A Sent People – Part 5: Being Part of the Answer

This is part five of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one and two and three and four) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 5: Being Part of The Answer

Passage: Luke 10

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless, know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.”

A Sent People - Part 5_ Being Part of the Answer

Consider:

One of the problems we can see from the passage, and in throughout this series, is that there aren’t enough followers being harvesters in the field.

Rather than being part of the problem, we are to be part of the answer.

We are the ones who have been sent by Jesus to share his Good News to the people of the world. In connection with the previous posts we are involved in the wider story of God. Today, we continue to be God’s messengers. We are his workers in his harvest field, seeking to share the Good News with the people who need to hear it. And while there will be judgement on those who reject God that is not ours to take part in. We are here to be part of what God is doing in the world. It is the message of the Gospel that provides hope for the world and true salvation for those who accept it.

If we aren’t being followers of Jesus who are taking part in the harvest then we are being part of this problem, are we not? How do we become part of the solution? It is by intentionally living lives that are witnessing to our faith and to Jesus’ impact in our lives. It is by not merely walking through life believing that we know the Good News and leaving it to rot. It is through becoming one of the workers.

As we’ve seen, there is a cost to this. It may mean giving up or leaving behind things that we consider precious. We need to let go of stuff, as Jesus talks about to his followers. That which binds us down or stops us moving forward is a hindrance to working in the harvest field.

As we intentionally go about focusing on being a solution in the Kingdom of God we are to seek out those who are friendly to us and the message of the Good News. There are people of peace who we can connect with, begin building relationships with, and who open up their lives for us just as we do so for them. What we need to do here is to open our eyes to the people God has placed in our lives and see where God is already at work.

As we speak, and as we show the love of God through the person of Jesus, we are an open people. Learning and loving along the way from our mistakes but more importantly, representing Christ as we seek to follow him authentically. It is this kind of living that helps bring people closer to the Kingdom.

It is hard. It’s not promised as easy. There will be times when we fail and make mistakes. But what is important is that we continue to try. We attempt to do this with love and compassion of God and people.

Ask Yourself:

  • Jesus expects his sent followers to share the message of the kingdom to the towns they go to and the people they meet. When was the last time you shared about your faith to someone else? What is stopping you from sharing something of your faith in the coming month?
  • The kingdom of God is near. How can you bring the kingdom of God to people in your community?

Take A Step:

  1. Write out your story of faith. Find someone to share this story with in the coming month.
  2. As you pray this week, thank God for the Good News and how the kingdom of God has impacted you and your life. Pray also for those who don’t know God and ask that he can reveal himself to them.
  3. Choose to give a certain amount of money to an organisation or person that helps share the Good News to people who do not yet know Jesus. Make this a practical step this week in helping others hear the Gospel.

A Sent People – Part 4: The Kingdom of God Is Near

This is part four of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one and two and three) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 4: The Kingdom of God Is Near

Passage: Luke 10:9-11

Heal the sick who are there and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ But whenever you enter a town and they do not receive you, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet we wipe off against you. Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town.

A Sent People - Part 4_ The Kingdom of God Is Near

Consider:

There are times when the people of God are not accepted. This is to be expected. At times it may be worth persevering through the dislike but at other times it’s not worth it. It’s time to move on.

Jesus encourages those he sends to heal the sick and say to the people ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ As Luke outlines in v1, Jesus will soon be following these workers and coming by the towns and villages they minister to. What is important is the message. The message that the kingdom is coming is to be made known to the people. How they respond will consequently be judged by God in the future. The message is to be made public, but so is the recognition that they have rejected this message. God’s workers will need to discern when it is appropriate to move on to other pastures. However, they will make it known that their rejection will be public, and the message is still the message.

But how do we show that the Kingdom of God is near? What are some practical examples that lead us to conclude that the Kingdom of God is working within others and in particular places?

One way to see God working in our lives, or in a particular place, is to look with intentionality at the various ‘communities of practice’ that operate in your life or the life of others.

