Editor’s Note: See also Trial by Team.
When Ray went overseas for further education and ministry, he never anticipated the traumatic events that would follow. He volunteered for a leadership role soon after arriving overseas at the Christian school where he was studying. His position linked him to an older adult experienced in the language, the culture, and the specifics of the ministry.
But Ray didn’t take the time to listen to advice or come under the spiritual counsel of his leader. He wanted to begin new ministries, form gospel teams, and change the world—not spend his time listening to the advice of old people.
He initiated projects without informing his leaders, and sometimes even deceived those who asked questions. Before long, Ray had isolated himself from his team and leaders. He was eventually dismissed and had to leave the country because he hadn’t followed their advice in filing properly for visas and alien registration.
Ray’s story is an extreme but true one. All too many short-term workers neglect building relationships with their leaders. They believe they have so much to offer in so short a time. And they blame the neglected relationship on generational differences and the leaders’ lack of vision.
Relating well with the leaders on your short term will demand change on your part. Get ready, because getting to know and work with your leaders will tug you and stretch you in directions you never imagined.
Ask yourself, “How can I best serve the leaders God has given me?” You may relate with your leaders in all kinds of ways, but the working relationship is different. Quickly learn how best to work with your leaders. How do they want you to keep them informed? If you have a question, how would you proceed? How often do they want you to meet with them? What kind of indicators show them you’re accomplishing your task?
Look for ways to support their ministry. Be willing to submit to their advice and counsel. The biblical pattern reveals that God develops followers before he places them in leadership. “Followership” precedes leadership. Since short-term missions are designed primarily as cultural exposure training experiences, it is critical to embrace the fact that the Spirit wants to test your teachability more than expand your evangelism outreach.
Accept your leaders rather than trying to fight them or change them. Be prepared for disappointment. Mission leaders are ordinary disciples, seeking to grow in Christ themselves.
I’ve worked under at least four kinds of leaders: some have been timid, others tired, many traditional, and some touchy. Learn to respect the position of each type of leader, even if you disagree with the person. Look for ways to affirm; don’t criticize and intimidate. Your role is to learn from who is there, not change who is there.
Get to know those you’re following. As you develop a personal relationship with your leaders, you’ll be better equipped to understand why they do what they do.
Observe their ministry closely. As you do, Remember Romans 13:1: “Submit to governing authorities”; and Hebrews 13:7-8: “Remember your leaders, who first taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their loves, and trust the Lord as they do. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (NLT). Spend intentional time observing, reflecting, and journaling on what you see them doing. Seeing your leaders as divinely appointed mentors or disciplers will free you to learn from and with them as you minister side by side. Be encouraged by the fact Jesus alone is the eternal, no-mistake leader walking with you!
When Sam went to Africa, he was eager to apply his Christian education degree and make an impact in Kenya. But he wisely chose to attach himself to an itinerant evangelist for the first two years and be mentored by him. The intimate exposure afforded by traveling and working together helped Sam learn how to weave a strong fabric of relationships with national Christians, pastors, and church leaders. It was out of these interwoven relationships that Sam was able to build a continent-wide ministry in leadership development over the course of the next fifteen years.
Looking back, Sam reflects, “I learned a lot of hard lessons I would never have learned had I not chosen to submit myself to my leader.”
Look for your leaders’ strengths in ministry. How do they relate to national pastors? How do they plan? How do they balance ministry demands with family life? What is their pace of life and ministry? Why do people respond so positively to them? When you don’t understand why they do what they do, ask. Few leaders feel comfortable in demanding time with short-term workers, but most are flattered when asked for the time for conversation and counsel.
- How did you get involved in Christian ministry?
- What helped and hindered you the most as you started out?
- What are some of the greatest lessons you’ve learned?
- What would you differently if you could live your life over?
- What were your greatest mistakes? Your most fulfilling accomplishments?
- What aspect of your ministry has been most enjoyable?
Most leaders pray for motivated, responsible coworkers. They’re looking for people who will jump in with fresh ideas and follow them through to completion. If you understand the context in which you’re working and the parameters of the task, offer suggestions and be available when work needs to be done. Ask your leaders if there are areas in which they would like you to take initiative in designing a program or responding to a need.
Make it a priority to pray daily and specifically for each of the people serving you as leaders. Bathe your relationship in prayer, committing the rough spots to the Lord. Let their personal pain and triumph drive you to your knees.
Work zealously at following your leader. Give it your best shot. Paul was wholehearted and zealous in all his work for God. Zeal refers to something within that “boils up”—the enthusiasm that irresistibly bubbles up in the heart.
Pray that God’s Spirit will keep you at that boiling point in your desire to build lasting relationships with your leaders during your short-term mission. Pray that God’s Spirit will give you the kind of leaders, men and women, who will teach you more about him and more about his heart for the world.