Short-term Mission Trips (Part 1)


By Scott Catoe (guest author)

As the holidays pass by, the new year starts to get into full swing and the calendar moves from a state of flux to something resembling a solid (sort of like Jell-O in a refrigerator).  There is an inevitable planning process for those events on the calendar that most pastors begin, or at least think about beginning this time of year. Whether senior pastor, associate pastor, missions pastor, or youth pastor, one thing looms on the schedule, one thing guarantees to consume more time than it should, one ministry event promises to consume the energy of all parties involved at a level never even dreamed of before:

The mission trip.

I have the distinct opportunity to be on both sides of this planning. At Slater, we receive anywhere between 3 to 8 mission teams each year, mostly in the summer. We also plan a short-term trip each year, sending a team out to Salt Lake City, Utah. As such, I thought it might be helpful to write a short blog series on short-term missions. Being on both sides has created some pretty strong feelings in my world on the idea of short-term missions, and it may be helpful to explore some concepts and ideas around the planning, implementation, and execution of these trips.

A good place to start is how to prepare a team for short-term missions. This is assuming a few things that we may explore later; namely, that you have right motivations for taking a team somewhere on a short-term trip (HINT: it's not primarily so you can take your church to see things they wouldn't have seen before, or so that you can promote your congregation as "missions-minded").  If the motivation is in the right place, then what are the essentials for planning and preparing for the week? Four things stand out, but there are certainly more than four out there.

1.  Pick the right people.  

This is an easier mistake to make than many think.  Often, we confuse excitement over going on a short-term mission trip with qualification to go on a short-term trip. There are some helpful questions worth asking to get the right people on the team.

Is this person, as far as you can tell, a professing Christian? Sounds like a softball, right? But it isn't. There is a pretty popular view that one of the great ways to evangelize the lost that are somehow connected to one's church is by putting them on a bus or plane or van and sending them to, well, evangelize the lost. Though I do understanding the intention of people who think this way, this is really a case of the blind leading the blind. Christians go on missions. Lost people ARE the mission. The Bible doesn't really show any other pattern.

Is this person interested for the right reasons? What's the motivation for going? It is a certainty that sometimes people will tell you what you want to hear, but that's not really on you. Failing to ask, however, is. Ask people why they want to go.

Finally, can this person communicate the Gospel? Anyone on a team should be able to communicate the Gospel. This one is so often neglected, however, that most guys I know begin the week with a mission team by explaining the Gospel to the team, and then asking them to communicate it. Sending person, it is not the missionary's responsibility to train a team that they may never see again to share the Gospel with people. God has given them you. Take advantage of the mission trip training to train your people on how to share the Gospel. Any missionary is happy to help you in this. But few want to be responsible for it.

2. Prepare them for the context.

Okay, so you have the right people in the van now.  What else should we be doing to get ready? Prepare them for the context they are about to enter. Most likely, it is very different, or at least a little different, then they are used to. And while nothing prepares someone quite like having their boots on the ground, you can do some work to help your folks get ready.

Take a vision trip.  Part of this is you, the leader, going there yourself and having some familiarity with what your team will be facing and doing. What is the same? What is different? What should we expect? Get to know the missionary or church planter you are working with.  How is his personality going to mesh with mine for the week?  You can get some good answers to these questions by going and spending a day, a weekend, or a week there yourself. If this isn't financially possible for your church, at least have some good phone or Skype conversations with the missionary or church planter to ask these questions. 

See if there are books.  In our context, there are three or four good books that I like to recommend for people to read to prepare themselves for our work. Most groups never ask me for this. There are helpful things to read for almost every context. Ask the missionary or church planter what he recommends

Communicate with the missionary or church planter.  Consider a question and answer session via Skype, or a season of prayer between the planter/missionary and the short-term team. Doing so will help the missionary/planter communicate his passion for his context in a way that is contagious.

3. Pray for God's guidance.  

Sure, this seems like an obvious one, but it is vital that we beg God to work, so that our work is made fruitful. A consistent and healthy admittance of the team's dependence on God is necessary for an effective short-term trip that has the potential to have a Gospel impact. What do you pray for? There are a lot of great things to pray for, but here are the big three: humility, power, and unity. 

Humility.  Pray for the team to be humbled at the work, by the work, before the work, and through the work. Pray for Christ to be exalted, not your team or your church, or even the missionary planter.

Power.  Pray boldly for fruitfulness to do the work with joy. Pray for opportunities to serve the people there, for the strength to push through a challenging week with energy, strength, and grace.

Unity.  Pray for God to knit the hearts of the short-term team and the local church they are serving on the trip. Pray for a Gospel-focus for the members of the team. Pray for peace to abound during the time you are serving together.

4. Practice the work you intend to do.  

Finally, practice! Whatever work you intend to do on the field, be sure that, when you do it, you are not doing it for the first time when you get there. If you are leading backyard Bible clubs, use your own community as a lab for practicing conducting them with efficiency. If you are going door to door, find a place close to home where you can practice something similar. Either way, you will find the week far more fruitful if you have come in ahead of time already comfortable with the way to execute the work. There will be plenty to be uncomfortable about in a new context; knowing how to do the work will be one less thing to worry over

OK, you've done all that, and you are prepared! What does a short-term mission trip done well look like when you are there? That will be the subject of next week's post. Until then, plan ahead, and plan well!

Scott Catoe is a friend of and he's a regular guest on Salty Believer Unscripted.  Scott pastors Slater Baptist Church.