When you are the leader for a short term mission trip, what do you do during the actual trip?Mission tour weeks are my favorite week with students. All the hard work of training, organizing and fundraising is done and now we get to fully immerse ourselves in the experience and go with it. However, sometimes when I actually get on the trip with the students I get a little unsure of what my role exactly is now? I’m not one of the students, but I am a participant on this trip and I am the team leader – so what does that look like? I’ve seen other leaders struggle with this too on STMs - some I’ve seen putting their own feet up, others I’ve seen standing on the sidelines yelling orders or others I can’t tell if they are one of the students or a leader. There can be this tension between being the leader but also being a guest and participant.
This one is a little hard to figure out and may look a little different depending on the context of your trip, but here’s some advice on walking this tension. Advice for leaders on a mission tour:
1. Be an encouraging machine – you are the biggest cheerleader of both the locals and your own students during the STM. Notice what they are doing well, notice where they are stepping up, notice where God is at work and encourage, encourage, encourage. Pray for people, especially as they take on new tasks or share their joys/challenges in their local context and in this experience. Keep your home church connected and encouraged by what’s happening too.
2. Equip and empower others – give away opportunities to lead and serve to students and locals. This doesn’t mean you do nothing, but you come alongside them to help them go further. It’s so exciting to watch others step-up and be stretched to try new things.
3. Learn from other leaders and their context – this is a great opportunity for you to build friendships with other leaders and learn from them. Figure out where you are facing similar challenges and opportunities, talk about resources and talk about where God is at work. Build relationships with partners near and far.
4. Serve too – get your hands dirty. Pitch in with the team wherever you can. Take the nature of a servant.
5. Ask great questions – invite the students and others around you into deeper conversation and reflection with great questions. Help others recognize what God is revealing to them and teaching them. Help others see the roots of what is happening where you are, not just the symptoms or Band-Aid solutions.
6. Set the example - model what it looks like to have attitude of humility, learning, service, dedication and graciousness. Model what it looks like to keep close to Jesus during the week. Model how to react when difficulties come-up. Model a spirit of curiosity and not judgment.
7. Lead a debrief – make sure you take time for the team to debrief together. Give them time to reflect and articulate what they learned during this experience, what God seemed to be highlighting, what they need to apply back home, what gifts they saw in each teammate etc.
Have an amazing time of seeing and experiencing God’s work in our world! We love to hear your stories from STMs this year.