Every short-term mission project should include an evangelistic component. Unfortunately, most mission trips planned by churches in recent years are better described as service projects. I would include in service projects providing medical services, building houses or church buildings, painting or other construction type tasks, taking clothing, food, shelter, and friendship to orphans, the poor, or victims of catastrophes.
Jesus went healing the sick and giving cups of cold water. James says this is pure and undefiled religion. And Matthew records Jesus saying we will be judged for our compassion, so service projects are projections of God’s Goodness by His people in this broken world.
But Jesus came not only healing the sick and feeding the hungry, but also preaching (Matt. 4:23; 9:35)! Jesus says, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life “ (John 6:63). Just moments later, Peter answers Jesus’ questioning of whether the Twelve would stick with him now that he has started preaching and was becoming much less popular than when he was feeding the thousands: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)
The words of Jesus are full of the Spirit and Life, not the good deeds of his followers. For this reason, I believe that every mission trip should include a plan to share the Words of Jesus!
One of the reasons many mission trips default to service projects without the Words is because many Christians do not believe they are prepared to speak the Word. Preparations and training for short-term missions should include skills training in faith-sharing!
Allow me to draw on the training provided by Let’s Start Talking for some concrete suggestions for specifically training your volunteers to share the Words of Jesus!
- In LST’s very first training sessions, workers are asked to begin verbalizing their faith. Many have never done this, so it takes a friendly, safe environment and some prodding, but usually it is a marvelous experience for the whole team. One way of doing this is just to go around the team and have everyone tell the story of their baptism, including talking about what people influenced them and taught them and what prompted them to obedience at just that moment in their lives. For more reticent groups, LST’s training suggests that each person literally draw a picture of their faith. They are given pencil and a blank piece of paper—and no further instructions. The results are usually poor artwork, but dramatic insights. Of course, each person explains their picture to the whole group, thereby taking first steps in verbalizing their personal faith.
- Teach the workers the plan for sharing their faith! Since LST is primarily a faith-sharing mission, the plan is to serve those we meet on the mission trip first by helping them with their English, but LST workers are specifically trained to use the stories of Jesus in the Gospel of Luke as the English “workbook.” LST workers learn to wait for, but to expect the participants to ask questions about what they are reading together. When the participants raise the questions, then LST workers know that they have been asked to share their faith. That’s the plan for all LST workers.
- Equip the workers to execute the plan by identifying the specific skills they will need. The greatest temptation of untrained workers is to start preaching to the participants before their ears are ready to hear. Other typical failures of untrained workers are that they don’t listen to the person they are working with, their answers are too long with too much information, and/or they are easily led by the participants away from the gospel story into peripheral questions. Because of these tendencies, LST training addresses extensively:
- Learning to wait until asked before sharing
- Listening more than talking
- Staying focused on the Story
- Practice with the workers what they will be expected to do! Training or equipping is not just telling workers what they should do and how. Until they can actually do what is expected of them, they are not trained. If you are responsible for training your workers, you must not only demonstrate to them, but see them demonstrate the skills they need. LST training does this mostly through role-playing. Role-playing is not the same as the real moment, but we have found nothing better for training purposes than an experienced person sitting together with a new worker and pretending they are in a conversation session. Each person who participates in an LST project will have done role-playing on multiple occasions before they have completed their training.
To summarize, with clear goals and objectives, you as the organizer should be able to develop your training strategy by determining what tasks need to be accomplished and what skills are needed to accomplish those tasks. You will choose people for your mission trip who can accomplish those tasks, then equip them with the skills they will need to be the very best workers possible.
Let’s not let the sharing of The Words become a rarity simply because our people have not been taught how to do it.