Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about short term mission teams. Our church just sent a team of 43 people to Kenya. Some went for two weeks. Some went for the first week. Some went for the second week. This was not our first trip to Kenya, and we are constantly trying to make our missions efforts better. To that end, I’ve been thinking a lot about short term mission teams.
I feel like I should include one honest disclaimer … Every time I have the chance to visit with full-time, long-term, career missionaries, I ask them to share their thoughts about short term mission teams. In all of those discussions, I’ve never had a missionary tell me they think short term mission teams are indispensable to the Great Commission. Instead, I usually hear cautionary tales about short term teams that cause disruptions, setbacks, distractions, and lots of busy work for those missionaries who are planted on the field.
These cautionary tales always make me think twice about sending short term mission teams. As a pastor, I want my people to be active in “going.” I want them to participate directly in making disciples of all nations. I want them to experience life on the “field,” even if it’s just a week or two. I also want my church to send out the best short term missions teams, and I want us to pursue the best partnerships on the field.
To that end, here are a few things that help make short term missions teams an asset on the field, rather than a liability.
- The short term team is well led. Almost anyone can coordinate an overseas trip. However, short term mission teams need far more than logistical support. They need biblical leadership. This leadership is needed during trip preparation, during the actual trip, and even after returning home.
- The short term team is connected to a local church on the field. Every short term trip doesn’t have to focus on church planting. But every short term trip should have a real connection to a local, indigenous church. Obviously this may not be possible in all situations, like when a church adopts an unreached-unengaged people group. However, whenever possible, short term missions teams should work in partnership with local churches. This connection creates the opportunity for ongoing evangelism and discipleship after your team returns home.
- The short term team is anchored by a career missionary or local pastor on the field. This idea is similar to the one above, but distinct. When your short term team is anchored by a missionary or a pastor on the field, your work can fit into a larger strategy for making disciples. Local leaders on the field (missionaries and pastors) are usually in the best position to formulate a comprehensive strategy for making disciples. These local leaders are also invaluable when it comes to communication, coordination, and cultural issues.
- The short term team is able to establish a long term relationship. This only happens when a church is able to send multiple teams to the same location. It takes time for trust to develop. It takes time for a bond to form. One short term team that never returns will have little kingdom impact. But short term teams that return to the same location many times have the opportunity to make a much greater impact.
- The short term team is prepared to share the gospel with clarity and caution. This is not a contradictory statement. Clarity refers to ability to articulate the gospel message that God is holy, man is sinful, Jesus is the answer, and we must repent and believe. Short term teams must share more than a generic, watered-down invitation to “invite Jesus into your heart.” They must be clear, and they must be cautious. Short term team members need to be aware of the limitations that come with differences in language and culture and worldview. We must be slow to call people to decision only, and quick to call people to genuine discipleship.
These are a few of the thoughts rolling around in my head as I think about how my church can be most effective at using short term teams to make disciples of all nations. I’d love to hear your thoughts, feedback, ideas, and experiences.
Originally published July 5, 2016 on landoncoleman.com.