Preparing Your Team to Go on Mission

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There is nothing more frustrating for a team leader, and for a team than to get to the place of service and know you are not prepared for what is about to happen. To have no idea what is about to happen, what you are supposed to do, how you are supposed to function individually and as a group, leaves little hope for anything more than low performance. A mission team needs to be prepared logistically and spiritually.

Logistics refers to the how, when and what of the mission. What are we doing? When are we doing it? How are we supposed to do it? These questions should be answered as much as possible in meetings prior to getting on the bus, van or plane. While the demand to “be flexible” is given for all participants no matter how much preparation is done, there should be a basic outline for the trip made available to the team. Some cases require more of that information because of the ministry assignment. Children’s activities need more prior planning than adult activities in general. If you are going to be teaching specific material the preparation phase is vital to the ability of the team to be effective on the field.

Making plans known in advance also capitalizes on the talents and resources of the team members. When they know what they are doing and when they are doing it they will be able to add high value to the event. Learning the plans the day of the event limits their ability to be effective and go above and beyond expectations.

More important than logistics are the spiritual preparations that should take place before the team leaves home. Every team begins their trip with excitement. Adrenaline is flowing as anticipation of what will happen grows in the heart of each participant. Fear is also there. Feelings of inadequacy creep into the soul. As the days progress the reality of being around this same group 24/7 has transformed from joy to boredom to annoyance. The group is tired from long days of ministry and Satan is “roaming to and fro seeking whom he may devour.”

Prepare your group spiritually with a set of focused devotions. Remind them of the reason for the trip. Have them anticipate the challenges that plague any group of people who spend a large amount of time with one another. Open their eyes to the work of Satan as they involve themselves in the spiritual warfare of ministry. Encourage them to build a support team of prayer partners who will begin their work before the trip and continue it throughout the mission effort. Give them tools so that they can communicate with their prayer team while they are on the field.

Anytime we step into the battle for souls we are venturing into a spiritual battlefield that requires focus and faith. We must be focused on the Lord, not looking to the left or the right, and we must trust Him to accomplish His work through us. We do the work to plan and prepare the logistical aspects of ministry, but we also know that absent the work of the Holy Spirit nothing of lasting value will be accomplished.  Prepare your team to accomplish the mission God has given you.

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Why it’s important to visit the mission trip location before your group goes?

Your group loads up in the van and you set out on mission. With Google maps guiding your every turn you feel confident about how to get there. You pull up in the parking lot of the church, at least what you think is the church, but no one is there. The building looks abandoned. A quick call to the pastor and now you have new directions. They moved from that location six months ago but their website just hasn’t been updated yet. The youth in the back are restless and then your phone rings. A parent wonders why you are lost. “Where are you taking my kid? Do you know what you’re doing?”

Once you get to the church it appears evident that what you had planned for the Bible Clubs just isn’t going to work in this neighborhood. Nobody has a yard. There is no place to play soccer. Now you are scrambling to update your ministry plan and the kids are quick to express their boredom. What are you going to do? The answer lies in having asked that question at least a month before.

Having led many mission trips, sometimes I took a pre-trip and others times I did not, I can say unequivocally that the best practice is to visit the mission trip location before you take your group. This is even more important when you are traveling to a location very different than your home. If you are going to another country, a different state, a city (when you live in the country) or some other highly distinct area, you need to see the place, experience the people, learn how to travel and how long it takes to travel. I know for many this seems impossible for your budget, but it’s important enough that you should make the short pre-trip part of your overall trip budget. If the pre-trip is prohibitive, then you need to enlist someone to help you who has visited the site before. You need to amass as much information as possible or get a great guide to help make your mission trip a success.

