Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Thesis Statement

People have been interested in hearing about my thesis. After a little research, here is a better statement describing of where I hope to go with this project. Thank you already for all the help!

I welcome feedback, tips, comments, suggestions, etc... you can email me at gregory.woods(at)


My Masters of Divinity Thesis, being written under the guidance of Professor Mikoski, will focus on re-imaging what short-term church mission trips could be. In this context, I am using short term mission trip to mean a trip primarily for teenagers and young adults going outside of their own community to do hands-on service projects in an economically-disadvantaged population for a short length of time, usually a weekend or a week, no more than two weeks. In its current iteration, these well-meaning trips have been problematic, often serving to reinforce stereotypes of poverty and minorities and establishing a helpee-helper relationship that creates an unhealthy power dynamic and fosters dependence.

 My main argument is that these mission trip experiences should be rooted in building interdependent relationships and by creating space for dialogue between groups of people that rarely interact in any meaningful way. Our society is so fragmented that even through we might live in the same geographical place as other people, we rarely engage with others from radically different backgrounds. These projects can serve as a way for us to answer the question that Jesus was asked, "But who is my neighbor?" (Luke 10:29). Yet further these projects can challenge how to fulfill Jesus' second commandment of “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself” (Mark 12:31, Matthew 22:39).

I will argue that a different model could be used. Short-term mission trips could be based on long-term reciprocal relationships that blur the lines between helper and helpee. These kind of relationships would allow for each other's gifts to be shared and appreciated. I will present case studies of existing reciprocal relationships and the best practices learned from these relationships. By presenting these case studies, I hope to further the academic research into these seldom-studied relationships, as well as provide examples for people wanting to start these kinds of relationships.

Throughout the thesis I will draw on my own experiences as a participant and leader of mission trips, recent scholarship and popular works on this topic, interviews with people around the world involved in all facets of mission trips, and the research undertaken last academic year in an independent study by Margaret Webb (PTS MDiv 2013) and me.

If you are curious about Margaret and my research from last year, check out this website we built.


  1. Thanks for sharing, Greg! This looks great. Did you happen to see the article I wrote for Quaker Life over the summer on my spring break short term mission experience this year? Here's the link:

  2. Greg, you will bring not only passion and diligence to this work; you will also bring rich personal experience. Breaking new ground, or even showing those who are on a mistaken path how it can be done better, will be an important ministry. I am glad you and your professor have agreed that this will be a worthy focus for your efforts. Please do keep us abreast of what is being discovered and offered.

  3. Hi Greg - I saw this linked on the Mustard Seed page. I wanted to introduce you to a really great resource on this topic: Prof. Kurt VerBeek at Calvin College has done a lot of research and work on short term missions - here's a list of resources that he has created. - especially this article -