These communities of practice are activities that naturally occur, and you may already be involved in, but become places where God can use you to share the message of the Kingdom. For example, you may be involved in a sporting club where your involvement can be a witness to others. To take it a step further you can be intentional about how you approach this activity. Rather than simply being there for the sport and fun it becomes a harvest field; where you are now one of the workers who are building authentic relationships with your teammates. There may be a person or peace there welcoming you into the club or team, and it is important to be on the lookout for a person like this. This type of intentionality is an important key in seeing the activities you do during the week as being part of being a witness as a follower of Jesus, drawing people closer to the Kingdom of God. This could also be how you understand your knitting club, your book club, your art class, your uni subjects, your school class, etc etc.

Jesus is making it clear that he has come to bring in the kingdom of God. He is following his sent workers and as he sends them he reveals to those in his hearing that he will bring this kingdom of God to the people, households, towns and villages that these 72 go to.

Judgement will come and for those who respond negatively to the message of Jesus, this Good News of the kingdom of God, will be found wanting. The judgement upon them will be worse than it was for Sodom in the Old Testament, where that city was destroyed because of its disobedience and active rejection of God and his ways (Genesis 19).

Ask Yourself:

  • There are times when moving on from relationships seems to be required if the mission of God is to be fulfilled. How do you think we can discern this in the relationships we have with others?
  • God will judge those who hear the revelation of his kingdom. Whether they respond positively or negatively is not ours to judge, it is for God.
  • People will accept and reject the Good News, this message of the kingdom. What stops us from sharing the message of the kingdom to others?
  • God’s judgement will be full and forceful for those who reject him. Jesus has already said the harvest is plentiful, how can we be part of the solution? What can we be part of in order to help people from this judgement?

Take A Step:

  1. Write down on a piece of paper who and how you will share an aspect of your relationship with Jesus to someone in the next fortnight.
  2. Pray and seek God’s guidance on which relationships in your life need to be held loosely. Seek out a mature believer for their guidance in this matter.
  3. What part of your week is most like a ‘community of practice’? How could you be more intentional about your relationships and weekly activities for the work of the Kingdom?

A Sent People – Part 3: People of Peace

This is part three of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one and two) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 3: Person of Peace

Passage: Luke 10:5-8

“Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house!’ And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. But if not, it will return to you. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the labourer deserves his wages. Do not go from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you.”

A Sent People - Part 3_ People of Peace

Consider:

Now Jesus seems to be giving advice on how to greet people to those he is sending out. He is expecting them to be entering people’s houses as part of their ministry. As they meet new people in the towns and villages the workers will be entering houses and begin building relationships. Jesus encourages those he sends to come into a place with an attitude of peace. They are to approach each household with an intention of bringing peace. When this has been given, it seems it is evident someone of peace will be there. If a ‘person of peace’ is in this place then the peace will rest upon them. A relationship will be built and a friendship ensue. They will not be against the worker, but will be helpful and seek to encourage their work. They will be open to the worker of the harvest and give them a fair hearing.

Who is a ‘person of peace’? A person of peace is someone who likes you and you like them. They are not a believer initially but is someone who welcomes you and receives you into their life. They may serve you and you may invest in them. They are a helper in connecting you to other relationships in their network. Over time it may be the case that they turn to follow Jesus themselves, but initially they are helpful friends in the task of spreading the message of the Kingdom.

If this person of peace isn’t found within a particular house then it will be evident. The worker in the harvest will discern whether or not there is peace in the house they go to. If this isn’t the case they will move on to the next place.

When accepting the hospitality of others it is encouraged to stay in the same house. This will bring honour upon that house as they continue to provide for the worker of the harvest. This also shows that the worker isn’t someone who leeches off others by moving from house to house getting the choice hospitality from different families in the town. A deeper relationship is built with that one household rather than the shallow friendships of many people.

