Tab Smith Ministries, Inc. officers, board, and staff are avid supporters of the long-term mission model. We have the utmost respect for men and women who give up the comforts of home to live abroad with a people group whom the missionaries love and wish to share the gospel with. However, Tab Smith Ministries, Inc., while fully devoted to the Navajo people have no full time staff living on or near the reservation. Tab Smith Ministries, Inc. has representatives whom travel to and from the reservation throughout the year, and while this might be considered a short-term mission model, it is not without a well thought out cause.
Short-term missions have fallen out of favor with many in the church today. Many times, short-term missionaries take much more from the trip than they are able to give, or, at least that is what is said. Many short-term missions are accused of “vacation with a purpose,” going to exciting places to see new things with an excuse and reason to feel good about the trip, but, when the people leave, they are simply gone, maybe keeping a pen pal or two. This might happen sometimes, but I am sure there are many groups, like TSM, who have a better thought-out purpose. Ours is a Pauline model of mission. First and foremost, we do not leave them without leadership. We do have trained indigenous pastors who partner with us. Also, these pastors have means to contact us, and do so monthly.
The apostle Paul is by far the most well known missionary in all of Christianity. While he served many people abroad, serving many people who were not of his race or worldview, he did not serve them on the ground twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred sixty-five days per year. He often set up new churches, ensured their leadership was sound, and went to new areas. He kept a steady contact with his churches, but he did not live with them.
In some areas, including, in our estimation, the reservation, this works well. Why? Some church leaders end up becoming dependent upon missionaries if they are always available, and the church never truly becomes indigenous. By training the leadership and being available to serve throughout the year, but not at all times, the church becomes stronger. They know they have support, but they also know they have to run their church much of the year as the leaders. This is empowering.
Short-term missions that do not keep a strong connection with the churches they serve can leave the churches feeling forgotten, but, like Paul, it is possible for churches to feel very much supported through constant correspondence, but also very much in charge of their own day-to-day activity, because the missionary allows them to run the church. Like Paul, we believe in our churches and give thanks to our Father for them. Again, like Paul, we also remind them that they have a high privilege and responsibility to live as Christ has called them to live.
Our policy is not to run the Navajo churches, but to serve them where they have need, and we most often determine their needs through the recommendations of the leaders, the indigenous pastors, who are on the ground all year round.