Missions Catalyst 02.08.12 – Practical Mobilization

In This Issue: Debriefing – 7 deadly debacles

  • Seven Deadly Debriefing Debacles
  • Mission Events

Missions Catalyst is a free, weekly electronic digest of mission news and resources designed to inspire and equip Christians worldwide for global ministry. Use it to fuel your prayers, find tips and opportunities, and stay in touch with how God is building his kingdom all over the world. Please forward it freely!

Seven Deadly Debriefing Debacles

By Shane Bennett

International arrivals

It’s the time of year when a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of, “Where am I going to go this summer and who can I take with me?!?” At least that’s where my thoughts go. And sure, it might have been better had my thoughts turned this way a couple of months ago, but hey, here we are now.

So you’re planning on leading a team somewhere this summer, right? (Do I need to remind you that ALL Mission Catalyst readers are contractually obligated to lead summer teams? Better have another look at the subscription Terms and Conditions. See item 1, paragraph two.) Can I encourage you from the very beginning to carefully consider the ending? Debriefing cross-cultural experiences can increase the impact on participants by 40%. (OK, I made up that stat, but it really is important.)

Sometimes in the adventure and excitement of pulling a trip together, the sum-up section gets overlooked. Pitfalls may plague even the well-planned debrief times. Forewarned is forearmed, so I’ve gathered seven of the more common debrief foul-ups.

Let’s be really clear here: I have only heard about these mistakes. I have not personally experienced them, no. And I definitely have not made these mistakes myself. At least not all of them, not all in the past week.

The Seven Deadly Debacles

1. I forgot about debriefing!   

I’ve done this and I can hardly believe it. I should know better. You should too. That’s why I’m telling you. Plan early to “tithe” your short-term experience time to debrief. A day trip to an immigrant area in a nearby city gets a 90-minute debrief. A ten-day excursion to Athens requires a whole day.

2. We’ll pick a day to debrief once we’re back and settled.  

Yeah? Well, you might as well wait until the “roll is called up yonder,” because you won’t be getting together down here. Once a team lands back on home soil, an amazing elemental force kicks in to prevent that collection of people from ever occupying the same room at the same time again. I can’t explain it. I can only observe it. Lock in your debrief day(s) early.

3. I think I’ll just wing this debriefing.

This is a good way to celebrate the debriefing of your 100th team. Short of that, please have a plan. Check out some helpful articles for ideas on making a good plan, questions to ask, and basic components of a good debrief.

4. I’ve scheduled every minute so I feel nicely in control.

Ahhh, it’s a good feeling for some of us. Our five-hour debrief session is broken up into 35 specific blocks, including two 90-second bathroom breaks, and we even have a back-up timer in case the main one malfunctions!

While a plan-free debrief can lead to rambling, an over-regimented schedule says at least two things:

A. “Since we probably don’t have time to hear your whole story, please respond with short, shallow answers.”

B. “Thanks, Holy Spirit, but I’ve got this one covered.”

Be ready to flex for a tear, a cheer, and when the Holy Spirit decides to interfere.

5. I hope the right people show up.

Muff the guest list and it’s hard to recover. Nothing says, “This debrief doesn’t really matter,” like key participants not showing up. If your pastor was on the team, make sure he can be at debriefing. Again, this goes back to planning ahead. Set the tone early: Debriefing is as much a part of the experience as the plane ride and preaching.

6. Talk on, nonstop jabber mouth.   

“Nonstop jabber mouth” can happen to you, as a leader, if you fail to plan. You will cover your lack of preparation by launching into extemporaneous debrief talk which quickly devolves into stream-of-consciousness chatter. And because you don’t know where you’re going, it’s pretty hard to tell when you arrive – and maybe drive right on by two or three good stopping points. A good rule of thumb is to have a solid but flexible plan (see #3 and #4) with the intention that most of the talking, say 80%, will be done by the participants, not you.

The other side of the jabber-mouth equation is that it may be a participant who answers each and every question with a poignant, though ponderous, story whose length puts all but the most stalwart team member to sleep. Your job here is gatekeeping, and I hate it. But you have to do it. If you don’t close the gate, all the cows will wander down to the pond for a drink and a snooze.

Learn to use the dreaded line, “Let’s let someone else share.” Or maybe give a time limit and go around the circle. “You have exactly two minutes to respond to this and I want to hear from everybody. Billy will keep time.” That’s harsh, but it’s less embarrassing than having everyone but Johnny Jabbermouth looking at you, screaming out with their eyes, “Please, for the love of all things holy, make it stop!!”

Here’s a bonus from Interpersonal Skills 101: I’ve found that most people who tend to talk incessantly have had experience with people asking them to stop. (Surprising, no?) If you gate-keep them, they’ll be OK with it because it’s not the first time it’s happened. There are some who get offended, cry, and tell on you; it doesn’t matter how nice and in the Spirit you are. These things happen. Don’t let talkative types spoil things for everyone else.

