which includes three one-sentence lead-ins. For example, day two’s focus:

Thank you for showing me . . .

I was reminded of your goodness . . .

In heaven I’m most excited about . . .

As I read through STMH, it occurred to me that some readers might be startled by the frank language occasionally employed to reorient the missionary. The tone can be challenging, which I hope will empower the missionary and redirect the tourist.

Yellow and blue make green. That is how I heard a former medical missionary once describe the significant changes that can take place internally with anyone who experiences missions. I believe the authors of STMH are in tune with the rich matrix of cultural adjustment and spiritual fervor in God’s mission. STMH, in my terms, covers the yellow (the pre-field fear/excitement), the blue (the post-field seriousness/lamentation), and the green (the potentially greater immersion into God’s kingdom), all universally experienced hues in any mission.

More tedious short-term missions books exist, but I would recommend STMH and the accompanying Journal, Devotional, and Prayer Guide for any individual or group preparing for a short-term mission because it is basic enough for anyone with at least a high-school education yet imbued with a mature spirit.

Jason Whaley


Wollongong, Australia

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Review of Daniel A. Rodriguez, A Future for the Latino Church

Daniel A. Rodriguez.
A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Hispanic Congregations
Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2011. 200 pp. $19.00.

Daniel Rodriguez is one of millions of Latinos in the USA living “in the hyphen”—belonging to two different people groups. Rodriguez is of Mexican descent, but is from the USA. He grew up speaking very little Spanish, acquiring it later while preparing for missionary service in Puebla, Mexico. At times feeling “despised” by both cultures, Rodriguez discovered he was not alone. He found numerous biblical parallels of this hyphenated existence, from Moses to Paul. And these biblical heroes used their dual identity for the glory of God. Rodriguez is resolved to do the same.

A Future for the Latino Church begins with huge numbers. Latino growth in America is obvious, but Rodriguez’s statistics shed light on the massive scale of that growth. Latinos are now America’s largest minority group. From 9.6 million in 1970 to 51 million in 2010, the numbers are breathtaking. From 2000 to 2010, the Hispanic population grew by 15 million, according to the US census. Led by Mexican-Americans, who account for two-thirds of the Latino total, the growth rate is steady. By 2050, based on current trends, the Latino population will be around 30 percent of the USA. How did this happen? It was a liberal immigration policy in the 1980s and 1990s. Today, however, the increase is through fertility rates since borders are tighter.

Rodriguez’s central concern is how to minister to this growing demographic. Building on the work of Manuel Ortiz—a doyen in the field of Latino ministry in the US—Rodriguez argues it is time for the church to rethink Latino ministry altogether. The traditional approaches are antiquated. They use Spanish while most Latino children speak English. They focus on the vertical rather than the horizontal—that is, they strive for heaven without looking after social needs. They also tend to build unnecessary barriers between Latinos and the dominant culture. For example, some Latino ministers emphasize the diabolical nature of the English-speaking world: “El diablo habla inglés” (The devil speaks English). This shaming process, not uncommon in Latino churches, perpetuates an “isolationist” mentality.

At the heart of the book is the question of language. While Latinos appear to treasure Spanish, the fact is they eventually speak English. Few Latinos even speak Spanish by the third generation. However, Latinos tend not to become English in culture. They live a “Spanglish” existence: they speak English but retain a Latin “flavor” in their way of life. Rodriguez offers a corrective here, however. Focusing on language completely misses his point. “I didn’t call you to preach the gospel in English or Spanish. I called you to preach the gospel” (66). Repeatedly, Rodriguez argues that Spanish pastors need to abandon their parochial tendencies and realize the central message of the gospel is at stake: “all of us are one in Christ Jesus.” Steeped in biblical imagery, Rodriguez’s strongest argument is that the church was never intended to be linked to an ethnic identity, to a language, or to a particular culture or nation. Christ died for all and demands our allegiance. Ministries that deny these central truths will not only dwindle in a globalizing world, they will fall short of the gospel’s intent.

The contributions to knowledge in this volume are many, but I will focus on two that I found particularly helpful. First, Rodriguez points out an odd combination: Latinos are almost entirely (over 90%) Christian in heritage, but they are by far the most impoverished people in the United States. They have the lowest education levels, the highest rates of unemployment, the lowest income (for men and women), and are the most likely to live in poverty. He compels churches to make social uplift a priority because these people need relief: health care, food, education, school supplies, housing, employment, and protection from exploitation. Ministries to Latinos must be holistic if they are to follow Jesus’ example. They must bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to captives, recover sight for the blind, and free the oppressed. A lopsided Christianity, Rodriguez argues, breeds perennial problems. “Many of today’s oppressed Latinos will become tomorrow’s oppressors” (116).

A second major contribution to acknowledge is chapter five, easily worth the price of the book. “The Local Church as Organic Seminary” shocked and challenged me. In essence, he argues that since Latinos cannot afford higher education, they turn to their pastors for training. Many Latinos dropped out of school or have criminal records. Many of them don’t even have GPAs or SAT scores. Additionally, why would an aspiring pastor go to seminary to learn about sophisticated European theologians when he would have to leave the trenches of ministry for six years? It would be a waste of time that could be better spent in service to his or her community. Rodriguez provides many examples of pastors who are effectively reaching people, reforming them, healing them, and building a future generation of leaders. They short-circuit the American education system in creative ways. A few institutions have clued in to this situation and now work alongside pastors, such as Gordon Conwell Seminary and Moody Bible Institute. But by and large, Latino pastors raise future leaders themselves. This was a wakeup call for me. It caused me to imagine how I might work with pastors in Los Angeles—my neck of the woods—to bring ministerial training out of the ivory tower and into the barrio. I don’t think a conscientious Christian academic can ignore the implications brought forth in this chapter.

Throughout the book Rodriguez provides exciting examples of pastors who are stepping up to make a difference. From Los Angeles to San Antonio, from Chicago to Miami, the future of the Latino church looks bright with these shining lights. Rodriguez’s insider views are helpful since he knows most of these pastors personally.

The church will be blessed by this thoughtful book, written by a committed Christian scholar.

