Are short-term missions shortsighted?


“Short-term” mission trips.  It is a relatively new venture that works well for Western churches.  There has been much argument over the past few decades as to the importance or impact of these trips.

Who benefits more?  Those we go to serve or the groups going?

It can be helpful to ask long-term missionaries their views on incoming summer teams.

Is there presence helpful or hurtful?  Do these strangers visiting a strange land require extra time, effort and resources for the locals, or do groups bring a much-need blessing?

Another demographic to ask similar questions are the local charitable organizations or churches.

I have been on, or lead, over thirty of these trips during my time in youth ministry.  I do believe much good has come from these experiences.  I certainly know the impact these trips have had on my students.  Like our actual time-serving, some of the impact was very short-lived.  However, over the years I have witnessed profound changes in hearts and lives and, perhaps most importantly, a genuine and lasting passion for missions in many people.

Sadly though, too often these trips become glamorize cultural experiences that have little long-term effect on either side of the equation.

A recent piece from The Onion (satire news source) highlights a very real and growing concern for short-term mission trips.,35083/


I am just as guilty of this as anyone…I will admit that.  Following any of my trips, I am eager to post pictures and share stories that will last until the next adventure.

What we often fail to realize is that the people we intend to serve need much, much more than our presence and some photo op’s for two weeks.

Their lives, struggles and needs continue well past our “work vacation” and sometimes actually increase because of our time there.

I know of local organizations who actually lost money because of incoming groups.

I also know of groups raising close to $40,000 simply to travel some exotic country and virtually zero dollars remained in that country.

I have experienced both of these situations personally as well.

Knowing what the real needs and estimated costs to meet those needs would be, sometimes I shudder to think how much good could be given for the cost of one plane ticket.

But..we want the personal experience.

I have begun to ask this very honest question upon my travels:

What do you need the most?  How can we support and serve you the most effectively?

Do you know what their honest answers are?


The truth is that every single place I have been and situation I have encountered, I have met amazing women and men who have inspiring vision, uncanny ability and ample time to really help their community.  What they lack is perhaps the one thing that my group possesses in abundance.  Money.

While I am still in favor on traveling to these places to visit people, hear their stories, encourage them and hopefully help in a practical way, I think it is essential that we bring more than just our smiles and “selfies”.

I recently asked on of my students to reflect and share his thoughts on past experiences and what he believes would be the best type of service trip.

Here is his response:

“Humanitarian work is different from tourism, as the purpose of the trip is serving the interests of the local population. Of course, those who leave benefit from the trip as well. But today mission trips are somewhat growing into some sort of “sustainable tourism”, a “to do” thing, offering wonderful cultural experiences to people from developed countries but only impacting the local situation superficially.
Many people today want to go on mission trips. The chief question in order for their trip to be helpful is to seriously ask yourself what you have to offer. Will your teaching of english in this school be of substantial help to the local population? For most fluent english speakers the answer is yes, provided that the kids focused on are attending a medium to long-term educational program.
Indeed the missions with the most impact are not the amateur ones but those of professional NGOs such as Médecins sans frontières for example. Partnering with that  type of organisms could probably be an efficient way to go about saving poor regions of the world – although i’ve never looked into it.
To me, an efficient trip would also imply spending at least three weeks to a month on spot – there is not much you can do efficiently in two weeks even if you are relayed by another group afterwards. Sadly most people, and I too for the moment, are not ready to leave a whole month in the summer vacations.
Of course, as discussed, I think it is also important to bring a cheque. A lot of places do not really need a hand, but are cruelly strapped for money.”
Do you agree or disagree?
For those of you leading summer mission trips this summer, I would love to hear your thoughts either in preparation or reflection.
I will post various comments this summer and also create a list to think through before planning or leading your next short-term trip.
Perhaps these trips must continue  but perhaps we can do a better job being a blessing to those we go to serve.

Hooked on Social Phonics

Last week I was able to attend a Social Phonics social media boot camp put on by JoPa Productions and hosted at Andover Newton Theological School.

Boot camp info

Here is a brief blurb about the training from their website:

“In our one-day Social Media Boot Camp, veteran pastors and social mediaistas, Doug Pagitt and Tony Jones will guide you through the basics of the most popular social media services, including blogging, Facebook,Twitter and free broadcast media. You will learn how, in just three 30-minute periods each week, you can dramatically increase your communication to members of your church or people interested in your organization and, even more importantly, to those who have the potential to visit your church or business. Most importantly, we’ll help you determine your own social media philosophy, so that you’ll know exactly why you’re going online each week.

Imagine getting real-time feedback from your parishioners as you prepare your sermon, spreading the word about a church outreach program without buying a newspaper ad, or posting a YouTube welcome to new neighbors in your community. Imagine hearing what customers are saying about your business or organization.

All of this is possible, and it doesn’t have to be intimidating. In fact, we’ll make it fun!”

Tony Jones instructed and taught this group of pastors, leaders, congregants, and educators.

I highly recommend attending or hosting this training seminar as it applies to everyone ranging for technological novices to those considering themselves social media junkies.  Both basic and advanced ideas and training was presented in a way that clearly made sense and was applicable.

Topics and Tech covered included:

The rise of importance, relevance, and influence of social media.

How to increase your reach and message via social media platforms and devices.

Effectively communicating and connecting your congregation and audience.

Getting your name into the community with maximize exposure and minimum cost.

Twitter, Google, Facebook, YouTube, Yelp, U-stream, and Blogging

I consider myself fairly adept with technology. I have a growing blog, Google profile, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube account, etc and I was surprised at how much I still did not know.

