by John M. Tucker
With the continued growth of short-term missions, those who are short-term mission mobilizers need to consider the value of developing sustainable mission relationships with career missionaries and national Christians.
With the continued growth of short-term missions, those who are short-term mission mobilizers need to consider the value of developing sustainable mission relationships with career missionaries and national Christians. Ongoing partnerships with career missionaries and national Christians that last three years or longer fit within long-term strategies for short-term missionaries. For instance, career missionaries will often have a long-term strategy for evangelizing people in the area of the country where they are ministering. In the past our ministry has been guilty of sending university students on trips where the field contacts have had to set aside their long-term strategy in order to find ministry in which a short-term team could be involved. Instead of viewing our trips as isolated occurrences, we now seek to build relationships by which our mission teams strategically fit into an ongoing ministry. Building such sustainable mission relationships increases the effectiveness of the short-term mission team and aids the career missionaries or national Christians in fulfilling their strategies.
While larger missions may have the option of placing a career missionary on the field to work specifically with short-term teams (as is the case with HCJB Radio in Quito, Ecuador), a vast number of churches and mission organizations sending short termers do not have the resources to pursue this option. By building sustainable mission relationships, churches and mission organizations with fewer resources will be able to minister effectively alongside career missionaries and national Christians.
The recent past has shown us that many short-term mission teams have had a scattershot approach (scattershot indicating teams go to one country one year, a different country the next year and, yet, a third country the following year). This practice often leaves behind a trail of unfinished mission work. The effectiveness of short-term mission teams will increase as they develop these sustainable relationships, leaving behind the less effective scattershot approach to short-term missions.
BENEFITS TO A SUSTAINABLE SHORT-TERM MISSIONS ORIENTATION
There are numerous advantages for short-term teams, career missionaries and national Christians in building sustainable mission relationships.
1. Cultural sensitivity. Short-term mission teams gain a greater understanding of the people and culture of their designated country as they develop an ongoing ministry. As cultural understanding and sensitivity increase, the chances of the sending group hurting the ongoing ministry of the long-term team decreases.
2. Follow-up discipleship. The greater benefit of a sustainable mission relationship is that the short-term team is fitting into the overall mission strategy, and the local body of believers can follow-up with those who were reached for Christ. Short-term mission teams are able to follow-up on previously developed relationships. Christians can be encouraged and discipled. Spiritual seeds that were planted in previous years can be watered or even harvested. For example, while I was on a short-term mission trip to the Caribbean a young man became a Christian. The second year I went we spent time in discipleship. I was then able to continue discipleship through a correspondence relationship.
3. Tailored training. Training for the short-term team becomes more specific and increasingly better as the team continues to return to the same people, helping address one of the primary concerns of career missionaries. A good illustration of tailored training is our mission team that is returning to Central America. Training for working with street children was re-geared to focus less on street life and more on how to deal with sexual exploitation and related trauma.
4. Church planting opportunities.Opportunities to be involved in church planting increase as the short-term team becomes part of the long-term strategy. For example, our office sends a short-term team to India on a regular basis. That team works alongside national Christians in evangelizing a village. When the team leaves, the national Christians gather the new believers and form church fellowships.
5. Reduced cost. As mobilizers learn about the logistics of journeying to a particular location they may be able to cut costs in areas such as travel, food and transportation. It is not uncommon to go to the field for the first time and, while there, discover less expensive means of transportation or housing that can be used the next time.
6. Valuable assistance. In building a sustainable mission relationship the team should adjust to the needs of the career missionary rather than expecting the career missionary to "discover" projects to keep the team busy. As a result, the career missionary or national Christian will generally know what type of a team to expect each time in terms of training quality and member demographics.
7. Reliability in planning. The career missionary or national Christian can let the team know in advance when and how they are needed, allowing both groups to plan accordingly. Effective planning avoids conflict in altering the on-field contact’s busy schedule.
8. Strategic use of short-term missionaries. In terms of strategy, the career missionaries or national Christians, knowing they have a sustainable relationship with short-term teams, can use a team to efficiently and effectively increase the impact area of the local mission team. For instance, progressive short-term trips framed in a sustainable relationship could look something like this: 1st year, research team; 2nd year, evangelistic team; 3rd year, discipleship and church planting team. Both sides should regularly evaluate the relationship to see if it remains beneficial or needs to be adjusted.
DEVELOPING SUSTAINABLE RELATIONSHIPS
In developing the sustainable relationship, missions mobilizers should be most considerate of the career missionaries’ or national Christian’s situation. Initiating and sustaining mission relationships requires tact and time. Having said this, where does one begin in developing this type of relationship?
1. Pursue established contacts. Relationships should be pursued in the most common and natural way. Personal contacts who are missionaries or national Christians of a country different from your own are good places to start. If you are not well acquainted with any missionaries, you could contact your denominational mission or an independent mission agency to see if they know of anyone looking for a short-term mission team.
2. Be discreet. In your contact with those in limited access countries you should assume that discretion is necessary until you are informed otherwise. Avoid religious jargon or language that unnecessarily plays on the missionary context of your contact or your own project.
3. Fit into a strategy.Find out what the active mission is and how a team from your church or organization could fit into their strategy. As I mentioned earlier, it is important to tailor training to their needs as opposed to altering the mission to fit your agenda. For instance, if a national Christian in Spain is requesting a team of experienced businessmen, you should not ask them if it is all right to bring a group of high school students who can perform a drama. If you cannot fit their needs, let them know and move on to your next contact.
4. Solidify logistics. Agree upon the specifics of the trip such as who will come, when they will come, and what they will do. Be flexible as itineraries often change in other countries. However, you as the sender should do all that you can to fulfill your stated obligation.
5. Make reasonable commitments. Unfulfilled promises have the potential to sour the relationship for you or any other mission team that desires to come in the future. Do not make promises beyond the realm of your resources. You may not be able to provide the resources that the missionary or national Christian needs.
6. Maintain contact. Maintain regular contact between the time you make a commitment to go to a country and your actual arrival on site. Communicate about trip logistics, team training and prayer as appropriate.
7. Cooperate fully. Finally, the team should cooperate fully with the missionary and national Christian while on the field. Maintain high expectations for sustaining the relationship during the mission trip and after the team returns.
Developing sustainable mission relationships between short-term missionaries and career missionaries or national Christians will more effectively involve short-term missionaries in long-term strategy. Cooperative strategic planning will allow the short-term missionaries to be a blessing and an asset, not a burden, in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
John Tucker is the director of Missions at the University Missions and Ministries Center of Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri. He earned his MA in Intercultural Studies from Wheaton College Graduate School.
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