Dyron Daughrity

Associate Professor of Religion

Pepperdine University

Malibu, California, USA

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“Framing the Current Short-Term Missions Discussion” (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

Short-term missions (STM) may be the most important missiological point in question, and at the same time the most seemingly unobjectionable practice, facing the church of the present century. It is, in other words, a subject both fascinating and pressing for those who care about the church’s mission. Why is it so important? Because of its sheer volume, its practitioners’ missiological assumptions, and its potential effects, both positive and negative, upon God’s mission. Yet, all three of these points—STM’s prominence, shape, and impact—are of such significance only because the church has found STM to be, in large part, a self-evidently good idea. The explosion of STM in Western Christianity often reflects the uncritical leap of individuals and congregations—not to mention other relevant organizations—into the practice.

Critical reflection on STM has taken many directions in the missiological literature of late, including the call for a moratorium. Yet, despite increasing, judicious criticism, STM has only grown in wider Christianity.1 Given this reality, I wish to preface the issue’s articles with some general observations that might frame the discussion and reflection that the editors hope these contributions will inspire.

The practice of STM under consideration has a particular cultural shape

The question is not abstractly about missions that are short in duration. It is, instead, about the particular practice among Western churches popularly labeled STM. There is a bundle of beliefs, assumptions, and practices that give shape to the STM movement at present. Though something of a generalization, some of the most essential characteristics are: an orientation toward “results” of a certain kind, a high degree of populism, a strong concern for the self, and a romantic view of cultural difference.

These characteristics tend to govern implicitly the discussion of STM’s pros and cons. Thus, some might construe the debate in this way: although cultural difference is a challenge, it is not a major problem (romantic view); although a short-term project might not have a long-term effect on the receiver, it will forever change the life of the goer (self-orientation); although it is not possible to engage in truly relational ministry in the short term across cultural and linguistic barriers, it is possible to “make an impact” that results in believers, buildings or bandages (results-orientation); although a participant may be unequipped in many ways, he or she is still obliged to fulfill the Great Commission (populism). These perspectives tend to intersect and self-perpetuate in a variety of ways. For example, if cultural distance were such a major issue (romantic view), God would not have commissioned average “real people”2 to preach to the nations (populism). Or, this experience (self-orientation) is about forming long-term missionaries who can make the most of short-term results (results-orientation).

The point of these examples is to demonstrate the way in which the cultural shape of STM can affect the logic of the discussion surrounding it. Critical assessment happens within a context that assumes what STM is or should be and a set of values by which to judge its outcomes. Churches that recognize their cultural biases can engage in a healthier evaluation of their STM.

The pros and cons of STM are difficult to measure

The church that wishes to assess the relative value of its STM faces a knot of considerations. Though the missiological analysis has usually focused on quantifiable issues, such as the number of long-term missionaries produced or the amount of increased financial support for missions, other questions are far more qualitative in nature. The following list suggests the complexity of evaluating the various dimensions of STM relative to one another:

  • Tangible receiver benefits (conversions, buildings built, patients seen, etc.) vs. money invested: for example, does putting the roof on that building justify the trip’s expense?
  • Tangible receiver benefits vs. tangible goer benefits (long-term mission decisions, increased missions advocacy, increased offerings, etc.): for example, if receivers benefit little from pulled teeth, does an increase in missions offerings justify the trip?
  • Tangible receiver benefits vs. intangible goer benefits (worldview transformation, spiritual formation, etc.): for example, if receivers benefit little from manual labor they could have done themselves, does the discipleship experience of the goer justify the trip?
  • Money invested vs. tangible goer benefits: for example, if a church spends thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, does the returning goers’ excitement about missions justify the expense?
  • Money invested vs. intangible goer benefits: for example, if a church spends thousands of dollars on airfare and hotels, does the returning goers’ decreased ethnocentrism and deeper understanding of God’s mission justify the expense?
  • Intangible goer benefits vs. tangible goer benefits: for example, if goers return more entrenched in their ethnocentric views because of shallow cross-cultural engagement, does one person’s decision to become a long-term missionary justify the trip?
  • Any goer benefits vs. intangible receiver benefits (instruction, encouragement, worldview transformation, seeds sown, etc.): for example, if there is no effective increase in missions advocacy or financial support among goers, does the thought that “seeds were sown” among receivers justify the trip?
  • Any goer benefits vs. intangible receiver harm (disempowerment, dependency, offense, etc.): for example, if goers consistently grow spiritually and make missional lifestyle choices as a result of an ongoing STM program, is the dependency created in the receivers (say, for church buildings) a weightier matter?
  • Tangible receiver benefits vs. intangible receiver benefits: for example, if receivers obtain emergency relief, but the cultural offensiveness of the goers damages relationships and testimony, which is more important?
  • Tangible receiver benefits vs. intangible receiver harm: for example, if many receivers make a decision for Christ, is their disempowerment through the means and methods of STM evangelization justified?
  • Intangible receivers benefit vs. money invested: for example, if nothing more than the encouragement of receiver Christians occurs, does that justify the expense of the trip?

Again, the values involved in the assessment make all the difference. For example, one who values evangelism may justify a significant economic investment in STMs aimed at conversions while minimizing, say, the need for long-term work or potential intangible harm of receivers. One whose priority is the formation of goers may not give other outcomes as much attention. Or one who observes negative outcomes for receivers and limited positive outcomes for goers may easily criticize the value of a building or the quantity of money invested.

A more substantial treatment of Scripture needs to inform the definition of STM

Biblical insight is a vital part of the value system that each congregation employs in the critical assessment of its STM. There is a tendency in the literature to defend the general practice of STM on the basis of proof-texts.3 Because there are many so-called missions throughout Scripture that are short in duration, some feel that STM has indisputable biblical precedent.

The difficulty, as I have argued above, is that a particular kind of STM is at issue—not a vacuous notion of “missions that are short.” Therefore, it is theologically imperative to move beyond the validation of STM in principle on the basis, for example, that Paul was in this or that city for a short length of time. In other words, the discussion should no longer define STM primarily in reference to the length of the mission. The question was never whether it is possible to accomplish something valuable to the kingdom in a short time. Indeed, are not many (perhaps most) of a long-term missionary’s encounters or endeavors actually short-term by typical definitions? The difference lies not primarily in length but in dynamics.

