I think short-term mission trips should reach us four-dimensionally: mind, body, soul, and spirit. Devotions, first thing in the morning, is an optimum time to highly impact three of the four areas. Unfortunately devotion time can unfruitful because of a number of reasons. Let me share some of the common missteps then I’ll describe what I believe to be the best option.
Not Having Devotions – Short-term trips are an excellent time for people to experience the power of personal devotions. They can witness the importance of devotions by seeing the priority it’s given in the daily schedule. They will experience God speaking to them. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but they will learn that it is a worthwhile personal activity to continue for a lifetime. A variation of no devotions is including so many announcements and instructions in the devotion time that there is little time for devotions.
One Way Devotions – When one person does 90% of the talking, 90% of the people are spectators. This style of devotions is not transferable by the team members once they return home. For small groups of people, a sermon is not as appropriate as personal sharing.
Devotions Without Singing – You don’t have to be an American Idol winner to lead singing. Sing common songs. Have the words printed ahead. Sing slowly and use harmony. We’re going to do a lot of singing in heaven, and we might as well start now. Don’t design this as a time to showcase a team member’s talents.
Noisy Devotions– Some people just won’t participate if the only way to get in the discussion is by interruption. Verbally sharing can help some people move from a “want to” mentality to a “will do” commitment. Give everyone a true opportunity to share. More importantly, build silence into devotions. Devotions without silence robs some people from hearing what God is saying to them. Completely silent times are uncomfortable but valuable.
Here’s what I suggest. Collect several verses on the same topic. Put all those verses on a sheet of paper and run enough copies for everyone on the team. Each member of the group should have a copy of the devotion sheet and a pen/cil. (A number of devotion sheets can be downloaded from the blue “FILES box” in the left margin.) Tell them to silently read and mark the scripture on the sheet. They can underline, circle, or mark in any way. Tell them to then select one item they marked and write why they marked that item. They should then write a prayer to God about what they marked and what they wrote. Stress that they should be comfortable reading aloud whatever they write.
After around 5-15 minutes, announce that each person will read aloud what they wrote about the item they marked. They should NOT read the prayer at this time. A point to impress is that they are to only read what they wrote. They are not to expand or add to what they wrote. Go around the group allowing each person to share aloud without being rushed. Other people are not to insert comments or questions about what is shared.
After everyone has shared, explain that everyone will now read the prayer they wrote. Just like the previous part, they are only to read what they wrote. Everyone is free to pray silently as long as they want, in fact it is encouraged. But they are not to ad-lib prayer when it is their turn. After all have prayed, close in a short final prayer. This is the format for the first time. After a couple of days, the group will become comfortable with the process.
This comfort will allow some variations: 1) distribute the sheets up to 24 hours before devotion time so each member reads and writes their response & prayer before the team devotion time – the entire devotion time can then be used for sharing, 2) divide large groups into smaller groups, 3) for groups familiar with the process, read through a book of the Bible, a story in the Bible, or other scripture of your choosing, 4) allow some ad-lib rather than having them read only what they have written, 5) encourage people to pray silently for the person who is reading their prayer aloud, 6) build silence into the prayer time, and 7) some ideas on your own.
Some dangers include: 1) people who refuse to participate – if they don’t read and write they do not talk but they are free to sit in silence, 2) people who can’t be quiet – explain that time is limited so their words must be limited, and 3) people whose comments are never about their life but always about how other people should change in light of this scripture – explain to the group that future devotions must be written about how the scripture applies to them personally.
Finally, stress to your group that what they did was simple. They can do it at home, either alone or as a family. It is an opportunity for them to hear God talk to them. God does not only talk to pastors, authors, teachers, or other “professionals”. He talks to us, the common people, if only we will take time to listen.