Short term teams–why some level of “transformation through aviation” really happens
“How many of you serve in the children’s ministry of your home church?”
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 provoked to ask 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 when I was in the midst of doing a church plant on the other side of the planet, 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, in whatever form of ministry that I had scheduled for them to do.
Not only did they serve the children of Cebu City eagerly, they served them with joy and radiated appreciation to God while they interacted with the kids.
So, on the last night of their time with us and after hearing them proclaim 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.
It was clear that something had to have taken place in their thinking and in their hearts to make it possible for them to be willing to do on a short-term mission trip what they were unwilling to do for the members of their own church and local community.
Based on their answers, my own observations, and I believe some Holy Spirit inspired understanding of this obvious inconsistency in the walks of people who clearly love Jesus, I came to the following two conclusions.
A PILGRIM-MINDSET DEFINED
First, signing up for and then actually going on a short-term missions team requires a person to embrace the Pilgrim-Mindset that they know they should have been living with since the day they committed themselves to follow Jesus.
A Pilgrim-mindset is intentionally interacting with every aspect of life in this world as if every person and every place is a gift from God, but recognizing that our time here is only temporary–this isn’t our ultimate destination.
Prior to deciding to go on the short-term missions trip, they had an intellectual and disconnected from real life understanding of the biblical description of Christians as pilgrims.
But the beautiful fruits that are produced when pilgrim-ness is not just understood, but surrendered to, were lying dormant under the crippling power of familiarity, comfort, lifestyle, and safety. (See 1 Pet. 2:11 Phil 3:20 and Heb 11:13,14).
FRUITS PRODUCED BY A PILGRIM-MINDSET
Second, 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 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 on their own local church and local community as they did over there–and there very well could be a measure of “transformation through aviation”.
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