As the eleven apostles wait on the Mountain in Galilee for Jesus, they are filled with mixed emotions. No doubt they wonder, “What will Jesus say and what will we do next?” When Jesus appears to the them, the heart of His message is “make disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19).
Short-term missions is for the purpose of making disciples, not just somewhere else, but among our own church members. Pastors and church leaders should view short-term missions as a two-point prong—making disciples locally and globally. We go elsewhere to assist missionaries in their work of making disciples in other places, but we also understand short-term missions as a vital part of making disciples of our own church members.
There is something incredibly valuable about pouring into our own church members while they are away from normal routines and distractions. Don’t miss this opportunity through short-term missions to have long-term discipling impact on your church members.
Here are some suggestions for discipling your short-term mission teams.
- Encourage team members to enlist prayer partners. These partners can be within the church, family members, or other believers outside of the church. Lead them to give weekly or monthly prayer matters leading up to the time of the mission effort. For the time of the mission effort have your team members give a daily prayer point guide to their prayer partners before they leave. Also, encourage team members to have at least one prayer partner that prays with them each week leading up to the mission effort. They can pray through Facetime, in person, over the phone, etc.
- Develop personal time in God’s Word and prayer. Nothing prepares the team member more for missions than his/her personal time with God. Several months before the mission effort, teams can be encouraged to read through certain passages or books of the Bible. For example, reading through Acts prior to and during the mission effort is a great way to prepare the team spiritually for what they are about to do. Providing specific prayer guides for the team member’s own spiritual preparation is essential as well. This might be the first time these team members develop an intentional personal time in God’s Word and prayer.
- Teach them how to share the gospel. Missions is not missions if the gospel is missing. There are many tools that can be used to teach teams how to share the gospel. The point is not one particular method as much as making sure each team member can articulate the gospel concisely and clearly. Spending time with the team not only teaching them how to share the gospel but giving them opportunities to practice on one another and even in the community before the team leaves is critical. The goal is not teaching them to be an expert in winning arguments, but simply telling the “old, old story” of Jesus and His love. The gospel is the power of God for salvation, not our presentation or method (Rom 1:16). Share the gospel and trust God to do His work!
- Utilize your time on the field for discipleship. While on the mission effort, being intentional about pouring into the team members is essential. Taking them through a study in the Bible (like Acts) or a book is a great way to have deliberate discipleship time while on mission (there are a number of short, but impactful books that could be used for this purpose). Either in the morning before the team leaves out for the day or in the evening when you settle down from the day, walking the team through a planned study time is a valuable way to point the team to God’s Word and apply both the Word and their daily mission experiences to their Christian life. Amazingly, God often uses His Word and the experiences of the team while on mission to grow them exponentially. Take advantage of that time for team discipleship.
- Don’t forget when you get back home. Pray for new habits and convictions that begin to form while on the mission effort to remain once you are home. Team members often ask themselves and their churches, “now what?” when they return home. The experiences are often overwhelming and can cause frustration when others back home don’t quite see things in the same way as the team members upon their return. Learning to leverage one’s experience for personal growth and influence of others is a delicate but important step.
Short-term missions is valuable for assisting missionaries in their strategies to reach other peoples and places with the gospel, but also crucial in raising up mature believers in our own congregations. It’s not a matter of which of these two impacts we desire for short-term missions; it’s that we pray for both.