5 Life Lessons I Learned at a Short-Term Missions Conference

I recently attended a weekend conference focused on promoting (and improving) short term mission trips. I picked up a few lessons that extend beyond the focus of the conference into a larger sphere. Here are five lessons I learned.

1. The 4 E’s of Effective Ministry

The primary responsibility of a disciple is to make more disciples. There are four things that an effective disciple-maker does regularly. They: Evangelize, Equip, Encourage, and Exhort. The primary focus of ministry is to share the gospel. That is, the good news that sinners can be reconciled with God through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ! But the primary focus is not the only focus: people need to be equipped. If you give people a Bible lesson, you “feed” them for a day; if you teach people to study their Bible, you “feed” them for a lifetime. People who have been saved and indwelt by the Holy Spirit can learn to study and deepen their relationship with the Lord without becoming dependent upon you. Therefore, help equip those who are saved so they can do the work themselves. After they are equipped, you will need to transition into a support role. Support, in this case means encouraging and exhorting them. Encouragement is praise you give to let them know they are doing the right thing and that they should continue doing it (even when it’s tough). Exhortation is constructive feedback you give to let them know that they are straying from the path and they need to get back on (even though it’s tough). With the right mix of encouragement and exhortation, a disciple will be able to press on through the challenges of the Christian life. They will then be prepared to evangelize, equip, encourage, and exhort those who come after them.

2. Don’t Just Work

This past weekend my friend and I went into the Dollar Tree to look for an item to include in a care package. While there we saw one item in particular that looked like it had been a major manufacturing mistake: it was a small, clay animal-shaped figurine with LED eyes that lit up. I’m not sure who would buy one or for what reason, but there they were. One of the mistakes people make in ministry is spending their time building something that others do not want and do not need. (This happens in short term mission trips where a group builds a literal structure that is unwanted or unhelpful. Shortly after they group leaves, the locals tear the structure down.) Unfortunately, effort does not always equal profit. People in ministry must be careful how they spend their time an energy. Do you know the needs of the people around you? Do they need to hear the gospel? Do they need to be equipped? Encouraged? Exhorted? Don’t waste your time and energy on things that won’t last.

3. Relationships are Important

In ministry, three relationships are vital: your relationship with God, your relationship with your supporters, and your relationship with those you are serving.

A servant of the Lord cannot be effective without a healthy relationship with God. Jesus often sought the will of his Father. When he found it, it shaped and directed his ministry and life.

Additionally, the Bible does not support rogue ministers. Paul always traveled with the prayerful and emotional support (commendation) of a local church. The accountability that other believers offer can help keep a minister on track.

Finally, ministers need to have a relationship with the people they serve. When Paul wanted to begin a church in a new area, he spent much of his time building relationships- in synagogues, marketplaces, and by rivers. He got to know the people, developed strategies for reaching them, and went from there. Although the gospel is universal, an effective evangelist considers the context of the hearers and presents the message in a relevant and appropriate way.

How is your relationship with God? With your church family? With those to whom you minister?

4. Meet Practical and Spiritual Needs

A story was told about a pastor who moved to the Middle East. He had been trained in simple dentistry practices. His goal was two-fold: to help meet the practical dental needs of the people and to meet their spiritual needs by sharing truth from God’s word. He often accomplished both at the same time! (While he had his tools in the mouth of his patient, he preached the gospel to them.) One day, opposition arose, and Christians were forced out of the area. He, because of his dentistry skills, was allowed to stay for a while longer. Eventually he, too, was run out of town. But he was able to provide a practical help and meet the spiritual needs of his patients while the Lord kept him there! With the Bible in one hand and a tool in the other, Christians can evangelize, serve, and equip others in practical and spiritual ways. Do you have a practical skill that can be shared with others? How can your skill open conversations about Jesus?

5. Give God the Credit

Jamie Saint, the grandson of Nate Saint, said, “if the support for your ministry comes from people, then take the credit for what you accomplish. But, if the support comes from God, then give him the credit.” As believers, we know that our support comes from God. He is the ultimate provider. For this reason, we can trust that he will keep us supplied for as long as he wants us in the work. We must then give him the praise, honor, and glory due him when we see all our needs met. We must also be willing to tell others that God is our primary supporter and the one who deserves the credit for what we accomplish. Where do you see God’s hand of provision in your life and ministry? Tell a friend!

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