Going Short

How one congregation prepares people for short-term trips and helps them see how they are part of a much bigger picture.

By Tom Moen

We use a document at Mountain Christian Church called “The Anatomy of a Short-Term Mission Trip” to help our people understand the gravity, depth, and commitment involved in getting the team ready to go, serve well, and return home to continue the mission.

11_Moen2_JNThis information illustrates the great investment of time that goes into making a GO Team trip work. The team leaders and church staff work together to lead the team participants through this process.

Our hope through this experience is to help our people understand the nature of the mission and how we are a part of it before, during, and after the experience they are applying for. We even use poor English and say to our people, “If you are in Christ, you are never not on mission with him.”

I know it’s cliché to say this of the Short Term Mission Trip Experience (STMTE), but it’s definitely true: it’s NOT the destination; it’s the journey. We have in mind a certain “product” we want to produce as our people pass through this experience. We say to the prospective short-term missionaries we interview, if this experience were a pizza, the actual trip would be only one slice of the pie. It’s natural to look at the trip/destination as the pinnacle. In fact, when we advertise our destinations six to eight months before departure, we know that most probably think, Wow, I would love to go to _________.

Called, Equipped, Trained

Our process helps people think in terms of calling rather than tourist/bucket list. We want to help our people discern/confirm that God is calling them to this! We also want to help people recognize whether they are being called TO something or are really running FROM something. Our whole process, under various levels of leadership, trainers, mentors, and pastoral staff, affords us the ability and insight to confirm one’s calling or to say this may not be the best time for this experience.

We are careful to send called, equipped, trained people to our missionaries living on the field so as to accentuate their ministries rather than cause harm and frustration. By the time our folks embark on the trip, they have already been together with their team for 12 to 15 meetings, trainings, and service projects. They know each other quite well and have already worked out some of their differences—better to do that here than there!

One of the first things we say in our interviews is, “It’s not that you need the trip, rather, it’s that the trip needs you.” Before starting on an STMTE, we need the person to understand this journey is not about them. It’s about the mission and the anatomy involved in making it GOOD FOR US (meaning good for the kingdom of God)!

Three Key Areas of Our Anatomy

1. Culture—This is caught more than taught. A “miniculture” is created among the teammates as they participate in the STMTE. It becomes a side-by-side, edifying, discipleship experience. Similarly, our teams get to be a part of another culture. We say to our people, “Let the culture HAVE you.” By saying that, we impress upon them the need to immerse themselves in the culture instead of becoming frustrated by it or complaining about it. The trip affords us the opportunity to evaluate our own culture and be learners, not commentators.

As a part of creating and understanding culture, we require all of our people to read Foreign to Familiar by Sarah Lanier. It’s a quick, fun, informative read that stresses the importance of appreciating unfamiliar cultures.

2. Expectancy—We plan, organize, and strategize almost everything. Then we remind everyone that everything is subject to what God will do. We expect that many things will happen outside of our preparations, so while we plan ahead, we remain very flexible.

That’s a mind-set we want to create. Expectancy is looking with anticipation at the world in front of us and entering into opportunities God will provide. Some biblical examples of this are when Jesus saw Zacchaeus in the tree and invited him down, and when the Good Samaritan saw the man in the ditch and went and helped. Enter into every situation with eyes open to see why God has placed you there.

3. Values—If a person values a task or opportunity or project, he will do it because he wants to, not simply because it is required. I have heard it said, “Never change a structure before you change a value.”

We do ask our people to accept many structures we establish as we prepare for the trip: Everyone must have a trip buddy. Cell phone use isn’t permitted. Don’t give out personal contact info. The team travels together to and from the airport. But we always begin by speaking to the value undergirding the structure so there is appreciation for the STMTE.

We want our people to understand we will maintain a tight focus on and around the trip destination, but that ultimately the trip serves as a training ground for becoming a better disciple and a better life-term missionary wherever God may lead . . . especially in one’s neighborhood, workplace, and family. We take a long view and put the STMTE in the MUCH broader context of one’s walk with Christ throughout life.

The “trip” never ends. The fact that one boarded an aircraft, bus, or van and went to a destination to perform ministry/outreach is monumental, but it really is no different from what a Christian should be doing in her own neighborhood.

Tom Moen serves as pastor of global outreach with Mountain Christian Church, Joppa, Maryland.

________

OUR PROCESS

Here are the steps we take to prepare our life-term missionaries to GO and have a fruitful Short Term Mission Trip Experience (STMTE):

7 to 8 Months Out

• Mountain’s Glocal Outreach office makes initial contact with missionaries to see if they want to host a team and learn what the team will do

• GO Trips leadership team receives proposal and approves the trip

• Finalize size of team, requested, dates, jobs on site, and specific needs

• Begin the advertising process

• Consult with church office staff for awareness and preparation of trip-specific material

• Meet with the creative media department to pick a layout format for trip information (brochures, promotional materials, theme)

• Prepare the packet for interviewees (folder with destination-specific info, financial deadlines, values, training dates, sample support raising letters, medical info)

• Prepare bulletin/slide announcements

• Team leaders 8-hour training

• PRAY, PRAY, PRAY!

