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Yikes! The short termers are coming!

Yikes! The short termers are coming!

Editor’s Note: Today we’re excited to have a special guest post from Dr. Ed Scheuerman, Director of the Intercultural Studies Program at Lancaster Bible College. Ed and his wife spent over 20 years working as missionaries in Southeast Asia before coming to LBC. During that time they hosted countless Short Term Missions Teams, so we asked him to share some advice for youth groups gearing up to do cross-cultural missions this summer.


One of my favorite Far Side cartoons is a picture of tribal villagers rushing to hide their modern appliances before the men getting off the canoe get to them and yelling, “Anthropologists! Anthropologists!”

To some extent, missionaries on the field sometimes feel the same way about short-term missions (STMs) teams. Yikes!

In the interest of helping you as you consider taking a group on a STM trip, let me share some questions to consider. Lord willing, this will be an encouragement from one who spent many years on the mission field.

Why are you coming?

Short-term missions used to be one of the ways that mission agencies prepared their career missionary appointees for the field. Today, in the age of consumerism, it’s become something akin to a grocery sampler. “Step up and have a taste! And, if you like it, you can buy some more.”

So be careful about why you want to bring this group over. Some possible motives for coming might include the following:

  • Transformed lives—as part of the discipleship process, do you seek to have those coming meet with God in a special way?
  • Imparting your lives—to what extent does the team truly want to demonstrate the love of Christ? Let it first be demonstrated among the team and to your hosts.
  • Exposure—like the sampler, is this trip positively designed to show the team what missions looks like and how each member could possibly be called to a deeper level of commitment to global missions?

A word of caution: please do not see this as an opportunity to fix some who are “problems.” Bring a strong team that has had a lot of time together and is ready to serve.

An article I’d recommend is Frampton Fox’s “Screwtape on Summer Missions.” In it, he points out how one tactic of the enemy is to get those who have been on STM trips to feel like they’ve answered God’s call to be involved in missions—as if it were an event. STM trips should never been seen as anything less than part of a process.

Action point: Involve the host missionary in this discussion, including prayer.


What about me?

Yes, I’m excited that you’re coming! But I also want to make sure that you and I are on the same page in terms of roles and responsibilities. For example, who’s in charge?

  • Who makes the decisions—you, me or us? Let’s talk it over beforehand. Also, do you have enough leaders for the size of the group coming?
  • Do you need my help with handling finances? If so, how?
  • What kind of pacing do you want? Can we please help model a Sabbath lifestyle on this trip?
  • Are you using any materials with the team prep? If so, can I see them?
  • How can you and I manage expectations?

To make sure we’re on the same page regarding what it looks like to bring somebody closer to God, please introduce the Engel scale to your team.

Just as the natives in the above cartoon felt they had to put away their appliances, we missionaries sometimes feel like we have to how we live when STM teams come. Help us to feel secure in who we are and how we live.

 Action point: Ask the host missionary what preferences he/she has for the above.


When will I see you again?

We’ll miss you! After you guys leave, what then? Here are some of our thoughts:

  • That was great! Sure hope they come again—but not too soon. 😉
  • Wasn’t it nice of them to bring us that extra suitcase from our family?
  • What a blessing they were! They were so kind and courteous. I like how they pitched in with the dishes (and other menial tasks).
  • I hope they don’t break our kids’ hearts by not following through on promises to send them their favorite (fill in the blank).
  • Go for it! Challenge your team for future involvement in missions!

One of the best things a leader for a STM team can do is a solid debriefing. This should be done both before leaving for the return trip as well as soon after the return.

Action point: Build a debrief into the team schedule so that all attend and rehearse all that God did on the trip. Be sure to get feedback from the host missionary and share it with the team.

The goal of a STM trip is to bring glory to God in and through the lives of those on the team. Please consider how God might use the host missionary in this process. You sometimes hear complaints about how much of a bother it is to host STM trips. But please know that, for those who have a kingdom mindset, we are thrilled with the thought of what GOD wants to do!

May God give you wisdom and grace as you plan your trips.

Feel free to keep the discussion going!



About the Author: Ed Sheuerman

Dr. Ed Scheuerman and his family served in South East Asia with PIONEERS for 23 years. He is now the Director of the Intercultural Studies major at LBC. He’s also a die hard New York sports fan (but we won’t hold that against him).