Thursday, July 21, 2011

Short-Term Missions: The Importance of the team (the “sent”)

In my last post I talked about the larger “TEAM” (including the senders, the sent, and the receivers). I wanted to zoom in for a second on the “sent” – those who actually GO on the short-term missions trip. If you don’t get this part right, you can have a disaster on your hands. In fact, I can tell you after 9 or 10 short-term ministry experiences that team unity is one of the most difficult things to maintain.

Stress, fear, nerves, jet-lag, adrenaline, fatigue…all these things make humans think, say and do crazy things!

Selecting or creating a team, once again, comes down to the purpose of the trip. The team members must “fit” the purpose of the trip. (For example, I’m not the kind of guy who is going to get invited on a trip to fix cars or lay brick for a new building). In our case, the trip was only open to a small group of students who had been involved in a year-long leadership development program. The other aspect that is incredibly important in the entire process is prayer. God should make it clear to each team member and to the leader whether or not he/she is called to be a part of the trip.

There are some tools/activities we do to keep the team functioning well. One of those things is a team covenant (sample below). Every student and adult (including the leader) was required to sign this from the very start of the process. We reviewed it on several occasions and encouraged everyone to take it very seriously. It’s a good “foundational” piece for when conflicts arise – it gives you something to go back to.

We also met as a team several times before the trip to plan, explain expectations, and simply pray together and ask God to mold us together as a team.

Another significant team-builder is Bible studies. For a week before the trip until a few days after the trip (and during the entire trip) we required all team members to work through Bible studies that focused on issues related to cross-cultural ministry. The purpose of this was to align our thinking and to ask God to work in us through His Word and our interaction with Him. Each Bible study also gave us a daily prayer focus so that we were praying in similar ways.

Another important piece is to have “team-times” built into the ministry time. If you go through an entire trip without stopping along the way to breathe and debrief as a team, you will miss out on a lot. We would spend these times in worship, in prayer – reflecting and thanking God for His provisions thus far, to assess what we are learning so far, to process observations, to begin thinking about applications to our lives, etc. We also tried to make these times memorable and enjoyable by having them in a nice park in the city, or in a cozy coffee shop. Some days it might be most beneficial to require this time to be individual time alone with God. This often gets overlooked when we are busy “doing ministry”, yet it is so important that each individual serving out of the overflow of God’s work in his/her own heart. Ideally, these times happen daily (even if they’re not as long each day), but I would say it’s important to have a “significant” team time at least every-other day or every third day depending on the length of the trip.

As a matter of chat…

Do you work or serve as part of a “team”? Are you functioning well as a team? Do you think any of these suggested concepts are applicable to every-day life teams? How important is “unity” in the Church to God? (Read I Corinthians if you’re not sure). How is your church, group or team building and protecting unity?

Sample Team Covenant:
As a member of "X" team, I commit:
- To maintain a servant attitude
- To be respectful
- To be a teachable
- To not complain
- To resolve all team conflicts according to biblical principles
- To avoid exclusivity in relationships
- To prioritize personal quiet times with God
- To give our best in every situation
- To encourage each other
- To follow our leaders and hosts
I desire to be part of a team of people characterized by Christ-like behavior, exhibited through unconditional love, unselfish service and unified teamwork.

Signed/Dated: ____________-

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