Just past the one year mark on the mission field I received a call from a pastor I knew in the U.S.
He told me that he was intentionally trying to move his church forward in grasping God’s heart for the whole world, and that sending some of the members on Short-Term Mission trips was an important component of his strategy to do so.
I was young, fairly new on the field, struggling with how the church plant was going, and coming to grips with the reality that our family’s financial support base probably needed to be broadened in order to be able to stay long enough to accomplish what we went there to do.
With these things swirling in my mind, I agreed to host a team of a dozen adults, believing that the team might just be God’s provision for at least one, if not all of my areas of concern.
A SHORT-TERM TEAM CAN PRODUCE THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT’S DESIRED
To be as succinct as possible, the team was of no real help for any of those things.
And as much as I enjoyed meeting the new brothers and sisters in Christ that comprised the team, they were much more of a hindrance than a help for our church, its members, and our city.
In fact, it took a few weeks of intentional effort to explain much of the team’s behavior to the people in our church before we could get back on track with the God-designed ministry we were doing prior to their arrival.
Yet because God is sovereign and I knew that He has numerous purposes for permitting whatever happens to have taken place, I was convinced that He wanted me to analyze all of the factors that contributed to making that team’s visit the train wreck it was, and develop a plan that would minimize the possibility of any further Short-Term Teams (STT’s) creating the havoc that team did.
As I did so, it became evident that as the receiving missionary, it was primarily my responsibility to decide whether to accept a team and then to do everything possible to ensure the team’s visit actually helped us fulfill the ministry God had given to us.
TRI-UNITY OF PARTNERS IS ESSENTIAL FOR SENDING WELL
I also concluded that even though my role was primary, it was obvious that for a STT to be successful, the three entities involved needed to work together in unity–the missionary, the leadership of the sending church, and the team that is sent.
From that time and that team forward till today, my passion has been to do everything I can to help ensure that STT’s are Sent Well.
What I mean when I say Sent Well is that they reflect the glory of our God who is unified diversity in the essence of His being, they encourage the local believers, and they further the multi-faceted ministry of their brethren in their local community.
With these things in mind, here’s a brief summary of a few best-practices that will help each of the three participants ensure that the Short-Term Team is Sent Well:
FOR THE SENDING CHURCH
If a church is going to take sending STT’s seriously, they should establish a written missions policy that includes a section dedicated to STT’s that describes:
1–What types of missionary endeavors teams will be sent to serve
2–What the team-leadership roles and responsibilities are
3–What the pre-departure reading and training requirements are for the team
4–What the financial requirements of each team member are, (which would include mandatory purchase of travel insurance).
5–Whether a policy has already been established or not, select a team leader that has the capacity and the responsibility to relate to the church leadership and the field missionary or national leader.
6–Pray publicly for the team before they depart and provide opportunities for them to process their journey and share about their mission after they return.
7–Implement clear financial accountability mechanisms for the team leader that covers every phase of the trip.
FOR THE TEAM LEADER
1–Connect with the receiving missionary as quickly and as often as possible
2–Prepare the team to meet the needs described by the missionary
3–Ensure that each applicant for the team meets the required criteria
4–Send a short biography of each team member to the missionary prior to departure.
5–Ensure that you are the only person communicating with the missionary, and seek clear understanding of the missionary’s expectations for the team.
6–Meet early and often with the team for prayer, training, and establishing expectations.
7–Lead, care, and correct when needed
8–Debrief the team at the end of every day and pray for the following day.
9–Take notes during the trip and write up a concise report soon after return, include what went well and what was challenging.
FOR THE RECEIVING MISSIONARY OR NATIONAL LEADER
1–Communicate your expectations clearly and often, including your desire to have a short bio on each of the team members.
2–Return email or phone calls quickly
3–Schedule a team orientation meeting shortly after their arrival, and cover:
4–Accommodation, meals, and transportation details.
5–Cultural nuances, using illustrations to show how each culture can inadvertently cause offense to the other
6–Remember that many of the nationals will sacrifice work to help with the team, and will be as exhausted as the team, consider scheduling a few days of rest after the team’s departure, canceling or postponing regular ministry activities
7–View the team as fellow sojourners and co-laborers, not as a burden or potential financial supporters.
8–Debrief both the national leaders and the other nationals that helped with the team within a few days of the team’s departure.
Learning from those that have gone before and doing everything possible to ensure that STT’s are Sent Well requires time and intentionality by all three parties involved–but the glory of God and the good of both the believers and the unbelievers the team will interact with is worth it.