Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions, Long-Term Impact. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 2014. 140 pp. Paperback. $10.57..
In response to the missionary call, William Carey told a colleague, “I will go down, but remember that you must hold the rope.”
This concept of “holding the rope” for long-term missionaries encapsulates the message of this brief but engaging book by Clint Archer. Archer’s service as an STM director, STM recipient in South Africa, and church pastor gives him a broad perspective on the use—and abuse—of short-term missions.
Though the author gives practical information for short-term mission planning and execution, he never loses focus on his core premise that short-term missions should be primarily focused upon assisting the long-term missionary. Chapters three and four are the heart of the book and weave this principle throughout:
- “The first change I made . . . was to shift the crosshairs of our efforts over to the correct target: the missionary.” (23)
- “The core philosophy of STM . . . revolves around the axis of the missionary, his family, his ministry, and his strategy.” (29)
- “Our missionaries are our mission!” (33)
- “The STM is one of the best ways of meeting the missionary’s needs.” (35)
So consistently does the author make this point that part of the book is as much a manuscript on missionary care as it is short-term missions. As a former missionary and current missionary trainer, I laud the author’s sensitivity to the impact—often unrecognized and underappreciated—that STM has on the missionary. While many books on STM focus upon the benefit to the participant and local church, this one questions whether those benefits should be the reason for the trip or simply the reward.
The book begins with the author’s personal story of STM participation as a student. His honesty and self-effacement are refreshing and often humorous. The book then moves into a brief biblical review of the missions in the book of Acts. This chapter could easily have been more developed but its brevity was in keeping with the tone of the book.
After establishing the basic thesis of the book in chapters three and four, the author shifts into a more how-to approach to short-term missions. Major topics addressed include types of STM, leadership, selection and screening, fundraising, travel advice, and follow through. For those not experienced in conducting short-term trips, the chapters contain broad concepts for consideration and practical steps for implementation.
For those experienced in conducting STM, the material might seem elementary at times. However, the author laces the chapters with sage nuggets of advice that make it worth the read.
While I praise the book for placing long-term missionary presence and practice back in the center of missions, I felt it fell short in some places.
First, the book has a gap in addressing STM preparation. It jumps from team selection and fund-raising directly into travel and cultural advice. Only one page is dedicated to the spiritual preparation needed before travel. The needs of cultural understanding and team dynamics are ignored. Since these two factors often have major impact on the success of STM, I found their absence surprising.
Second, the two pages dedicated to debriefing focused almost exclusively upon logistics such as communication to supporters, receipts, photo sharing, and so on. The author mentioned that most participants experience spiritual growth but did not include material to debrief or encourage this growth. The book also lacked information regarding the need to process emotional experiences.
Lastly, chapter seven (“The Bottom Line: Is It Worth the Money?”) seems a little out of place. The book flows from STM types to selection to finances. I anticipate that the author placed the chapter where he did in order to introduce fundraising. However, its more theoretical content interrupts the flow of practical steps and might be better served as a summary chapter.
With those three caveats in mind, this small book has a lot to offer. For those inexperienced with planning STM, the book offers many practical steps. For those experienced in STM, there is a healthy dose of rethinking motivations as well as wise suggestions. For all, it is a well written, often humorous work that can be easily read in less than two hours.
Gary L. Green
Associate Director of Missional Formation
Halbert Institute for Missions
Abilene Christian University
Abilene, Texas, USA