We in the Churches of Christ aren’t very good at missions — foreign or domestic. The biggest problem isn’t in the mission field, though. It’s in our churches. We just don’t know what we’re doing.
I don’t pretend to have any real expertise. I just have that wonderful objectivity that total ignorance sometimes brings. That is, I’ve seen it done badly at a lot of places for a lot of years. I don’t know much about how to do it right, but I’m an expert in how to do it wrong. That’s worth something, isn’t it?
So we’ve been going through a visioning process for our missions program, and this is where I am in my thinking — largely based on how not to do it. Maybe the readers can improve on what little I know.
1. Start with humility. You probably don’t know what you’re doing either. It’s okay. None of us does.
2. Put the right people in charge. If you’re a sponsoring church, it’s too big a task for one person, even if you have just one missionary or church planter you support. Put together a team. Put good men and women on the team. (The women are very important.) Make sure some of the members are at a stage of life where they can travel.
3. Get professional help. Call one of the universities and get hold of someone who knows current missiology to coach you on how to do your job. Maybe you pay for him to come visit the elders and missions team. Maybe you just schedule a series of conference calls or even an internet meeting. Or maybe the chair of the team visits the expert for a training session.
Don’t get help from someone 30 years out of date. The world has changed dramatically in just the last 10 years. Old methods may not work any more. Here’s the key: if the guy isn’t an expert in church planting, he’s not an expert in missions. He may be an expert on missions in one country, but he’s not an expert in missions in general.
Check the lectureship agendas. I’ve not yet been to one that covered missions properly. They tend just to let a missionary talk about his work in his country — rather than offering serious training in mission oversight. But any lectureship is likely to have sessions with church planters — and those will be well worth the trip by themselves.
Oh — and there’s the internet thing. It has lots of information.
4. Work with the pros to find a balance among —
* Foreign missions and domestic missions
* Short-term missions and long-term missions
* Proven mission fields and unproven mission fields.
* Support for missionaries and support for mission organizations.
Here’s how I’ve got it figured. The Churches of Christ as a whole should invest about half their resources in foreign and half in domestic missions. Planting churches in the US will create churches with the resources that will plant other churches and send out missionaries. That’s too good a deal to pass on. But some foreign missions have even better success rates. We can’t pass on those either.
We should bias our budgets heavily toward long-term missions — even if it makes the teen minister unhappy. You see, the research shows that short-term missions accomplish much less good than long-term missions. They don’t even really build support for long-term missions.
The way to make short-term missions worth the investment (and keep the teen minister happy) is to coordinate long-term and short-term missions. The goal of a short-term mission trip isn’t to build great relationships among the teens. Nor is it to build loyalty to missions among the teens. It’s to do mission.
Therefore, the teens should do mission, if at all possible, in support of what the long-term missionary supported by the church does. If he’s a missionary to the third-world country, the teens might do service projects that support his work.
If you have a campus ministry, you might have the students do actual Bible studies, grade correspondence courses, help maintain his web page — anything adults could do if they had the kind of free time and energy college students have.
We’ve been fortunate to have several students from our campus ministry go into foreign missions because they were trained to do Bible studies in a foreign field. To go on the annual campus mission trip, they had to attend special classes for months to learn the customs of the area and to know how to help the local missionaries do mission work. And the high level of commitment led to great results — for Christ and the program — and many kids liked it so much they went on to become missionaries.
Finally, we need to invest God’s resources mainly in the fields where the harvest is the whitest. It’s common sense. Why deny people who are begging for the gospel to send someone to a field known to be resistant?
On the other hand, if we send no one to the hardest mission fields, we’ll never know when they become open to the gospel — and we’ll never discover methods that work in those fields.
I figure this is where the old 80/20 rule comes in. Put 80% of our resources into the fields that are begging for the gospel and 20% into fields that are struggling.
Now, this all makes sense on a Church of Christ-wide basis, but an individual church may have to pick one or the other. I suggest they do so in consultation with the professionals and considering their own congregation’s needs as well. You see, a well-run mission effort can do as much for the sponsoring church as for the nation that receives the missionary.
A good missions program will excite the sponsoring congregation and encourage more generous giving and volunteerism.
The hardest balance, to me, is between missionaries and organizations. Do we support the Eastern Europe Mission? Or the missionaries they support? If everyone insists on supporting the missionary (which seems the obvious choice), then who will support the coach and the trainer and the fund raiser?
Personally, if I ran one of those organizations, I’d insist that x% of all donations go to missions overhead — to support the superstructure needed to make missions work. But that’s just me.