Don’t Serve an Empty Jesus

IMGP8135“How long do the soles on these shoes last?” I asked the sales girl nervously. I stepped from one foot to the next, rocking side to side as if the room were moving and I wanted to steady it.

“Well, I don’t know,” she answered. “I imagine they last quite awhile. These are good shoes.”

“Oh…” I paused awkwardly, trying to remember the things I’d been taught about sharing my faith with strangers. I needed a unique way to start the conversation, but this suddenly felt like it was going a very strange direction. Taking a deep breath I decided to plunge forward with the plan.

“Did-you-know-we-have-souls-that-will-never-die-and-that-Jesus-died-on-the-cross-for-us-so-we-could-live-eternally-with-Him?!” I sort of blurted the sentence out,  a verbal vomit that left the poor sales girl looking entirely confused. Were we talking about shoes or were we talking about Jesus?


This story is not one of my finer moments in life, though I will say the sales girl in Payless was extremely kind. She put her arm around my shoulder, thanked me for being bold enough to share my faith and asked me if I really needed any shoes. I didn’t so on I moved.

This was part of a mission weekend with my church youth group. The premise behind the weekend was a good one – let’s teach young people how to be bold in sharing their faith. I have no problem with this message and I am grateful that it was taught to me.

But the practice of sharing our faith is so much more effective when it’s actually lived out in front of people, isn’t it? Canvasing malls and neighborhoods and beach boardwalks yields little effect for so many reasons. One, it’s just plain awkward. There’s nowhere to go with a conversation that messily tries to equate the soles of shoes to the souls of man and then throws Jesus inside that blender for a healthy little punch.

Although you absolutely can feel free to pat me on the back for my clever little play on words there, thankyouverymuch.


There’s a lot of negativity surrounding the idea of short term mission trips that floats around the internet. I get where it’s coming from, I really do. Much of it is written by people who grew up a lot like I did, in a day when short term missions was often defined as dropping a group of youth students on the side of the road in matching t-shirts, hands stuffed with the Four-Spiritual Laws, hell bent on saving people’s soles souls.

There was little sacrifice to be made in such endeavors. In fact, two hours of “sharing your faith” on  a sandy beach often yielded a full day of play time and boy did you feel good about yourself because you shared Jesus that morning, yo!

IMGP8330A short term mission trip should serve only to bolster the local church or a local body of believers that can continue the work that was supported by a mission’s team. It does no one any good for a group of people to descend upon them for two weeks like a spiritual tornado if there is no one left behind to help explain what all the pieces of this faith mean. Throwing Jesus at someone who’s stomach is empty, who’s house is made of nothing but sticks and corregated metal, will more often than not be an empty Jesus.

Short term mission trips must meet the physical needs of those they’ve come to serve, and not at the detriment of the local economy. Don’t take away work from the locals. Don’t try to serve Jesus verbally to children who are starving, to mothers whose hands are raw from digging and working and scraping the ground in order to put something in their children’s stomachs.


Show them Jesus by meeting their needs. Serve, backs bent over, next to the day laborers. Relieve their burden, feed their stomachs, hug the children who ache for physical touch. Be Jesus. Be His Hands as you serve them, His Feet as you walk next to those in such desperate need. And when you leave, make sure the local church is empowered so that they can tell the people who Jesus is and give evidence of His Love for them.

There are so many organizations that are doing this well – so many people who are coming alongside local churches and communities and orphanages all over the world and bolstering them in the areas of physical need so that they can more readily meet the spiritual needs of their own communities. If you’re looking for an organization to support and perhaps even take a short term mission trip with, start by looking at one of these organizations. While there are many doing this very thing, I can personally endorse two of them if you are looking for an organization to join on a short term mission trip.


Servant’s Heart Ministry is based out of Nashville and they work primarily in Dominican Republic right now. They are doing just what I laid out – they work closely with local pastors in the villages they serve to make sure that the children are getting what they need from a physical standpoint (food, proper nutrition, health care and dental care) and they are telling the children that they aren’t forgotten by God.

IsleGo Ministries is working to connect the Church as one body all over the globe. They work closely with churches all over the world, but most specifically in the Caribbean. IsleGo takes hundreds of families, pastors, youth and college students every year to their numerous established locations where they work to meet the needs of the local people, to connect hearts with one another and to strengthen the Church as a whole.

Both of these organizations are doing short term mission not just right, but extremely well. And for those of you with young children, both of these organizations offer short term mission trips for families with children as young as 5, and what a blessing it is to serve alongside your young children.

I know this post was long so thanks for sticking with me. What are your thoughts on short term mission trips? How have you seen lives impacted by a short term mission?


  1. Thanks for the plug…love you and thrilled that you have seen the light! Missions is much more about who we are than what we do. When we can connect with people of God in other cultures who have a passion, zeal, and vision for reaching their own people for Christ (and discipling them), then we have truly started to act like “one body, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all.” The hit-and-miss tactics of the past have led to superficial Christianity, projects started and never finished by missionaries/mission teams, even to the point of missionaries now being unable to get a residency visa in some Caribbean countries. Time to re-think missions on a lot of different levels as well as the legacy we are leaving. It’s all about HIM!

  2. Great points…..especially like the one about working with the local church. When groups go humbly, submitting to the local body of believers in HOW to best minister, the results are SO much better! Contrary to popular opinion, we do not always know best!

    • Oh that is so very true. We don’t know best – the people on the ground living in that culture know best what life is like every day and how needs will best be met. Jesus wasn’t American so it’s best we quit trying to fit Him inside our Red, White, and Blue box!

  3. I’m leaving on a short term trip this Sunday. We’ll be the extra hands needed to put on a girls conference in Panama City. There will still be local bands, speakers, a local caterer, staying at a local hotel and more but we are just extra hands.
    I really love the way you put it up there, working alongside the day laborers, that’s just awesome 🙂

  4. Thanks for being a positive voice for short-term trips. I get frustrated when I hear others dog the idea and after reading “When Helping Hurts” I understand that viewpoint. But when we carefully choose the organization we travel with (Whaddup, IsleGo!) AND prepare our own hearts to just be a vessel of His love we can have such an impact. I can vouch for IsleGo in that Dusty and Corrine do a great job of preparing teams to go in love and not as a means to score points with God.

    • Exactly. Short term missions were done wrong for a long time and there are negative effects of that that have left a lot of people hurt, angry and confused. But that doesn’t mean short term missions are wrong…it just means they were wrongly executed and we need to have grace on those who wanted to do good. Many people did not intend to do harm – perhaps some did – but most did not. So it’s time to move forward and keep learning. We’ll keep making mistakes but as long as we learn from those mistakes then that is a very good thing. 🙂