Missions: Mark Woodward, Part 10

In Part 10, Mark begins to lay out an alternative structure —

I would like to put some ideas out there to start a serious conversation about a new model for missionary oversight/support that would have the following characteristics:

  1. Make relationship a greater part of the formula
  2. Open the system so that the people who care the most about a work can be more directly involved.
  3. Determine leadership according to gifts, not by who controls the checkbook.

I utterly and completely agree with all three points. Missionaries are people and, if they are to be capable missionaries, highly relational people. They have to be overseen as people who need encouragement, support, and love. They aren’t merely piece-work employees. They are people so in love with Jesus that they’ve left family and country to spread the gospel to strangers, often at great personal sacrifice. And they need to be honored and cared for as such.

Our missions team has a two-tiered structure. It has dozens of members, all of whom have a passion for missions and missionaries. They write cards, send emails and gifts, and pray for the missionaries. They serve as a spiritual support network. But there is also an executive committee of about 6 people who handle the administrative work — getting the money collected, the checks issued, tax advice given, policy set, making certain missionaries are visited, making certain the church is kept informed, etc.

This has proved to serve points 2 and 3 very well. The checkbook is largely controlled by the congregation, because we fund missions entirely from an annual special contribution. How that money gets divided among all those asking for money is decided by the executive committee, in consultation with elders and staff. Staff is necessarily involved because many of them need to have short-term missions for the age group they serve.

No one person gets to make a decision, and no one gets on the team by virtue of the size of his check. In fact, neither the elders nor the executive committee know who gives the money from within the congregation.

That’s one way to do it.

Let’s suppose that , because of the inspiration received through points of contact with [a]church and because of participation in short-term missions sponsored by this church, [a] member of our church wants to become a full-time missionary and announces this to his/her fellowship circle at the church.

Because this happens often in this church and because this church is of moderate size, the church has appointed two or three people with gifts and training in what Scripture calls discernment to help this person be sure of their calling.

In my church, the discernment process would be handled by our missions executive committee along with Missions Resource Network or similar organization. Research has shown that missionaries have a much greater chance of success if they’ve been vetted by experienced missionaries, and we have retired missionaries in our church and MRN has others who can evaluate whether a candidate is truly gifted for the work.

[T]hen the Hopeful is asked to gather a group of spiritual supporters to walk with him/her through the First Decisions. These spiritual supporters should be prayerful people, people who already have a relationship to the Hopeful, people who are supportive of the Calling, and people who are willing to commit themselves and their gifts to the Hopeful.

In my church, the larger missions team would take on this task, along with countless other members who have a heart for missions or who personally know the missionary. And, yes, this is of critical importance.

Now, the task of the Hopeful as well as the entire spiritual cohort is to prayerfully make those important First Decisions: selection of field, selection of type work, developing a team (if appropriate), and making preparations by filling the gaps of knowledge, skills, and spiritual formation.

We support missionaries both from within our congregation and from other churches. Sometimes they come to us with a field already selected and sometimes not. However, as a matter  of policy, we insist that they work with a missions organization that has the expertise and experience needed to equip the missionary. We are a large church — 650 or so — and even we don’t have the knowledge and skills needed to select a field and equip the missionary to work there.

We can’t coach a missionary on the culture of Romania or the tax and immigration laws of Ireland. For those sorts of things, we work with an expert organization such as MRN.

Neither do we pretend to know how to train a missionary. Even our retired missionaries were largely active before the Iron Curtain fell, in a very different world, with very different attitudes toward Americans, long before most of the research in this area was done. We let the pros handle the training. Nonetheless, our retired missionaries and others with experience in missions share their wisdom. After all, there’s a lot about missions that hasn’t changed.

Mark suggests a novel approach to oversight, which the readers should consider —

Those with the most invested already will likely be the first to commit financially. The Hopeful’s spiritual support group has walked this far already, has prayed intensely for the Hopeful, has invested time and gifts in the Hopeful—I can’t imagine that these people will not be interested in supporting this Hopeful financially. …

Certainly the home church would be asked [for financial support, if necessary], but the difference is that as with individuals, so with churches, contributions do not come with an assumption of oversight. Oversight of this Hopeful is in the hands of his/her Co-Walkers. They know the person, the needs, and the plan better than anyone else in the world. They are invested spiritually, emotionally, relationally—and now financially–in this mission!

When someone in our church decides to enter the mission field, it’s certainly true that his family and friends help with his or her support. The missions team helps out of their budget as well. But the oversight is with the missions team, not the family and friends — and I like the way we do it.

Of course, the family and friends are involved in supporting and encouraging the missionary. And, of course, the missionary is accountable to them because they are helping to support her. But there’s a real advantage to experience and training when in comes to overseeing a missionary. And there’s a real advantage to the missionary being accountable to someone who isn’t his closest friend or family. It’s hard to be objective about your best friend or your daughter.

In fact, one of the great failings of our mission efforts is a failure to hold deeply loved missionaries to account and help them develop a new vision, call them home, retrain them, or retask them when the mission is a failure. And we rarely do that because confrontation is so hard and because we often don’t have the resources available to diagnose and correct the problem.

Hence, I think a missions team is necessary, but the team has to be (a) composed of deeply spiritual people, (b) committed to missions, (c) trained, and (d) closely tied to an expert organization such as MRN. And even a church of 80 members is capable of putting such a team together if they’ll seek out the training necessary. Where we mess up is trying to take on such a complex task with no training at all.

Most of us wouldn’t even work on our own cars without some sort of training, and most would be sure we had a more expert friend to call if the repair work proves to be more difficult than we thought. No one wants to get his car partly disassembled and up on blocks with no one to call if we run into a problem! And yet we try to oversee mission works in foreign countries, with strange cultures and different languages and laws, as though anyone could so such a thing with no training at all.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in Church Plants and Foreign Missions, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.