Resource Review – Reciprocal Missions

Phil Steiner
February 27th, 2020

Eugene Cho once wrote,” Without genuine relationships with the poor, we rob them of their dignity, and they become mere projects. And God didn’t intend for anyone to become our projects.” 

It is that time of year again as we start looking towards our summer mission trips. We begin promoting and fundraising for what we hope will be a life-changing experience for our youth and church. Students who have gone before remember their experience from last year, the work they did, the meaningful conversations and the memories of late-night laughter with their friends.


It is also that time of year again when those who host our trips begin to look at their calendar and brace for the impact of groups coming to their community to “work” and “do ministry.” As one of my friends who host hundreds of short-term mission groups says, ”all groups bring joy, some when they come and some when they leave.” Not all of our short-term mission groups bring joy nor do they actually benefit the community in which we go to serve. Many times our short-term mission trip is mainly for the benefit of us, the trip group, not those we are serving and we can quickly turn the poor into our “projects.” So how can we be sure that we are all benefiting from a short-term mission trip, those who go and those we are serving? Our trips must be reciprocal!

Reciprocal – “A reciprocal action or arrangement involves  two people or groups of people who behave in the same way or agree to help each other and give each other advantages.” – The Cambridge English Dictionary

In the book, Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serve Everyone, the authors provide a way for us to do short-term missions so that everyone can benefit from the service experience, those who go and the communities and ministries who are hosting our groups. The book is written from two different perspectives, Phil Steiner, who facilitates trips for short-term missions teams and DJ Schuetze, who hosts short-term missions teams. Have you ever wondered what those who host short-term mission teams really think about your groups? DJ, is open and honest about the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful that groups can bring. The different perspectives provide a healthy and challenging framework to do short-term reciprocal missions with excellence. 

The book gives a great illustration of what a Reciprocal Mission trip looks like, a church potluck.

“I grew up in a small country church in Northwest Ohio. I always looked forward to church potluck dinners. Let me tell you: my church knew how to do potlucks. There were at least three Sunday school rooms full of food lined up on eight-foot tables. The potluck always had its staples. The classic green Jello mold with fruit and nuts inside, countless varieties of casseroles, several kinds of pasta, and crock pots full of yumminess. There was the salad table section, including my favorite, the seven-layer salad. You could always count on a KFC bucket of chicken from a family who either forgot or ran out of time. What made potlucks so great wasn’t just the fact that there was so much food, but it was because everyone was invited to contribute to the meal. Everyone had a place, and everyone’s contribution was different. The potlucks brought our church together. Everyone felt valued, and there was something for everyone. And we all enjoyed the bounty together.” 


Do we honor everyone’s dignity and provide a place at the table for everyone to contribute even if their gift to the table may look different than ours? Do we take time to develop long-term relationships so that we can understand our impact and the deeper needs of the community? Or do we use the poor for our benefit? Reciprocal Missions will help us answer these questions and more.

In the first few chapters of the book, Phil and DJ provide a theological framework and a philosophy of short-term reciprocal missions. Then in chapter three, they take on some of the biggest arguments against short-term missions such as, “Short-term Missions Teams Take Jobs from Locals,” “Short-Term Missions Has Little Long-Term Impact on Those Who Go” to name a few. The book also discusses motivations and assumptions that teams often have, knowingly and unknowingly, as they go on these trips. Phil and DJ challenges us to unpack how do we approach these trips with the right motivations while also understanding our assumptions because oftentimes these things hinder our effectiveness and contribute to the damage done in the communities in which we love and serve. 

The last few chapters of the book are very practical with the nuts and bolts on how to lead and host a reciprocal mission trip from what to ask your host, to what you need to know about leading short-term missions as well as if you host short-term mission groups. Lastly, the book provides a way to know if you are having an effective impact on your short-term mission trips. With perspective from those who host groups, this is a very valuable book for us to consider as we head into our summer mission trips. 

Like any book or curriculum, there is rarely a one size fits all approach because we live and minister in different contexts. We all do things a little differently in our ministry and that is one of the things that is beautiful about the Kingdom of God. So as you read this book (or any curriculum), discover what you think will work in your ministry and make it yours. We all need to be challenged and find new and creative ways to grow the Kingdom of God.

So on our summer mission trip, let’s make our trips reciprocal, honoring everyone involved and together, those who go on trips and those who host trips, let us grow and expand the Kingdom of God.

Phil Steiner

Phil Steiner is the co-founder and President of Be2Live a service and justice organization with a mission to inspire world changers. He is also the author of “Reciprocal Missions: Short-Term Missions that Serve Everyone.” Phil has worked with high school students for the last twenty years and is passionate about helping people understand and discover who they are, who God is and how they can use their gifts to join Him in His heart for justice and the restoration of all things. Phil Steiner is a graduate of Taylor University and a graduate of Kilns College with a Masters of Arts in Social Justice. Phil is crazy about his family, surfing the perfect wave, running, coaching basketball and cheering on the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.