I’m heading out this weekend for another foreign missions trip, this time to the country of Honduras. I’m taking the largest team I have ever taken on a trip with some fresh leaders, so I’m a bit nervous, but also so excited to see how God decides to move through our team and this experience.
My first missions trip leadership experience was my first out of the country trip to the north side of Haiti, one year after the earthquake just outside Port-au-Prince. We were actually scheduled to head to Mexico but were re-routed only a few months ahead of time.
I’ve learned a lot since then. I’ve faced some situations I never could have planned for and I’ve created my own headaches as well. But, experience is the best teacher, so I thought why not pass some of these lessons along to you. So, here are three things to think about when it comes to your next, or your first foreign missions trip:
- Plan to throw out the plan. I’m not a real rigid schedule guy until we get to a threshold of lack of control and then I get super rigid. When you’re in a country that is foreign to you, it can be very easy to try to control/plan everything out throughout the week. Without fail, every trip I have led has altered the “plan” that we had put in place; most times within 24 hours of arriving.
For sure go in with a plan. You need to know what your team is capable of and how you can best partner with the ministries on the ground. But, short term missions brings with it a real need to be flexible. What I have found is that when you plan well, you can be more flexible when the plan needs altered.
- Lean on your leaders. As much as I believe in leadership, empowering others, and encouraging others to lead well, I can be the worst at delegating stuff and empowering others to lead when I have a specific vision in mind. I have made the mistake of trying to be the guy for every person on the trip and only got in the way of the high-quality people that I had recruited to lead.
Give roles to your adult leaders. Find things that they can own on the trip. It could be as significant as spearheading the VBS portion of the trip or as simple as being responsible for counting the team. Find things that you can empower your leaders to lead and help them do it well. The fact is that if you want leaders to be the pastors of the trip and encourage the students to do the same, you have to put them in a role that is clearly different than the students.
- Press into your experience too. It can be so easy to get so focused on leading and pressing into the students’ experience that you fail to see the things that God is trying to reveal to you in this experience. I’ve said the words: “This trip isn’t just about making a difference in their hearts down there, it’s about allowing God to make a difference in my heart right here” and then never fully embrace that for myself.
If you encourage your students to journal through the experience, journal through the experience yourself. If you are asking students questions about their experience, ask yourself those questions first. Sure, the answers to the questions and the experiences that you journal will be different, but they will be equally as important. Lead yourself first and lead yourself well so you can lead your team well.
So there are three things to hopefully make your missions experience better. Nothing life-changing, but stuff I have learned through experience and coaching that I didn’t know the first time I launched out. May your missions experience be just as rich as you want it to be for your students.
BIO: Geoff Cocanower is a husband, a son, and the Associate Pastor of Student Ministries at Hope Missionary Church in Bluffton, IN where he leads the team of adults who minister to high school students as well as young adults. Interesting fact about Geoff is that he is a high school football and volleyball referee in his spare time and is a legacy member and loves all things DYM.