Discover if your short term team is making a difference for the kingdom of God.
Seven million Americans will spend $4 billion this year to participate in short-term missions (STM), and every person has a unique purpose for going. For all of our investment and our commitment to go, however, the world is not yet saved, poverty still exists, and sin continues to spread death and destruction with every passing day.
Based on my experience as a missionary kid, a long-term missionary, and team leader of U.S.-based STM teams, I believe I have observed some important principles in action that could make our STM trips more effective, and perhaps help us do a better job reaching the world for Christ.
- THINK SERVANT — Maintain a servant’s heart and ask God to teach you as you serve.
We must approach STM as an educational experience, realizing we do not have all the answers. Too often, well-intentioned believers approach STM as though we are stooping to help an inferior culture. It is good for us to remember that many of the nations where STM go have a higher percentage of Christians than we do in the U.S. We have an opportunity to learn as much as we impart, if we will serve with this attitude.
- THINK PREPARATION — Be a learner who welcomes knowledge and wisdom.
Take time to research the nation, the culture, and the language of the people you will serve. Perhaps you know people where you live who are from the country where you plan to serve. Get to know them and let them teach you about their culture. Then, invest in language learning. “Duo-lingo” is a great, free app to help you get started. Remember, language reveals culture, so the more you know before you go, the better your connection will be with people.
- THINK LOCAL — Allow locals to be the expert. They know their neighborhood best.
Our solutions, visions, and plans may not be the best for the people we hope to serve. Westerners are notorious for getting off the plane in a foreign land with all the answers, often without ever consulting local leaders and missionaries who know the place and people better then we do. Determine from the outset to partner well with the vision God has given the local leaders and area missionaries, and help your team fit well within that vision.
- THINK PEOPLE OVER PROJECT— Allow time for relationships to build and for miracles to happen.
Our western culture can be task-oriented and especially so on STM trips when we have a limited time to accomplish a specific project. Be aware of this tendency and build in to your trip the flexibility so that people can grow in personal relationships as they serve. People are forever changed by the relationships they build on STM trips. Further, take the approach of Jesus during His earthly ministry: set aside the task for the person and welcome divine appointments where the miraculous becomes manifest.
- THINK PERCEPTION— Honor the people you serve, especially in public and on social media.
People in nearly every culture have Facebook and will read what you post about your STM. Will the people you serve perceive your posts as demeaning, or shaming of their culture or their ways? Or will they be encouraged by the words you share? Take extra care to honor the people and culture in your posts. Then, encourage them through ongoing friendships online after you return home.
Our role is to help empower local ministers and leaders,
and not make them dependent on what we bring to them.
- THINK DEVELOPMENT— Long-term Kingdom thinking has to drive our short-term efforts.
As you develop your STM teams, try to imagine how local leaders will implement what you brought them in the weeks and months ahead. For example, a VBS with balloons, candy, and prizes is excellent. But what happens to the local Sunday school teacher the following week without the candy, balloons, or prizes? Our role is to help empower local ministers and leaders, and not make them dependent on what we bring to them. Books like Toxic Charity: How Churches and Charities Hurt Those They Help, and How to Reverse It, and Helping Without Hurting in Short Term Missions, help bring a healthy perspective to our teams.
- THINK BLESSING—Abraham was blessed to be a blessing in Genesis 12 and we must minister with a “be a blessing at all costs” attitude.
I have heard mission team leaders say, “Let’s be honest, it’s really about the team members having a great experience.” However, the Bible does not say, “Go therefore, make disciples, and have a great time.” Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31 remind us to “…do unto others as you wish they would do to you.” Would you want a group of 15-year-olds messily painting your house or church building, just so they could have a good experience? How would it feel to open a gift only to find someone else’s used socks inside? We need to give our best especially on the mission field even if it costs us something.
- THINK SECURITY— Develop a security policy for your team and stick to the plan.
The world has changed. Crime has evolved. Safety and security need to be thought through using several lenses: Physical health and safety, level of opposition to the gospel, government stability, safety in technology (hackers are everywhere), and protecting sensitive identities. Following a team “social media policy” is a must, before, during, and after a trip. Sometimes everyone wearing a matching fluorescent team t-shirt is great and sometimes it might paint a target on your team members. Foursquare Missions International offers training, insurance, and resources specifically focused on keeping your team safe as they minister. Take advantage of this training as you prepare to go.
- THINK PROCESS— Some of our basic health, construction, and ministry skills can be especially helpful in other contexts if we take the time to impart them.
Put simply, do nothing alone. Always do things together with local leaders, even if it takes longer to get it done. You will impart skills to local leaders that will serve them well for years and maybe generations. It is worth the extra time to do this well.
- THINK FRUIT— Allow eternity to drive our STM efforts.
Think about fruit in two contexts: in character and in eternity. Culturally intelligent people are adaptable and sensitive but more than anything their character is filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. translate well into every culture and will make a difference in people for the short term and more importantly for eternity. As you plan your STM ministry, keep in mind that God’s heart and pursuit of mankind’s redemption is driven by the reality of eternity.
Foursquare Missions International (FMI) offers training for people interested in long- and short-term missions. We offer missions consultancy, Go Team opportunities, insurance, and wonderful access to our global family of nearly 75,000 churches in 146 nations and territories.
We pray you and your STM team will experience God’s fullness and blessing as you prepare and minister to people in His Name.
By: Paul Greer, Foursquare Missions International Short Term Teams Coordinator. A missionary kid, raised in Papua New Guinea, Paul and his wife Carina served in PNG with their two boys until returning to the U.S. in 2014.