Long-term, pioneer, frontier missionaries can get a bit cynical. We’ve seen lots of problems. Many things have gone wrong over years of service. It is easy to start to see the negative, rather than the positive in both people and situations. Seeing young people God sends your way on short-term mission teams, as God sees them, is important. Finding ways to help them be a blessing, as well as being blessed, is even more vital.
Not a New Phenomenon
Short-term teams are actually not a new invention! Pioneers like Loren Cunningham (and others) led the way in their acceptance in modern missions. Yet they are a very ancient (and Biblical) strategy.
The Apostle Paul went on many short-term trips! We call them his missionary journeys. He took young people he was training along with him….people like Timothy, Silas, and John Mark. Some of those experiences were good. Others were not so good.
Don’t completely disregard the benefits of short-term volunteers. Instead, consider the gifts and help they can bring.
4 Needed Gifts Short-term Teams Bring to Long-termers
There are some wonderful things that short-term workers can contribute.
Short-term teams come with fresh faith and courage. They have been praying and preparing. The team is expectant that God will work powerfully. A fresh injection of faith to discouraged workers in hard places can make a big difference! They may have been laboring for years without fruit or breakthrough. Instead of calling the short-termers naïve, receive, and feed off of their enthusiasm and God-given faith.
Young people and teams, in general, can be quite bold. Granted, sometimes they are too bold for the liking of long-termers. They can make us feel uncomfortable. Yes, they need orientation, but bold witness is a vital characteristic of a Disciple-Making Movement. Encourage and make room for them to be courageous in witnessing, praying for the sick, and asking God to bring a breakthrough in your area.
3. Enthusiasm and Energy
Weariness is common for long-term workers in difficult places. Daily living can take its toll. Missionary life in the frontiers can be quite grueling. Again, allow the team’s enthusiasm to ignite you, rather than repulse you. Years ago, you too had that same enthusiasm and energy. Invite them to pray over you and minister to you. Let them refresh your spirit. Don’t be cynical or critical of their excitement.
Abundant gospel-sowing and extraordinary prayer strategies require many people. Take advantage of the freely available man-power of short-term volunteers. Let them go into new places where you haven’t had time to go. Let them do prayer walks, distribute literature and Bibles (if appropriate) and get the gospel out! It is often helpful to give teams a combination of things to do.
When utilized with wisdom, short-term teams can play a significant role in seeing the movement leap forward. Below are some very helpful things you can ask a team to consider doing.
4 Strategic Activities Short-Term Teams Can Effectively Help With
Teams can come alongside missionaries who are trying to start a movement by helping with prayer saturation. Several long-term DMM focused teams in India use short-teams very effectively this way. They train the teams to engage in prayer, intercession, spiritual warfare, and worship. The impact of these teams has been tremendous! They have helped to break up the hard spiritual ground so the seeds of the gospel can be sown. After the team leaves, be sure to invite those short-termers to become key intercessors. They will continue to pray for a breakthrough in your area.
2. One-on-One Evangelism
Language is an important factor. Much depends on whether the team can communicate with the people you are trying to reach. One option is to use translators. Another good strategy is to use short indigenous evangelistic films the team can put on their smartphones. When they meet someone who seems open, encourage them to offer to show that person a short film in their own language. These types of films are available for free download at indigitube.tv in many languages.
If the short-termers speak the language, they can help you sow the gospel seeds in an even more abundant way. Send them out, as Jesus did, in pairs of two or three people. Have them share their testimonies, pray for the sick, and look for receptive people who are open to hearing more about Jesus.
While foreigners are good at attracting a crowd, this can be counter-productive in sensitive areas. It may reinforce a negative understanding of the gospel as a “foreigner’s religion.” In resistant areas, we generally discourage open-air and street meetings. Dramas, songs and other “shows” attract crowds.
This may be appropriate in some places. In many unreached and resistant areas, however, it can cause unhelpful attention. It highlights what you are doing. It can even result in unnecessary persecution after the team has gone. Instead, encourage teams to look for ways to have real conversations with people one-on-one or in smaller groups.
3. Finding Persons of Peace and Starting New Groups
As they share their testimonies or gospel stories, God may use the team to reveal the Person of Peace in a community.
Be sure to train the team in what to do with someone who seems open; how to offer to start a discovery or story group with them, and how to follow up. Then, be ready, after the team goes, to continue to meet with those people.
There is more to say…
This is a big topic that deserves careful consideration. It is unwise to just say “yes” to any short-term team that wants to come. The team needs good orientation, needs to buy into your vision to start a DMM, and must embrace their role as learners rather than teachers there.
I recently wrote an article for Mission Frontiers that covers this topic a bit more. It will be released soon, so be sure to watch for that. In the meantime, let me say this. Give short-term teams a chance. Don’t say an automatic “no” to having a team come to work with you. Instead, prayerfully consider if God might be sending them to be a tremendous help. We wouldn’t want to reject a gift God was trying to give us, right?
Let me know in the comments below. or on the DMMs Facebook group, how teams have helped or hurt in your area. How have they been a blessing or a curse? How have you created your own guidelines for utilizing teams in a positive way toward multiplying disciples in a community?