• Meet with team leaders and trip administrators to plan dates for interviews and team training

6 Months Out

• Advertise (newsletter, worship bulletin insert, preservice slides, brochures)

• Make copies of destination brochures and applications available at guest services at all venues

• Host informational/orientation meetings to talk through the process, weed out “bucket-list” people, and share the “Anatomy of a GO Trip” material

• Encourage people to fill out/turn in applications

• Start interview process

• Solicit pastoral staff input on applicants

5 Months Out

• Application deadline

• Call GO Team leader to have a representative at interviews

• Review applications; schedule and finish interviews

• Personally speak with people not accepted for the trip (every year we have three to five people we do not take on our trips for various reasons)

• Send out letters of acceptance and next steps/dates reminders

• Send a list of trip participants to finance office so funds can be credited to the appropriate participant and trip insurance can be purchased

• Team meeting 1 (our School of Leaders material contains all of the agendas for our team meetings)

4 Months Out

• Team meeting 2

• Prefield training seminar 1 (topics: cultural awareness and team conflict resolution)

3 Months Out

• Team meeting 3

• First financial deadline; begin tracking finances

• Work with travel agent and reserve airplane tickets

• Order T-shirts, bracelets, or bags specific to the theme

• Team meeting 4

• Prefield retreat training seminar 2 (topics: spiritual warfare and travel safety and security)

2 Months Out

• Team meeting 5

• Final financial deadline and purchase plane tickets

• Final prefield retreat training seminar (topics: community health evangelism, team building, personality inventory, and world meal)

4 Weeks Out

• Team meeting 6

3 Weeks Out

• Team meeting 7

2 Weeks Out

• Team meeting 8

1 Week Out

• Packing party

• Team picture and prayer in the worship service

TRIP

Post Trip

• Complete evaluation (send an evaluation to receiving missionary for feedback)

• Post-trip celebration for those who supported the GO team

• Debriefing of individuals (this is as important as the trip itself and is VITAL for processing information and feelings gained while on the field! Assign a post-trip mentor for three months (in groups of two to four people). This is emphasized in the interview as a part of the post-trip commitment

• Debriefing of the team (conduct team meeting debriefings both one week after returning and one month after returning).

This process is designed to catapult our people into a deeper, richer understanding of God’s mission in his world. After all, we are always ON Mission WITH Christ!

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6 Comments

  1. November 2, 2015 at 1:32 pm

    As a missionary, it is such a blessing for me to read this!
    That you are not only helping your missionaries, but doing so in such a well-prepared, prayer-soaked way, & that you apparently have done this quite often, makes me thrilled.
    Thank you for your efforts!

  2. David Cole
    November 3, 2015 at 6:57 am

    This is based on the wrong concept of calling. God calls EVERY Christian to participate in ministry. There is no such thing as a “calling” to a specific ministry that God subjectively communicates us. We may feel drawn to do something but it is not God but our own selves responding to the general call given to everyone through the gospel.

    “We want to help our people discern/confirm that God is calling them to this!” is total nonsense. No confirmation is necessary. If they want to serve let them serve. If they don’t then don’t.

    “We are careful to send called, equipped, trained people to our missionaries living on the field so as to accentuate their ministries rather than cause harm and frustration.” Eliminate the “called” aspect and focus on the two remaining aspects of equipment and training, but eliminating harm and frustration is not the goal of equipping and training. The goal is to facilitate the spread of the gospel.

    “Before starting on an STMTE, we need the person to understand this journey is not about them. It’s about the mission and the anatomy involved in making it GOOD FOR US (meaning good for the kingdom of God)!” That’s very short sighted. The trip is about both the messenger and the message. The messenger grows from the experience and the gospel is proclaimed. It’s not one or the other but both.

    “We plan, organize, and strategize almost everything. Then we remind everyone that everything is subject to what God will do.” This is nothing but deterministic nonsense. There is great value in organizing and strategizing one’s mission trip but to say “everything is subject to what God will do” is an oxymoron. Which is it? Are we in control or are we puppets on strings? Is God moving us around like pawns or are we generals given a task to execute as we wish? Let’s have none of this sitting on the fence with one foot in free will and the other in determinism. It’s counter-productive and causes frustration far more than any culture shock to be experienced.

