Our church made it a practice for short-term mission teams to give a presentation upon their return. Since the church had sent them we should hear from them by way of a report/presentation, we thought. This accomplished three things: celebration, challenge others to go and accountability. It was a few weeks after our team shared the story of our two-week mission trip to Belgium, when it dawned on me that we may be short-circuiting the missional purpose of our church. Our reporting may be unintentionally sending the wrong message about how God wants to use His people in our churches to incarnate the Gospel in our neighborhood.
Why do we seem to have really good and fruitful experiences when we go to another state or country on mission? This may not always be the case but trips that did not go so well are rarely reported as such in front of a church. We tried to steer away from numbers but it is inevitable when you are working in such a compressed time frame. We encouraged using names and telling personal stories about people encountered for the sake of the Gospel mission in these reports. I cannot think of one single occasion where someone regretted they had gone on a trip or wasn’t stretched as a disciple by the cross-cultural experience.
Here are some of the elements of a “successful” short-term mission trip:
1. Identify the need as observed or communicated by people on the field.
2. Our churches hear of the need and disciples decide to go.
3. These disciples marshal resources in order to go, which requires an intentional investment of time and money. Also team members co-op prayer partners who invest in the trip as well.
4. These same disciples prepare themselves for the physical, mental and spiritual rigor of the trip with training, planning and intercommunication.
5. They go with the whole purpose of Gospel mission from rising up early to going to bed late. From the van ride to the airport to getting back on the plane, the whole matter is infused with Gospel-mission intentionality.
6. Glad to return home but with heavy hearts concerning broken people, desperate needs left behind and at the same time rejoicing that God uses broken people like us to entice others to consider the goodness and grace of God in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
7. Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice.
Why not apply the same elements to reaching our community, our town or our neighborhood where our church is embedded? It’s certainly not difficult to observe some needs in the lives of people in our neighborhood. Share the need with others who may want to participate with us by giving, praying or going with us. But the greatest step is the decision to go! We must teach, challenge and stretch disciples to be Gospel-intentional and mission-minded about work, school, store, races, ballgames, and going walking at the park. In short, believers must make no less a decision to go out of the house on mission daily than to go to Africa on mission for two weeks. This may be a greater challenge than going to Africa for two weeks!
And Sunday worship gatherings and small group gatherings would be akin to walking down the steps at baggage claim and seeing loved ones who prayed, gave and longed for your return.
In our gatherings, it would serve our covenant community well to create space for Sandra to tell about going to teach fifth-graders day after day on mission for Christ? Why not celebrate with Joseph concerning his effort to reach a classmate who responded to an invite by attending Wednesday night student worship? Let’s hear from a praying grandmother who is celebrating the way God is using suffering in a grandson’s life to open his heart to the Gospel.
A large part of the challenge, blessing and growth comes from the cross-cultural nature of the mission experience when we go to another country or state for that matter. One thing we should consider is how going into our community as a follower of Jesus Christ really is cross-cultural but we have become so adapted that we cannot sense that our ‘citizenship is in heaven” (Phil. 3:20) Have we adapted too well and cannot seriously engage our surroundings because we have become so much like our surroundings?
Fellow disciples, we are on a short-term mission trip. Make no mistake; we are working with a compressed time frame that is determined by our life span or Christ’s return. The church is an outpost of heaven in a foreign land and we are ambassadors for our King. We are not where we belong but we are where we should be for now. Let’s be resolved about our disciple-making purpose on this short-term trip. One day the One who loves us, sent us, intercedes for us and gave Himself for us will receive us at the baggage claim of heaven. What a day that will be…until then; Remember. Celebrate. Rejoice. Go.