Motivation behind short-term missions can be intrinsic, extrinsic, self-focused or others-focused.
More important than knowing what they are is knowing what makes them ethical.
Aptly described as a 'modern pilgrimage', short-term missions trips are often opportunities for team members to grow spiritually, find meaning, strengthen relationships and gain knowledge and understanding about the world and about missions. It's an opportunity for an adventure, a chance to enhance our walk with God as we are pushed out of our comfort zone and lean into him.
These motivations are all intrinsic, and none of them are wrong, but we have to admit- they are all self-focused. This isn't a negative statement, as pursuing spiritual growth, growing closer to God and others or finding your calling are all Godly and worthy motives for short-term missions. But they all must be secondary to the greatest motivation- the Cause of Christ. This must be the primary driver behind any missions activities, short or long-term.
Motivated by Christ's Cause
Christ's cause is inherently others focused. He came to set people free, show compassion, reinstate justice, build his Church and give everyone the opportunity to hear and respond to the salvation message. He chose to use believers as a vehicle and instructed us to go out from where we are to take the good news to others. He told us to take on more of Christ and less of self so we could do this with integrity and humility.
Anything we do with this motive in mind is done with the best of intentions, and when further guided by ethical principles, goals, the right methods, and of course the Holy Spirit, can result in effective and ethical STM trips that genuinely contribute to the Great Commission.
Matthew 6 speaks to this issue and warns us against hypocrisy in our service to God, which this scripture describes as seeking esteem and recognition from others in the course of outworking our Christian duties. Hypocrisy is a subtle motivation that creeps in and corrupts what is intended to be pure worship to God. We need to be equally diligent in guarding against it in STM as in any other area of Christian service.
Good and right motivations are ones that are firstly centred on Christ's mission and are devoid of all hypocrisy. Secondary intrinsic motivations of spiritual and personal growth and worthy but in their outworking must respect the motivations and protect the goals of the local people and communities you engage with in the course of the STM .
Whilst there is still much to consider before a STM trip can be declared ethical, setting good goals and choosing ethical methods is made much easier when the motivation that first drives them is good and right.