    “Expectancy is looking with anticipation at the world in front of us and entering into opportunities God will provide.” Opportunities come and go all the time but God is not providing them. How is it that our Restoration preachers are infected with this kind of determinism; that God is in the background providentially pulling strings? We do not find that in Scripture. I have seen good opportunities missed because people didn’t feel “called” and bad opportunities taken because they thought they saw God’s providence at work in it. We have lost so many potential missionaries because they sat on their haunches waiting for a subjective call that should never have been expected.

    There was nothing “providential” about Christ meeting Zacchaeus. It wasn’t set up by God. It happened totally by chance. Most everything in life are fortuitous. And the Good Samaritan was a parable! How can it be an example of providence? The whole concept of God working in the background, manipulating circumstances to put people together is umbilical and here is a classic example of how one twists Scripture to fit one’s faulty presuppositions.

    “We want our people to understand we will maintain a tight focus on and around the trip destination, but that ultimately the trip serves as a training ground for becoming a better disciple and a better life-term missionary wherever God may lead.” And now comes the contradiction. Earlier he said, “we need the person to understand this journey is not about them” then says, “ultimately the trip serves as a training ground for becoming a better disciple and a better life-term missionary,” so IT IS ABOUT THEM! But whatever, God may lead. Yeah right!

    In the parables of the talents and pounds, each worker was given money to trade with until the return of the master. He was never told how to trade nor that the master would pull strings for them so that they would have opportunities. The master was uninvolved until it came time for accounting. So it is with us. Everyone is called to serve our Lord, but how we do it, where we go, how we get equipped, and what opportunities we take is 100% totally left up to us. No amount of praying or seeking God’s will ever induce Him to subjectively reveal any kind of specific will to us. YOU ARE FREE TO TRADE AS YOU SEE FIT! And that’s good news. Less frustration, more enjoyment and no second guessing. Go have a fun time spreading the gospel and stop feeling guilty all the time.

  3. Jenny Krichton
    November 4, 2015 at 2:46 pm

    Fantastic article! I am particularly appreciative of the way you point out expectancy and entering into opportunities God will provide. Thankful for the bold reminder that the STMTE never ends! This reignites purpose for every disciple wherever they may find themselves. May God continue to bless you on mission with Him.

  4. November 4, 2015 at 5:06 pm

    I must disagree with this statement:

    “There is no such thing as a ‘calling’ to a specific ministry that God subjectively communicates us. We may feel drawn to do something but it is not God but our own selves responding to the general call given to everyone through the gospel.” — David Cole, in this comment section

    Abraham, Gideon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, the apostle Paul, & many other Bible heroes experienced a call “subjectively” to a distinct ministry.

    Multitudes of saints today, including me, would affirm that God also clearly, unmistakably did this for us–a specific call to a specific ministry.

  5. David Cole
    November 8, 2015 at 4:13 am

    John Allcott. You need to do some study on covenant.

    God chose Abraham to begin his covenant plans to bring the Savior into the world and to be the father of his covenant nations, and God communicated to him in audible language not subjectively. Gideon was leader of Israel and God communicated to him directly using audible language through angels, not through subjective feelings. Isaiah and Jeremiah were prophets who had the spirit of prophesy! There was nothing subjective about the audible message from God that they received and delivered. The Apostle Paul never once received subjective communication. He saw visions and spoke directly to the Lord. So all of your examples are of direct communication by God to people who held offices that do not exist today. We know the covenant imperative behind each and every biblical figure. We know why they were necessary and what prophetic promises they fulfilled, but the Old Covenant with all it’s promises ended long ago as did the age of prophets and apostles. The New Covenant has been consummated since the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70. There are no covenant imperatives necessitating specific ministry tasks.

    You say you were called to specific ministry. For us to believe that you must supply us with two things. Tell us what covenant imperative necessitates your particular ministry? How does it fit into God’s plan to bring into existence the New Covenant in Christ or bring about its consummation? Then tell us when the Lord directly talked to you in an audible voice, what angel told you to do something, what vision did you have or prove to us that you have the prophetic spirit by doing signs and wonders. Until you can demonstrate that the Lord has spoken to you other than your subjective feelings then you cannot include your name in any list along with those biblical heroes you mentioned. And if and when you can demonstrate how you necessarily fit into God’s plan to bring about the New Covenant backed up by signs and wonders then we will record everything you say and do and attach them to the backs of our Bibles.

    Yes, “multitudes” of saints will claim subjective leading but so will multitudes of Mormons, Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims and Animists. Every New Age religions is based on subjective leading by their spirit guide. If your subjective feelings are valid then so are theirs. There is a reason God chose the gospel instead of subjective feelings to reveal himself to men. Think about it. Do you follow the God of the biblical covenants or do you follow the subjective feelings of your own human heart?

  6. December 16, 2015 at 1:37 pm

    Great article. I’m encouraged to see you communicating that the primary purpose is to honor God by serving others. We preach this to any considering going on a trip with us. I often say that personal growth & fulfillment is a beautiful byproduct, but not a primary motive for going.

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