This is part two of the idea of making sure your mission trip is worth doing. Last week I wrote an article having to do with how much is too much to spend on a short-term mission (STM) trip. This week we want to address the idea of the role of short-term mission trips and making them count.
Fundamental to this issue is the idea that STM trips cannot be the only thing you do or even the central focus of your mission emphasis. See the second half of last week’s article for a full description of this idea. So if STM trips aren’t the focal point of our mission emphasis, what role do they play? What do they have to offer? And how do we make the best of them?
First, we need to be honest about the role of short-term missions. If you researched opinions on this relatively new movement, you would find two basic camps; those who promote them for the impact they can make on the field and those who promote them for the life change of participating. I don’t know why—maybe it is our black-and-white, “one winner” culture—but I rarely hear people admit it can be about both. Can I suggest that the role of STM trips is both/and? Jesus did it (the greatest commandment is to love God and love others) so why can’t we? Can I suggest that the role of STM trips is to see God’s love proclaimed on the mission field and to make followers of Christ more like Christ? Would it be such a crime to suggest we could do both?
Right now I have the urge to write about how to successfully emphasize both, but that is another whole article. So, for now, I will hold off on that and we will look at how to get the most out of a short-term mission trip.
I’ll start with the easy, short parts first and then get to the more complex parts later. First, leadership and team training is key. Both the field missionary and your church will see the most positive impact if the team has strong mature leadership and the participants are adequately trained and prepared in areas of spiritual maturity, interpersonal relationships, and culture bridging. Click here for more information on how you can benefit from team leader and team trainings. You may also consider curriculum like Short-Term Missions Workbook: From Mission Tourists to Global Citizens by Tim Dearborn, The Next Mile, or Before You Go: A Daily Devotional by Jack Hempfling
The second key is to find a strong field worker who puts a high value on partnership. What makes a field worker strong? That could be a whole article too, I guess, but I’ll put in a couple of ideas. A strong field partner has a vision and a plan to get there. He or she also shows extreme cultural understanding and relevance. Finally, he or she shows extreme integrity and humility. One important part of humility is demonstrating a willingness to let go. What would happen if your field partner died or had to leave? Would the whole ministry fall apart or have new leaders been cultivated?
Third, look for ministry opportunities that fit your church’s gifts and callings. One church I am familiar with is investigating a partnership in Haiti. It just so happens agriculture and health care are two of the emphasis of the field worker in Haiti and those are two strengths and interests the church feels they have! This partnership has great potential for effectiveness on the field!
Finally, to really make a short-term mission count in the lives of the participants it should be transferable. This is not easy. It is hard to take an experience in a far different culture, while living a far different life in a far away country and apply the lessons to our own life. There are several keys to transferring the experience.
The first key to long-lasting impact in participants is through on field debriefing. Participants need to reflect daily and at the end of the trip. Second is through proper follow-through. I encourage leaders to schedule three meetings when they get home with the themes of celebration, reflection, and next steps but there is much more to be said on this subject. Look for future articles expanding these ideas of debriefing and follow-through.
The last way to make the trip transferrable is the most complex. Try as much as you can to tie the ministry activity on the trip with a local ministry of your church. There are three basic areas of connection: a cause (like AIDS, orphan/homeless, etc.), a ministry activity (children’s ministry, church planting, etc.), or a people group. This kind of connection allows opportunities for people to continue to be involved in ministry in their own community and the growth that comes with it. If you are interested in developing this kind of congruency and synergy at your church, then contact an STM coach for personalized consultation.
Hopefully these ideas help. Long-term missions has its drawbacks too, but we don’t scrap them. Similarly, we shouldn’t just scrap STM trips. We should find ways to do them better and impact our community as well as communities all over the world!