Three Tools for Traveling in Place

November 03, 2020

By Erin Burleson

Our first Sunday service, after the quarantine, was outdoors in a makeshift set-up, where I made the mistake of trying to replicate our normal children’s programming. We were under an awning on the backside of a field, and only a few kids attended; we felt disheartened after putting in a lot of work for little engagement. By the end of the service I realized the disconnect wasn’t the quantity of kids, but because our efforts were spent executing a program instead of relating with people.

We would have been more successful if we’d led the experience like our ministry teams in Mexico. International mission experiences are typically a time to lower programmatic expectations, to elevate the people, and to adapt ourselves so we can meaningfully engage the culture.

 Since that first post-quarantine service I’ve been asking myself, “Why am I doing stateside ministry any different than I would do missions work abroad?” We may be limited in getting to where we want to go (physically or organizationally), but we can still translate the impact of the tools we use when we travel. So, if you’ve felt the disappointment of being stuck stateside this year, then consider these tools for prioritizing people over programs:

1. Inventory the local approach: Do the local organizations in your community provide event/program-based services or are they relationship based? Does the local church focus on problems to help solve or identifying resources to share? If people are feeling defeated and unmotivated, consider a shift from project centered work to people centered work; this is the heart of Asset Based Community Development. Check out this video to gain a stronger sense of the impact of your approach.​

2. Use Questions for Conversation: While some people will talk theory, read a book, or even engage in a webinar, most folks longing for missions trips are looking for action. I’ve found these five  prompts to be conversation tools that move a group toward productive discussion and action planning. Next time you’re with a team (students or seniors alike) post these up around the room and let people write their responses as a framework for group discussion.
  • Our greatest strength is…
  •  I would describe the relationship between our church/business/ organization and the community as …
  •  ​One thing I wish the church knew…
  • One thing I wish the church would do…
  • The biggest obstacle I (personally) face in taking a next step is…

3. Invite people to participate: It sounds simple, but a key factor for engaging people is that they know their gifts/strengths and they know where they can be used. Every single person in your community has something to offer for the betterment of the community. Remember when the people were building the tabernacle in Exodus 34? Bezalel and Oholiab were said to have “wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and all kinds of skills” as well as “ an ability to teach others.” Who are the people in your community with skills and a willingness to teach or share them with others? When is the last time you personally invited others to contribute their time and talents to serve the larger good of the community? If you have no idea where to even start, then consider this skills inventory from DePaul University. It can be a simple tool to knowing people’s names, skills, and openness to intentional community. Start with your family, then try to gather this information from church members, neighbors, and friends. Pro-tip: Resist the temptation to make this a digital survey on social media! Make a phone call or have a coffee date to keep relationship and conversation and the forefront, and let the paperwork run in the background. 

If you want to dig deeper or learn more about these tools and others, consider registering for the 2021 Missional Collective Journey. Don’t let your waiting for the next trip to somewhere delay the work of God with people everywhere!

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