Overcoming the Barriers to Healthy Missions: Expense & Distance


In cross-cultural contexts, missionaries must overcome a variety of obstacles before developing healthy, fruitful ministry. This is the third in our series of articles about these barriers and how to overcome them.

If you have ever traveled, you know that it can be expensive and time-consuming to plan. This is also true for any missions enterprise, include short-term mission trips. It is difficult to logistically plan for an entire team of people: their travel, housing, food, local transportation, and ministry.

Beyond the logistical issues, the sheer expense of taking one of these trips can be significant, especially when you consider your time away from family and the use of vacation time.

All of this adds up to one clear conclusion: it is costly to do missions.

Jesus said that a wise builder counts the costs of a project before starting. His direct reference was to discipleship and dying to self, but the idea remains. We have to face the mounting costs of missions. 100 years ago, short-term missions did not exist. There were not teams from the USA traveling to Peru for a week and then returning. Such travel would have been too expensive and too slow. The advent of cheap, safe air travel means that we can be in a major US city one day and the other side of the world tomorrow.

Compared to what travel cost 100 years ago, it is now much easier to get around. But, still today, for a short-term trip, it might cost more than $10,000 to take a decent-sized team to another country and provide for them that week.

For churches that are trying to get involved internationally, there are awkward questions that may be brought up. Is it worth it if it’s going to cost so much? Wouldn’t our money be best spent on needs close to home?

What is at stake? It would be good for us to ponder the reasons why we go around the world and why it is important for us to go.

For some, going on an international missions trip is about the experience of traveling and seeing a new place. For others, the hope is to do something meaningful or spiritual in a distant place. For still others, there is the desire to do something for the Lord. Yet these vague ideas don’t come all that close to the true purpose of missions.

The reason we go is two-fold. The first and most basic is because the Lord Jesus told us to go. He said, “Go into all the world and make disciples of all nations.” It’s hard to argue with that! If the leader of your home country tells you to do something, you would do it. If the King of the universe tells you to make disciples of all nations, you do it.

The second reason we go around the world is that the people around the world don’t have access to the gospel—and it breaks our hearts. I prefer to think of this as a love for our neighbors (just in a global way). There are people created in God’s image around the world that have never heard the gospel. For many of us, we are so saturated in the gospel and it is so much a part of our churches that we don’t even realize how special it is to have.

With a heart full of love for our neighbors and a passion to fulfill the commands of our Savior, we go out from our normal to another person’s normal. But why is it important that we go? We could probably find some creative ways to cut costs in missions. Maybe we could send recorded sermons or Bible teaching? Wouldn’t that save us the need to actually go? If we had the tapes professionally translated, wouldn’t that be better than us hiring a translator? Just think how many books or lectures we could send for that $10,000 I mentioned above.

It is so important that we actually go to the nations because the nations are full of real people just like us, and we were not reached with the love of God and the hope of salvation through some cost-cutting measures. The cultural divide is best bridged through human interaction and relationship. There is a real ministry of presence and for it to happen a person must go to share the life-hope-giving message of King Jesus.

Overcoming the Expense and the Distance Barrier

Even if you really want to go and are concerned about the need for healthy churches, gospel preaching, and discipleship… travel is still expensive and time-consuming. How we choose to deal with this reality is not an easy decision. As far as I see it, here are your options:

  • Take a few well-chosen trips
  • Send a full-time missionary
  • A combination of the two with the cooperation of other churches and people

There are a lot of options for churches and individuals to get involved in missions. Reaching and Teaching has dozens of trips every year that you can take to train pastors or do whatever you do best. You can take a shotgun approach that focuses on variety, but you will suffer on both the language and culture barriers by going everywhere. Having a committed, ongoing relationship with a place and the people there is probably the simplest way for a church to get involved in international missions.

If you want to get involved in missions, you should look up a missionary or a missions agency that seems to have the same convictions you have. Get to know them and find out how you can get involved. Commit to supporting their work in prayer. As you pray, examine the costs of working together. Dedicate yourself and the church to giving financially to undergird the work. When you are ready to go, join the work already going on in the field. A solid strategy is to have a missionary contact that will help guide you through the ins and outs of working in that place.

Next steps:

  • Pray for wisdom in understanding the need for missions
  • Commit to support and send missionaries who will faithfully proclaim the gospel
  • Find the organization, missionary, and/or churches to partner with in the work
  • Teach and train the people in your local church so that they will be ready to serve
  • Go and serve

Sam Behar

Sam and Summer Behar are preparing for service in Japan. Sam is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. They have four children: Benjamin, Bethany, Jonathan, and Ellie.

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