What is the cost of short-term missions?
by Dr. Timothy Tennent
It doesn’t take too long looking at church missionary budgets to realize that short-term missions is an expensive endeavor. It is not unusual for the cost of a short-term missionary going overseas for two weeks to spend more than $2,000 for airline tickets, food, lodging, shots, on-field transportation and other costs associated with the trip. That same $2,000 might, in contrast, be sufficient to fund a full time national church planter for an entire year or fund other important projects.
As with any allocation of funds, we should be very sober minded about the nature of the investment. On balance, I think the investment is often worth it, but it does need to be appropriately weighed. Indeed, I do not support the position that the best way North Americans can serve the global church is by staying home and writing cheques and letting others get their hands dirty with the hard task of cross-cultural witness. There are well known organizations that raise money in the West based on this premise. This is not my position. One of the real advantages of short-term missions is that we are relocating people to another part of the world who can experience first hand the challenges and hardships of missionary service.
I see no Biblical precedent for a church called only to send their e-mails and dollars and not their sons and daughters.
The Great Commission is about thrusting forth laborers, not just funding. Nevertheless, we must be cognizant of the costs involved and make certain that our investments are, on balance, wise ones.
A more hopeful point is that most of the money raised by short-term missionaries would, in the absence of the person going on a short-term trip, not be available for some of these other needs on the field. However, a church must set strict guidelines on how much money flows into short term projects as compared with other cross-cultural commitments.
Short Term Mission fundraising
Matt asked, so I replied. I like Tennents thoughts, here are a few of my own.
While it is true that the money spent on a STM team trip is also the same amount that could support a Long-Term Missionary for a year, or 10 nationals for 10 years – this is an argument from a consumer society.
This answer is first-and-foremost suggesting that short term mission fundraising is the chief principle we use to figure out how or if we participate. What a crazy assumption! All relationships cost us something, dinners out, trips together, helping during a move. They all cost us time and money, it would be great if they were somehow free, but they aren’t. Why should mission be different?
The question about finances is a distraction from the harder question of how do we participate in the most healthy way? Holistic engagement costs money and reputation, it should personally cost us a little more than we can bear.
I think the financial argument also tends to simply excuse involvement, or justify a lack of engagement. After all it is entirely easier to criticize how others do it rather than try to do it yourself.
For anyone who has told me it is better to give the money directly to the on-field work, I try a little experiment. I thank them for their enlightened perspective and ask for a cheque to send directly to the field.
To this date, I have no takers.
My friend Allan also set me to consider the simple thought that although STM is costly and the money might be better served in other ways, in essence – without the Short Term Mission fundraising, the money does not actually exist. It depends on the hard work of people raising those funds for their personal engagement. It is not simply sitting somewhere in a bank.
Sure, it is important, even vital that we do this better. I should this from the rooftops.
- Resources need to be rigorously monitored.
- We should spend less on self-serving, hero-making projects
- We need to believe that we are learners together with the poor …
All true, but lets not ignore the role of participation in mission with some quasi-intellectual statements about financial stewardship that allow us out of our responsibility to relationship.