All short term mission outreaches begin with great expectations, but not all of them necessarily meet them. I know this is true because as a pastor I have been involved in sending many teams out over the years into cross cultural settings and heard their reports when they return. And I have been on a number of teams and come back with mixed emotions about what I had experienced. I share this candidly but reservedly, idealism about such things was eventually pummeled out of me and I reluctantly settled for the one key to success that will always deliver and never disappoint – low expectations.
All that changed as a result of my recent participation on our church’s eight day outreach to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. It categorically far exceeded every expectation and has begun a restoration of healthy idealism in my soul. It has also caused me to think more deeply about what makes for a successful short term mission outreach.
How do you measure whether or not an outreach is successful or effective? Obviously success is in the eyes of the beholder; not only in the eyes of those who go, but even more importantly in the eyes of those who are the recipients. But ultimately, and we often forget this, it is what God sees that really matters.
In God’s eyes success is measured by our obedience of faith to His calling and faithfulness in seeking to bring Him glory. The gold standard and ultimate motivation for any mission sending endeavor always has to go back to John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son that who ever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Every mission outreach, no matter what the results, is successful in God’s eyes if it flows out of obedience to the great commission and focuses on glorifying God through preaching of the Gospel and expanding His kingdom.
By that standard, every outreach I have ever been associated with has been successful. That is a freeing and joyful thought. It makes God’s expectations preeminent and puts human expectations, both fulfilled and unfulfilled, in perspective. The goal of outreach is not to make the senders, goers or receivers happy or fulfilled. It is to make God happy and fulfill His purposes.
That being said, I want to close by sharing some of the key fulfilled expectations of our outreach that made it such an exceptional experience. I do this to give glory to God, kudos to my fourteen teammates and offer it as a successful model of how a short term missions experience should be planned and executed.
- The vision for the outreach must be driven by a heart and capacity to recognize what God is doing in a given locality through those already ministering there. The goal should be to cooperate with them and serve their ministries in furthering God’s kingdom in that place.
- The leadership must be unified, experienced and well organized. Special thanks here to Cathy and Gary Wereley and Diane Stores
- Time must be taken prior to the outreach to build team relationships and adequately prepare team members for what to expect and their respective roles. Again, great gratitude to our leaders!
- Clear, frequent and redundant communication between the leadership and the team must be a priority in terms of scheduling, expectations, team rules and guidelines etc.
- Each team member must be committed to maintaining the unity of the Spirit, honoring and respecting one another and team protocol. Kudos here to every team member!
- Each team member must have an opportunity and the encouragement to contribute to the greater good by investing their unique talents and abilities with a whole heart.
- Everything must be bathed in prayer with an utter reliance upon God’s wisdom, grace and strength.
There are many other things that I could add to this list but bottom line a successful outreach begins and ends with God.
Do you have an outreach lesson to share?
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