Monday, February 18, 2013

How Important is a Short-term Mission Team? Part 3

As I began thinking through all that the Lord has been teaching me about short-term teams a few weeks ago, I had no idea He would have me blog this over the course of several weeks.  I am in the middle of nearly six weeks of reflection and writing about short-term mission teams.  The next few weeks will be focusing on aspects of the the team and short-term trips that are critical to mutually beneficial partnerships.

This week the thoughts are leaning in on the team itself.  Often times the group of people who come together for a short-term trip are not all on the same page when it comes to missions.  The range of perspectives is overwhelming.  The thoughts of many as to their role and why they are on the field vary with the same degree of diversity as body types and hair color.  Even to the level of some hair color is nowhere near the original color!

The diversity of the body of Christ is an exciting thing.  The differences in our personalities, abilities and preferences all can be used to strengthen the body.  We as the body of Christ have a unique opportunity to demonstrate to the world the transforming power of the Holy Spirit and His amazing work of grace in our lives.  The key to this diversity becoming a strength and not a liability is in team development.

Every group of people who gather for a specific task or event has active dynamics that drive the group.  The issue is how these dynamics drive the group toward or away from the Gospel centered task of sharing the Good News.    As the team develops it is crucial that an information gathering process takes place to equip the leadership in maximizing the team's strengths and weaknesses within the context of the trip.  This process will help determine the levels of understanding each team member has in regard to the purpose of the trip, the focus of the team and the impact the trip will have on their own lives.

Within the missional community most of the emphasis throughout the years has been on the work the team is going to do.  Again, as mentioned in a previous blog post, this is mostly due to the benevolent nature of most mission trips with the team bestowing upon the mission field blessings and resources.  I would propose that the focal point of a short-term mission team is as much, if not more focused on the team itself.

If we develop mutually beneficial partnerships on the field, then every time we journey to the field both the team and the partner church benefit.  The obvious benefit of the local church is the resources and opportunity for ministry events that come with the team's arrival.  However, the team itself is also a focal point of growth and benefit as the ministry of the field partner impacts and challenges the team.  One pastor shared prior to a trip to an international location, "My folks need to share the Gospel and see result...hear people pray and call on the Lord for salvation and forgiveness.  It is so hard here in the US because they hear no, or feel rejection so often when sharing the Gospel, my folks need to see God's hand at work in lives right in front of them."

The impact of a short-term mission experience can be life changing for the team.  The opportunity to walk along side people whose lives are tough and see the grace of God at work in their daily struggle of life can alter the future of one's life.  Spending time with people who survive off of less than two dollars a day and seem to have joy in their faith can teach some powerful lessons to a blessed mission team.  The journey along side a mission pastor making visits in a rural mountain community and watching him pastor people can stir within the heart of a team a desire to reach their neighbors with the Good News.

So much focus is on what we can do for others who are less fortunate, that we miss the plan of the Father to impact our lives with the work He is doing around the world.  The issue comes down to understanding that God is at work and has invited us to join Him in what He is already doing.  When we commit to step out of our normal daily context and see what God is doing around the world and in other contexts, the Holy Spirit is able to shake us loose from our agenda of life our way.   It is through the uncomfortable parts of a mission trip that the Lord often times shows us the areas of our own faith journey He is working on to change our perspective and focus.  He is using the circumstances around us, on a trip, to speak to our heart about the issues we are reading and praying about.

If short-term mission team leaders will focus their energies on assisting the team in experiencing a life-changing trip in their personal lives, the Lord will use the team to impact the nations through the partnership with the local church.  After all it is the local church the Lord has purposed to use in reaching their community with the Gospel and teaching them the Word.  If the short-term mission team will focus on the relationship it has with the local church and pour itself into the ministry of that local church, then the Lord will use both the team and the local church together to accomplish His work.

So, the challenge is to lead short-term mission teams in a way that promotes life-change in the team as a result of being on the field along side a local church family that is doing the work of reaching and teaching in their own community.  The team itself must be a primary focus of short-term mission team leaders  to maximize the long-term impact each trip has on the team members.  The hope is that each short-term experience develops a passion for the lost, a compassion for those in need and a commitment  to make disciples at every point along the way of this faith journey.  When the leaders of short-term teams focus on the team the team experiences growth over the the course of the trip in a way that brings about life-change and missional living.  These types of mission teams are vital to the long-term work of the Gospel around the world and in our own neighborhoods!

