So You Want To Go On A Short-Term
By Rodney W. Francis
It is ironic that in these days of the gathering in of the great end-time harvest – where opportunities abound everywhere – the Church, generally, is afflicted with a lack of leaders, labourers, and finance. The words of Jesus are still so true: “The harvest is indeed plentiful, but the labourers are few. So pray the Lord of the harvest to force out and thrust labourers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:37-39, AMP.).
Why is it that this “problem” exists?
One reason is that in the past decade or so the preaching from our pulpits has produced a harvest of “followers” rather than “leaders” or “labourers.” Followers don’t have to make the hard decisions; they don’t have to carry the responsibility of working through the decisions made; they can “hide” behind someone else, etc. But the world, the Church and the mission fields do not require followers. They desperately need leaders! A leader is one who knows where to go; who knows what decisions have to be made; who knows the strategies of how to get there. He/she is a leader and therefore sets the pace, the direction, the boundaries. Leaders accomplish more than followers because of these things.
MAKE SURE YOU ARE EQUIPPED:
The challenge before every one of us today who has a desire to serve God on any short-term missions team, or go to the mission field more long-term (in whatever nation), is for us to make sure we are as equipped as we possibly can be. What is the use of our taking off to far away fields if we don’t know what to do when we get there? . . . If we have nothing to impart and impact the people with? Life on the mission field is not a “Sunday School picnic”!! It has demands, sacrifices, big differences to that which we are normally used to. I believe all Christians will find benefit and challenge through going on an overseas missions trip - don't be afraid to "step outside the box" of your own securities. Many Christians struggle to take the initiative that will take them outside of their "comfort zone," and so lead them in to a greater experience of producing more fruit in the Kingdom of God.
In all the nations I have been to so far (and there have been a number) the cry is always the same: “We want leaders, teachers, people who have an ability to impart into our lives so we can build our lives, churches and ministries better.” It is still a fact in many countries, that, given the choice between an older person with years of life’s experiences and a youthful zealot, the people will go for the older person virtually every time. In many cultures age and grey hair gives one “mana” or greater respect. People listen more because they know the "grey haired" person has lived longer and has experienced so much more in living life. Most nations are not looking for youthful evangelists. They are looking for equippers – people who have good people skills, the anointing touch of God on their lives, a heart of love and compassion to see and meet needs, a good, balanced belief-system based on the Word of God, and a bit of Godly wisdom. This does not mean that our younger generations have no place on the mission fields. Not at all. Short-term missions is a great training experience for our young people. They can learn so much, as well as get a bigger vision of their "divine possibilities" in life here on earth. Several I’ve taken out with me are now in full-time ministry. Short-term missions does something deep within the heart of those who want to serve God fully!
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
So, if you are keen on serving God on the mission field – short or long-term – what should you do?
First: Make sure you have a good church or “home base” ministry to work out from. It is so important that your life and ministry is able to develop under the watchful eye of a proven church or Christian Leadership. That church home or ministry organisation should be one that has a strong missions vision and is keen to reach out beyond itself to touch others. A strong missions vision cannot be fuelled in a church or organisation that has little or no missions involvement.
Second: Seek to gain as much teaching, training, ministry experience as you can within your local church fellowship (plus some other Bible School or practical training if necessary). Develop your spiritual giftings by exercising them. If you don’t know what to do, make an appointment to sit down with your Church Pastor or Leadership and talk through the desires and calling of God on your life (many are afraid to do this). Don’t just keep it to yourself. It is a fact that Church/Christian Leadership has the power to release or restrict people in ministry, so do it right. Listen to their advice. Ask them to help you to get where you believe you need to go. In all Christian ministry it is vital to have good relationships with those “over you in the Lord”(Hebrews 13:17); to submit to them and have a teachable spirit.
Third: Find out what plans your church or organisation has for any teams to go out on short-term missions. For me, the best and most fruitful teams are those who have built relationship with one another before they leave. A church team can be excellent, especially if it is led by the Pastor or a recognized leader in the church. When it is made a church outreach team – a church project – the whole church can get involved in praying, supporting, fund-raising, etc. Then, when the team is away, the church continues to pray and keep good interest in the progress reports being sent home. On returning home the whole church gets to hear of the results of answered prayer, God’s provision, salvations, healings, the Holy Spirit at work, different experiences in a different culture, and so on. Everyone can get involved - even those who stay home and pray!