During their stay at a particular town they are to contribute to society. The labourer deserves their wages and are to not be freeloading from the community. They are to work and contribute to the community, serving the community during their stay. They will be provided for, this provision ultimately coming from God, in the needs that they require – food and shelter. It is not appropriate for the labourer to be picky but to eat what is in front of them and accept the hospitality provided by the household.

Ask Yourself:

  • It is important for labourers of the harvest to approach their mission with grace and peace. When you are involved in ministry to your neighbours, or through your church, do you have this attitude?
  • Relationships with certain people take time and require discernment. Are you building deep relationships with people in your community? Are there some relationships that you need to ‘move on’ from?
  • God will provide the needs of those who work in his harvest field. Are you taking on too much yourself, do you need to handover your needs and wants to God and trust him for them?
  • As God’s workers we are to contribute to the community, both church and wider community. How are you serving the communities you are part of? In what ways can you build relationships through serving and helping others?

Take A Step:

  1. In the next three weeks resolve to invite someone you wouldn’t normally to your home for a meal.
  2. As you think about the different communities you are involved in, pray for discernment as to what relationships should be a priority for you.
  3. As you meet someone new in the next little while make an effort to be a person or peace.

A Sent People – Part 2: Travel Lightly

This is part two of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12 (See part one) It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy.


Part 2: Travel Lightly

Passage: Luke 10:4

“Carry no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals, and greet no one on the road.”

A Sent People - Part 2_ Travel Lightly

Consider:

Jesus continues talking to those he is sending out. This time he tells them to travel lightly. In fact, it almost sounds like they aren’t to take anything at all. Furthermore, when they see people it seems they are to be rude to them by continuing on to their destination, ignoring any greetings given. But this isn’t quite the case.

Those being sent out into the harvest have what they need. They have the Lord Jesus for protection and all the material needs required. They will be supplied with all they need while out in the harvest, nothing more is needed. What they have in their wallets is sufficient, their bag and shoes are good enough, and those they meet may well hold them up as they head out to the field.

As God calls those to be workers in the harvest it is important to understand the importance of travelling lightly. There is a need to let go of comfort and not to be weighed down by the materialism, consumerism, and security that surrounds us today. Just as it is easier to get through an airport terminal when only having carry-on luggage, so too it is easier for the workers of the harvest to keep things simple and take very little on their journey. They are to leave behind that which binds them, which holds them up, which stops them from moving forward. They are to continue to share the message of the Kingdom to those in their influence.

This not only speaks of the physical and material lightness required in mission but also the openness we have in our weeks and relationships. There is much that holds us up from sharing the message of the Kingdom, nothing more so than weeks filled with activities and appointments. There is something to be said about giving space in our weeks so we can be open to how God is leading and moving in our lives. More directly, the more intentional we are about leaving behind that which binds will mean we are more open to see God move and have the space to respond to His leading. This might mean that we have the freedom to find new ways of building relationships. It may mean we have more energy to be hospitable. It may mean we find ourselves drawn closer to Jesus and his mission because we are open to seeing how he will use us to build the Kingdom.

There will always be people who wish to talk and seek to be helpful for the workers of the Kingdom. Eastern culture is a hospitable culture and a culture that includes many greetings and customs. These can hold the workers up if they are to greet every person they meet along the way. Instead, Jesus encourages them to be so focussed on the harvest that they spend no time worrying about the custom of greetings in their society. They are not to get distracted in these things. Refusing hospitality from their own people is not looked upon fondly, but Jesus directs his workers to get on with the task of sharing the Gospel of the Kingdom and make it a priority.

Rather than being drawn into these meaningless greetings followers of Jesus are to build authentic relationships with people. Over time these greetings become meaningless because they aren’t said with intention, it’s just what people do when they see each other. On the other hand, authentic relationships are to be built, and through these friendships the sharing of the Good News can be told in conversation or seen through actions of hospitality and care.

