by Jay Childs
Leadership mission trips can provide focus and vision for churches involved in or preparing to enter the global mission field.
I can still remember their faces as they sat around my dining room table. Until that moment it had been a fairly typical elders meeting. But as I began to share about my recent mission trip to Southeast Asia, eyes began to glaze over. I had accompanied our outreach pastor to scout out a second people group for “adoption.” As I finished my impassioned report, I realized the men seemed a little bored. Their exteriors were gracious enough, but their non-verbal communication screamed, “Enough already—let’s get back to the real business of the church.” I half-jokingly said, “You guys are bored. Okay, next year I am going to take you and your wives to Southeast Asia.” I was met by several benign smiles and a couple of friendly “No thank yous.” The meeting droned on to other topics and finally ended.
Immediately my wife and I went to work. We began to plan and design a “leadership mission trip” to Southeast Asia for the next year. The initial criteria for participants included: (1) being in a position of influential leadership, (2) being personally invited to go, (3) having had minimal missions experience and (4) taking your spouse (if you had one). The philosophy was simple: invest the most time in leaders who will have the greatest scope of influence on those around them. This method of multiplication was one that Jesus used.
The first group I targeted was the elders and their wives. I had my sights set on one elder in particular who had shown the most resistance to going. For the next several months I gently nudged him; every effort was met with increasing resistance. However, his wife quietly encouraged us to keep working on him. One night at a fellowship dinner this elder walked up to me and said, “Okay, you win. I will go.” I learned later that the Holy Spirit had really convicted him in the previous months.
We commenced the training, purchased airline tickets, lined up accommodations and finally took off for Southeast Asia. We had two couples from our elder board, a youth leader and his wife, one couple from our global missions team and my executive pastor and his wife. It was a great group and by the time the trip was over we had endured many challenges. The heat and humidity, the extreme change in diet, the demanding schedule, the temples and mosques and the sheer amount of physical sickness that struck our team impacted our trip. I had prayed when we landed that God would throw obstacles in our path to frustrate us and to teach us dependence on him; he faithfully answered that prayer.
Since that first leadership trip my wife and I have had the privilege to lead several more trips to Southeast Asia, Russia and Ireland. Each time we encouraged influential leaders within our church to join us. The fruit of our leadership trips has been very encouraging. God has faithfully multiplied our efforts and ignited a flame throughout our church. Our leaders are catching a vision that the Great Commission can be boiled down to three simple words: make, mature and multiply. Leaders who have taken these trips are infected with God’s heart for the nations and begin to share their passion with the rest of the church.
One of the most encouraging pieces of fruit from our leadership trips has been the number of “alumni” couples who have committed to going full-time to the mission field. Out of three leadership trips thus far, we have four couples either already on the field or preparing to go. Other fruit has included one of our elders and his wife now leading a monthly prayer meeting for the unreached people group we visited. Our children’s pastor spearheaded Missions Connection Club, a Wednesday night program for kindergarten through fifth grade students. Our kids are developing an understanding of God’s heart for the nations.
JESUS AND MINISTRY TRIPS
Jesus used extended contact with those he wanted to impact. This is evident in the Gospels. Matthew records at least sixty-seven different occasions when Jesus and his disciples spent quality time together, sometimes in cross-cultural settings such as Decapolis. John tabulates seventy-three such occasions. What is especially interesting is that much of this extended time occurred on the road. Sometimes these were short trips (it is six miles from Jerusalem to Bethlehem); sometimes they were longer (it is over seventy miles from Jerusalem to the Sea of Galilee). Jesus and his disciples spent most of their three years together walking! This is the theological and strategic foundation for leadership trips. While their trips were not always to distant lands, they nonetheless afforded Jesus extended time with his disciples—time to talk, see God at work and minister in cross-cultural settings. I have tried to duplicate this model, whether through shorter ministry trips within our own state or through overseas mission trips.
The following twelve recommendations may benefit those preparing a leadership mission trip:
1. Be clear about the motives and goals for the trip. It is important that those who are invited to go are clear about the goals and motivation for the trip. For example, they need to realize that the trip is not about what they will get out of it. Individual transformation (e.g., a life changing experience) has always been a result of doing missions; it has never been a primary motivation for missions until recent times. For our church, the primary reasons for the trip are six-fold: (1) to consider the possibility of going full-time into missions, (2) to gain a vision of God’s passion for his glory among the nations, (3) to gain a better working knowledge of one of our unreached people groups, (4) to come back and “infect” our church to be a better sending base, (5) to minister, encourage and learn from our full-time workers and (6) to be personally challenged. Clarifying these goals is important to help avoid the narcissism that has crept into much of our short-term missions thinking.
2. Remember that leadership mission trips do not have to be led by a senior pastor. While senior pastors are certainly in an ideal role to lead such trips, there is no reason these trips cannot be led by associate pastoral staff or key lay leaders. However, having a senior pastor lead a trip may let congregants know that missions is a top priority in the church.
