In my last post I focused on some misconceptions regarding short-term teams, in this post I'll be more positive. Missed part 1? Click HERE.
I can't help but think that we could be far more strategic in ministry and missions than we usually are. So much more could be done to combine the talents and spiritual gifts of the church in one part of the world with the fertile soil of another culture. The church (wherever it is) should know how to do this, because much of it requires faith. Faith really is amazing. A bit of risk almost always yields exponential results, both internally and externally. Yes, I'm using faith and risk interchangeably, because if you don't risk something, it's not faith, it's just management. Management is a word that makes me drowsy just typing it out. Faith, on the other hand...
So...Short-term teams done right, in my opinion, needs two primary elements. One is faith. The other is a mid to long term commitment to a group of people. Ok, let me add another...a spirit of humility and learning. Let's talk about the first one first.
When I mention these aspects I am thinking both of the visitors as well as the hosts. As a U.S. church seeking to send a group, you want to make sure that your destination is a place full of Christians, both national and missionary, who are alive and well and growing. You don't want to send a group to a dead church, unless you're going with the specific purpose of providing first-aid. Defibrillator, anyone?
Likewise, the visitors need to be people who are normal Christians. I'm not dumbing down the concept "Christian" when I say this, just accepting what should be normal for Christians. "Normal" Christians pray, read the Bible and want to follow Jesus. They could be young or old, introverts or extroverts, tall, short, fat or skinny. If they have a love for Jesus, that's enough. I personally enjoy fringe Christians, you know, the ones that push the limits a bit (I could mention names). But they can't be self-centered, materialistic egomaniacs, or people who don't care about anything. Let's try to filter these people out.
Now, when you put together these two "churches" and add faith, good things happen. You do need a framework for allowing faith to flourish, and that framework usually happens in the context of an overall focus, like a kids VBS program, wheelchair distribution, English classes, music ministry or sports outreach. Both the visiting team and the hosting church needs a broad outline, an over-arching purpose for the trip. But within the broad parameters, the Holy Spirit appreciates a little freedom to be able to impact peoples lives and hearts. Let's try to let Him do that. When He does the work, people go home (or stay home) changed. Can we actually release control (risk) and be fully convinced (faith) that God will work to accomplish His will in us?
Now...where was I? Ok, we talked about faith, let's talk about the importance of a mid to long term relationship. The whole point of a short term experience is to construct an ongoing, credible integration of missions into the life of a local church. The vehicle for this, I would propose, is the establishment of a relationally-based partnership with a church or ministry in another culture.
If your church visits a place once, it's like going to Disney World. You come back, tell stories, and hopefully are changed by your experience. If you return, however, to a place repeatedly, it's like having a cabin in the mountains, or a house at the beach. You actually (hopefully) get to know real people, and become involved in their lives. You care. With the advent of social media, you can follow the details of their lives like never before. You begin to establish community. You are able to legitimately rejoice with those who rejoice, and cry with those who cry.
Obviously where this analogy breaks down is the whole comfort factor. It's not comfortable when you can't speak to your host family, or when you have to eat something that you've never eaten before. But it's deeply meaningful, and spiritually invigorating. If you want to be amused, go to Disney World. If you want to be transformed, go on a missions trip.
The final point...humility and a teachable spirit. More on this later.
Quote of the Day: “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.” Albert Einstein