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short term mission globeI moderated the four panels on short-term missions for the Global Missions Conference in October. This is a summary of the last three panels. The previous post summarizes the first panel. You can find it at the bottom of this post.  MW

 

Why and How Should Teens Do Short-Term Missions (Buster Clemens, Youth minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis, TN, and George Welty, Youth minister at White Station Church of Christ, Memphis, TN.)

The two panel members in this second session had not heard the great debate of the first session. These two ministers had at least forty years of youth ministry between them; in other words, they weren’t fresh-out-of-college youth ministers. These two guys have between them literally hundreds of kids in their programs. These guys both do at least one youth mission trip each year personally, and they help organize others for their students.

How do they feel about short-term missions?

Buster just told his story, how he was a young man with a quite predictable, successful future, then he participated in a short-term mission and it changed his life. He left the safe lane and became a youth minister, so he could help young people find what he found. One of the main ways he does this is to make sure they all have short-term mission experiences–like he did!

These guys had not read those academic studies that said short-term missions have no impact on those who participate. They have years of experience and lives of hundreds of their young people who contradict the conclusions of those studies.

They did acknowledge, however, that without proper planning and preparation, that a lot can go wrong. There is, however, no need for every church to re-invent the wheel. Many resources exist to help you evaluate your church’s teen mission program. (MW: Start with “Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Missions”   www.soe.org ).

 

Short-term Missions Opportunities in Hard Places. (Craig Altrock, LST; Tom Langley, World English Institute; Benny Baker, Mision Para Cristo)

This third panel began by confessing confusion over the topic that I had given them. What is a “hard” place? Were we talking about unreceptive places, about inaccessible places, or perhaps unsafe places. As they talked about unreceptive and inaccessible places, their message seemed clear: sometimes short-term missions are the only productive way to work in these places. I can tell you that LST was created for the unreceptive people of Germany and Western Europe, and over three decades later, what created opportunities in Germany has created the same kinds of opportunities all over the world. World English Institute is also penetrating places previously considered inaccessible.

What really captured the conversation in this session was the question of those places in the world that might be considered unsafe! Benny Baker has worked in Nicaragua for many years, and one of his main strategies has been to bring short-term teams in–lots of them–and to send them all over the country, including some places where they went with armed guards.

Our American obsession with safety (see the whole Ebola-in-America drama going on right now!) was referenced more than once. Benny argued strongly and well that safety is a solvable problem with good information. He argued that most churches, schools, and volunteers make their decisions about whether it is safe to go to Mexico or Africa or anywhere based on what they see in television.

Benny offered three good sources of information that are available to anyone wondering if it is safe to send their teens or their members–or to go themselves–to a particular spot. The first is just common sense, but the other two need to be out there where you can get to them too:

  • Pick up the phone and call the local missionary or your most trusted person at the site you are considering.
  • Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) – a U.S. State Department sponsored source of daily information on a global scale.   http://www.osac.gov
  • Fang Protective Services –dedicated to enhancing the safety and security of faith-based humanitarian and medical mission teams as they care for the most vulnerable members of humanity. http://www.fangprotectiveservices.org

 

Session Four: New Opportunities For Adults in Short-Term Missions (Leslee Altrock, LST; Chris Altrock, Senior Minister at Highland Church of Christ, Memphis)

If you thought that short-term missions were only for teens or college students, then these two panel members were prepared to change your thinking. Leslee described the great shift that Let’s Start Talking has experienced in the last few years. Once almost exclusively a college student/ summer short-term mission ministry, now LST finds itself recruiting, equipping, and sending twice as many adult church members as college students. Retired, almost retired, long retired, families on vacation, homeschoolers, teachers off in the summer–the demographic is huge of those church members who have always wanted to do mission work, but they didn’t have a vehicle. Now there are many opportunities.

Chris mentioned many of the activities of their church members that perhaps earlier wouldn’t even have been called a short-term mission. He emphasized how important these were to the local church’s outreach, both at home and abroad.

My Concluding Remarks:

  • Short-term missions are not going away any time soon–nor should we want them to.
  • There is no excuse for doing a poor short-term mission project. There are enough resources to guide you and enough people who do them right. Use them. Join them.
  • There is a short-term mission experience that every Christian can do! And they will be better for it. And the Kingdom of God will be advanced because they did it.
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Never building silos is easier than removing silos! I have heard preachers who tell about the first two years at their new congregation, all they did was break down the doors to silos and little kingdoms that had grown up over the years in that particular congregation.  My fear is that they are only the surviving preachers, i.e., the ones who can still talk about it;  the others who are not talking were not victorious in their battles with silos.

If you are planting a church, or if you have had a catastrophic event or truly phenomenal leadership that allows your church to reorganize completely, then here are a few suggestions for you to avoid building a missions silo:

  • Work on the mission and vision for the whole church before you start parsing that vision into sub-visions.  Discovering the big picture for a church is the result of lots of people praying together, talking together, praying together, searching the word together—and praying together.  Beware at this stage of the individuals who seem to have a single agenda or a single focus with no real interest in the other areas.  Help them either come back to working as part of the whole body or ask them to wait to speak until the vision for the whole is received.
  • Use a non-corporate metaphor for building your congregation’s organization.  I myself love the family metaphor, but there are others you might choose like the physical body or the tree and branches.  Using a different metaphor opens the conversation to different possibilities.
  • Build rotation into your model.  Nobody gets to be appointed to any position or becomes a member of any committee for life! Everybody understands that they are serving a defined term as elder, chairman, ministry leader, or committee member.  The term is not based on performance. You can’t run for re-election and get another term. Everybody steps down or away for some specified period of time before they can perform those same duties again for another term.
  • Build accountability into your model.  Nobody gets to be anything without being accountable to someone!  The hardest question here is to whom the elders will be accountable, both individually and collectively.  Without too much explanation, let me suggest that individually the elders need to be accountable to one another; collectively, they should be accountable to the flock they serve. 
  • Do budgets as representatives of the whole church, not as representatives of particular subgroups!  Try to remove any sense of competition for funds.
  • Do not idolize efficiency!  God did not call us to efficiency, but to faithfulness.  He is patient and longsuffering.  He tells us to wait on Him. Those are not instructions for efficiency, but rather for following in His steps. That’s where we want to be.
  • Don’t be afraid.  It’s God’s church, not yours! He is very much in control; you are not! Trust Him!

Tomorrow, look for the last post in this series on what to do if you find silos all around you!

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