Short-Term Mission Training

Mission is wonderful, complex, nuanced and important. Each time Covenant sends a team to serve, it is essential that we go into each opportunity with our mission theology and philosophies aligned. Sharing common language and common goals allow our experiences to focus on the ultimate goal of mission: to watch God draw His people together across nations, languages and cultures in order to care for those in need and make Him known. 

We want to introduce some key mission principles in this short training packet. These principles will not begin to touch every aspect of mission and service, yet we trust they will be solid building blocks for us as we seek to honor God in our service. 

Principle 1: Ancient Work

Ancient Work is defined as the understanding that we trust that God is and always has been at work all over the world and in every heart and mind. This principle is deeply important in mission, as we will often step into new places, new relationships and new cultures. Our response often can be a deep need to try to fix what we see is broken, a worry that what we are seeing for the first time is new to everyone else in the world, and a fear that God Himself may not even be aware of the poverty, brokenness, and heartache we may encounter. When we step into mission with Ancient Work in our minds, we enter into every situation knowing that while it may be new to us, it certainly is not new to God. He has been at work in every corner of the world from the beginning of time and will continue to be at work long after we are gone. When Ancient Work is our framework, we put God in control of the narrative and remove any sense of responsibility from our shoulders. What a relief! Scripture talks about the truth that God really doesn’t need us, He could use the rocks to declare His glory, but by His grace, He uses us. Ancient Work is a reminder that God’s design is to use us, but that we are there to learn and grow. He is the one who affects change, heals hearts and redeems what’s broken. Thanks be to God that we get to participate in Ancient Work – not just in mission, but in every part of our lives. 

Reflection & Discussion:

  1. How do you think the framework of Ancient Work can help in a mission scenario? 

  2. How might we lean on these truths in the journey and mission experience ahead?

  3. Have you experienced a time when this principle would have been helpful?

Principle 2:
There is a wrong way to do mission.

The video we just watched does a great job explaining how good intentions can unintentionally lead to harmful outcomes. It teaches us this principle:There is a wrong way to do mission. In the video, Bob Geldaf is quoted as saying, “We need to do something, even if it doesn’t work.” This is a very common response to any interaction with poverty or suffering. What we have learned over time is that acting, without knowing the context, culture, problem or solution, can actually hurt those you are trying to help. The video gives a great example of a local church that decided to help by sending eggs to a village in Africa. This was well-intentioned, but the free eggs flooded the market and put local egg farmers out of business. The following year, the church started a new program and stopped sending the eggs. By then, the farmers had sold their chickens and no longer had eggs or any income. This is the wrong way to mission. Our goal, as we enter relationships with mission partners and visit partner churches, is to approach them with the posture of a learner – not a giver. When we enter a relationship as the giver and the other party is the receiver, an unequal power dynamic is created. This makes it difficult for friendships or mutuality to take place. That is why we will always avoid any language or attitude of “we are here to help,” or “we just want to see things get better” or “their lives are so sad.” They are our friends, and all of us come into our partnership with our own brokenness. Our goal is to point one another to Jesus and to share our resources. We do this by trusting that each part of our mission partnership has something to contribute. 

Reflection & Discussion:

  1. What stood out to you from the video? 

  2. Have you ever felt like there was a wrong way to mission – and experienced it? 

  3. How can we approach our upcoming trip with a learner posture?

Principle 3:
Broadening our understanding of poverty

In the video, Brian Fikkert defines poverty as a lack of material resources, but he goes on to broaden the concept: Poverty is more than a lack of material resources. When they asked other poor folks around the world to define poverty, they defined poverty as a lack of dignity, a lack of worth and a lack of hope. He ends this portion of the video by describing the correct diagnosis. 

Reflection Questions:

  1. What surprised you about this video? 

  2. What words would you use to describe poverty? 

  3. Have you faced poverty before? How did it make you feel? 

  4. What does he mean by the “proper diagnosis”? What would you say is the correct diagnosis for poverty?

Brian Fikkert talks about four different relationships we are created to have: relationship to God, relationship to others, relationship to creation and relationship to self. He explains that sin, or The Fall, broke all of these relationships, creating a poverty of spirit, of resources, of community and of self-worth. This allows us to see that when we view poverty as a “they” problem and only a lack of material resources, we miss that poverty is a “we” problem. While we may have plenty of material resources, each of us has experienced poverty of spirit, community and self-worth. We know that the answer to these things lies in the hope of Jesus. When we see material poverty, it’s a good reminder that we also have poverty. Perhaps it’s just not as easily detected. 

