Thursday, January 19, 2012

Leading Intentionally

In an earlier post, I suggested that the role of short-term mission trips could be to both spread the gospel and see participants grow in spiritual maturity. There is nothing opposite or exclusive about the two ideas. The key as a leader, though, is to remember that your job is to lead towards both ends. Let’s look at how we can intentionally address both of these roles.

How do we equip our teams to make the biggest possible impact on the mission field?  Clearly, our first job is to determine the ministry activity in partnership with the field worker. You will probably have a little dance that goes something like this:

You: “How can our mission team help you and your ministry?”

Field worker: “Well, what are you good at? What do you want to do?”

You: “We don’t totally have a team together yet, we are exploring. But we want
to do whatever you guys need.”

Field worker: “Well, why don’t we see who signs up and we can see what you
guys want to do.”

And that circle could go on and on and on…Depending on the field worker, you may need to ask some investigative questions about what they are working on and their vision. Then simply brainstorm some ideas of how your team could integrate into what is already happening.

Once the ministry activity is set, don’t jump straight into preparing for it. Remember to learn about the culture first. A couple of years ago, I worked with a group that was going to Ecuador and was going to help teach seminars at a family conference. The subjects were provided by the Ecuadorian pastor, but they had to take real care to make sure they taught from an Ecuadorian viewpoint and not an American angle. For example, one couple taught on financial stewardship. For Americans, stewardship means using our excess in the right ways. But for the typical Ecuadorian coming to their seminar, the issue was not about wasting the excess but about using the little the best way possible. Their preparation took a lot of work and research, but it was a real blessing on the field! Another way of doing this is to both ensure your team knows how to share the gospel (don’t take it for granted!) and that they can share it in a culturally relevant way. This may mean learning to share the gospel in terms of honor and shame rather than guilt and righteousness.

Another key to bridging a culture gap so that the gospel can be shared effectively is through language learning. You would be surprised how often I hear people protest learning a new language by saying things like, “What can I learn that could actually help? I’m just not good at languages! They’ll understand that I’m an American and only speak English. But I’ll always have an interpreter.” I’m not saying you have to learn the gospel in another language. But I am saying that sharing the gospel is going to require more than just putting propositional truths out there for the person to accept. Let’s be honest, what reason does someone in Cambodia have to believe you, a foreigner?! Learning a few simple phrases and common greetings will go a long ways towards opening ears to hear the gospel.

Don’t get so caught up in preparations that you forget to pray. John 15:5 tells us that we can do nothing apart from Jesus. No matter how hard we prepare, no matter how good our presentation is, if Jesus isn’t at the center it will not be fruitful. I’d rather have my team spend 5 minutes praying and 10 preparing than 15 minutes preparing and no time praying.

Finally, encourage everyone to learn to tell their testimony. Very few things are as powerful as our own story. Not everyone can preach, but anyone can tell their story. We encourage people to answer three questions: 1) What was I like before I met Jesus? 2) How did I become a follower of Jesus and what does it mean to be one? 3) What is God doing in your life now? Be sure that your team practices giving their testimony before the trip. We want to make them culturally relevant by doing a few simple things like 1) removing slang, 2) using ages instead of grade levels, and 3) removing “Christianese” like “asked Jesus into my heart.” But that takes practice. Another way of making your testimony relevant is to tailor it towards the needs of others. This could mean emphasizing the assurance of salvation through Jesus, for example. On one trip, I had a stay-at-home mom ask me about what she should share with the women. I advised her to talk about the significance she finds in God’s calling. Her life isn’t just laundry, cooking, cleaning, and taking kids places, but a calling from God in which she finds deep significance and even connection to the Almighty God who created her.

These are just a few ways to lead a team towards an effective and dynamic field ministry. I pray that they help you. Next week I will post on leading intentionally towards the discipleship of your team. As always, please post your comments or email your thoughts and questions to me at

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