Being a part of a local church (or recognized ministry) is important and, if that local church has national and international affiliations, then there is a much wider scope as to where teams can go. Young people can learn much by being a part of these teams. Wise Pastors will have “Timothy’s” that they are working with. If you have a definite call on your life the Pastor should want to have some ongoing input into you - and should desire to take you on a team outreach for practical challenge and experience - or, if he cannot take you, will encourage you to go with someone else with a proven ministry record.
Fourth: Flow along with the team and especially the leader. You are there to be a blessing, not a problem! Don’t be “a sponger” – carry your share of responsibility by paying your way, being gracious, generous, grateful. Good manners always bless others. To be part of an overseas missions team is an honour, not a right.
Warning: The mission field is not a place for “lone rangers” who just wander off and do their own thing. We all need accountability. This is a day for team ministry, of working together so others can build on what we have already accomplished (on any previous trips). It is not a day for “loose cannons” to be going off “willy-nilly.” I have seen a number of “disasters” who have gone out somewhere because “God told me,” with no accountability, no sense of direction or purpose, no money, and have become an embarrassment and a liability in the places they go to.
Before I take anyone with me, I’ll always make sure the person’s Pastor is happy about their going. I don’t want to transfer personal and/or church problems on to the churches/places we go to minister. Over the years the only real problems I’ve encountered with team members has been with those who have not dealt with their own personal problems, i.e. moods, sulks, depression, isolationism . . . or those who always want to do things their way. I’m happy to say those people have only amounted to one or two.
I have experimented with taking teams out and have had the joy of seeing God work in all kinds of cultures, and in all kinds of situations. Never say you cannot afford to go. Make the commitment, pray and God will supply. Check for the best airline deals – work as a team on this.
One time I took a team of four young men out overseas with me, three of them were either unemployed at the time, or had no money. They all found the necessary jobs and finances to get them there! It was a great trip. (We even experienced going through a hurricane - at no extra cost!)
COMMUNICATING ACROSS THE CULTURES:
When we go to minister amongst other cultures, it is important for us to quickly learn that, in some cases, another culture is very different to ours. In a multi-national society like New Zealand, for example, we soon discover that European culture is different to Maori culture; Pacific Islands culture is different to Asian culture (with many variations between even neighbouring countries), and the Western culture is different to Eastern culture.
When we go into another culture with the Gospel message, we need to have respect for it, and be sensitive to it. Usually we are there at their request – as their guests – and we are on their territory. That means we have an ethical duty to be submissive to the leaders’ authority, to work to fulfil the purpose of why they have invited us, yet at the same time be aware we are also there representing King Jesus to them. I always seek to allow the love and acceptance of God to flow through me to them, and I am also keenly aware that I need to be available to the Holy Spirit to hear what He wants me to say or do. I can only ever recall clashing with only one or two leaders of another culture, and those times have been times when idolatry and evil spirit ancestral worship have been heavy over a place.
We have to know who we are in God, what we carry in the Holy Spirit, and that we have what they need: the life-changing, risen Jesus! We are not there to force our own, or “Christian culture” on to them. On many occasions I have sought to find out the protocol beforehand when I’m going into a new or different culture. “Protocol” is “the formal etiquette and code of behaviour, precedence, and procedure for state and diplomatic ceremonies” (Collins Dictionary). This very much applies to taking the Gospel into another culture. If in doubt as to what to do, never be too proud to ask! It is better to ask than cause unnecessary embarrassment! The method of welcoming visitors (guests) on to a Maori Marae, or in to an isolated village, or in to a chief’s house, are all different experiences. Learn quickly and well. For me, a genuine love in my heart for the people is a key to being received, accepted and then listened to. For if at the end of all the protocol we have not earned the right to be heard, we have to ask ourselves, “What have we accomplished? What did we go there for?”
