What Is A Mission Trip?

February 2022

By Tory Ruark, SOE

Recently, we at SOE have been repeatedly asked the question, “what is a short-term mission trip?” The questioner isn’t simply asking us to define the term “short” but to speak to the nature or essence of “mission.”

Many of us can remember a time—and perhaps many of us still see it—when short-term mission trips were task-oriented, goer-centric, and western Church dominated. While most of our mission trips started with the right heart, many likely went about things the wrong way.

Over time, however, the publication of provocative and challenging books and articles have given the impression that nothing substantive can happen in a week or two. Additionally, the growing voice of the Global Church has challenged us to think differently about culture, missions, relationships, and tasks. And has caused us to read the Bible and rethink our paradigm from a different cultural lens.

Mission trips are becoming less about the completion of a task, or the counting of hands raised during an altar call, and more about the relationships developed with hosting communities. We can also experience the cultural and spiritual exchange that happens when we submit to learn from one another.

But as the pendulum swings, many are left wondering if what they are doing is still “missions,” or is it just a spiritual exchange program? Is it “missions” or simply a discipleship program—an expensive summer camp in another country?

As we’ve talked around meeting tables, lunch tables, and office desks, I must admit that we haven’t come up with a textbook definition and guidance to make a grey world black and white. We often talk of journeys and destinations; well, if an answer to the question is the destination, then the conversation is the journey. I have a feeling this is one of those times when the journey is as valuable as the destination. Perhaps the fruit comes from the conversation and contemplation?

I want to invite you to engage in the conversation with us. There are a couple of ways to do that. You’ll want to check out the webinar, “ReEngaging Short-Term Missions; building on a biblical basis of missions.” The webinar panel includes missionaries and missiologists who dive deep into: what is missions and what role do mission trips have in it.

>> If you’re an SOE Member we’d love to have you join us [and other SOE members] for an opportunity to converse at one of our quarterly online member roundtables! You can find dates and register for the next one in your SOE member portal.