LAC Missionaries John & Tammy Ogden served with King’s Castle in El Salvador for six years. They currently serve in the highlands of Ecuador reaching the Quichua tribe with the message of Jesus.
It was 1997 and we were working in a small church in central Ohio. John was the music minister and I co-youth leader/missions director. One day an unsolicited invite showed up in my mailbox. The caption on the postcard read “Caribbean Youth Mission Trip.” My heart jumped. And for the next few months I campaigned hard to convince the other youth pastors, senior pastor, and parents that a trip to Haiti was in the best interest of our teens. The opposition was fierce but in the end the trip was approved and in July of 1998 twelve youth and four adults filled a mini van drove to Florida boarded a plane which later landed in Haiti. And all hell broke lose! My mistake? I didn’t understand the importance of spiritual preparation.
After that frightful trip I came home and wrote a manual of ‘You Ought Nots’. Over the next decade I led many other teams. We traveled all over the US, as well as Tijuana, El Salvador, and Africa. Needless to say, every trip added to my ‘You Ought Nots’ manual. But my experience was still one sided. The true completion of my school of hard knocks came in 2010, when we ourselves became full time missionaries. My role shifted from leader to host. And my eyes popped wide open!
What I can tell you in fifteen hundred words or less is this: you cannot short cut the importance of spiritual preparation and this begins with leadership. What you ought a not do is bring untrained solders to the front line. Ask yourself, would we send an untrained or basic trained soldier on a SEAL mission? No, of course we would not. The mission would be a disaster and the loss off the charts. And yet, every year teams flood the front line mission field with little or no training. And the result can be catastrophic on both fronts, home and abroad.
Before I go any further let me say I believe 100% in the value of short-term mission trips. They bring necessary aid and resources to the table as well has value to the local church. So please do not use my words as a reason to cancel your hands on approach to the global mandate. But instead use them to make your sacrifice count to its fullest. Are you ready? Then let’s begin.
As I said earlier I have led and hosted multitudes of teams. The ones that were most successful on both fronts were those who took time to prepare. After Haiti I developed a ‘Code of Conduct’ form which every team member signed. In this directive it was very clearly stated what attitude was expected and agreed on. What I have learned is this, if you don’t tell people what is expected, when in a crisis (like culture shock) they will do what comes natural. Basically they will flesh out. That little Code of Conduct form made all the difference. It gave them an anchor in the storm.
I also brought my team together once a week for bible study. I picked a mission book and together we worked through it. (One such great book is ‘BEFORE YOU GO’ by Jack Hempfling.) This exercise helped us develop one mind, a common core goal and unified us as a team.
Something I never did, but now wish I had, was interview potential team members. One pastor I met had a panel of three. Every candidate was interviewed and the panel decided if the application for participation was approved or denied. Pure genius! This saved the leader a lot of headache on the field.
A common mistake made is to allow anyone and everyone who can write the check a seat on the plane. I have sat with pastors in tears over the action of team members. Hear me and hear me loud, any issue a person has from addictions to mental issues will be accelerated on the mission field. This is a huge stressor to the leader, other team members and the missionary you went to serve. Do yourself and everyone a favor, screen your team members and be strong enough of a leader to say no when it needs to be said. Trust me on this! I have stories. It never ends pretty.
And the second most important thing to interviewing your team members, interview the missionary. Not all teams fit all missionary work. Every work is unique. You may find yourself in a very underutilized situation. Your skill set may serve better elsewhere. Don’t assume. Ask. How will you use our team? Will our team benefit your needs? Once you have a match then my next big piece of advice is trust that missionary. Assume nothing, ask everything. Listen and act on what you are told. Especially in the area of donations and culture dos and don’ts. Do not compare this work to any other. Again all work is unique with unique needs and requirements. And ministries change. Don’t think because we did it that way last year, that will still apply to the next trip. Keep asking. Keep listening.
And the most important question to ask the missionary isn’t what will we do, where will we sleep or what will we eat, but what will we encounter spiritually. Many places where missionaries work are demonic. Know the demons you will be fighting and prepare for that battle. If you don’t your team members will suffer. One young man I know went very naively on trip to India where he was exposed to hideous things. He came home so traumatized he hasn’t left the country since. How sad is that? That should never have happened. Had the leader asked the right questions and prepared his team this story could have ended very differently. What a loss.
Bottom line is, if you wanna lead a mission team, do it! Just do it right.