Ask Yourself:

  • When Jesus sends his workers out into the harvest field he gives them all that they require. Are you trusting that Jesus has equipped you in your ministry right now?
  • Being a harvester requires us to carry little. What do you need to lay aside in order to walk more lightly as a pilgrim of Jesus?
  • There is much to distract us from the mission God has given us. Is there anything distracting you from being in the harvest field right now? What can you do to change that?

Take A Step:

  1. Spend some time in prayer thanking God for the gifts he has given you and the way he continues to equip you.
  2. Write down three things in your life that is holding you up in your relationship with Jesus. Lift them up in prayer and give them over to God.
  3. What is distracting you from being involved in God’s harvest? Talk to someone who can help you be involved in ministry in your neighbourhood more easily.

A Sent People – Part 1: The Abundant Harvest

This is part one of a 5-part devotional series based on Luke 10:1-12. It includes the reading of Scripture, considering its teaching, asking questions of ourselves for reflection, and applying it in practical ways. Enjoy. 


Part 1: The Abundant Harvest

Passage: Luke 10:1-3

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go. And he said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few. Therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest. Go your way; behold I am sending you out as lambs in the midst of wolves”.

A Sent People - Part 1_ The Abundant Harvest

Consider:

As Jesus commissions his followers to take the Kingdom of God to the towns and villages in the region he begins by explaining what is before them. They are few, but those who need to hear this message are many. Jesus himself will follow the labourers but these labourers are an important part of the Kingdom of God. They are people sent by Jesus himself.

Jesus uses the farming imagery of a harvest, where there is plenty of work to do yet there are not many followers. Few followers of Jesus are willing to be harvesters. At the end of Luke 9 Jesus talks of the difficulty it is to be a follower of Jesus. There is a cost to following Him. One of those costs will include being part of a small group who intentional speak the message of the Kingdom to those who do not know him. This could also be seen as a privilege.

Recognising this dilemma Jesus calls on the 72 to pray to the Lord of the harvest for more workers. There is always a need for more people to take up their cross and become harvesters for the Lord. There is always more need for people to share the message of Jesus with others and be part of helping them come to know the Lord. It is people that Jesus encourages these workers to pray for. It is people who God uses to help bring others to an understanding of who Jesus is and what is involved in His Kingdom. The Lord has his hand over the harvest, he knows them and will call them to Himself, and he uses his followers to help achieve this calling.

Linked to this cost of following Jesus is the reality in which the workers find themselves in. Those who come to work for the Lord and seek to be harvesters will be walking into difficulty. This time Jesus uses the imagery of lambs being among wolves. Lambs are creatures without much protection, they can’t protect themselves but need a shepherd to take care of them. They are followers yet can’t look after themselves when danger is around. Wolves on the other hand search and are on the lookout to catch a lamb and devour it. A follower of Jesus sent into the harvest is like a lamb, protected by Jesus the True Shepherd, being chased and harassed by those who seek to have them devoured. They are in a vulnerable position and will be relying on the protection of the Lord as they seek to share the message of the Kingdom.

Ask Yourself:

  • Jesus sends believers out. Following Jesus requires stepping out into the wider community and witnessing to the Kingdom of God. In what areas of your community are you being a witness?
  • There is a desperate need for people to commit to being a worker in the harvest. Is the Lord calling you to be a full-time worker?
  • More workers for the harvest should be on our prayer list. God wants us to pray for people to take up the task of working for the Kingdom. Can you pray for more workers?
  • Those already in the harvest working are in a vulnerable position. Pray for those you know who are currently working at sharing the Gospel. They are in need of our prayers.

Take A Step:

  1. Spend some time in prayer, ask God what part of the harvest you are called to be part of?
  2. Find out what missionaries your church supports, spend 10 minutes this coming week praying for them as they work in the harvest.
  3. Ask someone in your congregation that has experience in being a worker for the Lord. What was their experience in being sent out into the harvest? What were the challenges for them as they served God in this way?

Is It Wrong To Share Your Faith?

I was recently listening to the “Youth Culture Matters” podcast where the hosts were interviewing David Kinnaman, the President of the Barna Group. Barna is a research organisation and has written extensively about the intersection of faith and the generations, particularly Millennials/Gen Y (born ~1980-2000).

In this latest interview, and off the back of Barna’s most recent research, the conversation centred around the view of Millennials and evangelism.

To the question, “Is it wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith?” 

  • 47% of Millennials (born ~1980-2000) agree.
  • 27% of Gen Xers (born ~1965-1980) agree.
  • 19% of Boomers (born ~1945-1965) agree.
  • 20% of Elders (born ~1925-1945) agree.

Australian Baptist Generational Ministry Research (1)

While this isn’t particularly earth-shattering it is interesting to have this information in data form. We can see that nearly half of Millennial believers are not comfortable with thinking about sharing their faith in order to have someone from another belief system converted. Interestingly, at least 1 out of 5 believers of the other generations also have the same view.

Anecdotally, I think I would affirm what this data seems to be saying. I know plenty of people my age and younger who are not particularly willing to share their faith for evangelistic purposes. And there are no doubt a few reasons for this.

First, the purposes of sharing faith these days seems to be more about expressing our beliefs and portraying our values to others, it doesn’t seem to be for the conversion of others. Holding to our own values and holding to our own beliefs is now something taught at a young age. Culture seems to say we can pick and choose from a variety of belief systems and therefore whatever we have in front of us is our own truth. This has certainly seeped into the church and so faith becomes more about what we value of faith rather than keeping to a particularly orthodoxy.

Second, whenever there is talk of evangelism I know a lot of people cringe. They begin to think of Billy Graham rallies, which were great for a certain group of people but not the way we think of healthy evangelism in this era. There is also the thought of missionaries overseas who through Christianity has influenced plenty of cultures, some in poor ways. The cultural adaptation of the gospel hasn’t been applied and soon enough it has become a Western faith, rather than a global faith for all. The thought of evangelism and telling people there is one way and that way is through Jesus is looked on poorly.

Third, the training of people in evangelism hasn’t been high on the agenda. While the church and mission organisations may well have been speaking about the need for evangelism the training of the people is lacking. I’m not talking about sneaky techniques to try to persuade people and twist their arm into becoming Christians. I’m talking more about how we can foster faith conversations, and encourage people to invite friends into faith conversations and groups. It is one thing to hold a particular evangelistic talk, program, or group, it is another to have people who are confident enough to strike up conversations about religion and faith.

They were some initial thoughts off the back of listening to the conversation. You can listen to the podcast here, and read the more detailed article explaining the data here.

There seems to be plenty of work for those of us in the church and in mission organisations as we seek to see the gospel go forth through the generations.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship?

OK, let’s be clear from the outset.

To be a disciple is to be a student of a teacher.

To be a disciple of Jesus is to learn from Him.

This learning and growing process is known as discipleship.

I imagine for the majority of those who call themselves disciples of Jesus, discipleship involves some or all of the following – meeting with other believers, reading the Bible regularly, praying, going to church, meeting with a mentor, doing a short-course on an aspect of the Christian faith, listening to podcasting preachers, reading Christian books, talking about spiritual things with Christian friends, being involved in a small group, volunteering in a ministry at church and maybe even using Christian buzz words like ‘journey’, ‘organic’, ‘missional’ and ‘emerging’.

Most of these are excellent. They’re great and important. They help us grow in our faith. They allow us to gain a better understanding of the nature of God and the power and presence of Jesus. They help to build real and authentic (OK… another buzz word) community and inspire us into a deeper faith.

Yet, when I look at the discipleship ‘journey’ that Jesus took with 12 young guys, I wonder if we’re missing something in the discipleship package we’re sold today. Yes they prayed together, ate together, were part of a mentoring relationship and listened to cracker sermons (from Jesus Himself!). But all of this happened within the context of a much larger picture. There was a purpose that led to something greater than their own faith development: the faith of others. AKA Mission.

