“A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step.” Lao Tzu died over 500 years before Christ, but it sure seems like he had short-term missions in mind when he said this! We all hope and pray that the short-term team we are planning will help the missionaries, demonstrate God’s love, lead every person you meet towards worship of Jesus, impact each team member; in short, be the best team ever! But we also know that if we take the first steps in the wrong direction, we can complicate everything. So what is the best first step in our “journey”? The best first step is to listen to your missionary partners. Ask them how a team could help their ministry, and then listen. Listen for the best time, the best activities, the best goals, the best size.
Short-term teams are very complex with dozens of people and factors contributing to their success or difficulty. But if we had to choose the single biggest influence towards success, it would be the relationship of the team leader to the missionary partner. If a qualified team leader works well with the missionary partner, the team has a good chance to reach its potential. But if that relationship does not have a solid foundation, every challenge will push the team out of shape until it is tottering or even collapsing. The key to that relationship is for the team leader to start by listening. When you call your missionary partner about a short-term team, you have a lot of power in the conversation. You pray for and support him and his ministry. How can he say no to you, even if the time you had considered is not the best, or the cool idea you have for ministry really doesn’t fit the culture or his ministry? The pressure to agree is powerful. But if your missionary partner agrees to the wrong idea, your team starts down a path in the wrong direction. But asking and then listening – now that is different. It invites missionary partners to share what they have learned from the successes and mistakes of other teams. Listening lets your missionary partners share far more deeply about their ministry and introduce truly strategic ways your team can contribute to building God’s Kingdom there. Listening and praying together gives God a chance to speak into the process, to lead you both towards His plan for you and your team. God has wonderful plans for your team! Taking the best first step through listening will start you on an amazing journey towards God doing more than you can ask or think!
Originally published in May 2011