Even the short-term dimensions of long-term mission (LTM) are ideally about mutually empowering relationships situated in cultural appropriateness. The reason that LTM is the standard by which critics so often measure STM is not that it is longer! Rather, LTM is long because long-term missionaries take the time to ensure the vital dynamics of Christian mission. A congregation’s approach to a biblical understanding of STM must comprehend the role of mutually empowering relationships and cultural appropriateness in the interpretation of Scripture, if it is to move beyond a superficial validation-seeking exercise. A missiologically sound approach does not ask how long a “mission” in the biblical narrative lasted but what was at stake in its execution.

When “short-term missions” means, as it often seems to do, “short-term task completion” (results-orientation), the emphasis will naturally fall upon the amount of time necessary to complete the task. The solution to this error is not just refocusing on the definition of the task itself. To reiterate one example above, those who advocate evangelism and conversions over other factors often root their position, at least rhetorically, in a particular definition of mission (including STM) vis-à-vis Scripture. That is a debate unto itself, which has much to do with a biblical perspective on STM. Yet, even assuming a congregation determines which tasks are rightly mission—whether evangelism, construction projects, or medical campaigns—the question remains. Is the congregation, in the length of time an STM allows, able to undertake its task in the mode of operation consonant with the biblical narrative?4

As a congregation turns to Scripture in the evaluation of its STM, it should neither be satisfied with a superficial hermeneutic of duration (cataloguing how long biblical examples lasted) nor feel justified by a mere definition of mission that legitimizes the task (asking whether the STM goal is consonant with the congregation’s understanding of kingdom). In simplest terms, it is critical that the congregation’s handling of the biblical narrative inquire not only as to what to do and how long to do it but also, and perhaps principally, how to go about service in God’s mission.

Two perspectives reign: minimizing harm and maximizing benefit

Because the basic problem concerns how STM is done and not how long it lasts or what it entails, the most helpful resources for churches are those that address the dynamics involved in STM. Within these resources, there are two tendencies. Some observe that STM has been harmful in many cases and would seek to equip churches to minimize their footprint, so to speak. In this perspective, churches must learn to do less damage. Others believe that STM is essentially beneficial and would seek to equip churches to maximize their positive impact. Churches must learn to do the most possible good.

Two excellent works represent the harm-minimizing tendency:

David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006).

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009), esp. ch. 7 in the context of the whole book.

It is noteworthy that these books, which have to do with the effects of STM on receivers, deal with cultural appropriateness and mutually empowering relationships. There is an important truth hidden in this observation. Those who write about the receiver—that is, what STM effects in ministry—tend to do so from a harm-reduction perspective, because the truth is that the receiver can both benefit from and be harmed by STM, while the goer is in no real risk of harm. The goer can maximize the benefit to self, but if she does not, there is no risk to her. This is the fundamental power dynamic that churches must come to terms with in order to assess their STM soberly: the receiver must be at risk in order to receive benefit, while the goer can bless from a position of invulnerability.

Books that take the benefit-maximizing viewpoint, in contrast, tend to focus on the goers.5 Some focus on the devotional experience, because STM can be uniquely spiritually transformative. Tim Dearborn’s Short-Term Missions Workbook is a leading example.6 Others even describe STM as an essential method of discipleship, “a perfect pedagogical approach to initiate spiritual, cognitive, affective, and behavioral transformation.”7 Though there is opportunity for discipleship in STM, when concern for self dominates the motivation and experience of STM, something has gone awry.

Even when a strong critique of self-orientation is present within the benefit-maximizing disposition, the outlook tends to gloss potentially serious concerns for the receivers. A major publication in this vein is Maximum Impact Short-Term Missions. The authors state that when a trip is only about the goers, it is not mission.8 The book is concerned primarily with “effectiveness,” yet it does not deal with the actual effects of STM, positive or negative. There are a few passages where the authors make a passing comment about potential “problems” caused by goers, but there is no discussion of harm to receivers. The cast of the whole discussion is toward positive impact, the language affirming that STM can maximize effectiveness, the tacit belief being that ineffectiveness—not harm to receivers—is all that is at stake. This seems to be the case, in part, because of an assumption that “Great Commission efforts” are implicitly good by virtue of being such. Given that the “impact” of STM is the fulfillment of the Great Commission, and that this is a matter of either positive impact or maximum impact, the book as a whole is concerned with the management of STM participants and facilitators in order to be effective rather than ineffective—not with the prevention of harm.9

These two perspectives offer good advice that is somewhat contradictory. Some warn us away from overestimating the impact of STM efforts. Goers are merely a piece in God’s mission, and they should not expect their limited contribution to be the game-changer for receivers. Moreover, harmful colonialist attitudes often color STM service and goers’ estimation of its value to receivers.10 The best posture for goers, then, is that of a learner. It it a properly humble approach that moderates the emphasis on their work’s importance, communicates respect to receivers, and allows for significant personal growth. Yet, others do well to warn against focusing on the self. Mission is about God’s purposes, and STM’s primary concern should be their realization in the lives of others. When STM is primarily about learning, even when it is couched in the need for humility, it is primarily about the goer. Using receivers in order to create a learning experience is abusive and equally imperialistic.11 The tension is clear: go as a learner, but do not make it about yourself. Congregations must navigate these waters carefully.

STM is inevitable

In one sense—that of the realist—critics must come to terms with the fact that churches will do STM. The statistics suggest that STM has moved out of the realm of fad, into the realm of operating assumption. While some church leaders may conscientiously object, they will not be the majority; at least not in the near future. The question shifts, then, from whether to do STM to how to do it. The literature considered above is indicative. Whatever one’s tendency in the debate, the assumption is that churches are going to do STM—so they had better figure out how to do more good and less harm.

