Our motivations for short-term missions (STM) can be self-focused or others-focused.

It's our job to ensure that we not only know what our motivations are but ensure they're truly ethical.

Short-term mission trips are often described as a 'modern pilgrimage' for Christians; providing team members with opportunities to grow spiritually, strengthen relationships, gain knowledge and understanding about the world, and learn more 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 natural – and none of them are wrong – but we have to admit, they are all quite self-focused. Pursuing spiritual growth, growing closer to God and finding our calling are all Godly and worthy motives for short-term missions but they must be secondary to the greatest motivation, which is pursuing the cause of Christ. This must be the primary driver behind any missions activities – short or long term.

Motivatated 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. 

When we undertake STM with this motive in mind AND are guided by ethical principles, goals and methods, we can be a part of effective and ethical STM trips that genuinely contribute to the Great Commission. 

There are other not-so-positive motives that have found their way into short-term missions; such as acclaim, peer recognition, status, power and in some cases, profit.

These motives are, sometimes unwittingly, played out in our culture’s STM selfie obsession; in the undignified pictures of local people that are splashed over Instagram; and in the social media posts where we position ourselves as the ‘saviour’ and erase the long-term efforts and agency of local people.

Furthermore, a focus on wrong motives, such as these, can result in organisers intentionally planning STM experiences that will be attractive for teams and lucrative for facilitators, even if they are harmful to local communities and most often, children.

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.  

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them.”
— Matthew 6:6


  • Good and right motivations are ones that are firstly centred on Christ's mission. They are devoid of all negative self-focus, which comes at the expense of someone else.  
  • Secondary motivations of spiritual and personal growth are worthy but in their outworking, must respect the motivations and protect the goals of the local people and communities we're engaging with in the course of STM . 
  • While there is still much to consider before a STM trip can be declared ethical, setting good goals and choosing an ethical method is made much easier when the motivation that first drives them is good and right.