June 3, 2019

Seven dangers of short-term missions (and what to do about them)

Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m a huge proponent of short-term missions. Over the years, I’ve seen students change their college majors, team members commit to fostering or adopting, and orphans plant Scripture in their hearts as a result of these brief visits. Personally, I’ve encountered God in fresh ways as I’ve seen Him through the lens of a new culture or as I’ve witnessed His miraculous, redemptive work. The short-term trip is an integral part of The Boaz Project’s ministry to orphans and can be used to bless orphans, their caregivers, and the short-term team participant.

I’d be remiss, however, not to acknowledge that short-term mission trips also have their liabilities. The potential damage is real and can be significant; I’ve witnessed quite a bit myself. But rather than “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” I think it’s wise to pursue the blessings and benefits of short-term missions while proactively doing all we can to minimize the risks of mishaps.

So let’s have an honest little chat. Let’s name some of these nasty potential downfalls and see what we can do to diminish them BEFORE your next ministry venture:

  1. Short-term mission trips are expensive, and the money could be better used to support the long-term effort.

Depending upon your destination, short-term trips can, indeed, be expensive. The airfare alone is daunting, and teams don’t stay very long. It could be a logical conclusion that the money should be invested in the organization’s ongoing efforts.

But don’t be too quick to assume. Typically, those who’ve seen the work of a mission first-hand become its biggest champions, praying fervently, giving generously, and telling others about the valuable work that’s taking place on the field.

To counteract this potential downfall of wasted funds, determine before you go to make a long-term commitment to serve the people you’ll meet and the organization you’re joining. Resolve to—barring some dreadful surprise on the field—out give the cost of the trip, whether personally or through those you’ll report back to after you return home. Then your trip becomes an opportunity for you to become an informed advocate, enabling you to pray, give, and share. You can encourage others to visit the field and start the cycle again. This way, the long-term benefits exponentially outweigh the one-time cost.

  1. Exhausted missionaries don’t need the additional stress of chaperoning short-term teams.

It’s true: missionaries are constantly stressed by their varied responsibilities and the needs they encounter daily. Having lived overseas, I can tell you that some teams ARE an additional drain, while others are a blessing. It’s all up to the perspective and intentions of the team.

So make it an intentional part of the team’s mission to bless the long-term workers. What foods, magazines or clothing items do they miss from home? Take them gifts that express your appreciation for their efforts. Offer words of encouragement send them to a nice dinner—and pay the bill. Do they need additional funding for their work? Consider making a donation to their personal support account.

  1. Short-term team participants make too many assumptions based on their experiences.

Imagine three Germans visit the U.S. for one week. One vacationed on Miami Beach and interacted with a homeless man. One visited New York City after winning backstage passes to a Taylor Swift concert and took in a Giants game while he was there. The third participated in a cross-cultural program and stayed with a farmer’s family in Kalvesta, Kansas.

If these three travelers were to meet up and chat about their impressions of the US after their return to Germany, they’d have very distinct impressions. Which of them really knows America? Each of their experiences truly reflects a part of our cultural landscape, but none is complete.

Every researcher knows: the greater the pool of data, the more accurate the conclusion. So be cautious after your trip not to paint too broad of strokes about the culture and people you encounter based on your brief time frame and limited location and experience. Talk about all you observed and learned, but preface your reports with “In my experience…” or “While I was there, . . .”

  1. True life change doesn’t happen in a week to ten days.

First of all, let me say that while life change typically takes more than the duration of a short-term trip, we serve a God who can change hearts in an instant. Remember a guy named Saul who took a little walk to Damascus?

Yet, I admit it’s wise to give consideration to the long-term follow-up that will take place for those you hope to serve. Select an organization whose teams are set up to serve the long-term ministry rather than one which uses the short-term team as the summation of its ministries.

  1. Damaging to the long-term work

Accidental missteps by short-termers can set a ministry back years in terms of relationship building. Cultural faux paus, language barriers, and religious traditions can blend to create unknown and delicate territory for a newcomer. When mistakes are made, it reflects on the entire work of the organization.

Minimize this risk by learning all you can about the culture you’re visiting before you go.

It’s also helpful to learn how people typically view Americans so you can be careful not to be “that” American. For example, Americans are known around the world for being loud. This means compared to other cultures, we often are! This information encourages us to use softer voices and not use time on public transportation for comic routines.

Lastly, invite someone familiar with the culture to halt or correct you if you’re on the verge of a faux pas. This act of humility will not only potentially prevent a mistake, but it will also communicate your submissive posture.

  1. Short-term teams can strip a community’s dignity by doing a job locals are capable of doing for themselves.

Sometimes, organizations can be guilty of creating jobs for foreigners in order to get them overseas to see the work they do. Whether it’s painting a building for the fifth time in four years or taking construction jobs from those who need them, this “job creation” for short-term teams can be counterproductive.

Before joining a short-term team, ask a lot of questions to determine if the purpose of the trip is valuable to the community you’re hoping to serve.

  1. Short-term team members often take the posture of savior.

Sadly, some short-term team members go into their experience thinking they’re going to save the world. Even worse, a few come home thinking they did!

It’s important to enter your short-term mission trip with the posture of a learner. If the issues you face on your mission experience: poverty, spiritual darkness, human trafficking, broken governmental systems, etc. are so complicated that full-time workers have been unable to solve them over decades of devoted service, it’s unrealistic to think that you’ll crack them during your visit.

Be honest about complexities of the issues facing the world today and acknowledge that if any good comes from your mission trip, it’s by God’s grace alone.

