Below is an example of how churches can debrief short-term teams during re-entry. As you take your team through this activity, give them time to pray and journal about their experiences.
The Five-Step Debriefing Process
Step 1: Reconciliation - to bring two conflicting things into balance or peace
Your team needs to take some time to let the Lord identify areas where they need to reconcile. These will usually involve expectations that were unmet, hopes, hurts, and relationships. If there has been conflict on your team, reconcile it now! Have your team write down any disappointments, joys, relationship changes, or other areas that need to be addressed and have them give these over to God. Simply recognizing them is a HUGE help in your team’s readjustment.
Step 2: Resolution - to make up your mind; to settle something
Step 2 is for each team member to resolve to allow God to heal every unmet expectation, disappointment, and unrealized dream. This is also the time to consider the prompting of God regarding their futures. Your team may not need to deal with negative issues, but they will need to process the conviction and direction of the Spirit. This step is about committing to discern the will of God and resolving to be obedient.
Allow your team time to journal these thoughts and discuss them openly. Reinforce the importance of time alone with God when they return. They will need his guidance to implement these experiences into their life back home.
True encouragement must be rooted in what we have genuinely seen God do in and through someone.
Step 3: Reinforcement - the adding of one thing to another in order to strengthen it
The purpose of step 3 is to reinforce God’s work in your team by encouraging them. Simply giving an expression of appreciation is not true encouragement. True encouragement must be rooted in what we have genuinely seen God do in and through someone. God’s servants need to be told how God has used them, refined them, or ministered through them. Hearing this builds them up and glorifies God.
Take this time to encourage your team with what you have seen. Point out their strengths and ways that they can be used upon re-entry. This step takes some preparation on your part. You need to have observed, noticed, and taken some notes on your team. Make sure your feedback is genuine!
You can have your team help you out here. One of my teams took time to write notes to each of their teammates detailing how they had seen God work through them on the trip and how they believed God would use them in the future. You can even assign people to one another so they are prepared to write a note to their partner by the end of the trip.
One tactic is to put a chair in the middle of a circle. Allow each team member a time in the chair and pray for the Holy Spirit to reveal what he wants said to his servant. This can be an incredibly powerful experience, both for the person in the center and the people encouraging those in the center.
Remember: in order to truly reinforce, one must have reconciled or resolved any issues beforehand.
Step 4: Revelation - the disclosing of new information, truth, or divine will, often a new thought that brings deep insight and understanding
God has revealed specific things to each of your team members during your experience. We often don’t even know what God has revealed until we take the time to process it. It is vitally important to allow God to speak. This is a time to get your team into a mindset of submission and of prayer. Take a quiet moment to pray and ask the Lord to reveal what he has to show you about himself, yourself, the world, the nations, your job in ministry, the church, culture, etc. Then give some time for your team to share.
Step 5: Redirection - to change focus or priorities, or to send in a new direction
This is a time to consider the future. Doing so will naturally lead into a time of talking about re-entry into “normal” life. Here are some questions to consider discussing with your team and for them to consider in prayer:
What did you learn on this trip and how will that impact your future?
How does God want my life to be different because of this trip?
How should my prayer life change?
How can I give differently of my talents, time, and resources?
How can I be involved in reaching the nations on a long-term basis?
What practical action can I begin implementing when I get home?
How can I best serve in my church and my community in order to impact the Body of Christ?
As the leader that knows them and has seen them grow in their giftings and talents, this is the time when you can have the most impact. You have seen their strengths and have pointed them out to each member during the reinforcement stage. Now you can lead them into activities that will help them continue using those gifts for the glory of God. It is okay to make suggestions—for instance, if you know that one of your team members is a talented singer, you might suggest they try out for the worship team. Sometimes people need a push to realize who they are and what they are capable of through Christ.
Your job doesn’t end once you’ve completed these five steps. Stay in touch with your team members. Continue to encourage them to become involved once you are home. If an opportunity you know they are gifted for arises, send it their way. A simple text or Facebook message might reignite something in a teammate and help them remember what God revealed to them during their time on mission!
Here is an example debriefing exercise from Hill City Missions.
Erica Beiler (MS in Counseling Psychology, Southwestern Assemblies of God University) lives in Dallas, Texas, with her husband and two beautiful children. She has served over seventeen years as the Missions Director at Hill City Church and had the honor of being a missionary in Madrid and Valencia, Spain.