Mistakes happen when you are a sending church. Part of our growth as a sending church has been to choose vulnerability and be honest about our mistakes. We could avoid these mistakes by avoiding church planting altogether, but we do not get to choose if we should make disciples and plant churches. Jesus has made our mission abundantly clear.
Here are five mistakes that can easily be made when sending mission teams to work with church planters.
Mistake #1: Lack of spiritual preparation
Preparing for war is different than preparing for vacation. Any time the gospel is being shared, we can expect opposition. The Bible is clear that there will be opposition and spiritual warfare when we go in the name of Jesus.
Tip: Spend lots of time in prayer with the team before you go. Pray Scripture, pray for the planter, and pray for hearts to be prepared to receive the gospel.
Mistake #2: Thinking like a tourist
It’s easy for a team to focus on the amenities of the city: food, architecture, the arts, and scenery. The team needs to think like missionaries when they arrive, following the model of Paul in Acts 17 when he arrived in Athens. They need to observe: What is being worshipped in the city? What are the spiritual strongholds here? How can we best contextualize the gospel?
Tip: Give every team member a journal to use before, during, and after the trip. Start each morning with a devotion and debrief in the evening by asking what they observed.
Mistake #3: Not asking what the planter needs
Our tendency is to plan for a team to come when it is most convenient for us. It also is easy to assume we know what the planter needs without even asking them to speak into the planning process. The best team may be a team that goes and simply cares for and serves the planter and his family.
Tip: Make a list of questions to ask the planter about their needs, what projects they need help with, and how a team can best serve them. Have a video call with the planter and the entire team so they can hear directly from him.
Mistake #4: Doing too much for the team
One thing we have learned is that we can do too much for team members. Part of the experience for our mission teams is to learn what it is like to live is another city: taking public transportation, supporting local businesses, and even having a schedule that allows for flexibility and options.
Tip: If public transit is available, use it as much as possible. Divide the team up for eating and prayer walking at different places. Follow Jesus’ model of sending out in small groups and then reporting back that evening.
Mistake #5: Being inflexible
Inflexibility takes many forms. We can learn a lot from the planter, if we are willing to listen and move outside our own personal preferences and comfort. We do not want to do anything that jeopardizes the work of the planter or harms their credibility in the community.
Tip: Look for ways to push the team, such as having different schedules each day, serving in a difficult place, and allowing team members to lead a debrief time or morning devotion. Have dialogue that offers solutions, not just criticism.
Planting churches can be hard work. The last thing a church planter needs is a mission team that is not helpful. We never set out with the intention to make mistakes, but mistakes happen. Let us learn together how we can most effectively serve and support our church planters. Mission teams, done well, are not only a blessing to the planter but also serve as a great discipleship tool for team members. Your next church planter may be on that team.
Published July 2, 2018