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Where to Now? Helping Short-Term Teams Return Well

Getting excited about sending out short-term teams is easy. A short-term mission experience is, perhaps, one of the most effective ways to help build a Great Commission vision in your church. Preparing well for the trip is critical to the success of any short-term team. Training helps the team and its individual members ready themselves for the task ahead. Some great curriculum options are available to train teams, like the Upstream Collective’s Listen: How to Make the Most of Your Short-Term Mission Trip and CULTURELink’s Help! We’re Going on a Short-Term Trip! Do not send a team to serve without taking them through a process to get them ready to serve. Equally important to pre-trip preparation is taking the opportunity to help short-term teams process what they have experienced after the trip is over. Mission leaders, your role is incomplete until you have helped your teams return well!

Even the most experienced short-termer can make mistakes upon their return.

Avoid Common Pitfalls

Traveling home from the field can be a grind. The team likely is tired from a concentrated week of service. Navigating airports or enduring long bus rides can be exhausting! A team member might be tempted to stay at home the following Sunday, but mission leaders must encourage the team to be present to share what God did and what he taught them during the past week! The people who sent the team out need to receive the team back and hear from them, and the team needs to see their church family, too! There are people to thank and stories to tell. Encourage the team to be there!

 

There are many pitfalls the team might face once they’re back. Even the most experienced short-termer can make mistakes upon their return. Mission leaders, here are some common pitfalls you can help returning team members avoid:

 

  • Coming back “me-centered,” as in “Look at me! I was on the mission field!” Being on a mission team does not make one more spiritual! Help them understand this fact.

  • Breaking all the rules and using the experience as an excuse. Just because someone was on a mission trip does not mean they should get special treatment!

  • Talking incessantly about the trip. 

  • Having post-short-term-mission blues.

  • Experiencing reverse culture shock.

  • Having unresolved conflict with team members.

  • Thinking that the location you went to is the only place you or anyone else should go. Remember, God is at work in all the world!

  • Having a “check the box” attitude about your experience. “Been there—done that!”

 

Be on the lookout and help your team avoid these pitfalls!

As a mission leader, you are strategically positioned to help your short-term team members consider their further involvement in Great Commission work.

Where to Now?

As a mission leader, you are strategically positioned to help your short-term team members consider their further involvement in Great Commission work. Challenge each participant to think and pray through what God might be leading them to in the future. Here are some possible next steps:

 

  • Maybe the team member was able to share their faith during their experience. They will likely return with increased confidence in telling others the good news of Jesus! Encourage them to keep sharing the gospel with intentionality and boldness!

  • A team member might say, “Missions is great but not for me.” Help that person see that while moving overseas might not be what God wants, every Christian has been called to make disciples of all nations. Help them find their role in their present season of life. There are many opportunities for ministry in the local church and the community. Help the team member find their place in the Body of Christ.

  • Team members can continue to be involved by helping send others out by:

  • Mentoring other short-term team members

  • Mobilizing others

  • Contributing financially to support someone else

  • “When can we go again?” Maybe the person has found their ministry groove. Help them go for it while remembering that God is working all over the world among a kaleidoscope of peoples and cultures.

As a mobilizer, there is nothing more exciting than helping others discover and take their next steps to play their part in the Great Commission!
  • “Could I lead a short-term mission team?” There are team members whose abilities and gifts are well suited to forming, training, and leading a team. Start equipping the person to lead their own team. 

  • The mission field is a great place to learn about making disciples! Every team member should be challenged to take responsibility for the spiritual formation of others. Help each person see that they can make disciples to impact the world!

  • Help the returning team get involved in supporting long-term workers through missionary care and serving as senders!

  • A returning short-term mission team member, fresh off a week of serving, is in a great position to mobilize others! Their new or refreshed passion for the nations can be contagious. Help them share their experience. Tell them, “You shouldn’t have all the fun—take someone with you!”

  • Internationals: Maybe the team member has a newfound awareness of internationals. Help them to pay attention—soon, they might find that they are bumping into all kinds of people and peoples! There are likely opportunities for cross-cultural ministry in their own community.

  • Some returning short-termers might ask, “Me? Go long term?” God might be prompting them to explore serving cross-culturally for the long term. As a mission leader, help them to check out the opportunities that are out there. Help them navigate taking their next steps in pursuing God to the ends of the earth. 

 

As a mobilizer, there is nothing more exciting than helping others discover and take their next steps to play their part in the Great Commission! Short-term team members are sensitive because of serving on their mission team. Take advantage of their experience by helping them answer the “Now what?” question. Help your teams to return well!

 

Bruce Mewbourne (DMin in Church Planting and Missions from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary) has worked in international missions and pastoral ministry since 1994. He served with his wife, Belinda, and their two children in France through the International Mission Board. Bruce currently serves as Pastor of Sending at Eagle’s Landing First Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA.

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