Monday, February 11, 2013

How Important is a Short-Term Team? Part 2

Over the course of the past fourteen months I have been on a journey toward a healthier lifestyle.  this journey has taught me many lessons.  As I ponder the future of the short-term mission team in our current Christian culture, I see many things the Father has been teaching me this past year.  As in the last post, I believe the short-term mission team is critical to the future of evangelism and discipleship among the nations.

In Mark 6 and Matthew 10 we read of Jesus sending out the twelve.  These twelve men represent a short-term experience that we all can learn from.  The primary objective of the twelve being sent out was the communication of the Gospel message concerning repentance.  It is clear that the message they were to share was about repenting of sin and the Kingdom of God being present to be dealt with by each person they met.

So many times the short-term mission team is built around a good work.  There are so many things that need to be done around the world to care for the needy.  Many of us have been a part of a team leading a VBS or a children's ministry program.  Some of us have been a part of a construction project to improve the living conditions of families in need.  Some have been with medical mission teams and orphan care teams.  Some have led Bible studies and some have taught life skills.  All of the teams I have been a part of have done good work.  All of the work was needed and helped improve life in some way for the people we were ministering to.  Most of the work being done is extremely important and needs to be done my the Body as we serve around the world.

However, as I have read more of His Word and listened more to His heart I have come to realize the value of a short-term mission team with only one primary focus...GOSPEL!  All of the things we do on the field are good.  All of the needs on the field need to be met.  All of the desires we have to help and improve the lives of those we are serving are good.  Yet, the vital element to our passion must be the Gospel message that has been shared since these first twelve men were sent out by Jesus!  We must lead short-term mission teams to make sharing the Gospel the most important element of every short-term missional experience.

One of the greatest barriers to the Gospel presentation being primary in every effort has come from the absence of one critical question in our partnerships on the field.  "How can we help you reach your community?"  This question must become a primary element to our develop of mutually beneficial partnerships.  Our heart's desire must be to join our brothers and sisters on the mission field in reaching their community with the hope of the Gospel.

For far too many years we, as the US church, have been the benevolent giver of all good things to the poor struggling third world church family.  As a result we have assisted in the development of a dependent relationship that is based on our resources and generosity with our money.  This has allowed a response from the field to always be a "yes" response to anything we ask of the mission partner in order to keep receiving the support, money and resources.  Often times this "yes" comes with a price after the team leaves!

The long-term ramifications of this have become detrimental to the mission field.  The dependent relationship is limiting, restrictive and eventually leads to no passion and no progress.  Without a clear commitment to the Gospel remaining primary in every aspect of the missional partnership, the relationship becomes a business agreement.  Eventually the bottom line will not allow the relationship to continue.  Only the Holy Spirit powered, Gospel driven partnership will remain through the persecution and trials that will come.

So, as we focus on the short-term mission team and its vital role in the reaching of the world, let us not lose sight of the primary commitment and motivation for going to the nations!  The whole truth of the Gospel is the primary focus of a short-term team.  As the mission team shares the Gospel, along side the local church, the opportunity to show the Gospel will present itself to the local church and they will seek assistance in meeting the needs of their community in order to share the Gospel more openly and with more passion.  This is where the partnership finds depth, strength and longevity.

As in the Gospel accounts of the twelve being sent out, today our short-term mission teams must be sent out with a clear, concise and compelling message of the Gospel that will transform lives and grow the Kingdom.  When we see the Gospel settle on the hearts of men and women of peace, the church takes root in a community through a single household.  It is at this point that we see the excitement of the church growing and the Gospel advancing.  This is the point that the short-term mission team can be most effective in assisting the planting of the Gospel where the church does not exist.  Seeing God at work around the globe is motivating us to go and join Him at reaching the world and teaching the Word!

In His Grip,

Monday, February 4, 2013

How Important is a Short-term Team?

