Short-term Mission Team Members: Why Over There, but not Where You Live?
“If you serve in the children’s ministry of your home church, will you please raise your hand?”
It was a question that I became convinced I had to ask every short-term missions team we hosted on their last night with us. Even though it made the majority of those who heard it very uncomfortable.
I was moved to begin asking that question based on what I had observed with each team.
But that wasn’t the only reason.
I also asked it because I had been the director of my church’s children’s ministry prior to going to the mission field.
In that role, I was constantly challenged and frustrated as I attempted to recruit fellow church members to help in a ministry that everyone agreed was essential but few were willing to serve in.
Yet here I was in the midst of doing a church plant on the other side of the planet, and EVERY member of EVERY short term mission team we hosted was more than eager to serve both the children of our church and of our city–happily doing whatever ministry to children in whatever form of ministry that I had scheduled for them to do.
And not only did they serve the children of Cebu City eagerly, they did it with an observable joy and and an obvious appreciation to God for the privilege of interacting with and loving on the children of our city.
To be a good steward of these brothers and sisters lives that God had entrusted me to lead for almost two weeks, I knew I had to confront the glaring disconnect in a portion of their walk with Jesus.
So, on the last night of their time with us and after hearing almost every one of them declare that the ministry to the children was the highlight of their trip, I started asking each team that question just before we closed in prayer.
And without fail, one or two of them would thrust their hand up as quickly as possible and smile as they looked right in to my eyes.
But every other member of the team either lowered their head and looked down and to right, or looked directly at me with tightened lips and raised eyebrows, telling me without words that they recognized the inconsistency in their walk with Jesus that I had just pointed out.
At that point, based on my own observations, my study of God’s word, and I believe some Holy Spirit inspired understanding, I would unpack why I believe that people like them–who clearly love Jesus, are willing to do on a short-term mission trip what they are unwilling to do in their own church and local community.
PILGRIM-NESS ACTUALLY EMBRACED
I told them that although they didn’t think about it in this way, the satisfaction and joy they felt when they signed up to go on the short-term trip, and that had probably increased while on the trip, was the result of them finally embracing the pilgrim-mindset that they should have been living with since the day they committed themselves to following Jesus.
Or viewed a different way, they had finally put on the eye glasses that make it possible to see things the way God designed them be seen and interacted with.
For a variety of reasons, although they received them when they surrendered to Jesus and knew what they were for, they didn’t perceive the necessity to actually put them on until the opportunity to go on a short-term trip provoked them to do so.
So what is a pilgrim-mindset?
It’s knowing that although this world is not my final destination, every moment on the journey is meaningful and and provides an opportunity to reflect and reveal God’s glory through my presence, words, deeds, and responses intentionally offered to Him as an act of worship.
When this mindset is not just understood, but embraced and navigated by, beautiful fruits–that had been lying dormant under the numbing power of familiarity, comfort, lifestyle, and safety, are what is produced. (See 1 Pet. 2:11 Phil 3:20 and Heb 11:13,14).
SEVEN FRUITS PRODUCED BY A PILGRIM-MINDSET
When someone begins living with a biblically based pilgrim-mindset, the following seven fruits will be produced in them:
1. A stronger confidence in the sovereignty of God—that whatever unfolds, He has permitted it and He will empower them to respond in a way that reveals His glory to others.
2. A “bigger-picture” lens that makes it possible for them to see how the seemingly small, mundane, and insignificant ingredients of day to day life are opportunities and important parts of the bigger plan that He is unfolding.
3. A moment to moment awareness of their dependence on Him that enlivens their prayer-life like never before, and that imparts an appreciation for the gift of interdependence with others.
4. A willingness to serve in any way possible, confident that He receives it as an act of worship and that His glory is revealed to others in some way.
5. A filter that enables them to determine what is truly essential from the multitude of things that appear to be essential.
6. A hunger and pliability that leads them to observe and learn–not disregard or condemn–the cultural traits of others in order to avoid needless offense and equips them to communicate His truth and love in a relevant way.
7. A re-boot of their five senses, (seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting) that causes them to be the on-ramps for exhilaration that He designed them to be—even if the input those senses are receiving is familiar.
Although it may not be the most important reason for going on a short-term mission trip, if those who return continue to live with the Pilgrim-Mindset they had over there, they just might make as much impact here, in their own local church and local community as they did over there.