Churches should not send individual volunteers on short-term mission projects, they should send teams of volunteers. The division of labor, safety, and accountability that teams provide are essential elements of successful volunteer projects. The team should be selected based on the skills needed for a particular project more than a potential volunteer’s willingness or availability to go.
It is easier to pick a team leader and form the team around him than to pick a group of individuals and hope someone is a team leader. In either case, churches should not compromise on having a solid team leader, even if it means that they need to delay the formation of the team until they have recruited him.
The team leader’s job is to balance the twin roles of setting the pace in ministry and helping the other team members be healthy and effective on the field. This involves delegating roles, solving conflicts, being a liaison with field leadership, and making a myriad of decisions that will need to be made quickly and without enough information. Team leaders need to be good decision makers. If the team is a mixture of both men and women with a male leader, a female co-leader should be appointed to help communicate with and lead the women in the group.
Other team roles that can be delegated include treasurer, photographer, writer, devotional coordinator, equipment or materials custodian, etc. The expectations for these roles should be clearly communicated before the trip.
One way to discover team members’ giftings and to bond them together, is to do ministry projects at home before the trip. This experience will help the team get to know one another, plan together, learn to follow its leadership and make decisions together. This way teams can even practice resolving conflicts and healing bruised relationships before the pressure-cooker environment of overseas travel begins. Teams that prepare by ministering together, have a huge advantage over teams that first meet at the airport or haven’t had an opportunity to get to know one another and serve together yet.
Another activity that will help the bonding process is a team retreat. Besides the exercise of planning and preparing for a retreat that creates “teamness,” retreats tend to accelerate relationship formation. An overnight retreat is easily worth ten one-hour weekly meetings for relationship building. Retreats should be filled with fun activities and sharing, as well as formal times of Bible study and communicating trip orientation information.
Teamwork is essential for an effective volunteer trip. Be sure to actively cultivate the forming and bonding of the team several weeks, if not several months, before the trip begins.
Would you add any tips to delegating team member or leader roles?
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