Here are 4 reasons you should take a pre-trip before your group leaves your church parking lot:

  1. You need to learn about getting around on your mission trip. What are the easiest ways to move your group? How long does it take to get to and from the airport? To the church? What roads should we avoid? What parts of town should we avoid? It’s always better to learn these things before you have a van full of teenagers or senior adults.
  2. You need to learn about the people and the neighborhoods. There are some things best learned by observation and experience, not merely reading. Look at the venue. Get a feel for the people and what works to reach them. See the space and think of creative ways to use it.
  3. You need to meet the people you will be working with, the pastors and missionaries. Visiting in person is different than over the phone or even in a video conference. It’s important to meet people face to face to both understand them and their passion as well as to help them understand you and your passion. Asking questions and solidifying a plan is much easier when you can sit across the coffee table from someone. Having confidence in one another makes a positive impact on your mission trip.
  4. You need to get a feel for the things that will and won’t work on your mission trip. Whatever preconceived ideas you might have about what you will do on your mission trip must be subject to the reality on the ground. When you see the location, meet the people, and experience the culture you can get a clearer picture of the things that will be effective. Being able to properly plan before you leave is better than having to change everything once you arrive.

None of these mean you won’t still have to invoke one of the cardinal verses of mission trips: Steve 4:6 “Be flexible.” Making that early visit to the site does allow you to have a better beginning from which to change.

One last thing: If you can’t afford to take an overseas pre-trip, you can help yourself by arriving a day or two before the rest of the group. On that extra day, which will only cost you housing and meals, you can do much of the legwork to help with travel and you can also begin thinking about any other program changes you might need to make.

Why didn’t He tell Paul to begin with?

Yesterday I preached at Spring Baptist Church (video will be on later this week) from Acts 16:6-10, where Paul and Silas are seeking God’s will as they embark on Paul’s second missionary journey. They try to go to Asia, then to Bithynia and end up in Troas where Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man asking them to bring the gospel to Macedonia.

It occurred to me in between services that there was one question I hadn’t talked about in the first service. I addressed it briefly in the second one and I thought I’d throw out some thoughts on it here: Why didn’t God just give Paul the vision to begin with instead of letting them walk around the desert for a couple of weeks?

This is a question most of us ask when we are searching for God’s will. We just want God to give us the directions now, show us the road map and we’ll get on our way. But most often the process of finding His will is a journey, not a moment.

I can’t say I know the answer to the question, but I can think of some possibilities:
1. The search forced Paul to seek God and not rely merely on his past experience.
2. Paul’s call was going to be so dramatically different that the Lord had to get Paul in the right spot to be ready to listen.
3. Paul’s experience was as much for Silas, and maybe us, as it was for Paul. We needed to see the lesson found in the journey of Paul. So maybe it wasn’t about Paul at all, but about us.

I’m sure there are other reasons but these are a few I thought of this morning.

Our Experiences Visiting Churches

Since we resigned our church back in August, Julie and I have had the great opportunity to visit a lot of churches over the past several months.  We’ve gone to see family and been in some familiar churches and we’ve been to some of my friend’s churches to hear them preach and experience their worship services.  Some we have visited more than once, just to go to different services to see what they were like.  As a pastor it has been both interesting and enlightening to see how different groups “do church” in so many different environments.  We’ve been to large and small churches, those with multiple services and those with single staffs.  We’ve heard choirs, bands, orchestras, and kids choirs; we’ve sung hymns, old choruses, new hymns, songs we haven’t sung in decades and songs we’ve never sung before.  One constant, everywhere we’ve been, Bibles have been opened, the Word has been faithfully preached and invitations to respond in faith have been offered.  We’ll probably settle in once we get through our next round of traveling, but before we do I’ll offer some thoughts on our experiences visiting churches.

1. There are a lot of ways to get “church” done.  Every service has had some common elements: congregational singing, preaching, a guest welcome time, offering, announcements, but no two services have been the same.  From different orders of service to different ways of doing the basics, they each accomplished worship but did so unique to the church.  Some did video announcements, some did the offering at the very end, some did larger blocks of singing than others, some were very polished with smooth transitions and others were volunteers doing their best, but none of those we saw seemed to be performing, they genuinely wanted to worship and lead others to do the same.

2. Feeling comfortable as a visitor in a strange land(like a church) isn’t going to happen, but churches can do more to help.  I’ve been to church my whole life and been on church staffs for almost 30 years, and I have to tell you that I still feel a bit nervous as we pull into the parking lot to go to a new church.  I can only imagine the sheer terror that accompanies some dear souls as they enter a church parking lot for the first time in their lives or the first time in years.  Keep that in mind as you consider how to welcome a guest on the campus of your church.

