Short Term Teams. Depending on where you are in the missions world, that phrase makes some say YAY, some say UGH, and some say HMM… More than a few articles have made their way around the internet regarding the impact of teams, including the good, the bad and the ugly.
One common feature of many short-term teams is that they are given “rockstar” treatment. Characteristics of the rockstar treatment include host country nationals acting SUPER EXCITED and dolling out lots of enthusiasm and awe and praise. A good amount of research suggests that this phenomenon comes about largely because of culture, and unfortunately, more than a few Americans let it go to their heads. It is common for short term missionaries to draw conclusions based on their warm welcome: "I must be awesome! This message really connected! In just a few minutes, we've made life-long friends!"
So well documented is this occurrence of rockstar mentality that after the first day with our most recent team – a team giving performances, no less – I steeled myself for what felt like the inevitable. As was predictable, our team was swarmed by kids, followed by a cacophony of something akin to “OH MY GOSH ITS JUSTIN BEIBER!”along with all the hugs, all the selfies, all the stroking of hair and skin, and capped of with the ultimate ego boosters of “please don’t leave! we love you! stay forever!!!”After that first day of back-to-back chaotic receptions – (and seeing our our Zambian partners clearly overwhelmed by the fan-fair) – I wondered, can we even be effective like this?
However, things got better as time went on, and I want to take this opportunity to spew a little praise for our most recent team as they completely surprised us by not only accurately identifying the rockstar treatment for what it was, but by also strategizing about how to leverage their position for good and not frivolity.
In fact, this team fabulously demonstrated four attitudes that countered the rock star treatment with four basic convictions. They skillfully re-wrote the script in four ways, declaring, “We are not rockstars. Instead… _________________.”
… we are pawns.
Many teams that fall into rockstar mentalities accidentally end up putting themselves in the center of it all. It becomes a lot of WE WE WE, at the end of which the team really believes that it manufactured and perpetrated its own awesomeness. This team did an incredible job of letting themselves be used. They gave almost all authority to the locals who had certain goals and expectations, and fell in line accordingly. They offered themselves up moment by moment to flexibly go and do as was needed; an act of humility that did not go unnoticed.
… we are students.
A lot of teams never really THINK about why their time and interactions have mattered. And honestly, many do not really care! The rockstar treatment makes them feel awesome, (300 people shook my hand and smiled at me!) but also tends to over-inflate their sense of usefulness. This team debriefed like it was their job. They asked questions of culture and effectiveness. They talked about how to communicate and connect better EVERY SINGLE DAY. They learned intentionally and were steadily changed by those lessons.
…we are planters.
A major pitfall of many teams is that they perceive the rockstar treatment as a just reward for their awesome work. Despite having been in the country for only a few hours, many short termers falsely associate praise as a sign of an easy harvest. This team recognized that their message was just one seed planted among many, and moreover, that it will all likely be harvested by the long-term locals who remain after them.
… we are a dot.
For many teams, the rockstars are the MAIN event. Their program is the be all and end all and deprives due praise from all those who have come before and those will come long after the team is gone. This team did encouraged and empowered the local pastors who have labored so hard to get this far. Furthermore, they recognized that God has planned all these things since the foundations of the earth and that this one trip is a mere dot on the grand timeline. They perceived it as grace that God would let them participate, and in doing so, redirected all glory and praise to Him.
Truly, short term missions has a role to play and despite all of the challenges and flaws of crossing cultures and interjecting for a short time – it is refreshing to remember that God somehow uses all these things for our good and His glory. I pray that every team that goes out this summer trades in the title of rockstar for pawn, student, planter and dot.