Yet, there is a second sense in which STM is inevitable. If missional-church thinkers are right, then congregations must revision STM in terms of what it means to be a global citizen when the church is missional by its very nature. The globalization that has made STM possible as an operating assumption—including its economic, communication, and transportation possibilities—shapes every aspect of the Christian’s life. The missional nature of the church means that its members are always sent and always intentionally engaged. The global nature of the church’s existence means that Christians are constantly involved in short-term relationships that cross cultural barriers. David Livermore writes:

As we begin to be more honest about the fact that short-term mission trips are simply another piece of thousands of experiences in our lives that change us, we’ll be motivated in appropriate ways, which in turn will help us engage more effectively. Let’s stop thinking about short-term missions as a service to perform and see them as another expression of a seamless life of missional living that includes giving and receiving.12

A congregation can organize and delimit a group STM experience, but whether it does or not, it needs to equip its members to engage in culturally appropriate, mutually empowering relationships in every aspect of life. Therefore, congregations can view equipping for a specific STM as relevant to far more than just the trip itself. If STM is becoming an operating assumption, then in the best case scenario the average church member’s capacity for mutually-empowering, culturally-appropriate relationships is becoming an operating assumption as well.

Congregations should not generalize their assessment of STM

Congregations engaging in critical reflection should think not in terms of all STM but of their specific STM. What does this particular STM entail? What are the values guiding its evaluation? How do the potential pros and cons of this specific project weigh against one another? Does the congregation have the resources necessary to maximize benefit and minimize harm to this people group in the process of this undertaking? Generalizing the discussion can undermine both mutually empowering relationships and cultural appropriateness, as both are context dependent.

This issue

The articles by Ben Langford and Spencer Bogle, teammates in Jinja, Uganda who recently transitioned back to the US, come from their presentations at the 2011 Christian Scholars’ Conference. Both of these papers deal with difficult issues facing long-term work in majority-world contexts: namely, the nature of mission strategy and neocolonialism. Drawing a simple connection to the STM theme of the remaining articles, if these are problems for long-term missions, how much more for short-term? The dynamics Langford and Bogle discuss are just the sort that inform missiologically sound STM. We leave it to the reader to make the best applications.

Missiologist C. Philip Slate provides a short history of STM among US Churches of Christ, drawing a parallel between Evangelical STM practices and concluding with some practical suggestions for future STM efforts. In the course of the article, Slate also briefly advocates the procedures of Let’s Start Talking (LST), a leader in STM among Churches of Christ. Thus, the subsequent article, by LST’s cofounder Mark Woodward, follows somewhat seamlessly. Woodward utilizes years of LST experiences in order to bring to life the recommendations of the well-known Standards of Excellence in Short-Term Mission (SOE). Woodward provides an accessible starting point for congregations to better organize their STM efforts. Jason Herman’s article continues in the practical vein, focusing more narrowly on student ministry STM. Herman takes Nehemiah’s story as a paradigm for STM and integrates it devotionally into sample pre-trip training material. Combined with an administrative task checklist, the article provides a perspective on the kind of preparation that can help to prevent a shallow STM.

In the Reflections section, two authors continue the conversation. First, Larry Wu considers objections to STM from the perspective of a relief worker, seeking to debunk the dichotomy between relief and development. Second, Earl Lavender discusses university-organized STM from the perspective of a professor who desires to promote missional practicums for students of all fields. Both authors advocate STM in a particular form, admitting to certain limitations but articulating values that justify the respective practices in their view. Attention to the way that each develops his case will prove instructive to the reader.


Corbett, Steve, and Brian Fikkert. When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty without Hurting the Poor . . . And Yourself. Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2009.

Dearborn, Tim. Short-Term Missions Workbook: From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003.

Livermore, David A. Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006.

Moreau, A. Scott. “Short-Term Missions in the Context of Missions, Inc.” In Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right!, ed. Robert J. Priest, 1-33. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008.

Peterson, Roger, Gordon Aeschliman, and R. Wayne Sneed. Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission: The God-Commanded Repetitive Deployment of Swift, Temporary, Non-Professional Missionaries. Minneapolis: STEMPress, 2003.

Wilder, Michael S., and Shane W. Parker. Transformission: Making Disciples Through Short-Term Missions. Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010.

Other Recommended Reading

Fann, Anne-Geri’, and Greg Taylor. How to Get Ready for Short-Term Missions: The Ultimate Guide for Sponsors, Parents and Those Who Go! Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006.

Priest, Robert J. Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right! Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008.

Richter, Don. C. Mission Trips That Matter: Embodied Faith for the Sake of the World. Nashville: Upper Room Books, 2008.

1 See A. Scott Moreau, “Short-Term Missions in the Context of Missions, Inc.,” in Effective Engagement in Short-Term Missions: Doing It Right!, ed. Robert J. Priest (Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2008), 1-33, for statistical analysis of Protestant missions agencies. Though comparable recent studies are not available for Stone-Campbell churches per se, anecdotal observations would suggest a parallel trajectory. See C. Philip Slate’s article in the present issue.

2The phrase comes from Roger Peterson, Gordon Aeschliman, and R. Wayne Sneed, Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission: The God-Commanded Repetitive Deployment of Swift, Temporary, Non-Professional Missionaries (Minneapolis: STEMPress, 2003), ch. 1.

3Peterson, Aeschliman, and Sneed, 198, for example, even label their argument as a presentation of “proof-texting passages.”

4There is not space here to argue adequately what that mode is. Still, the Incarnation remains, in my opinion, the fundamental reference point. Jesus is the paradigm for mission, short-term or long-, and consequently gives shape to the church’s understanding of mutually empowering, culturally appropriate relationships.

5“The top reason people participate in short-term missions is for the life-changing experience it promises them.” David A. Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-Term Missions with Cultural Intelligence (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 53.

6Tim Dearborn, Short-Term Missions Workbook: From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003).

7Michael S. Wilder and Shane W. Parker, Transformission: Making Disciples Through Short-Term Missions (Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2010), 54.

8Peterson, Aeschliman, and Sneed, 119, 179-81. They are, nonetheless, keen on the idea of “serendipity” for STM participants and the “give and take” that results in benefit for the goer (see ch. 7).