I have personally witnessed preachers and Christians who have “re-acted” to the protocol afforded to them in another culture, who, when they were graciously given an opportunity to speak their message, were then not listened to. Their Christian re-actions to the welcoming ceremonies, etc., showed through, were "picked up" by the people, who then sat through the service (out of politeness), but they never heard the real message. In many cultures they "listen" to your heart and spirit before they listen to your words.
Always remember: You are there representing Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. A little bit of grace, understanding, patience, love and acceptance goes a long way in a culture that is foreign to yours. Earn your right to be listened to! Earn your right to be heard! True respect comes no other way.
The same can apply in church cultures. Attitudes toward different denominations or doctrines can isolate us from having any real impact amongst them. I have talked with numbers of church leaders around the world who have been “put-off” by some “Pentecostal attitudes and criticisms” towards them. Sometimes our “Pentecostal culture” has a superior, almost arrogant attitude toward some of the more orthodox denominations. Yet my experience has been that there is often a tremendous hunger for more of God amongst them, and a humility that we would do well to receive and learn from them. As we love and accept them (with no need to compromise our convictions), the Holy Spirit is able to use us to bless them – and they can bless us too!
Our ministry is to touch their lives with the reality of Jesus within us, to see them as people God greatly loves, and not be side-tracked by the differing culture to ours.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING NOW?
The Christian life and ministry is an ongoing challenge to be prepared as much as we can for that which lies ahead. My life’s motto is: “Every day in God is a preparation for a better tomorrow.” It is one thing to want to go on a mission; it is entirely another to have something to give when you get there. My first overseas mission was a six months term in the Fiji Islands. I was 24 years old and knew the call of God. I had already been preaching in New Zealand for six years. But I wasn’t prepared for what I went into. For the first 10 weeks I was given “a programme” of 23 meetings per week! I tell you, I ran out of every sermon I had ever had in the first week! It threw me on to God in desperation (on top of the heat, sweat, flies, mosquitoes, cockroaches, rats, fruit bats, no transport, poor living conditions that gave us dysentery regularly, etc.)! That time became the making of us! Not only did we (Jean and I) do it, but we survived! – and I have been able to handle a heavy preaching load ever since.
So, the question is: “What are you doing NOW that is going to help you cope when you get the opportunity to go on a short or longer-term mission?” Some countries I’ve been to expect you to teach/preach for two hours at a time up to 3-4 times on a Sunday . . . and during the week too! Sometimes you get little or no communication of what is expected of you until you arrive - so you have to learn to be ready for almost "anything." Often you can be taken somewhere unscheduled, and on arrival told, "You're the preacher!" (It sure is different to the “short speaking time” given in many Western churches today!)
RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS IS VITAL:
Make sure you have got a good relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11);a good devotional life; a love to read and study the Scriptures (John 1:12-14; Ephesians 6:17; 2 Timothy 2:15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Peter 1:1-10; 1 John 2:13-17); a love for people (John 13:34-35; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:6, 13-14, 22-23; Ephesians 5:1-2; 1 John 4:7-21). It is an extra blessing if you know where to find the Scriptures you are quoting.
It sure helps to know something about the power of the name of Jesus, to have practical experience in the operation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and an ability to be able to speak in public (take every opportunity you can get). Always keep challenging yourself to be "stretched out" further in ministry ability. If you’re a musician, don’t limit yourself to music. Make sure you can tell your testimony well, share a 5-15 minute word, flow in the gifts, etc. Likewise, if you’re a Children’s worker, a Timothy in training, a preacher, a carpenter, an electrician, or a general handy man . . . always seek to keep developing your skills in God to be a greater impact than ever before. Be available to pray for people, the sick and suffering, to deal with evil spirit manifestations when they happen - and expect God to heal them through you! Be ready for surprises at the way the Lord will use you when you let Him!
Ministry is all about God and people, and we need to know how to minister to both in a very real and healthy way. Don’t minister on “unproven theories.” Minister right out of your heart. Keep it simple!
God bless you in your life’s mission on planet earth. The best is yet to come!
“You give them something to eat” (Jesus in Matthew 14:16, NIV).
“Now to Him Who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work within us” (Ephesians 3:20).
“Whatsoever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe, and enthusiastically act upon . . . must inevitably come to pass” (rendering of Mark 11:24).