What kind of poverty have you experienced?

Have you ever thought of poverty in this way? 

When we can view poverty as a “we” issue, this allows for mutuality in mission. When we step into a community experiencing material poverty, perhaps we come with resources to help, but we must also look at things we lack in which our host community might be abundant. For example, our friends in Cuba have a significant lack of material resources. This is due to many aspects of their government system and economy. We can bring a wealth of resources when we go to Cuba, but what our Cuban friends have that we lack is a depth of faith I have never known, a commitment to prayer beyond anything I’ve ever experienced, and a joy beyond comprehension. They are rich in spirit, and they share that resource with us. This, my friends, is how we can broaden our perspective of poverty. 

Reflection & Discussion:

  1. What are you lacking? How can we ask God to help fill what is broken in us? 

  2. How do you think this broader view can impact your mission experience?

Principle 4:
Don’t make yourself the hero.

When we enter into a service or mission opportunity, our instinct likely will be to make ourselves the center of the story. This is nothing new to the human condition. We love to be the hero of the story, help the little guy, do the sacrificial good thing. That narrative isn’t helpful in mission. Our work isn’t to be the helper; instead, our work is to support and come alongside the helper – the local church. We know that the central force for serving communities, caring for the vulnerable and pointing to Jesus is the local church. In our international mission relationships, our focus will always be centered on the local church. The local church will know the culture, the neighborhood, the history of the area, the language and the need. No one on our team, no matter how many times they have visited this location, can know as much as the local church leaders. That is why our work is always to make the local church the hero, not ourselves. 


What does this look like? It looks like focusing our time and attention while visiting our international partnerships on spending time with our sister churches. While there are many other amazing para-church ministries, our focus will always be our sister church. We must make sure when we visit with locals that we always say we are visiting by the invitation of our sister church, and ask if they have ever visited. This means when we are asked by locals in the street to meet a need, instead of meeting that need ourselves, we point them to our sister church, allowing that to be an opportunity of connection for the neighbor seeking care. 


A great example is while our team was in Belize, a woman approached us and asked us for diapers. We could have easily given her cash to buy diapers but that would have made us the hero, the giver, in that scenario. What we did instead was ask her if she knew the pastor of our sister church. We took her there to meet him and connect her to his ministry. It was then the church was able to meet her needs and provide an opportunity for this neighbor not only to have her physical needs met, but also to begin to have her spiritual needs met. 


Our work is not only to make the local church the hero but also to empower parents and leaders in the community, which are often unintentionally undermined. In the book Toxic Charity, they share a story about this exact thing. You can read that here.


This story is an excellent illustration of how when we become the giver and the hero, it removes the role away from a parent or the local church that has a much further-reaching impact on lives in that community than you or I will. Making someone else the hero is hard work, leading to healthier outcomes.

Reflection & Discussion:

  1. What challenges you about this principle? 

  2. Have you seen this happen? In what context?

Principle 5:
Friendship and Mutuality

This is a great video that lays out a key principle in mission that is the absolute importance to friendship and mutuality in mission. What does that mean? As we have talked about before, our work in mission isn’t to help. It’s to walk alongside other believers and learn from them as they serve their communities. One of the key ways we do this is to focus on friendship and mutuality. Friendship and mutuality go hand-in-hand. 


Our trip to Cuba is an excellent example of championing friendship in mission. Our trip there is simply to spend time with our Cuban friends and learn about their culture, church and lives. They graciously invite us into their homes and lives. We are not there to help. We are there to see our friends. They serve us by hosting us, feeding us, praying with us and caring for us. Mutuality in this looks like this: While we are there, we take the opportunity to lead our friends in activities, offering our gifts and heart of ministry. Together, both churches bring mutuality to the table. 


Often in mission, the American church or team is the giver. That means we see ourselves as the one who is there to work, serve, bring needed things and give. When we are the giver and the host church is the receiver without the opportunity for the roles to switch, friendship and mutuality are disrupted. This creates a power dynamic that leaves the givers holding all the power as the receivers feel the need to say or do whatever they think the givers need to hear to keep the relationship going. This is an unhealthy dynamic. 


