REIMAGINING SHORT-TERM MISSIONS / 4

Most people sum up their short-term mission trip with “It was a great experience!” And this is something that Envision loves to hear as participants return home after a trip! What can happen, however, is that we end up preparing for a trip hoping for that response. We want our participants to have a great experience, which can lead us to plan trips losing sight of the long-term discipling component, turning the posture of STM into one that is purely experiential.  

STM with an experiential posture is centered around “me.” What can this experience do for me? Will I enjoy it? What food will I eat and will I like it? What could happen that could ruin my experience?  This event, place, people, trip is happening around and for me. The short-term trip becomes an isolate experience that the participant will either love or hate, enjoy or discard, remember or try to forget.

A discipleship posture for STM becomes a posture that seeks to empty oneself for the sake of the gospel in someone else’s life. This posture leads to an embrace of moments during a STM trip that purge any self- promoting, self-seeking or self-glorifying motives or actions. “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24) What can I lay down? What do I need to deny? What is taking priority over following Jesus in this mission in front of me?

As trip leaders and those who receive teams, we must be intentional to move our participants from an experiential posture to a discipleship posture. Since an experiential posture towards STM is easy and comes naturally, as leaders, our job is to help create the atmosphere and approach that brings about a discipling posture. Engage your team in asking these types of questions -- How can I be the best version of myself in this place? How can this place change me? What can I learn here? How do I leave this place and be further along in my journey towards reflecting the fullness of Christ?  What is God saying in this moment? How does this trip influence the long-term journey as a disciple of Jesus?

One of the key ways we are able to move participants from experiential to a discipling posture, happens through relationships and mentoring. “It’s our job, as leaders of these trips, to develop the relationships it takes to sustain the growth that happens in the greenhouse of a missions trip when these individuals come back home (previous blog entry).” STM is unique in that it is usually centralized on being a collective experience. Whether it is an intern partnering with a long-term worker on the field or a group of classmates taking a week-long group trip, STM is not meant to be done alone. This trip needs to be connected to a participants’ overall spiritual formation, and the participant needs to have a healthy connection to the corporate body of Christ to continue to fuel the sparks once they return. STM offers the Church an opportunity for an environment, outside the four walls, to cultivate deep mentoring relationships that can have long-term impact on the longevity and growth of the participant as well as the life of the church.

As a trip leader or as one receiving teams, the misperception is that a STM experience is for the participants that you are leading. On the contrary, life on life discipleship is how Jesus modeled how to lead discipleship. When shifting from an experiential posture to a discipleship posture, the trip now becomes an opportunity for you to model and share the ways God is speaking and working in your life. Jesus heard the voice of the Father and modeled how to obey it. Share openly with your team what God is speaking to you. As you prepare for the trip and while on the trip, God will be speaking and shaping you. Lead your team by being the first to take on a discipling posture. True mentorship engages authentically in the discipleship that is taking place in your own heart, as you engage with what God is doing in the hearts of those your leading.

Set clear expectations of priority. It is not about individual’s comfort or expectations, but rather about God’s mission. Some of the most soul shaping moments a participant may have on a short-term trip may be experiences that are uncomfortable, awkward, and not enjoyable. Setting clear expectations that participants’ comfort and enjoyment are not the priority can help lower the automatic defenses that may arise when a participant faces these types of moments on a trip. Setting clear expectations allows participants to remain open to how God may be on mission, even if it’s not personally a great experience. I personally have reflected back on many experiences on short term trips that were not my personal preference and have later been filled with gratitude in seeing how God used those moments to further his mission. When we seek the “best experience” we often exclude the very experiences God wants us to have to shape us as his disciples.

In summary, for a leader to cultivate a discipleship posture for Short-term missions they must intentionally:

  • Value the mentoring relationship with the participants more than cultivating an experience for them. Have courage to ask the deeper, harder questions. Connect the trip to the longer journey of discipleship.
  • Be a disciple and model personal discipleship
  • Remain open to how God is moving in the uncomfortable, inconvenient, awkward, unenjoyable experiences. Choose to be a discipling leader rather than an experiential leader. (This may cost you what your, or the participants, desires are for the trip experience)

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Jen Schepens serves as the operations specialist for Envision, focusing on the operational and administrative processes, as well as organizing and planning Envision gatherings. She’s excited to have the brain space and time to explore Colorado, having just recently completed her MDiv. Jen is a Mets fan and loves baking, antique shopping, treats and snoozin', snoozin' and treats.