As you can see, most of the risks that threaten short-term trips’ effectiveness can be mitigated with careful, thoughtful planning and an attitude of humility. So don’t hesitate to get on that plane! Commit in advance to do your part to minimize the risks and then prepare to watch God at work. You won’t regret it!

As you pray for The Boaz Project this month, please remember the following:

A short-term team will head to India June 18-26 to conduct a Vacation Bible School in Jireh Home, our newest children’s home, and visit other homes as well. In addition to praying for their safety, please ask God to help them be effective in ministering to orphans and their caregivers.

Thank God for our largest 5K ever, providing support for the ministry and exposing newcomers to the mission and vision of The Boaz Project. We’re grateful for a partnership with The Gathering Place and Community Church of Greenwood for the boost in participation.

Ask God to provide the resources needed to extend the outreach of The Boaz Project to more children in need.


  1. David Graffenberger says:


    Excellent, Excellent, Excellent.

    Well done.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Read more from our blog.

Because God knew that abandoned children would need help to survive, He tells us to actively meet the needs of orphans in James 1:27.

If you also feel the weight of this responsibility and the desire to make a real difference, consider partnering with us. Through our innovative in-home care model, specialized caregiver training, and humanitarian aid, you’ll help children not just survive—but truly thrive.

When you choose to partner with The Boaz Project, you'll restore hope, ensure a brighter future through education, and share the love of Jesus with children who desperately need it.

Just imagine the impact you can have—from saving a child from the horrors of the streets to helping them become community leaders, educators, and nurturers of the next generation.

Join the James 1:27 Circle Membership


Get Prayer Updates & News

What does an orphan mission trip include?

  • Hotel accommodations
  • In-country transportation
  • Application support and fees for your Visa
  • In-country language assistance
  • All meals in-country
  • Ministry curriculum and supplies
  • Cross-cultural training and preparation
  • Trip insurance
  • International medical insurance
  • Fundraising assistance

Apply for a mission trip.

Orphan Advocate Training Certification Levels

Level 1

Learn about the mission and vision of The Boaz Project through activities such as watching an Encounter webinar, exploring our website, and following us on social media. You will also have the opportunity to meet and interact with your Orphan Advocate Training Coach, who will help you as you go through the levels.

Level 2

Gain more insight into the realities of the orphan crisis through reading "The Orphan’s Abba" and visiting The Boaz Project YouTube page. You will also meet The Boaz Project staff.

Level 3

Grow in your understanding of the orphan crisis, meet some houseparents by reading their stories, and create your own "Pick 2" with options like watching a movie and completing a creative project utilizing your unique skill set.

Level 4

Enhance your knowledge of healthy attachments for orphans, watch a webinar about Eastern Europe’s institutional orphanage system, and visit the Boaz office virtually or in person.

Level 5

Utilize all of the knowledge you have gained throughout training to develop methods based on your personal experience to share the mission and vision of The Boaz Project with others. Read a portion of our first level Houseparent Trauma Training and use your unique skills to impact orphans with a special project. Completing Level 5 gives you the option to apply to become an OAT Coach and/or a Regional Coordinator for The Boaz Project.


Do I have to live near Greenwood, Indiana to complete the training?

No! This certification is intentionally created to allow opportunities for anyone in any location to fully participate.

How much of a time commitment is it?

This is completely up to you. The entire process is self-directed. There are no deadlines, and you may take as much or as little time as you need to complete each course.

Can I do this training with my spouse? Or a friend?

Yes! Going through the training with a spouse or friend can provide accountability and motivation. As you progress, you may be able to accomplish more together!

How much will it cost?

All Orphan Advocate Training courses are free to join! While you may choose to spend money while completing some projects, there are only minimal costs involved (such as a book or a few supplies) depending on which course you choose to do.

Is there an age requirement to become a Certified Orphan Advocate Trainee?

This would be answered on a case-by-case basis. This would also be open to middle schoolers or high schoolers looking to complete volunteer hours (i.e. National Honor Society) or build college applications. We always encourage young people to be involved if they feel led by God to do so!

What if I don’t have any social media accounts?

We will adjust your requirements to accommodate you and provide different opportunities to engage.

If I complete the five-level Orphan Advocate Training Certification, can I put it on my resume or LinkedIn profile?

Yes! When you complete each level, you will receive a certification that you can use to enhance your professional profile and to show involvement in community service.

Will I be able to get a signed letter to verify my volunteer hours?

We are sorry that we cannot verify volunteer hours that are done outside of the office or an event due to the fact that these hours are not supervised. However, we can write about the quality of work that was done, your commitment level, and the training courses achieved. We can also say that your self-reported, unsupervised hours fit into the typical number of hours that are usual for that course.

How do I get started?

If you think you would like to begin Orphan Advocate Training, please complete the form below, and you’ll be assigned an OAT Coach. Once your coach reviews your information, he/she will send you an email with your next steps!

Who do I contact if I have any other questions?

Please complete the form below or contact OAT@boazproject.org with any questions.

Corporate Sponsorship Levels

Company logo in all event programs
Company thanked by name at start of each event
Shared table provided for your promotional items at events  
Company name and logo displayed on the office sponsorship wall  
Published interview article in The Boaz Project newsletter  
Social media (Instagram/Facebook) promotions during the year  
Event day materials read "The Boaz Project's (event name) sponsored by (your company name)" for one year  
Private table provided for your promotional items at events with table tents  
Exclusive company mentions in promotional event emails  

Urgent Needs & Announcements

This is the heading.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

This is the heading.

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Join our Prayer Team