For 24 years, I’ve been sending people on short-term missions (STMs) that challenge them to live the kind of life God dreams for them. STMs are great discipleship tools.
This year at Adventures, we’ll send out our 100,000th person on an STM. Our goal is for our STMs to activate participants to one day go and bring the hope they have to those that have none in some dark place in the world.
But moving from a short-term to a long-term focus requires a different set of tools. While Jesus sent all his disciples out on STMs (Luke 10), only a few were called to cross-cultural missions (in Acts). This may be one reason why he asked his disciples to go only to their own countrymen.
In my eagerness, I’ve made mistakes in sending people out for the long term. Here are five:
1. Not enough screening.
To be an effective long-term missionary, you’ve got to go as a learner. You learn the culture, the language, and you learn people’s stories. To do this, you need a mindset, and you need skills.
Sometimes in my enthusiasm to help, I’ve not spent enough time asking if candidates to go long-term had the mindset and skills they needed.
2. Not enough of a team.
While some can make it on their own, most effective missionaries go as a team. Every day, they have to expend emotional energy to look more like the culture they’re in than the culture of their home country. It’s the same kind of assignment Jesus had in the incarnation. Every day, they are asked to exchange the things that they find normal and comfortable for a set of behaviors that are new and strange. They need a team’s encouragement to be able to make it. A team gives them the reference point to acclimate organically.
Team unity is essential if the team is to strike the right blend of encouragement and guidance for its members to choose into the transformation process day after day.