Short-Term Mission Trips (Part 2)

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By Scott Catoe (Guest Author)

     [If you have not done so, find and read Part 1 of this series here.

If we understand the "why" of a short-term trip, and then we understand the "how" of how to prepare, let's move to a "what."

What does a short-term mission trip look like?

If we can't identify what a well-done trip should look like, then we have set ourselves and our teams up to fail. We need to be able to identify what we are aiming for, and then be able to evaluate whether or not we have hit that mark. To that end, two separate lists can be helpful here. First, let's identify what short-term missions done well looks like. 

Short-term missions done well:

1.    Plan way in advance.  If you haven't read the blog prior to this one, I would encourage you to go back and read it. Planning ahead is key, so that there is a definite, concrete team, purpose, plan and goal. Ironically, planning well and planning ahead will better prepare you for the inevitable changes that will happen when the week actually starts. Plan way ahead!
 
2.    Encourage the missionary. This one is critical. A healthy, effective, powerful short-term mission trip has as at least one of its primary goal the encouragement of the missionary planter that you are connected to. This assumes 1. You are connected to a local church 2. You know the missionary planter, his family and their needs 3. You are coming to the context to make a long-term impact. I can't say this enough: the single best use of a short-term trip is to come alongside, serve, encourage and edify the missionary planters who will be there long after you have gone home. Good mission trips have as a primary goal the encouragement of the local missionary.

3.    Serve the local church.  The local church in that context is the greatest hope for the deepest impact in a mission field. Your short-term mission trip energy ought to be focused on serving the missionary planters in those areas. Focus your time, energy and attention to things that serve that local body of believers.

4.    Promote the Gospel, not your church.  This is a painful one, and I want to be careful and gracious here. The goal of your short-term mission trip is the propagation of the Gospel. It's the advancement of the Kingdom in an area that is usually difficult for a variety of reasons. It's the edification of what is normally a small, struggling group of believers that is lacking resources, encouragement, and sometimes people. The very last thing they need is for your church, who sometimes has an abundance of these things to share, spending your time celebrating your local body, or your vision, or your greatness. There are some things not to do here, but here is the ultimate question: when people see you in that context, how much do they see and hear you proclaiming your own greatness? Focus on and promote the Gospel. Encourage and edify the Christians in that context.

5.    Leave opportunities for follow-up.  Finally, a mission trip done well is constantly looking for opportunities for the Christians who live in that context to follow-up with the people they are reaching. Can Christians there connect with the non-Christians you are connecting to? Again, the focus is the advancement of the Gospel. Help that missionary planter and that local church to do that work.

There are some contrasts to this, and it's worth exploring these as well. What does a short-term mission trip done poorly look like? They are, in many ways, a contrast to the prior list, but they are worth exploring as well.

Short-term missions done poorly:

1.    Wears out the missionary or church planter.  This is a tough one because I think so many teams do this very unintentionally. The first year I was here in my context as a pastor, we had a mission team 6 out of 8 weeks in the summer. Many of those teams (but not all) had the expectations that I would be available to them (which often meant present with them) at any time of day. If you are only hosting one group for the whole summer, this may sound reasonable. But when you spend 6 weeks hosting groups, your family (and your church, for that matter) starts to miss you. There is another way, friends. Consider how you can spend your week in ways that the missionary or church planter has more energy, or at least more encouragement than he had when you came. There are great ways to do this, that aren't super hard: watch their kids while they have a date night away, cut their grass, help with projects around their home they haven't had time to do. All these things and more can help put gas in their tanks.

2.    Come in with preconceived, rigid ideas.  Another tough one. Many groups have things they do really well. Maybe your church rocks at Backyard Bible clubs. Maybe you are excellent at Block Parties, or sports camps, or building projects. Here is the thing: just because you are excellent at those things, it doesn't follow that the project you have in mind will work in the context you are headed. If the missionary seems hesitant about it, ask questions. It may be that he knows what you want to do won't work well, but he is afraid to express that to you. There is a ton of pressure to keep mission teams satisfied and a lot of fear that goes along with offending them. But at the same time, if something won't work, it just won't work. Be sure that what you can do will work well in the context you are headed. If not, there are two possible solutions: either learn to do something else or consider that God may want you to go somewhere else.

3.    Use the missionary and the field to promote the mission team.  Okay, so maybe all of these are tough. Does your group spend its week on a short-term mission trip promoting itself? There are some ways this presents itself. Do you wear T-Shirts every day with your church's name and logo on it? Do you print promotional literature for your missionary outreach opportunities that have your church's information on it?  A "yes" to these questions might be a problem.  On the other hand, do you actively include members and people from the indigenous church? Do you strive to learn, act, and think like the people who live there? A "no" to these questions is a red flag.

4.    Focuses on things that aren't reproducible or open to follow-up.  Finally, does your mission team do really great, awesome, huge things when you are there? Do you promote and implement huge events? Do you do as much as you can to make things as big as you can? If so, you may be missing out on a key idea here. Focusing on events and activities that the local church in that context can reproduce are far more valuable, and far more effective in many ways, than the bigger, more fun, flashier things. It isn't nearly so much fun sometimes to do things that aren't particularly flashy, but it is often far more effective.

Next week, we will evaluate how to evaluate our short-term mission trips. How do you know you did a good job? 

Strive for excellent, friends.

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