Do You Think like a Tourist or a Missionary?

Do You Think like a Tourist or a Missionary?

by Lori McDaniel

Every year over 2 million people participate in short-term mission trips.  

They exit planes on foreign soil, motivated by compassion, a desire to save the lost, or to do something they’ve never done before. They trickle into villages or cities with agendas and plans, usually toting candy, crayons, and their old vacation Bible school material.

They share the gospel, do humanitarian work, make relationships that melt their hearts, and then return home with their world-perspective changed.

I think I still have t-shirts from several of those trips!

Churches have the potential to use short-term teams strategically and the potential to use short-term teams destructively.

  • Over $2 billion dollars a year is spent on short-term missions.
  • Less than 1 out of 5 teams go to places that are unreached.
  • 75% of short-term mission trips are done poorly.

It is crucial that churches train short-term teams well and send them to strategic places. If we are going send over 2 million volunteers and spend over $2 billion, we need to steward our efforts.

We need to lead people to think like missionaries, not tourists.

When we lead people to think like missionaries, we move them from being mission volunteers to living a life style as kingdom citizens on God’s global mission.

They begin to understand the world as God sees it, learn to think like the people of the culture they are in, learn to share the gospel in a way it can be understood and received, and learn to think how to make a multiplying impact, not a one-time impact.


Take the test for yourself and mentally circle which ones describe you.

Tourists think: What can I take on my trip to make me more comfortable?
Missionaries think: What can I do to make the people I’m with more comfortable around me?

Tourists think: I’d like to fix all the problems I see.
Missionaries think: I’d like to know what the people of the culture think are the problems.

Tourists think: I’d like to take you home with me.
Missionaries think: I could live among you.

Tourists think: If I give candy, money, or my shoes I’ve made an immediate difference.
Missionaries think: What can I possibly do that will make a multiplying, reproducing difference?

Tourists think: I could build a church building FOR the people here for nearly nothing.
Missionaries think: I could plant a church WITH the people here using nothing.

Tourists think: I am on a mission to export my faith and convert people.
Missionaries think: I’m joining God, who is on a mission and already at work among the people.

Don’t cancel your plane ticket if you found yourself in the “tourist” category. And don’t mark your past mission efforts as a “fail.” Being on mission with God is a journey. I’ve lived on both sides and have another blog of stupid “mission” things I’ve done. I believe that if God can raise the dead, he can redeem my stupidity!

But let us be learners of doing missions well. Being on mission with God is a journey, a journey on which we should be active learners.

Let us raise disciples that live on mission in their local context so that when they cross cultures for a short time, they relocate thinking like a missionary.