By Keith Shorter
EASLEY, S.C. (BP) — Churches all across America will be taking short-term mission trips this summer to places like Cleveland, Boston, Uganda, and Thailand. Recently, I asked some missionaries, church planters, and missions leaders a strategic question: What did the best mission teams do that made you glad they came?
The insights listed below were gleaned from their answers.
1. Don’t go with your own agenda.
Before going on the trip, ask the missionary, “How can we help you fulfill your mission?” Mission teams can accomplish in one week what it would take a missionary six months to accomplish. However, they can also tear down and undo what a missionary has taken months or years to build by saying and doing the wrong things. Honor the vision that the Lord has given to the missionary and support what they are doing.
2. Pick up the tab for everything.
Mission teams should always pick up the tab for all costs related to their team as well as any costs the missionary may incur while serving with you. All missionaries have limited funds. Don’t expect them to pay for your T-shirts, your lodging, your subway tickets, etc. Always reach for your wallet first.
3. Choose a place to serve and return on a regular basis.
Rather than going to a different place every year, find a community that you can return to over and over. Plan to invest three to five years in sowing the Gospel in that community. Meet the people who live there. Learn their names. The next time you are in town, go see them. Mission teams at their best are relationship driven. Build bridges in the community that the missionaries can walk across for years to come.
4. Be open to your new context.
Be willing to embrace the city and the people who live there. Wherever you go, it will likely be different than your town and your context, but embrace the differences. Don’t speak negatively about the community you are serving. Let the differences spark positive conversations.
5. Be flexible and stress that to your whole team.
It will rain when you need it be sunny. Not as many people will show up to events as you expected. People you talk to may be rude. The van will overheat. Things simply will not go the way we think they should go, but that doesn’t mean God isn’t at work. It is such a blessing for the missionaries when a team understands this and can roll with the punches and improvise when necessary. Maintain a “whatever it takes” attitude.
6. Focus on being a blessing to the missionary’s family.
Serving on the mission field is hard and demanding work. It requires a lot of emotional energy and can be very lonely. Often there is little visible fruit from their sacrificial labor. Teams that understand this and intentionally focus on encouraging the missionaries and their children are great mission partners.
7. Be spiritually prepared and ready to share the Gospel.
Don’t be afraid of people who look, speak and smell different than you. You will meet people from all kinds of different cultures, backgrounds and home lives. Remember that God created them and loves them dearly and so should you. Be ready to share the Good News of how God changed your life and how He can do the same for them. Before going on the trip, prepare yourself by spending time with the Lord and specifically praying for the mission trip, and the work that will take place.
Don’t just go on another mission trip this summer. Clarify what good partnerships can and should look like. Then be that kind of partner. When you go home, the missionary will thank God that you came.
Keith Shorter is pastor of Mt. Airy Baptist Church in Easley, S.C., and immediate past president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention.