Like anything else in life that is done well, preparation for short-term missions is key. Leading a short-term mission team, particularly overseas, is an enormous challenge. There are many factors to consider when short-term teams plan international missions. Those assigned to lead such teams must consider these factors. Wisdom says planning ahead is always best. However, as with any mission effort, flexibility is key. Flexibility does not negate preparation; it demands it. Therefore, when leading short-term missions go with a plan and then go with the flow.
What are some critical factors when leading short-term missions? First, spiritual preparation is essential. Not only must the leader prepare himself/herself well when leading the team, he/she must help the team prepare as well. As mission teams are sent to push back darkness, Satan wants nothing more than to disrupt this assault on darkness. Paul reminds us that the battle we face is spiritual in nature (Eph 6:10-12). Walking closely with the Lord is vital for mission preparation.
Second, team leaders should never underestimate the importance of team strategy. Critical questions to ask are: Why are we doing this mission? How can we best support the work of the missionaries who are on the field? Strategy involves an overall understanding of why and what. In other words, why are we doing this and what exactly are we planning to do? Churches serve the mission field well when they allow the missionaries who are on the field to set the strategy for their team. People who know the language, culture and needs of the area are best suited to determine the strategy of a given place. Contextualizing missions occurs most effectively when those immersed in the culture set the strategy for the field work.
Third, related to the second factor is the importance of servant leadership. Short-term mission team leaders that model servant leadership will breed teams that follow that same pattern. Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and give His life as a ransom for many (Matt 20:28). While what Jesus did is more than an example; nevertheless, it is still an example for us. His life of servant leadership beacons us to live for the service of others rather than for their service to us. Short-term mission leaders have the responsibility to help their team understand this crucial principle in missions. We go over there to serve; not to be served.
Fourth, short-term mission team leaders lead gospel-centered missions. Sometimes what we assume to be the obvious is not always obvious. While there are several good things that we can do while on mission overseas (build, feed, clothe, etc.), as long as it assists the strategy of those on the field, the gospel must be central in whatever we do. I am not opposed to works of mercy, but mercy without gospel witness is not really mercy. Let us be careful that in whatever our strategy the gospel is central in it. I am not suggesting being artificial or “canned” in our gospel witness. But let us, as my friend Coy Webb reminds us, love in deed and truth (1 John 3:18).
These four factors are essential for leading short-term mission teams. There are other factors to consider. On March 10-11 we are offering a training for leading short-term international mission teams. Please be our guest as we explore ways to most effectively and faithfully lead short-term teams for the sake of the gospel. For more information, visit: www.kybaptist.org/tlt.