Planning a Mission Trip – Part Four

Putting Together A Team

About a month ago one of my daughters came for a visit.  We had a list of places to visit and things she wanted to see, but it was a rainy weekend and we had to make some changes.  That Sunday afternoon, the skies cleared and it was a glorious day for a hike.  A quick lunch after church, we all changed clothes and gathered water bottles and off we went exploring.

However, each of us had our expectations and assumptions in our day packs along with those water bottles.

We let our daughter choose the trail, and it was one we hadn’t been on yet.  I had a book with a description of where to park, the location of the trail head, blaze colors, and other assorted information.  My husband decided to bring our dog along, so we put extra water and a few treats in his day pack.  I sliced some apples and cheese for snacks, double checked that my first aid kit and other essentials were in my day pack and we hit the road.

I assumed that the directions in the book would be easy to follow (mostly) and that my cell phone GPS would be functional at least until we arrived at the trail head (it wasn’t).  My husband and daughter expected that I’d hike almost as fast as they do (I don’t).  I expected that my dog would be well behaved (she had a blast but isn’t the best behaved).  I didn’t anticipate being passed by young adults in shorts and running shoes blasting past me on the trail, as I slowed down with each switchback.  My husband assumed our dog would love to splash across the creeks on our trail (she had to be carried because she refused to get wet).  Lastly, we all assumed the trail would be well marked.

Despite having to stop for directions, mistakenly starting on the wrong trail, the eroded trail sign which left us confused as to which fork to take, and my late arrival to snack break (they sat and waited for me because the snacks were in my pack), we had a great time.  When we got back into the car we were wet, muddy, sweaty and very happy.

Before You Pack Your Expectations

Planning a short-term mission trip often involves building a team.  Some churches build their mission teams by invitation only, and some will open the opportunity to anyone who applies.  Team leaders should be aware that people bring expectations and assumptions on mission trips, just as I took my own assumptions and expectations on my hike.

While building teams by invitation only can avoid many of the pitfalls that may happen with assumptions and expectations, invitation-only teams leave the impression that mission teams are only for a select group, and that the entire church is not welcome to participate.  A mission trip is a small group sent out from a local church, and should be understood as an important part of the work of the whole body of Christ.  While not everyone will go on the trip, everyone in the church can be part of the support network.  More on this in a bit.

If your planning involves opening up the trip to anyone in your church, I highly recommend interviews with prospective team members.  The book A Mission Journey from the General Board of Global Ministries includes questions for teams to consider in the team formation stage.  The authors are all experienced short-term mission leaders and have written these questions in the context of a meditation exercise.

Questions To Consider

Here are some of the questions you and your prospective team members can discuss:  “What are your reasons for taking part in this experience?  What are your hopes? In what mission experiences have you participated before?  What do you expect to be similar this time?  What do you think will be different?”

The meditation continues with questions about cultural differences and the role of God already at work at your team’s destination.  These are all questions that can help frame an interview with prospective team members, and help the entire team consider their expectations and assumptions prior to the trip.

If you’ve been on a short-term mission trip, you already know that you’ll face problems along the way.  Plans may not go as anticipated.  There may be travel delays.  There may be difficulties in obtaining needed materials.  Things might get lost in translation.  Things might get lost – like luggage or people.  If your team has come together with intention, praying together, working on a local project together, reading and discussing the meditations in A Mission Journey together, you will be able to handle problems and blown assumptions together.

Not Everyone Can Go

If there are people in your church who want to go on the mission trip but aren’t the right fit for your team, consider asking them to help the team in another way.  Prayer partners is one way that people can participate directly in a mission trip without actually going on the trip.  Each team member is assigned a prayer partner who will pray with them prior to the trip and for them during the trip.  Some churches have prayer partners who write notes of encouragement for team members to open during their mission trip.  Others can help the mission team by collecting essential materials for the team to use, driving the team to or from the airport, or by working on local projects with the team.  In this way, the mission team extends beyond just the team members to include more of the church.

On that hike with my family, they expected that I wouldn’t be the fastest hiker and that I didn’t mind if they went on ahead.  We talked about it before we started out on the trail.  When we realized our phone GPS signals were lost, we switched over to paper maps and the helpful folks at the cafe.  Because we were prepared and had talked over scenarios with each other, our assumptions and expectations were better managed.  Building your mission team can allow for time to prepare together and discuss your expectations with each other, so that your team will be ready for whatever happens on your journey.


Quotes from A Mission Journey: A Handbook for Volunteers, page 61-2

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