9The clearest expression of their perspective is their discussion of a hypothetical scenario in which all Christians participated in STM: “It’d be messy, it’d be confusing, and there’d be millions of problems (literally). But could it be done? The massive problems it would create still pale in comparison to problems four to five billion people have who aren’t yet walking in the full reality of God’s love and His redemptive plan for all of creation.” Peterson, Aeschliman, and Sneed, 118. The authors minimize even “massive problems” (the only time in the book when they discuss the possibility of such) in comparison with the potential positive impact, strongly suggesting an evangelism-at-all-costs or an ends-justify-the-means approach to STM. Harm reduction is not in view.

10Livermore, 13, 94.

11Peterson, Aeschliman, and Sneed, 180.

12Livermore, 148.

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The Art of the Weak: From a Theology of the Cross to Missional Praxis

The terms missions and strategy have gone hand in hand in Western missiology. The words at times are used synonymously, for who can imagine a successful mission without some sort of strategy for how to go about accomplishing it? Unfortunately, the pragmatism of strategy has often superseded theological reflection on the mission of God and its embodiment in the world. The term strategy assumes a locus of control that centralizes power within the self and then moves outward. Theological reflection on the task of mission must take seriously not only the message’s content but also its embodiment. A theology of the cross, in particular, stands as a critique of tendencies towards western notions of strategy and offers a more biblically-informed counter-proposal for mission praxis.

Strategy vs. Tactic – The Art of the Weak

The church has too frequently disregarded theological reflection in its practice of mission.2 Though the church receives its mandate to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19), it is also left with the responsibility of figuring out how to implement it. Often, the church is concerned with the effectiveness and success of its mission as it attempts to implement its mandate. It is, therefore, tempting for the church to adopt Western notions of strategy as a reasonable approach to missions over theological reflections that provide insight into mission praxis.

In The Practice of Everyday Life, Michel de Certeau provides a useful description of the terms strategy and tactic. He also makes a distinction between the two terms. De Certeau’s description, along with his differentiation of terms, provides a useful framework for understanding a theology of the cross that critiques Western notions of strategy and informs mission praxis. According to de Certeau, the dominant rationality of Western culture is characterized by what de Certeau calls “strategy.” He describes strategy as:

The calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed. As in management, every “strategic” rationalization seeks first of all to distinguish its “own” place, that is, the place of its own power and will, from an “environment.” A Cartesian attitude, if you wish: it is an effort to delimit one’s own place in a world bewitched by the invisible powers of the Other. It is also the typical attitude of modern science, politics, and military strategy.3

Common practices of contemporary culture have been “concealed by the form of rationality currently dominant in Western culture.”4 Production and consumption are the ends of this rationality,5 and these are measured by effectiveness.6

Significant effects follow once a strategy has been established, according to de Certeau. First, strategy calculates “a triumph of place over time” that “allows one to capitalize acquired advantages.”7 One can then use the conquered space to “prepare future expansions” in order to obtain “a certain independence with respect to the variability of circumstances.”8 Second, strategy supplies “a mastery of places through sight.”9 Through positions of power, “a panoptic practice proceeding from a place whence the eye can transform foreign forces into objects that can be observed and measured, and thus control and ‘include’ them within its scope of vision.”10 Third, strategy is a “power of knowledge” that is legitimized by its “ability to transform the uncertainties of history” into outcomes that can be seen and thus predicted.11 Yet, strategy is not just a power of knowledge:

[It is] a specific type of knowledge, one sustained and determined by the power to provide oneself with one’s own place. . . . In other words, a certain power is the precondition of this knowledge and not merely its effect or its attribute. It makes this knowledge possible and at the same time determines its characteristics. It produces itself in and through this knowledge.12

There is similarity between de Certeau’s description of strategy and the Western, Protestant framework for the theory and praxis of mission through much of the twentieth century up to the present. David Bosch characterizes the modern era of missions this way: “The belief in progress and success that transpired from all these missions and visions, from the seventeenth century to the twentieth, were made possible by the advent of the Enlightenment, but also involved a subtle shift of emphasis from grace to works.”13 The church’s paradigm of strategy highlights Bosch’s observation that there was a shift from grace to works in two ways. First, natural theology takes the place of revealed theology. By looking at “the way things are,” one can determine who God is and how God works in the world. Second, Enlightenment rationality situated humanity as the locus of control in the world. The advent of the Enlightenment in the seventeenth century produced a rationality in which all things could be objectified, measured, and managed toward certain ends.

The Enlightenment emboldened pragmatic mission strategies because it engendered an unprecedented optimism about humanity’s ability to control the world. This optimism stemmed from a growing belief that humans were no longer contingent on the world but that the world was now contingent on humanity. The beginning of the twentieth century marked the high point of the optimistic, pragmatic, and thus triumphal approaches to missions.14

John R. Mott, in his book The Evangelization of the World in This Generation, captures the sentiments of Enlightenment triumphalism for mission. In light of the advances in technology which had brought the world together, he viewed it as God’s providence at work though human achievement that would serve to extend the kingdom of Jesus Christ in all the world:

Why has God made the whole world known and accessible to our generation? Why has He provided us with such wonderful agencies? . . . “Providence and revelation combine to call the Church afresh to go in and take possession of the world for Christ.” Everything seems to be ready for a general and determined engagement of the forces of Christendom for the world-wide proclamation of the Gospel. “Once the world seemed boundless and the Church was poor and persecuted. . . . [Now] the Church of God is in the ascendant. She has well within her control the power, the wealth, and the learning of the world. She is like a strong and well appointed army in the presence of the foe. . . . The victory may not be easy but it is sure.”15

Mott was not alone in his thinking about the church’s mission. This type of rationality, which combined natural theology with scientific and technological capability, permeated the Protestant Western church. The church viewed itself as a power base of knowledge and wealth that sought to define its own space, or locus of control, so that the church might possess the world for Christ. Descriptions of mission strategy sustained this paradigm in mission theory and practice. Metaphors characterizing mission in militaristic terms such as army, crusade, conquest, advance, campaign, resources, and marching orders reinforced the conception of the church as the locus of control. According to such a view, God has given the church access to enormous power, influence, and wealth. It is the church’s responsibility to seize that power so that it might manage all threats to the gospel and win the world for Christ. Strategy, as described by de Certeau, constitutes much of the language that continues to frame much of mission practice in Western culture.