Even in the past few weeks, Facebook and Google have added excellent features to help track web traffic and simply makes things more convenient, and none of those features I had previously known or used.

I also learned some great ideas to help improve my blog feeds and reader accessibility.

You can stay current (and even be ahead of the curve) by attending this boot camp.

The day was fun, affordable, learner-centered, and extremely interactive.

We are hoping to have JoPa come to the NY area and host a boot camp for our area.

Church denominations, all pastoral staff members, public and private educators, communicators, and anyone else looking to make an impact in today’s (and tomorrow’s) society must be up to date with technology and the use of social media, and the Social Phonics boot camp is a great way to get started.

SocialPhonics on Facebook

Follow SocialPhonics on Twitter

How to connect with me

One of the great aspects of blogging for me has been the conversations and relationships built over these past few months. I really enjoy reading and responding to your comments and learning from each of you.  I love social connectivity, especially when it relates to ministry.  

Having said that, I would love to connect further with you.  You should be able to subscribe to this blog and get updated emails by clicking on the RSS button on the right end of the webs browser.        images-2

It may just look like an orange arrow.

Also, you to follow me on Twitter by clicking down below on the right column on the home pageimages-4

and you can find my on facebook by clicking on the my facebook profile picture.


If you are ever in the Northeast, shoot me an email and let’s get together.  

I will also be  doing some regional training for Enroute and possibly some writing for Barefoot Publishing this summer/fall. If you are anywhere near the metro NYC area, look for a one-day training event this fall and we would love to have you attend. 

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I hope to stay connected with you all and wanted to thank you again for your support, friendship, encouragement, and inspiration as we journey together down this road called youth ministry.

What’s on your profile?


I have realized since newly joining the Facebook phenomena, that I am connecting with many youth pastors across the globe, keeping up with my students of past and present, talking with family members, and reconnecting with childhood friends and high school classmates. By the way, I just had my 10 year reunion and am amazing how time has changed things!  For some for the better, but for others….

But what this entity of Facebook has taught me is that I am very conscious about how others view me…and rightfully so.

I am all into the “pastor” profile thing, displaying my religious and political views and posting links, videos, and photos about my ministry.

Yet, when one of my baseball players from school wants to befriend me, I become very aware at what my profile is screaming out out to them…”Hey I am one of those tight a@# Christian pastors!  Want to be my friend so I can convert you?”

And when some old friends from Jr. high and high school discover me, what is the first impression I want to make?

Now, I want to make this clear, I am not ashamed of who I follow and what I do.

Yet, i am very leery about shutting the door too soon (possibly because of false conceptions), and not allowing a genuine friendship to occur.

If these new Facebook friends think I am solely out to convert them, then how much of an authentic relationship will I have with them?

At the same time, I must also be very careful with what I post to these non-religious friends, because my youth group students are always watching!

And by the way students, I am always watching you and have been appalled by some of the comments and photos you post!

While at times ignorance is bliss (for a parents and youth pastors alike!),  I don’t want my students to think the same about me.

I don’t want them to think, “I wish I never knew that about Dan”, or to somehow have their respect of me diminished by what they see or read on Facebook.

Of course the easy solution (which I happily agreed to for years) was simply to not register on Facebook and basically stay out of the web of social networking.

But I must admit that times are changing, and with it come new and great opportunities for relationships and conversations that would have otherwise never occurred.

So…I am now on Facebook

But back to my stated dilemma.

I cannot lie or hide things,  nor should I have to.

Here is what I am convinced of:

As youth pastors and leaders, we should have the freedom to be ourselves and be real, understanding that God is always at work on us chipping away the rough edges of our lives.

If things come up from my past and magically “appear” on Facebook, then I own up to my past and teach a lesson from it.

And if I allow myself to be put in  a tempting situation now (and am stupid enough to let someone take a picture of it) then shame on me.

I need to take a long hard look at who I spend time with, what I spend time doing, and where my priorities are. Remember, we are no longer in high school or college (for most of us) and should not act like we are.  We are called to minister to these students, and in order to do so effectively, there must be a certain level of maturity that comes with the responsibility.

Now, because of a level of disconnect, I have a few students who will not let me see their profile, and I am still wrestling with where the line between pastor and friend needs to be.

But again, we cannot control what our students post, we can only lead by example and keep praying for them and encouraging them to take a good look at the person they are portrayed to be online.

So, as we all have probably given a lesson to our students about watching what they put on social networking sites like MySpace and Facebook,I find myself asking the tough question

What’s on my profile?

It is an accurate portrayal of who I am and the person God is forming me to be?

Do I present myself to friends, family, students, colleagues, and strangers in a way that will not run them off, but will rather offer hope and inspiration?

Do my list of friends all reside within my private circle of Christians?  Is my profile full of “Christianese” language hard to understand by anyone outside of my circle?

As youth pastors, we have a very complex role and unique identity. On the one hand, we are called to help spiritually develop young people and what we do and say should be a reflection of that.

On the other hand, as followers of Jesus we are issued the call to reflect God’s love and message to those who do not yet know His love.  I believe that in everything we do, we must be mindful of those not part of our “Christian” circle.

And we are also friends, family members, neighbors, coaches, teachers, community workers, colleagues, and much more.

May our lives, actions, teachings, and attitudes reflect these callings and identities.

May we be mindful that eyes are always watching and ears listening to what, and how, we say things?

May we live within this vast complexity as authentic followers of Jesus, proud to know the One who has given us our hope and life, while keeping an open door for those who do not yet know Christ.

And may our Facebook profiles be just an mirror image of our lives on display.