Thursday, March 31, 2011

Effective short-term ministry

My wife and I recently sat down to evaluate (and remind ourselves of) our once again busy spring and summer. What makes May-August so distinct is that on top of regular weekly ministries we also receive visitors from the U.S. and Canada. A lot of them. Some quick math brings the tentative total for this spring/summer to 54. Give or take.

I recently had a future visitor's pastor ask why we limit our church teams to 20 people. I challenged the inquirer to ask her pastor to talk to his wife about hosting 20 people who couldn't communicate, who were pretty much totally dependent for their transportation, housing and food needs, and, oh yeah, who expect to be effective in ministry. Another way of asking the question would be, "What would you do with a bunch of ________________ (put in any nationality or language here) in your church who did not speak understandable English?" Add the mentality that a few have that crossing a border somehow turns them into Billy Graham (Luis Palau?), even when they rarely witness in a language they can speak!

But let me back up a bit. Reading this last paragraph might make you think that I am not in favor of visitors, and nothing could be farther from the truth. Anyone who knows us, knows that we love doing it. Why?

Probably the most basic reason is that it's an opportunity for discipleship. It's an opportunity to invest in the lives of young and not-so-young people, to encourage them and also be encouraged by them. To open up our lives and receive the blessing of friendship from people whom, in many cases, we did not really know previously.

It is an opportunity for members of Christ's one church to understand that there are people quite different from them that love God deeply, and worship Him sincerely.

It is a chance for people to be stretched, both those who come and those who receive them. To eat together, pray together, worship together, enjoy true fellowship together. There is community here. Ask anyone who has been here, and they'll attest to that.

On the practical side of things, many ministries we are involved with on an on-going basis lend themselves to visitors. We teach ESL year-round, as well as basketball, soccer and street hockey. Kid's clubs provide avenues to minister that are non-language intensive. There is always something to paint.

I often say that our internship program and mobilization in general is like nitro to a church plant. You can't depend or become dependent on it, but it can be the spark that ignites a relational fire that God can use greatly!

Something really cool always happens when people who love the Lord from two different cultures get together.

Oh yeah, the title of this post. Effective short-term ministry is essentially relationally-based. Getting people together and letting God do what He does.

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