We are navigating the waters of missional efforts in a day when the emphasis is not on the short-term team as much as it has been in the past.  More and more of the focus of churches, mission agencies and organizations is on mid-term and long-term efforts to difficult, unreached areas of the world.  The Father's heart is for all people and these areas of tough ministry are in much need of long-term commitment by Christ-followers to carry the Gospel message with passion and patience.

The short-term team is vital to the long-term commitment as it is the foundation of a life called to serving the Kingdom and showing the Gospel.  Over the course of nearly twenty-seven years of ministry I have maintained a commitment to short-term mission trip experiences as the building blocks of a missional life.  It was through a short-term trip that I was exposed to the needs of migrate workers in North Carolina and Native Americans in southern Arizona.  It was through these week long experiences that God began to develop an awareness in my heart of the difficulty many face around the globe in daily life.  Through watching my parents and other mission leaders model serving and sharing the Gospel on the short-term field God birthed a passion for the lost in my heart that is still burning hot today.

At the core of the short-term experience is an opportunity to gain first hand knowledge and on the field training for evangelism and discipleship.  It is from these basic building blocks that the Lord developed the passion of One Way Ministries, Reach the World and Teach the Word!

Reaching the world is a task that is God-sized.  Only through a clear understanding of our role in God's work of reaching the world with the truth of the Gospel, can we then join Him in His work by sharing the Gospel message and showing Gospel in serving others.  Henry Blackaby developed a clear view of how we fit into God's plan of revealing Himself to the world through his book and study Experiencing God.  This resource has helped me put feet and hands to the truths we learn in the Word.  We are all called to reach the world.  Every one of us who call ourselves a Christ-follower has been commanded to share and show the whole truth of the Gospel.

On the short-term mission trip we are given the opportunity to see the Gospel at work in the daily lives of the local church and the Christ-followers we serve alongside.  This short experience is used by the Lord to challenge us and stir our hearts for those around us on the field.  The importance of the short-term team experience is to open our minds and hearts up to the needs we see all around us and the work that God is already doing to meet those needs.  It is when we come home from a cross-cultural experience that the real work begins in our own backyard.

The short-term mission experience is a building block for a world view that is God-like.  God sees the world much differently than you and I.  His perpsective of people and cultures and cities and countries is very different than our perspective.  The short-term experience helps us open our eyes and our heart to the global view that God has of the people around us.  When we begin to look at the needs of those on the field as needs we can do something about, God begins to draw our attention back home.  The goal is to help us learn while on the field how much more we can do right at home to reach the world!

Imagine if every local body of believers were to take the call to reach their world right around their community serious and focus everything they have on their local community with passion and patience!  How much of the world could we reach if we all focused at the same time on each of our communities?

How important is a short-term mission team?  I believe the short-term team is vital to reaching the world and teaching His Word to every disciple.  Without the short-term team experience, we will not see young people shift their world view to a Biblical world view and hear God's voice as He calls them to give their lives in service to the King!  Without the short-term team we will see a drop in college students taking their summers and occasional semesters to give their lives in another context for the sake of the Gospel.  Without the short-term team we will not see young adults abandoning the dream of a big house and nice cars and comfortable lives for the challenge of a crucified life utilizing their talents and skills in areas where people have never heard the Gospel.  Without the short-term team we will see families remain inwardly focused and never see the impact of a Christ honoring family on a community without a model of a family to show the Gospel while serving the Body of Christ.

I think the realities of a missional approach to reaching the world without utilizing short-term teams to introduce, educate, challenge and train individuals, small groups and families for long-term global impact are incredibly devastating to the spread of the Gospel.  So, will you allow the Spirit of God to stir in your heart as you search for the opportunities He has placed before you to join a short-term mission trip this year and experience His life-changing impact in another context that will drive you back home with passion and patience?  Will you consider who you will journey along side this year to experience the mission field in another context and out your back door?  Will you seek to reach the world and teach His Word this year with at least 2% of your year?  Will you trust His heart and allow His hand to guide you into the field that is so white and ready for harvest?  Will you go and make disciples?

In His Grip.