In contrast to a strategy, de Certeau describes a tactic as:

action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.16

A tactic does not have the “option to plan a general strategy or to view its adversary as a whole” in order to manage desired outcomes.17 It “operates in isolated actions” and “takes advantage of ‘opportunities’” afforded within the space of the other.18 It has flexibility because it is willing to appropriate “possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment” and transform them towards its own ends.19 A tactic can “create surprises” and “be where it is least expected.”20 According to de Certeau, “a tactic is an art of the weak.”21

It is not the term strategy per se that is the problem but the philosophical assumptions that underlie the term and make it so appealing. The human will for power is not easily resisted. Stanley Hauerwas, in his book After Christendom, utilizes de Certeau’s distinction between strategy and tactic and perceptively connects it to the church, asserting: “By employing de Certeau’s distinction I think of the church as tactic, not strategy.”22 De Certeau’s distinction between strategy and tactic is not only a functional paradigm for understanding the church, but it also provides a useful framework for how the church engages the world through a theology of the cross. It is helpful in understanding how a theology of the cross might reframe our mission praxis as an art of the weak.23

Theology of the Cross

Martin Luther coined the phrase theologia crucis (theology of the cross). Yet, the idea behind it is found in much of Paul’s writings and his understanding of the Christian life and faith. Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church, proclaimed, “We preach Christ crucified” (1:23) and then goes on to write, “For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (2:2).24 Luther’s understanding of Paul’s message of the cross gave him a theological framework to critique what Luther referred to as theologia gloriae (theology of glory). In the Heidelberg Disputation of 1518 Luther wrote:

That person does not deserve to be called a theologian who looks upon the invisible things of God as though they were clearly perceptible in those things which have actually happened. He deserves to be called a theologian, however, who comprehends the visible and manifest things of God seen through suffering and the cross.25

Luther understood that the cross of Christ had more than just salvific implications: it was the self-revelation of God. It stood as a critique of a theology of glory which attempted to know God by his works through natural theology: “Because men misused the knowledge of God through works, God wished again to be recognized in suffering. . . . It does [humanity] no good to recognize God in his glory and majesty, unless he recognizes him in the humility and shame of the cross.”26 As Douglas Hall has observed, “The closest we may come in contemporary English to what Luther intended [by a theology of glory], I should judge, is the term triumphalism.”27 A God who triumphs through his works of power and strength marks a theology of glory. In turn, humanity triumphs through works of power and strength as well. A theology of glory seeks to know God through glory and power. In contrast, a theology of the cross knows God through weakness and suffering. God is recognizable when he is the Crucified God.28

For Luther, these two theologies had major implications for the church. Since a theology of glory seeks to know God through glory and power, this knowledge informs humanity’s identity and posture in relation to God and the world as glory and power. In contrast, a theology of the cross views humanity as people called to weakness and suffering. Althus summarizes Luther: “Man’s cross ‘destroys man’s self-confidence’ so that now, instead of wanting to do something himself, he allows God to do everything in him.”29 Part of Luther’s brilliance is that he understood that what one said and believed about God ultimately determined one’s practices. His recognition that Christ’s crucifixion was first and foremost a revelation of God allowed him to critique the church’s understanding of God and its own practices.

As revelation, a theology of the cross has implications for the church’s understanding of how God engages the world. It seems appropriate to claim that God has a strategy, according to de Certeau’s term, which is to distinguish his own place of power from the world. The transcendent otherness of God should be held in its proper place within Christian theology, life, and faith. Yet, God does not engage the world in Jesus through strategy in this sense. Instead, God’s mission in the life of Jesus functions like what de Certeau describes as the art of the weak. God does not enter the world (delimited exteriority) in order to create his own space from which to exert power and will; Jesus inhabits the space of the other on its own terms. God’s choice of incarnation is a choice to play within a terrain imposed on him and organized by the law of a foreign power. This in no way implies a conflict of Jesus’ loyalty to the Father, though, as Paul proclaims that Jesus “who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7).30 For Paul, Jesus empties himself of his own space of power, that is, “equality with God,” and assumes the form of a servant, the form of the weak.

It is by choosing to play within a terrain imposed on him, in the space of the other, that Christ takes the cross imposed on him and transforms it toward different ends.

One cannot overemphasize the fact that the theology of the cross speaks of a free and sovereign God who in Christ chooses to be engaged in the very depths of the human situation . . . the revelation of God in the cross leads us to speak of God’s—and the people of God’s—engagement in the vicissitudes of history.31

The church discovers in the cross God’s presence in the world and how he engages the world:

In human suffering and degradation, in poverty and hunger, among the two-thirds who starve, in races that are brought low, in the experience of failure, in exposure to the icy winds of the nihil, in the midst of hell – there it [the Christian community] looks for the God whose acting is the precondition of Christian obedience.32

A theology of the cross, then, reveals God as having a strong world-orientation. God in Jesus Christ does not will to escape the world and all its suffering but deeply engages the world for its own sake. He relinquishes his own life to the world and the powers within it for the sake of the world. He becomes weak and identifies with those who are weak, those who do not operate from a locus of control found within themselves. This revelation insists that those who choose to follow Christ embrace the actual world in which they find themselves. It also assumes that there is a particular way in which they engage the world around them that determines their identity as cruciform people.

A theology of the cross has implications for the church’s identity in relation to its practice of mission in the world. In many of Paul’s letters, the message of the crucified Christ emerges as a central point of concern.33 “The cross of Jesus the Messiah stands at the heart of Paul’s vision of the one true God,”34 and therefore, this revelation changes Paul’s allegiances and revamps his identity. The crucifixion of Jesus functions as the norm for Paul’s identity in relation to power. For example, Paul has much reason to boast about who he was and what he could do, “circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil 3:5-6). Yet, all of that was worthless in comparison with knowing Christ’s resurrection power, sharing in his sufferings and conforming to his death on the cross (Phil 3:10). To the Galatians Paul writes, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world” (Gal 6:14). Moreover, the cross also marks the identity of the church in relation to power. For Paul, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing” (1 Cor 1:18) but to the church it is God’s power. He goes on to write, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Cor 1:27-29). Therefore, a theology of the cross functions as the norm of the church’s quest for identity in relation to power. Charles Cousar articulates this point well when he writes,

This critical function of the theology of the cross becomes particularly apparent when considering the issue of power. It becomes easy for the church to assume that power, whether exercised within the community or in the broader society, has to do with domination, control, coercion, and regulation, and operates in a context of rivalry and competition. The worlds of politics, finance, and education, with their clearly defined pecking orders, their “ole boy” networks, their carefully managed bases of power, become tempting models. But the Letters to the Corinthians present an alternate world, where God’s power is manifested in weakness, where the powerless are chosen to shame the strong, where cloaking the gospel in eloquent wisdom leaves it ineffectual, where competing factions are confronted with the sharing of power. From time to time someone like Mother Teresa emerges to remind the church of this alternate world, this strange dialectic that critiques its own exercise of power.35

The church’s engagement with the world through its practice of mission must match the event of God’s definitive engagement with the world in the crucified Christ.