3. Remember that leadership mission trips do not have to go to foreign lands. We happened to target Southeast Asia because of our interest in a Muslim people group there. However, an equally impactful trip could be designed domestically. The key is to think “cross-cultural” if at all possible. It is not so much where you go, as it is that you have extensive time to do ministry together.
4. Be strategic about who you invite and make sure to invite the person’s spouse. Most of the mission trips in our church are theoretically open to everyone. A trip is announced and people are invited to sign up. While this can be effective, it is not the strategy of a leadership mission trip. For these kinds of trips, we strategically target couples in leadership by sending them an attractive invitation asking them to consider the trip. It is important to explain to those in your congregation why only selected people are going so as not to cause division. If a leader is married, he or she must come with his or her spouse. We have found that when a spouse attends a trip, there is greater impact.
5. Keep the training bar high. We put a premium on good training for our trips. Not all training is created equal. In fact, for each successive leadership trip the training commitment has increased. We have discovered that there is a direct ratio between the quality of the training and the effectiveness of the trip. For our most recent trip we required twenty-four hours of training over eight Saturdays. Each person also made a commitment to read one thousand pages from four different books. There is also mandated prayer walking and a visit to an ethnic restaurant.
6. Design an impactful trip. From the outset we have packed our leadership trips with as many experiences as we can fit in a two-week period. We spend time with as many missionaries as possible. We love to interact and talk with our workers, take them gifts and learn from them. One of the benefits of taking multiple trips to the same region is that you get acquainted with the workers and you find yourself building true relationships. We also visit mosques, Buddhist and Hindu temples and sacred pilgrimage sights. We prayer walk, accept dinner invitations to workers’ homes and occasionally get invited to a Muslim’s home. Another highlight is our extended team meetings in the country. These are a great blessing, and are essential to help process the vast amount of things we are experiencing. Daily journaling is also mandatory. At the end of the trip we conduct a fairly intense three-hour debriefing while still in the country.
7. Challenge team couples to consider full-time ministry. We often say that we want to give our best to the nations. For us, this means a willingness to “give away” our best leaders to the nations. One of the things we did on a recent leadership trip was to throw out a challenge to the team for at least one couple to consider going full time into missions. We prayed openly for this during team meetings. Over the years we have discovered that many people are waiting to be asked and nudged into this type of commitment.
8. Coordinate with workers on the field. An important aspect of any strategic mission trip is to coordinate with full-time workers on the field. After all, we are going into their backyard. This partnership does not mean that the full-time workers will be involved with all aspects of the trip, but it does mean that they will be integral to planning the key components of the trip. Never show up unannounced. Let the workers know that you want to (1) raise visibility for their ministry back home and (2) minister to them while you are there. To accomplish this, we must be sensitive to their schedules, security issues and ministries.
9. Offer a high caliber presentation upon return. Once we return, we offer a ninety-minute presentation to our church for anyone who is interested in hearing about our experiences. For the first few years we even included crazy incentives to draw people in. For the first leadership trip presentation, all of the men on the team agreed to dye their hair blond if 350 people showed up. We also write up a formal report for the pastoral staff and elders.
10. If you are a missionary, encourage a home church to offer this type of trip. Many full-time missionaries have come to dread short-term teams. Yet I am convinced that workers should consider leadership trips from supporting churches if those trips are coordinated with the field. While this will involve some work, the benefits for those on the field can be enormous. It will raise visibility for their ministry. Workers may also be greatly encouraged by a small team of leaders who have come to bless them and learn from them.
11. Subsidize some of the trip if possible. We encourage people to consider short-term trips by subsidizing them. Asking leaders to invest two weeks of vacation is a major sacrifice; we do not want to burden them too much by asking them to pay for the entire trip themselves. Each couple is required to contribute some of their own money and send out thirty support letters. Any remaining funds are supplied by the church budget.
12. Pray and trust God to raise up workers. I grew up thinking that missionaries were boring. All of that changed a number of years ago when I took my first trip. This is a common testimony. Now that I have been to a number of other countries, and have mingled with the unmedicated, unfed and unevangelized peoples, my heart aches to help them. Thankfully, others in the Majority World are also waking up to their responsibility to global missions. This includes countries such as Brazil, Nigeria, South Korea and India. Those of us in church leadership can do a lot to challenge our people to leave and go to the nations. In our church we currently have fifteen couples or singles in the pipeline for the mission field. We have been praying for twenty by the year 2020, but are now realizing that we have drastically underestimated our Father’s desire to reach the nations. He wants all to hear the gospel and be saved.
Jay Childs is senior pastor of Midland Evangelical Free Church in Midland, Michigan. He and his wife Becky have a burden for mobilizing, supporting and encouraging workers on the mission field.
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