Is Mission Optional For Discipleship_

From the outset Jesus equipped, prepared, challenged and released His followers into mission.

It was mission-focused discipleship.

A discipleship that was geared more towards the needs of others than their own. It was a kind of discipleship that required them to be active and to work out their faith in the daily grind. It was this kind of discipleship that grew some uneducated country fishermen into ‘missionaries’ committed to spreading the Good News to people who hadn’t heard it. Mission was not an added, optional, “Would you like fries with that?”’ extra. Rather, it was completely integrated into their discipleship. Just like your veggie patch needs light, food and water to survive, our discipleship is nurtured, fed and grown by engagement with others in mission.

Discipleship is the vital activity of believers around the world. In fact, it’s the model of mission Jesus has given us from the start. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20 emphasises the making of disciples as the primary activity for believers. Jesus Himself showed us the way as He led His disciples, while in Acts and throughout the rest of the New Testament believers continued to grow their faith in all the different places and cultures they lived in.

I wonder what part mission plays in your understanding and experience of discipleship? It may mean joining a new sporting team or club or being more intentional with your time, resources and language at uni, work or mother’s group or engaging with other cultures to see where God is already working and how you might be able to join Him.

If the job that Jesus left us with is really about being disciples who make disciples, then it applies whether we are here in Australia or in a far corner of the world. If we follow Jesus’ model of discipleship, then no matter the number of books we read, sermons we listen to or mentoring sessions we slot into our week, something will always be missing if it isn’t wrapped up in mission. And while this can seem impossibly daunting, even simple things like starting a soccer match or joining a Tai Chi class can be used by God not only to make more disciples but to help deepen our own experience as disciples as well.


Originally published in Resonate (ed. 20), a publication of Global Interaction

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

The Benefits of Short-Term Teams

Questions are raised about short-term teams all the time. As I defined in my previous post, short-term teams are:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

And even a definition like this will raise questions.

Many of these questions consistently revolve around finances, impact, development, need, politics, and church relevance. Questions like:

  • Are they worth the cost? Couldn’t the money be used elsewhere?
  • Do Westerners arriving on the shores of a developing country for a couple of weeks actually help anyone? Are these teams a modern form of colonialisation?
  • Is anything really achieved for the participants and the people in the host country by a 2-3 week stay?
  • What is the image given to people who see wealthy Western Christians coming and going from their country while they are never helped themselves?

These are good and valid questions.

I know a number of people who have seen damage done spiritually, personally, financially, culturally, and socially because of these teams. And so rightfully, questions do need to be asked of this $2 billion industry. Depending on where you come from will mean different questions.

The Benefits of The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there have been helpful books written, like “When Helping Hurts“, that have promoted better practices for short-term mission teams. These practices have elevated the need to think through short-term teams, not only from a participant point-of-view but for those in the country where the team is going. They have also provided helpful frameworks, and questions to ask of teams, in the areas of finance, community development, spiritualisation, evangelism, discipleship, and more.

This goes a long way in helping those of us who lead teams and involved in short-term missions to think through the issues. Sometimes there is the need for change because of this thinking and questioning. And sometimes, we may only need to shift our goals a little and see the benefits of these teams can occur from a better and more solid foundation.

Benefits Of Short-Term Teams

And while there are plenty of criticisms and plenty of questions to be asked, I believe there are also plenty of benefits. Many of these I have seen myself, for me personally and for others who have been on teams before. And I’m sure there are also plenty of others that come from short-term teams too. But in the mean time, here are 15 benefits of short-term teams.

