Short-Term Teams: Purpose – Partnership – Preparation

As we continue our series on short-term mission teams it’s time to talk about frameworks. Previously we’ve thought about defining short-term teams, and looked at the benefits of such teams. Now we turn to the more philosophical aspects of this kind of ministry, helping us do them well.

In broad terms there are three main aspects to any short-term team. The period before, during, and after a short-term encounter.

In today’s post we will focus on the before stage, important for setting up the team, church, and hosts for success. In this stage we will look at Purpose, Partnership, and Preparation as keys to such success.

STM - Purpose - Partnership - Preparation

Purpose

Without a purpose as to why a short-term team is undertaken then it is hard to evaluate whether it has been a success or not. It is hard to evaluate any venture without understanding what the purpose of it is. The same is to be said about short-term teams.

As I’ve mentioned previously there are different ways of approaching a short-term team but it should be the purpose of such a trip that dictates the approach, not the other way around. With short-term teams it is vital to establish a clear, realistic, and aligned purpose. And it is important to get this right.

One way to find clarity around purpose is through asking questions.

  • What is the end goal of this short-term team?
  • How would a short-term team help achieve this end goal?
  • Does undertaking a short-term team align with the vision of the church?

There are plenty of other questions that could be asked at this point too. But what is important is trying to ask questions that will help clarify and develop a clear purpose for the short-term team.

Most likely, the shorter the time spent in a host country then the purpose will be more about exposure to culture, mission, and learning. The longer the time spent in country will usually mean the opportunity to actually connect with people at a deeper level.

The most recent team I’ve been involved in had a five-fold purpose, all of which I believe we achieved by the end of debrief. The five aims outlined prior to the team even being advertised was:

  1. Be inspired by what God is doing around the world, specifically Thailand.
  2. Enable those interested in cross-cultural mission to gain a greater understanding and exposure to what it is like on the ground.
  3. Help a participant grow as a disciple of Jesus.
  4. Encourage our current team of workers in Thailand as we visit and join in with what they are doing.
  5. Promote the cause of global mission within the church.

Evidently this was a team to Thailand. It was for two-weeks, connecting with our mission partners there. From the outset we had aims in what this encounter team was to achieve, not only for the participants but also for the church. Helpfully, we developed these in consultation with those in the host country too.

Purpose. It is important for short-term teams and helps direct the approach and provide clarity for everyone involved.

Partnership

Partnership is a buzzword in church and para-church circles. In mission circles it is used constantly in reference to the relationship between a church, people going on mission, and the mission organisation involved. In working in both arenas I find the term ‘partnership’ helpful only when it is clear in its meaning. More often than not it is simply Christianese used to mean prayer and financial support.

When I speak of partnership in a short-term team sense I imagine a close working relationship between the church, the missionaries, and the mission organisation. This close working relationship will care for one-another, help one-another, seek to problem solve together, and use each other’s gifts to provide excellent support and training. Through this relationship the church and mission organisation will encapsulate what it is to work together as the body of Christ, and in turn will heighten the impact of this encounter experience on the team members.

Some basic first steps on what this partnership might look like are:

First, make a connection between the church and the mission organisation.

Have an actual conversation about what church is expecting and what the mission organisation is expecting. Talk about what the aims of the team are, who can be involved in the process, what the process will be, are there any policies to be aware of, how can training and preparation and debrief be done well. These and more can be talked through extensively in order to find clarity for both groups.

Second, make a connection with people in the host country.

Let’s not overwhelm or take people away from their work. But at least a few emails or Skype calls might help to gain perspective and know what to expect. At this stage it could mean a re-evaluation of purpose and aims or it could continue to strengthen the whole endeavour.

Third, make a connection between the idea of a short-term team and the church itself.

It’s one thing to promote the idea and ask people to get involved or participate, it’s another to bring the rest of the church along with you. These types of short-term teams can be very useful in not only stretching the participants but also raising the temperature of global missions in the congregation. In turn, the church can provide some terrific support for the team as they hear and encourage the stories of the participants. Through good communication it can be a win-win for everyone involved.

And it is communication that is a key to partnership.

If no one knows what’s going on there will be minimal support and partnership. From the beginning, even if it is a remote possibility of a team actually happening, it is important to be communicating the idea or aims or desire for a short-term team. This will not only help in gathering prayer and financial support, but it will bring people along with you.

A short-term team that isn’t communicating is simply a person or group of people doing their own thing; they shouldn’t be surprised if there is minimal partnership.

Preparation

I don’t think there is such a thing as too much preparation when it comes to a short-term team. Preparation is vital to the success of the encounter team, with little preparation there will be little success.

Of course, there are all the practical and logistical things you need to consider beforehand; passports, flights, transport, accommodation, and the like. These things probably don’t need to be said. To help a team really connect with the whole experience there needs to be times where the team bonds together and learns more about the environment they’re going into.

Often preparation can be misunderstood. Many of the topics like team building, a biblical understanding of missions, spiritual warfare, cultural awareness and worldview, country specific information and learning, how to share your story cross-culturally, and more, can feel unnecessary in the moment. When there are people who haven’t ravelled much, particularly to the area you will be going with the team, then the participant finds it hard to grasp what is being said in the training. Yet, I find that once the team hits the ground there are ‘lightbulb moments’ when the memory of prior preparation comes to mind in the experiences of the team.

And it is this type of preparation and training that can only be done beforehand. It is too hard to talk through these things in the moments and experiences of the trip itself. Rather, this preparation can only be done beforehand, and is helpful to those on the team as they experience culture shocking moments they don’t know what to do with. In all likelihood, there will be people on a short-term team who are being rattled by simply being in another country, let alone the experiences of lack of language, heightened emotions and adrenaline, and the feelings of uselessness.

While it might seem like a lot of time, I find that 10-12 months of preparation is helpful in forming the team and having them understand the complexities of what the encounter will entail.

In this way preparation is a must for any team or individual participating in a short-term team. They’re kidding themselves if they don’t prepare for such a dynamic and impacting experience.


This is the third post in a series on short-term mission teams. You can find the previous posts here:

  1. Defining The Short-Term Mission Team
  2. The Benefits of Short-Term Teams
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