You want to get me on a soapbox? Ask me this question.
Maybe some of you didn't even know that Christians are asking this question. Depends on the church you attend, probably. But there are some churches who aren't even supporting long-term missionaries any more. They have consciously decided to only support national workers and short-term missionaries.
These are the reasons:
1. National missionaries already know the language.
2. National missionaries already know the culture.
3. National missionaries are significantly cheaper than western missionaries.
Agreed. No problem agreeing there.
But these arguments leave out other important factors:
1. There are many, many people groups in the world who have yet to have one believer in their midst. Who will reach them?
2. There are many, many people groups in the world who do have an established church, but they have no missionary mindset to try to reach other groups.
3. There are many, many national believers who would love to share the gospel but have no training, often not even a high school diploma, let alone Bible training. Often they don't even own a Bible. In Africa, often a pastor of a church won't even own an entire Bible. Or maybe one for the entire congregation. And it probably won't be translated into their heart language.
Missions in general is undergoing a huge shift in priorities. This is a very, very good thing. I totally agree that missions in the past was often very influenced by imperialism and ethnocentrism. Not good; not biblical--even though they did accomplish much good.
The attitude used to be: We come in; we do the work; we build it up; you depend on us.
Now, the attitude is increasingly more: We come in; we teach you to do the work; you build it up; you depend on God.
However, short-term teams, with all of their advantages, cannot do this. Not even in a year. Or two years, depending on the country, especially if language learning is a part. Maybe more like 10 years...or longer.
And yes, the idea is for the nationals to do it. We agree that often they can do the work much better than us. One of the reasons we love teaching at HOPAC is because 40% of the kids are Tanzanian. From upper-class families. These are the kids who will go on to be the politicians, the lawyers, the movers-and-shakers. They really do have a chance to make a difference in their country and for the Kingdom. And this is the reason that one day Gil would love to be involved with training African pastors.
I love that our mission organization is not interested in just planting churches. They are interested in church planting movements. Planting churches that then plant more churches that then plant more.
Another thing to remember is that Jesus said, "Go." Even to the ends of the earth. All believers fall into this category. All churches should be sending missionaries, not just money. I love to see this at work here in Dar es Salaam. The missionaries here are definitely not all American! We know Danish families who publish and distribute Christian literature throughout Tanzania. We know Australian families who are working on Bible translation. We know a Spanish family who is working with drug addicts. And we know Korean, Finnish, and British families who are planting churches. All of these families send their kids to HOPAC.
Did you know some of these countries are even sending missionaries to the U.S.? That's how it should be. All churches should be senders. All nationals (including American nationals) should be missionaries.
I could go on, but I will stop after one more thought.
Missions is popular these days. Almost every Christian under the age of 30 (and many above 30) have been on at least one short-term missions trip. And there are many who are commiting to serve for a few months, even a year. This is great.
But do you know what is not popular? Career missions. The number of people who want to give their lives to career overseas missons has stagnated. It shouldn't be this way. John Piper says that every year he takes some time to evaluate his life and ask God if He wants him overseas. What would happen if every Christian did that?