  1. They increase mission awareness within your church.
  2. They give the church a tangible opportunity to be involved in global mission.
  3. They broaden the worldview of those who participate, and those in the congregation.
  4. They increase the participation of of church members in local mission.
  5. They help grow followers of Jesus.
  6. They open participants eyes to the needs and realities of other people in other cultures.
  7. They develop a sense of connection between church members, participants, and the missionaries visited.
  8. They encourage the ministry of the the missionaries who are visited.
  9. The provide opportunity for participants to receive training in cross-culture ministry and settings.
  10. They help people understand the nature of support-raising.
  11. They enable participants to see what the reality of missions is like on the ground.
  12. They give another person in the world the opportunity to interact with someone from another culture.
  13. They increase the passion for helping people and being a good neighbour.
  14. They provide action-reflection experiences for participants in emotional, physical, and spiritual ways.
  15. They change lives and career paths.

Each of these points could be expanded. There are no doubt others to add too. But, as I’ve said here, and previously, these benefits give good impetus for short-term teams and their value to the church.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

In recent years there has been much written decrying the short-term mission trip. Thankfully, there has been much written promoting healthy ways to engage in short-term mission trips too. But for a number of year now there have been a plethora of articles on the issue of short-term teams and whether they are actually beneficial to anyone.

And in many ways much of what they say is right.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

For over 60 years the short-term mission trip–where a gaggle of young people raise money, buy new clothes, luggage, and gifts, and spend time in a culture that is not their own, all for the sake of believing they are helping people-–has been one of the sexiest things the church has been doing.

And of course there are plenty of caveats that should be said here.

  • No doubt many people have been helped because of these trips.
  • Many who have gone on these trips have grown themselves. 
  • And, some have even turned their short-term experience into a long-term missionary career.

And that’s great.

Truly, it is. 

But knowing that over $2 billion dollars is spent on short-term teams per year, and many who go leave the experience behind them, then serious questions are worth asking.

Having been on these types of teams, helped numerous churches facilitate them, and continue to lead these teams, I still believe they are worthwhile.

I believe that with a good framework these teams can become a terrific investment for individuals, the local church, and the church-at-large.

Over the coming weeks I will be publishing a series outlining a healthy approach to short-term teams, giving adequate thought to preparation, delivery, and debrief.

But first, it is helpful to start with some definitions.

Defining The Short-Term Mission Team

Before outlining a framework it is worth defining what a short-term team is.

First, short-term teams can be defined by length.

Some organisations have teams that only last a week. Other organisations classify short-term up to two years. That’s a big difference. For the purposes of defining short-term teams in this series I think of them lasting up to three weeks in duration.

Second, short-term teams can be defined by what participants actually do.

(1) Some teams spend time linking up with another church in another city, in their home country, and do mission-type activities together.

(2) Some teams involve going to a majority world country and helping an organisation in that country by painting their building, or their church, or a local school. This is the project-type team, which spends the majority of time doing a practical project in a particular place.

(3) Some teams spend a few weeks exploring the life and culture of a different country, visiting the work that is already going on in that place. This then involves lots of observation, cultural activities, and asking key questions to workers and missionaries already there. In this team there is a recognition that 2-3 weeks in a particular country won’t make much of a difference, except for the participants themselves.

(4) And finally, some teams are ‘longer’ short-term teams whereby the participants learn the language and culture of where they are going and spend significant time in one city, connected with one or two particular ministries going on in that place.

Third, short-term teams can be defined by their destination.

If the team is going to a developing country then it is more likely to be seen as a ‘proper’ short-term team. A team visiting their own country, or at least a place with a similar culture and language, may consider themselves more a partnership team, or just a few people from a church serving in another place for a short period.

There may be other ways to define what a short-term team is, but I believe this covers most of what would be expected and understood by churches, mission groups, and other voluntourism organisations. And this leads me to define these short-term teams as:

“A group of up to a dozen Christians, spending up to three weeks, specifically exploring the idea of mission in a context that is culturally and linguistically different to their home culture.”

What about you? How would you define these short-term teams?

Having this definition will help us think through some of the benefits of these short-term teams before helping us unpack some foundational thoughts about a healthy framework for short-term missions. This is where we will turn to next in our series. I hope you will join me.