Mission teams can be a tremendous help to a church planter, but often they become a burden even when all those involved are working with the right intentions. Here are three ideas to you on track as you plan mission teams that will genuinely bless your planter and his work:
1. Let the field drive your strategy.
Don’t ask yourself: What does my team want to do for the planter? Rather ask your planter: What do you need that my mission team can provide? Believe it or not, I often hear about teams who just set a date, plan what they want to do, then tell the planter they are coming. Please, don’t do that. Talk to your planter first. Work to understand his vision and strategy. Discover what he needs to propel this strategy forward. Then, build and train your team to meet these needs. You may have a fantastic men’s quartet, but that does not mean the planter needs you to sing in the city park. What he may need is someone to help build a playground in that park. So, start with understanding the vision and strategy, then identify specific holes within that strategy and fill the gaps with a team and resources from within your congregation.
2. Remember your planter has a church to start.
Planters must often guard against “the tail wagging the dog” when it comes to partners and mission teams. A planter’s primary goal is to plant a church, so they must limit the amount of time they spend coordinating the details of mission teams. Most church planters are excited to have mission teams, as they see their value for amplifying their own work and training up the next generation of planters. They’re willing to work hard to provide a great experience for the team and a strategic impact for the planter. But, mission team leaders should recognize planters are primarily concerned with planting a church. The more you do to plan the team, the more you free him to focus on his primary task. Don’t look to him as your personal travel agent or vacation planner. Serve him as a partner by figuring out how you can be there without relying on him to plan every detail. Talk with him (or his designee) about options for lodging, meals, transportation and whatever he needs your team to do, but then get to work yourself. The internet makes it so easy today to do your own work of figuring out the best hotel, transportation options, meal locations, ministry supplies, etc. Keep him in the loop along the way, and let him know you got it all worked out. By planning your own trip details, you and your team can be a huge blessing by moving his strategy forward with your work and freeing him to do the things only he can do (i.e., build relationships, making disciples, preparing for preaching).
3. Focus on long-term results, not short-term wins.
I know well that getting a “win” connects well in the context for a local church. We all want to come home from our missions experience to tell everyone how many got saved or how much of a building was finished. I get it. This to helps more want to go, and helps those who’ve been want to do it again. However, the thing your planter may need most from your mission team may not be the hardest thing to measure or celebrate back home—at least in the short term. Prayer-walking is not easy to celebrate in the short-run, but prayer-walking is one of the most vital and strategic things a planter needs on the front end. It’s a ”win,” but it may produce long-term results that cannot be seen right away. Planters often tell us stories of people who show up at their church months after a mission team was there. There’s no real reason compelling them to come , but they just thought they needed to check out the new church in the neighborhood. Meanwhile, we know why they thought that…because someone from another church in another state walked by their house praying that God would open their eyes and ears to the good news of the gospel. You can’t tell me that’s not a win for a mission team! But, it was not a win that produced fruit the week they were there. These kinds of wins, the silent wins that build on each other, are just the kind your planter needs. These are the kind only God can bring to build His kingdom in that dark and lost place. So, think long term and prepare your teams to understand that the fruit of their labor may not be seen right away. Realistic, kingdom-centered expectations will help produce long-term wins for your planter and your team.
Looking for more tips? There are several more ways we would encourage you to send your mission teams well. Check namb.net/sendingchurch for more Sending Church resources.