God is on a mission to gather people from every tribe, tongue, and nation to worship Him for eternity. Though He could accomplish this task in an instant, He chooses to deputize the Church to accomplish the “Great Commission” by making disciples of all nations.
It is well documented that making disciples takes time. For instance, Jesus took three years to train His own disciples, and one could easily argue that they weren’t nearly ready! If Jesus took three years, is it a stretch to suggest that another might need at least this much time to make disciples? Not to mention, additional time is surely needed in a cross-cultural context to study and master a new language and culture.
Before going any further, let us clarify regarding three commonly understood lengths of cross-cultural work. Though most individuals or groups will differ as to the exact measurement for each, most would agree these boundaries are in the ballpark:
- Short-term: < 1 year
- Mid-term: 1 – 3 years
- Long-term: > 3 years
The late, infamous missiologist Ralph Winter, once contrasted the merits of short-term and long-term missions:
“This is not a case where one of these things is good and the other is bad. Neither should take the place of the other. However, there are now almost two million short-termers leaving the United States each year compared to 35,000 long-term missionaries … Short-term trips are a wonderful education, but a very small accomplishment in missions.”
Short-term missions are indeed a wonderful education, and have been a catalyst for many Christians to step toward obedience as an ambassador of God’s mission—some even entering long-term missions work because of the experience.
However, the Gospel is best understood and applied in the heart-language of the listener, and language learning typically takes 2-3 years. Cultural awareness and assimilation can take even longer. Therefore, it is our belief that cross-cultural missions work is most effective in a long-term capacity.