As a church in a pioneering mission field--for us that means a place that has less than 3% Evangelical Christians living here--churches send mission teams to Salt Lake City just as if they were going to Guatemala or Ethiopia. Or do they?
When I was on staff at a larger, long-established church, one of my duties was to oversee our mission work. We sent teams to Guatemala, among other places. In some respects, it was easy to see the need. The partnership was a little more obvious to me. But now that I'm on the receiving end of mission teams at Redeeming Life, I wonder if I was really a good partner when I was the one on the sending side?
Our church plant has some great partners. We've had some great mission teams come and help us as we've been desperately trying to plant the Gospel on the west side of Salt Lake, North Salt Lake, Centerville, and Bountiful. But being a pastor in this context, I've learned some things along the way. If you or your church is considering a partnership with a domestic church plant in a difficult mission field, I hope you will consider the following advice from a church planter who has been on both sides of this thing.
1. Do What Is Truly Needed. Be willing to do whatever the church planter or pastor needs. How many times do mission teams come to do created events and projects that the planter or pastor really wouldn't do if not but to keep the mission team happy? So don't come with desires to do what you like; instead, do what's truly needed in the mission field.
2. They Know Their Context. Don't compare your ministry to the ministry you are headed into to serve. If their context was your context they probably wouldn't need your help. In addition, they probably know what their community needs. Trust them. They are the experts of their call and mission area, not you. Constant comparison often feels a little like judgement. And the size of the church is not an indication of better, smatter, or wiser. It's usually harder to do ministry with a smaller church than a larger, and locational context is very different from one place to the next.
3. Don't Be a Burden. If the pastor in the mission field is more exhausted when the mission team leaves, the mission team may have hurt the ministry. It might be that the pastor needs days to recover or play catch up to the emails left unseen for the week or get caught up with sermon preparation. One thing the team can do is to offer to send someone to get the pastor's oil changed or mow his lawn or do some of the other things that might buy the pastor more time. It might also be good not to place expectations to have all of the pastor's time while you are there. Would you give every minute of the week to someone at your church while there are still so many other needs going unfilled?
4. Overwhelm with Encouragement. Often the little things can be greatly encouraging. For example, we have a team that comes and babysits our children so my wife and I can get out on a date. Many times a planter has no friends or family as they get started, which often means no babysitters. That means very few dates. That team even gave my wife and I some cash for the date. This is good because planters usually have very little personal funds. In another example, that same church sent my daughter a birthday card. When you're on the front lines of the mission field, it's easy to feel alone. These little acts of support go a long way! Even a $5 gift card to Starbucks and a note reminds the planter family that you're thinking about them. They are not forgotten or alone.
5. Do Your Part. When it comes to logistics, let the planter tell you what they need in the mission field, but don't burden him with how you'll get there. Don't put the travel and planning burdens on the the planter or pastor. The team should be able to work out travel plans, and probably housing plans too. Do some homework. This kind of thing takes time. If you need to get answers to questions, do; but don't expect the planter to do all the leg work. If the planter has the time to work out your flights and lodging, he probably does not really need your help.
6. It's Not a Vacation. The best teams I've worked with came for the ministry, not the sight seeing and vacation aspects of travel. Of course people want to see an area when they spend money to travel there, but what's the reasoning behind coming? Some of the best teams I've worked with have done "fun" in ways that incorporate the local church family. Rather than trying to see the community through the eyes of a tourist, they've seen what Utah has to offer through our eyes. For example, we've joined teams in the beautiful mountains of Utah. The incoming team is often awestruck and the church gets to enjoy the day too. Or we go hiking, or we enjoy a campfire together. It could be any number of things. Any any case, don't expect or even ask the pastor to play "tour guide." This generally just kills a ministry day for the pastor, which takes us back to Number 3 above.
7. Pray. Finally, remember to pray for the mission filed often. Stay in contact with the pastor through the year. This helps foster a better relationship rather than a mission-vacation destination.
I hope you've found this helpful. If you haven't considered partnering with a domestic mission field, I want to encourage you to do so. And I hope you'll consider partnering with a planter in Utah. (If you're interested in partnering with Redeeming Life Church, you can start that journey here.)
For the Kingdom!