Advice for Short-Term Teams

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Pastor, do you want to send a short-term team to a foreign country? Do you want your people to engage globally for the Gospel? Then here are five principles to follow when putting together a short-term team. I promise that if you follow these principles you’ll have a better chance at fulfilling your ministry goals and your short-term team will have an experience they will never forget.

First, follow the lead of your full-time missionary in country. If your missionary has been in your target country for at least five years it’s most likely that they’ve come to know the culture and its expressions in such a way that they understand the dos and don’ts of making disciples in their host country. Instead of planning what you will do, involve your missionary in the planning process, or perhaps allow them to come up with the plan. They know the needs and probably have many ideas how to address them. All they need are the resources and manpower to get it done.

Second, don’t plan specific projects or presentations without your missionary’s counsel and consent. Many missionaries can tell you horror stories of projects and presentations gone wrong because the visiting group didn’t know how to communicate their passion for Jesus in a way that actually spoke to the culture. Run your ideas pass your missionary, then make sure he or she knows they should feel completely free to alter it or suggest putting it in the grave.

Third, get a primer on the culture and communications of your target country. Require all short-term people to go through it. Your missionary may be able to suggest a book or two about your target country. Read it. Assign it as a weekly Bible study with the short-term team so that your people will be better prepared to engage the culture. I once provided a book about Buddhist background peoples to a group ministering in Mongolia. Only one person read the book. As a result, the group made some strategic decisions that were insensitive of the culture and led to mistakes. Don’t let that happen to your group. Everyone should do some study about their target culture before engaging it head on.

Fourth, spend a day of training on site between your missionary and short-term team. After you’ve gone through the pleasantries of visiting the missionary and seeing a few sites, schedule a full day on site for the missionary to lecture and train all short-term people before they hit the field. Your missionary is a wealth of invaluable information and direction that you can’t do without. Make an on site training day a priority for your team. You won’t regret it.

Fifth, don’t force materials or projects on your missionary. They may not be culturally appropriate and could actually harm your efforts to share Christ. I was once ready to have a children’s anime Bible put to translation for release in Mongolia. I was excited by the book and its excellent quality and storytelling. Yet, when we decided to field test the book first we discovered it was looked upon very negatively by Mongolians. Had I gone through with the plan without field testing it we would have had a disaster on our hands. Whether it’s through your church or your short-term team, don’t get caught up in forcing something on the culture because you “think” is might be effective, or cool, or because it’s been used successfully elsewhere. Every culture is different and people within one culture won’t always respond positively to your ideas. Take it slow, listen, then act in concert with your missionary. You’ll get much better results for your efforts and your team will have a much better experience.

Use these five short, simple principles and you’ll be much better prepared for your short-term to see success on the field. That experience will energize them and help you recruit even more teams in the future to engage the world for Christ.

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