Theology of the Cross
and the Church’s Practice of Mission

A theology of the cross as the revelation of God shapes the church’s identity and its engagement in the world—its practice of mission—in particular ways. First, in contrast to strategy, which seeks to manipulate, manage, and control outcomes, a theology of the cross places witness as the primary practice of the church in the world. The Greek word martys, or witness, is where we get our English term martyr. It is not coincidence that the term came to be associated with death. For early Christians, such as Ignatius, to witness to Jesus Christ in the form of suffering or death was considered a central aspect of the experience of imitating Christ.36 Martyr refers to one who bears witness or testifies to an event.37 However, Darrell Guder argues that in order to understand the breadth of the biblical understanding of witness one needs to contemplate “the person as witness (the being of witness), the witness as action (the doing of witness), and witness as communication (the saying of witness).”38 This threefold view of witness is seen in the lives of some of the earliest Christian martyrs. They understood witness not only to be the communication of Christ to the world but also to include being and doing as the continuation of God’s redemptive purposes in the world. This being and doing was an imitation of Christ through participating in Christ’s suffering and dying as witness to what God was doing in the world.39 The church is called to give witness by embodying the crucified Christ whom they proclaim, through their being and their doing. The church must consistently wrestle with the questions: Does this practice of mission embody the crucified Christ? And does the church view the cross only in soteriological terms and thus look past the cross in favor of other modes of being and doing? Or does the church look through the cross as the determinant of its practice of mission? These questions should not be reduced to morality and religious piety but must include the church’s political, economic, and social engagement with the world. It is a question of faith for the church. Practicing the art of the weak recognizes that witnessing to the crucified Christ will be viewed, as Paul puts it, as “foolishness” and a “stumbling block” to those outside the church and perhaps by some within. Nonetheless, it is an act of faith to witness to God’s grace and power through Jesus Christ and not to our own ability to draw the world to him. For Christ witnesses to the power and reign of God in this way: “‘But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die” (John 12:32–33). Witnessing to the crucified Christ through the church’s speaking, being, and doing is an act of faith that God will draw all people to himself through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Second, the church should not think of itself or its engagement with the world as a strategy with all of its philosophical underpinnings of power mentioned above but as participating in God’s mission in the world through the cross. This art of the weak seeks kenosis, or self-emptying, as an alternative to strategy, which seeks to establish one’s own resources, influence, and space in order to calculate that power over and against the other. What Jesus did for humanity on the cross is not just the message that the church needs to proclaim to the world, but it is God’s vulnerable act, which is precisely for the world and fully in the world. God does not position himself in Jesus Christ in order to manipulate the world towards himself; rather he gives himself wholly to creation as an act of vulnerability. Regarding this act of vulnerability, Reinhold Niebuhr argues that “the suffering servant does not impose goodness upon the world by his power. Rather he suffers, being powerless, from the injustices of the powerful.”40 Hall reflects on Niebuhr’s statement:

Niebuhr understood the work of God in Christ as God’s decisive participation in the historical process. This is not however the participation of a divine omnipotence which sets aside every obstacle. It is the participation of a suffering love which alters the world, not through power but through solidarity with suffering humanity.41

The church that views its engagement in the world through the cross will seek to posture itself in positions of vulnerability rather than in positions of power.

Finally, the rubric of effectiveness is built into the framework of strategy. Effectiveness as a rubric allows for measurement of power and influence. It allows a person or a group of people to determine if they have carved out their own space in which they can manipulate and govern outcomes. However, a theology of the cross measures the practices of mission differently. It provides the church with a different rubric for success in mission; that is, it sets faithfulness as the primary measuring stick by which the church can determine its own fulfillment of calling to and participation in the mission of God. Questions of effectiveness in mission practices are not dismissed entirely, for one can gain insight by asking what works and what does not work in a particular context. Nevertheless, effectiveness cannot serve as the primary rubric for mission success. A theology of the cross views faithfulness as the measuring stick for the church’s participation in God’s mission in the world, because it is less concerned with the effect that the church has on the world than with the faithfulness of the church to embrace the world the same way that God does—through weakness, which is the power and wisdom of God. A theology of the cross, then, is highly suspicious of evangelistic techniques and mission methods that intend to manipulate people or contexts through power relationships. It opposes the inherent epistemology of Western culture—the knowledge of how one effects results—that consistently looks past the cross and not through it.42 Instead, it evaluates its relationship with the world through the cross and according to its faithfulness to the revelation of God’s embrace of the world through Jesus Christ.

The church should not separate its identity and its practice of mission from what it says about God. The modern notion of strategy leads the church to embody practices that centralize power within the church in order to calculate and manage outcomes. A theology of the cross offers a critique to such power claims and offers a way for the church to identify with the crucified Christ and reframe its practice of mission as an art of the weak.

Ben Langford is the Director of the Center for Global Missions at Oklahoma Christian University and teaches courses in Bible and missions. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies and Ministry from Oklahoma Christian and a MS in Ministry from Pepperdine University. Ben, along with his wife Kym and three children, spent 6 years in Jinja, Uganda from 2004-2010 serving as missionaries on a church planting team. He can be contacted at


Althaus, Paul. The Theology of Martin Luther. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966.

Bosch, David Jacobus. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. American Society of Missiology Series. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991.