How do we work to keep things healthy? We are intentional to never do for our partners what they can do for themselves. When we find ourselves stepping into that trap, it sets us up as the expert, so we defer to our hosts and friends. We make space for mutuality, allowing opportunities for our host to cook for us, serve us and care for us. It is challenging to do this, but it is crucial. We are careful not to overwhelm our partners with gifts or goods, as this creates a giver-receiver relationship. 


In Cuba, we take a massive amount of goods to our sister church. This avoids a giver/receiver relationship, because we intentionally explain that the good are from our congregation, not just our team. It’s not I who donated all these items, it’s our church. (This is a great way to make the local church the hero). Our contribution is our friendship, our time, and ourselves. 

Part of healthy mutuality is practicing cultural humility. In the book Freeing Congregational Mission by Hunter Ferrell and Bala Khyllep, one of the authors tells a story about serving in Africa and listening to local leaders talk about community development. He was shocked when they stated their main priority was to clear a field in the village to create a soccer field. It made no sense to him. So many other areas of need existed in the community, like a clean water source, and they wanted to create a soccer field! He pressed them about it and vocally disagreed with their decision. Ultimately, they proceeded with the soccer field project. When the day came for them to gather, it was an amazing and joyful experience for the villagers to work together to create the field. When it was done, the author was amazed that a local soccer championship was being held there, and when the village players arrived, they beamed with pride. They won resoundingly, and afterward a village elder asked the author to meet with them about other needs. The author pointed out what the village elders knew: In order to work together around a large and important community project, like a clean water source, they first needed to build confidence and a sense of community by conquering a smaller project, like a soccer field. This story is an excellent example of what it means to approach our friends in mission with cultural humility. We are prone to believe we know what is best, because we are taught that the American way is best (and sometimes it is!). However, our work is not to impose our ideas onto our friends; our work is to walk with them as they discern their path in their cultural context. Anytime we step outside our cultural context –whether that’s across the world or our city – approaching our friends with humility and an understanding that we may not understand their culture allows us to make fewer mistakes and to learn from our friends. This does not come naturally to us.

Reflection & Discussion:

  1. What resonates with you from the video?

  2. How can we maintain humility and cultural sensitivity during our mission?

  3. How might adopting a mutual stance enhance our relationships with local partners?

Principle 6:
Best Practices

There are a few best practices to try to follow in any mission context:

  • Keep a low profile. In many cases, our group will draw attention no matter what. We will likely be a majority, white, upper/middle class, English-speaking group. We will not go unnoticed, but we can avoid drawing too much attention to ourselves. This means doing our best to keep our voices low, ignore our phones or expensive electronics, dress consistent with the culture we are visiting and listen first. This will allow us to enter any mission context humbly and not as a bull in a china shop.

        Read the first two sections of this story. This is a difficult one to read.

In this story, we see how the dancing elephants can easily damage or harm their mouse friends. We must be mindful of when we are being elephants. There are times for us to be elephants and to dance. And there are times for us to be quiet and listen. Our work is the discernment between those opportunities. 


  • Be very cautious when taking photos. When you are in a different culture, especially one lacking resources, you will feel a desire to capture photos of the space so you can show others. That is not a wrong desire; however, we can unintentionally exploit our friends. Imagine if a large group of people exited a van and started walking through your neighborhood taking pictures. How would that make you feel? Imagine they took a photo of your child without asking you. We want to do our best not to live our mission experiences through the lens of a camera or a phone. Of course, if you establish a meaningful relationship, ask for a photo. Of course, if you see something amazing, take a photo – but ask yourself the following before taking photos:
    • Do I have permission?
    • Does this photo cast a positive light on the community I am serving?
    • Are those in my photos being photographed in a manner that empowers them, or does it portray them as needy?
    • If you are invited into someone’s home, take photos only if you are permitted.
  • Don’t be the giver. If someone asks for assistance or goods, take the opportunity to connect them to the local church.


  • Avoid solo expeditions. Even if you’re an adult, always take someone with you when you venture away from the group.


  • Let our hosts be hospitable, even if it makes you uncomfortable. If they offer you their seat, take it. If they feed you and they, themselves, don’t eat, allow it. This is part of mutuality.