7. Feel free to keep quiet, Silent Sue.

It’s a manifestly bad idea to hold a debrief where participation only means showing up. Getting people to talk, however, is a tricky art. Some of your team members may be those 35-year-old men who simply don’t have “feelings about life in the village.” Others, maybe also 35-year-old men, do have feelings about life in the village, and it is such a weird sensation that they think if they start talking about what they saw in India they’ll cry like a baby and get themselves tossed out of their hunting club.

Then there are other participants, maybe younger ones, who are pouting about a “mistake” you made at the start of the trip. They reward your “incompetence” with the silent treatment (or its first cousin, the “incessantly text through the whole meeting” treatment). Either way, you lose their participation and may have to face collateral damage as others wonder, “What’s up with her?”

Good questions and varying mechanisms of response may help. I like to have people write stuff down, then share what they wrote. Have some evaluations that are turned in and some responses that can be kept completely private. And for those who stare at their phones through the whole meeting? Well, if kind, loving requests don’t work, you can always resort to jamming.

>> Got a great debrief debacle story of your own? Or better yet, someone else’s? Please share it.

Mission Events

We just added a few more to our online calendar – but they’re happening on the same weekend so you can’t go to both!

March 16 to 18 – Vision Home conference (Philadelphia, PA, USA). “What must it be like to return to China as a Christian when you had no concept of Christianity when you left for the States?  Wouldn’t it be great to be with some people who can help you prepare for your return?” Pass the word on to any Chinese students you know or share it with friends who work with internationals.

March 16 to 18 – The Journey Deepens Retreat (Dallas, TX, USA). Sense God is calling you into missions, but need help in discerning your direction? The Journey Deepens Retreat is a great next step. Good for young adults, but all are welcome. Similar events are scheduled for Portland, OR (April 20 to 22) and Philadelphia, PA (May 18 to 20).

>> View complete calendar.

Shane Bennett has served in missions mobilization since 1987, much of his energy going to recruiting, training, and sending short-term teams. He’s been on research teams in Bangkok, Bombay, and Turkey. He coauthored Exploring the Land, a guide to researching unreached peoples, and has written numerous articles.

Shane now works as a public speaker for Frontiers and helps his church, Commonway, follow God to the nations. He and his wife, Ann, have five school-aged children. They live and work in Indiana.

Airport photo from Creative Commons (Source).


10 thoughts on “Missions Catalyst 02.08.12 – Practical Mobilization”

  1. Shane, you hit a good spot: Reentry. Just did a reentry seminar for a church who lost one of their team members to malaria in Uganda. This seminar is also available on DVD: “What’s the Big Deal? They’re Just Coming Home!” Then, of course, there is the book, THE REENTRY TEAM. Your 40% statistic is probably too low! After a good debriefing, we have our teams write a paragraph on each of “Seven Next Steps”—seven possible directions to which they could take their experience. I would put the statistic at 70-80% of the participants become more engaged in cross-cultural ministry! A good follow-through will yield excellent results. Of course, a good planning and execution of a trip also factors into the equation.

  2. Neal: Thanks for the comments and for taking the time to weigh in. Great ideas and great resources. Feel free to post links to the dvd and book. I’d appreciate that.

  3. Ya! because my website shows up when I post, I thought it would show up in my comment. You just have to “forgive” us old guys trying to work with these new fangled inventions.! Oh, for the “good-ol’-days” of waiting for the radio tubes to warm up! Or, the crystal radio sets we would make! 😉

    All of that to say, here is our website address: http://www.eri.org

    THE REENTRY TEAM: http://www.eri.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=41%3Athe-reentry-team&catid=5%3Apublications&Itemid=13

    WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?: http://www.eri.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=60%3Aaudio-tape-library&catid=6%3Aacts-media-resources&Itemid=7

    Thanks for your kind words.

  4. Larry Walker always had his teams pick ONE word or ONE phrase that they would all use when someone asked, “How was your trip this summer?”

    It was a bonding exercise in choosing it and it meant everyone had the same “first answer” when they were queried. It was interesting to see how many people did or did not ask another question.


  5. The National Short Term Missions Conference was held last weekend in Tucson. I got in on some of it.

    I sent this article on to Dr. Jim Lindgren who headed it. I think he will like it. Do you know him? Good guy.

    What are your summer plans? Europe? Have you talked to Carol Davis lately?


  6. Meg, I like the “one phrase” idea from Larry Walker. My wife has her teams prepare a 15 second “grabber statement” to answer those “How was your trip?” questions. Like: “When you’re using a squat toilet, a lot of thoughts go through your mind!”

  7. Neal, our site is sometimes finicky about comments with links – sorry about that! I was away from Internet access all week and didn’t ask anyone to tend the comment queue.

    always good to hear from you. We’re grateful for your work!


  8. Meg and Neal, thanks for the comments. I like the idea of the “one phrase” and the 15 sec. grabber statement. I like to have team members write down a thirty second and one minute response to “how was your trip?” These things really help maximize the natural curiosity that many friends and supporters feel when someone returns. Thanks, again.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Missions Catalyst welcomes comments, especially those that provide additional insights on a topic or story as a help to other readers. We reserve the right to screen comments and may provide light editing. Note that comments including links may be delayed so we can make sure they are not spam; we hope you will include relevant links, anyway!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.