Boyarin, Daniel. Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism. Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999.

Cousar, Charles B. A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters. Overtures to Biblical Theology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990.

De Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984.

Guder, Darrell L. Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985.

______. The Continuing Conversion of the Church. The Gospel and Our Culture Series. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000.

______. “Incarnation and the Church’s Evangelistic Mission.” In The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church, edited by Paul Wesley Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner, 171-84. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009.

Hall, Douglas John. “The Cross in Contemporary Culture.” In Reinhold Niebuhr and the Issues of Our Time, edited by Richach Harris and Richard Wightman Fox, 183-204. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

______. The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003.

______. Lighten Our Darkness: Toward an Indigenous Theology of the Cross. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976.

______. Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Hauerwas, Stanley. After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991.

Louw, J. P., and Eugene A. Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains. 2nd ed. New York: United Bible Societies, 1989.

Luther, Martin, and Timothy F. Lull. Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989.

Mott, John R. The Evangelization of the World in This Generation. New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1900.

Moltmann, Jürgen. The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology. Translated by R. A. Wilson and John Bowden. 1st Fortress Press ed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993.

Niebuhr, Reinhold. Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History. Essay Index Reprint Series. Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971.

Wright, N.T. Paul: In Fresh Perspective. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

1 This essay is an adaptation of a paper presented at the Christian Scholars’ Conference, “The Path of Discovery: Science, Theology, and the Academy,” June 16-18, 2011.

2Since the 1980s, efforts have been made to re-envision mission practice theologically. In 1994, Darrell Guder commented that “in the ecumenical conversation about mission and evangelism in the last decade, there is frequent reference to ‘doing mission and evangelism in Jesus Christ’s way.’” Darrell Guder, “Incarnation and the Church’s Evangelistic Mission,” in The Study of Evangelism: Exploring a Missional Practice of the Church, ed. Paul Wesley Chilcote and Laceye C. Warner (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008), 171.

3Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984), 35-36.

4Ibid., xi.

5Ibid., xi-xii.

6Ibid., xviii.

7De Certeau, 36.






13David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, American Society of Missiology Series (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1991), 339.

14Ibid., 338.

15John R. Mott, The Evangelization of the World in This Generation (New York: Student Volunteer Movement for Foreign Missions, 1900), 130-31. Mott quotes Calvin M. Mateer from a letter in the Archives of the Student Volunteer Movement.

16De Certeau, 36-37.






22Stanley Hauerwas, After Christendom? How the Church Is to Behave if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation Are Bad Ideas (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1991), 18. Hauerwas argues that the church in Western culture “continues to presuppose a Constantinian set of presuppositions that the church should determine a world in which the church is safe” and where the church can do much good by remaining in power. He rejects these presuppositions and maintains that “the church always exists, if it is faithful, on foreign or alien grounds.”

23There is much similarity in the general meaning of the words strategy and tactic that might cause confusion. It is not the term tactic that is useful for this paper, but the way in which it is defined and used as distinct from the word strategy. To avoid confusion and for the purposes of this paper, de Certeau’s phrase “art of the weak” will be used in place of “tactic” from this point forward.

24All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

25Martin Luther and Timothy F. Lull, Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1989), 31.

26Martin Luther, as quoted in Paul Althaus, The Theology of Martin Luther (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1966), 26.

27Douglas John Hall, The Cross in Our Context: Jesus and the Suffering World (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), 17.

28Moltmann contends that “a truly Christian theology has to make Jesus’ experience of God on the cross the centre of all our ideas about God: that is its foundation.” Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified God: The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. R. A. Wilson and John Bowden, 1st Fortress Press ed. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), x.

29 Althus, 27-28.

30Barth notes that God is true to himself in the lowly, incarnate Christ. “We are confronted with the revelation of what is and always will be to all other ways of looking and thinking a mystery, and indeed a mystery which offends. The mystery reveals to us that for God it is just as natural to be lowly as it is to be high, to be near as it is to be far, to be little as it is to be great, to be abroad as to be at home. Thus that when in the presence and action of Jesus Christ in the world created by Him and characterized in malam partem by the sin of man He chooses to go into the far country, to conceal His form of lordship in the form of this world and therefore in the form of a servant, He is not untrue to Himself but genuinely true to Himself, to the freedom which is that of His love.” Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, trans. G. W. Bromiley (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1956), 4/1: 192-93.

31Charles B. Cousar, A Theology of the Cross: The Death of Jesus in the Pauline Letters, Overtures to Biblical Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1990), 182.

32Douglas John Hall, Lighten Our Darkness: Towards an Indigenous Theology of the Cross (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976), 151.

33Hall states, “What Paul means when he asserts that he is determined to know and to preach only the one thing, ‘Jesus Christ and him crucified,’ is that for him this represents the foundation and core of the whole Christian profession of belief. That is to say, he intends to consider every subject from the perspective that one acquires upon it when it is considered from the vantage point of the cross.” Douglas John Hall, Professing the Faith: Christian Theology in a North American Context (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 363-64.

34N.T. Wright, Paul: In Fresh Perspective (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 96.

35Cousar, 183-84.

36Daniel Boyarin, Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism, Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1999), 95.

37J. P. Louw and E. A. Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament Based on Semantic Domains, 2nd ed. (New York: United Bible Societies, 1989), 419.

38Darrell L. Guder, The Continuing Conversion of the Church, The Gospel and Our Culture Series (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 70. See also Darrell L. Guder, Be My Witnesses: The Church’s Mission, Message, and Messengers (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985).

39Of course the church went on to discourage Christians from seeking a martyr’s death because so many were too willing to pursue suffering and death as an imitation of Christ. The church is never advised to go and seek a martyr’s death for the sake of martyrdom.

40Reinhold Niebuhr, Beyond Tragedy: Essays on the Christian Interpretation of History, Essay Index Reprint Series (Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1971), 181.

41Douglas John Hall, “The Cross and Contemporary Culture,” in Reinhold Niebuhr and the Issues of Our Time, ed. Richard Harries and Richard Wightman Fox (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 198.

42 “The theology of the cross, I have insisted, implies an entire mode of thinking the faith.” Hall, “The Cross and Contemporary Culture,” 195.