2.1 Parking lot signage can go a long way.  As an experienced church person, I felt pretty confident in knowing where to park to make the shortest walk in and out of church.  Some churches do a great job with signs pointing you to guest parking and main entrances as you drive up.  Most churches do nothing in this regard.  I found that even in smaller churches it was often difficult to locate the main entrance and hard to know where the worship service was going to take place.  Multiple building erected over the years often leave a visitor confused about where to go.  It’s just easier if I can see that before I ever get out of my car.

2.2 The corollary to this is interior signage.  If the main entrance doesn’t take me right to the entrance of the worship space, there is a need for interior signage to get me to the right place and a person there is also helpful.  A couple of times we wandered through churches looking for the worship area, saved only by a moving crowd that swept us along in the right direction.  My wife and I have no small children, so finding a nursery or children’s area wasn’t an issue for us, but I would say that we were probably fortunate in that regard.  Most churches we visited had children’s ministries during the worship service, but clearly marked directions or instructions were hard to find.

2.3 Over the past six months we have been in many services in many churches.  At times we were with family or friends, but most of the time we have come into the building as those who are attending for the first time.  In every one of those services we have been greeted at least at the door and almost every time we have had someone say hello to us during the welcome time.  People have seemed friendly and often glad that we have chosen to attend.  Generally the smaller churches have been friendlier as far as the number of people shaking hands with us.  In all of those churches though, only three people ever actually introduced themselves to us and asked our names.  One kind lady actually invited us to a small group bible study and said more than five words to us.  I don’t think church people are unfriendly at all, but I do think we need to learn better how to meet people and make them feel welcome.  I know not everyone wants to have a fuss made about them, but there must be a better way to go about welcoming those who have bravely ventured out of the safety of their homes to enter the strange world of a Baptist church.

3. Every church has their own secret language used by members to communicate the locations of meetings.  It may be a building named after a previous pastor or a room named after a characteristic it no longer has.  I’ve got a friend that I meet every once in a while by the “mexican place” (a preferred mexican restaurant that no longer is standing).  We know right where that is, but no one else could know.  We’ve been invited to rooms or locations on campus that might as well be next to a mexican restaurant that no longer exists.  I know everyone in the church probably knows where the meeting is, but as first time visitors we have no idea where that is.

4. There are some great ministries taking place in the church today.  I have been amazed by the creativity of churches to get the work done in so many different ways.  We know that Baptist church life isn’t what it was forty years ago when it seemed every church was cut from the same pattern (especially the architecture), but the variety in church life today is beyond what I would’ve imagined.  I would recommend that every pastor take some time during the year to visit some other churches just to see what is happening and how God uses so many various methods to share the timeless message.

5. Just a quick note about websites.  We’ve been completely reliant upon information on the web when we’ve decided to visit a church.  That is, we are looking for worship times and information specifically.  Church websites are often as varied as the churches, though there are some standard templates we’ve seen.  Making the location, contact info and service times easy to find is very helpful for a visitor.  If I have to search long for that info I’m less inclined to visit.

Endless Possibiities – 2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Focusing on verse 12, Paul puts forth two characteristics of his service among the Corinthians: “in the holiness and sincerity that are from God” and “not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace.”

Paul’s conscience is clear because of the integrity of his attitude and approach to ministry among the Corinthians. He knows that he has been sincere, walking in the Spirit, as he has worked with them for 18 months. His motives were pure, so he could speak without reservations. His actions were holy, so he had nothing to hide.

In addition, his work among them was done in accordance with the will of God and in the way of God. While some might question what he did or how he did it, Paul is certain that he was honoring God’s desires. There is a way to do good things but not do them in a God-way. Paul was not guilty of this.

How does integrity in ministry affect the overall ministry that occurs? What are some negative consequences of ministry done with selfish motives? It’s important that we seek God’s way when doing God’s ministry. What is the biggest challenge for you when seeking God’s way?

What else do you see in this passage? How has God spoken to you from it?