Eric R. Hausler
Over the last thirty-five years, the Lord has given me the opportunity to lead numerous short-term mission teams, both domestically and abroad, and to receive teams where I’ve labored as a church planter. What follows is some of the fruit of what the Lord has taught me about short-term missions: the benefits of short-term teams for those sending and receiving them, as well as some suggestions. These matters are fresh on my mind, as I recently returned from leading a short-term trip overseas and am presently hosting a team to assist our church-planting work in Naples, Florida.
1. Short-term mission trips give participants an opportunity to see a larger picture of the church. Many short-term teams visiting other cultures and cities see for the first time that the glorious church of Jesus Christ encompasses people “from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev. 5:9).
2. Often participants return with a greater “confidence in the faith” (1 Tim. 3:13) because they have served the Lord in new ways and have been stretched beyond their comfort level. I personally know many people who have sensed God’s call to full-time ministry or missions because of their short-term mission trip. Jesus said, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Luke 10:2). A visit to the mission field can be used by God like the man from Macedonia in Paul’s vision: “Come over … and help us” (Acts 16:9).
3. Men who are being considered for office have a chance to be observed and tested on short-term teams for their gifts in serving the Lord, whether as overseeing elders or in diaconal service (1 Tim. 3:10). I can think of many dear brothers now ordained as officers in the church who had the opportunity to be tested in ways that stretched them and revealed their heart for ministry.
4. Team members often come home vividly seeing “every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ” because they’ve had new opportunities to share their faith (Philem. 6).
5. Sometimes the fields are just as ripe at home, but they’re hidden until we leave our familiar surroundings. The Lord regularly uses his Word and Spirit in a new setting to say, “Lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” in your own neighborhood (John 4:35).
1. The bonds of love and fellowship between our churches can be strengthened by receiving a team to labor among your flock, creating the kind of joyful memories that Paul had when he thought of the Philippian believers because of their “partnership in the gospel” (Phil. 1:5). Given the geographical distance between some of our churches, this can be a wonderful encouragement to church members who are new to the OPC.
2. When a local church sees the enthusiasm and readiness for ministry of a visiting team, it can be used by the Lord to inspire those who may have become slothful in serving. You may later write to the sending church, “Your zeal has stirred up most of them” (2 Cor. 9:2), as Paul wrote to the believers in Achaia.
3. Visiting teams can be used for special ministry outreach, or simply to bless your neighbors with self-sacrificing love. Just this week, we informed 367 families in our neighborhood, through an online bulletin board, that a service team was in town from Michigan, offering to wash exterior windows at no charge. Within a few hours, we had over twenty responses! What a wonderful open door this was to share the love of Christ and show our neighbors that we follow him who “came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45). As the team finished each house, they left a thank-you note that included information about our church and our Biblical Counseling Center. Their humble service and Gospel-seasoned words have introduced us to many neighbors we never knew, and truly brought the love and joy of Christ to many who needed a taste of God’s refreshing grace. Comments posted today on our neighborhood website confirm that the reputation of Christ was clearly honored by the team.
4. We have also used visiting teams to introduce a new hymn or psalm to our church-planting work. This past Sunday the Michigan team taught a hymn before the call to worship, both in the morning and in the evening. As they head home, I know I will be able to say to them, “The hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you” (Philem. 7).
5. Receiving a mission team also gives the host pastor or missionary a concentrated occasion for real disciple-making. Think of the unique opportunity to model for visiting youth and adults who are eager to grow: your enthusiasm for the gospel, your love for the lost, your willingness to talk to strangers, your commitment to prayer, your thanksgiving to God, your zeal to build the kingdom, and your joy in the Lord. Short-term teams are a wide-open door for discipleship training as the Lord makes people into “fishers of men” (Mark 1:17).
1. Be prepared. As with any endeavor involving the testimony of the Lord Jesus and the lives of those under your care, leading or receiving a mission team out of their hometown is a serious matter that takes careful planning. Think through every single step from beginning to end, and strive for excellence: “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
2. Commit your plans to the Lord in prayer every step of the way, remembering that “unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain” (Ps. 127:1), and “Commit your work to the LORD, and your plans will be established” (Prov. 16:3)—and then trust the Lord to bring his plans to pass.
3. Make sure the receiving body takes the lead. Much harm has been done by short-term teams that have their own ideas about what is helpful. I recommend reading When Helping Hurts, by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, to prevent unintentionally causing more harm than good, and to make sure that your team serves with great care, “not as unwise but as wise” (Eph. 5:15).
4. Create an application form and a detailed list of expectations. I learned the hard way that some youth join a team only because their parents see it as a needful experience. Now I have a lengthy application for participants and a list of expectations, each line of which must be initialed by the applicant.
5. Make the Word of God a priority for the team because “faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom. 10:17). So fill the endeavor with Scripture from beginning to end, that Christ would be honored, his people would edified, and those without faith would be drawn to the Savior.
The author is the pastor of Christ the King Presbyterian Church in Naples, Fla., and a part-time missionary to Haiti. New Horizons, June 2016.