The Incomplete Pass: A Call For Missionaries Teams to Receive Well, Part Three

BY EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, LARRY MCCRARY

In the previous article, we considered the challenges and opportunities of integrating new mid- and long-term workers onto the missionary team. Now let’s consider how to receive short-term teams well. 

Being Proactive vs. Being Reactive 

Short-term trips can be strategic. Many people believe they only benefit the church and the trip participants, but I believe that a well-planned short-term team can enhance what you are desiring to accomplish long-term. However, you need to have a plan in place. Otherwise, short-termers can easily take you off track from you want to be. 

Thus, one key is for the missionary team to be proactive in their strategic development for short-term teams. When we fail to do so, and think reactively to a team wanting to come, we tend to respond impulsively to the church partner. The trip is thrown together to give the participants a good experience—meanwhile you end up asking yourself, “Why did we agree to this again?”

Consider the Challenges

Living on the mission field means you are likely dependent on external relationships.

Simply put, you need supporters from churches. In many cases your ability to stay on the field is determined by raising enough money to live there. And for many churches to get behind the work financially, they may want to be significantly involved, especially by sending short-term teams. 

That can often put us in a compromising position.

Why? Because we need their financial support, and their participation. But what we actually need them to do may not line up with what they want to do. If we are dependent on their resources, then we might ever so slightly start forming our strategy based on their preferences to partner with us in a certain way. This can also be true when we are talking about partnerships between a national church and a church in the states with much needed resources.

For example, if our strategy to engage the people in our neighborhood with the gospel is not through large events but in our everyday lives in the city, then how does that affect what we need from a short-term team? We may not need a team that is large and focused on programmed events. Instead, perhaps we need smaller teams that can be equipped to engage people in our everyday lives and in a natural way. Instead of 8-10 people, you may just need 2-4 people. Yet, if we sense the expectation to develop their preferred trip for them, then we could find ourselves being driven by the partnership. 

Or, you may need a team to come and distribute materials in the market, but what the church is offering is a team that can hold an ESL camp. You don’t have plans for such a camp, but you reach a compromise where they will do gospel distribution in markets if you will put together a camp where they can teach English in the mornings. That wouldn’t necessarily be bad. It may just be different than what you know is needed.

That’s why it’s important from the outset that you think significantly about your needs in the area of teaming. If you need smaller teams for short-term trips, or if you need mid-term workers to come and study or do an internship for three months, then you need to be the one leading out in your strategy—not the other way around.

It’s fine for church partners to ask about the use of short-term teams and what a trip will look like. But it’s much easier if you have your plan in mind first. Then, when you talk with a church, the pathway is already determined and there is a much better chance you will not be tempted to veer off course. 

Too often, I see churches who want to partner significantly with a field team only to discover the team either has no plan or just wants them to come and prayerwalk and do childcare for their team meetings. Again, none of these options are wrong, but more and more churches are wanting to find other ways that they can participate. As field leaders we need to proactively think through ways a short-term team can benefit our work. 

Questions to Consider

Here are a number of questions to consider as you seek to be proactive:

  • How will the team help you in your field strategy? Are you in the phase of initial engagement and need to meet more people in your area? Are you in the phase of discipleship of new believers? Are you in the phase of finishing up the work in your area and do not need short-term teams for engagement? All of these are strategic questions that you are best fitted to answer. 

  • What will you call success? How will you measure success?

  • What size of team are you most comfortable handling?

  • What size of team is best suited for your strategy?

  • How many teams are strategic for you per calendar year? 

  • Do you have other teammates who will help with the logistics of the team once they are on the ground? How can you spread out the responsibilities?

  • What will the team do on the field: distribution, project, camp, prayerwalk, evangelism, music, teaching, vision trip, etc.?

  • What is the preferred length of stay for the team?

  • What does followup look like for your field team after the short-term team is back home?

Benefits to Consider

Imagine some of the benefits of having been proactive regarding the strategic reception of short-term teams:

  • Expectations will be more closely aligned in the partnership. It’s usually unclear expectations between partners that cause tension in the work.

  • You can simplify your conversations with church partners, having narrowed the parameters of what short-termers might do. 

  • You can more easily say no to unhelpful proposals for a trip. 

  • The church will know in advance how to mobilize people to come on the trip, thus providing you with more fitting and effective short-term workers.

  • You are able to advance your field strategy by having teams to help you fulfill your purposes.

  • You can recover more effectively from the exhaustion of hosting a short-term team by knowing their work has provided long-term benefits. 

So, stop reacting to church partners. Take some time away to proactively think through what the work needs and how short-term teams can contribute. You’ll be glad you did!