bits from bob....

How to Select a Missionary, a Field, and a Work

by Robert J. Young
Note: Presented as part of a missions seminar at the Seminole (OK) Church of Christ, January 2005
©, 2006, Robert J. Young
[permission is given to reprint with credit noted]

Ten foundations of effective missions-sending churches


The Importance of Informed Action

Historically a certain amount of impulsiveness goes along with missions or new evangelism efforts. We feel better if we call it compulsiveness or spontaneity, but the point is that there is an emotional element in religion, and more especially in missions, that we cannot ignore.

The early Christians went forth evangelizing after the death of Stephen (Acts 8:1-4), and Paul expressed his own compulsion to preach Christ where Christ had not been preached (Acts 15:20). We like to think genuine Christians automatically speak to others about Christ, and that genuine congregations automatically support missions. Roland Allen wrote in the 1920s about The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church. Somehow, that seems to us to ring true still.

However, such impulsiveness has another danger-lack of wisdom. We must work with discernment, as Paul mentioned in describing his own technique (1 Cor. 9:19-22). This is not mere autobiography-it is statement of strategy.

We do not always do a good job of evangelism in our own culture, let along in other cultures. Therefore, many of us have appreciated good books that have helped us along the way. Too many of our foreign mission efforts have ended with little or no results. We need not recount the give and take in foreign missions since World War II. It may be helpful however to note that with an increasing reincarnation of the Ugly American concept overseas (cf. William Lederer and Eugene Burdick, 1958, Norton), the question of if or how US citizens can do effective missions works must be reinserted into the conversations. We must increasing ask how we can help those in other nations evangelize their own nations.

Informed action will require that we be sensitive to a new set of variables not found within our own cultures. We must take other cultures seriously and strive to work within those cultures. This means in the oft-repeated words, we must seek to Christianize and not to Americanize. It is often hard for us to imagine the shape of Christianity outside the confines of our own culture. We must seek to send people who are comfortable in the culture, can communicate in that culture, and can be effective. In the NT we see Paul quoting the OT often to the Jewish audiences, but taking a different approach in Lystra and Athens when the audiences were Gentile.

An Agenda for Informed Action

Churches. The local church is God's mission agent. Any group with undertakes to support work across cultural lines has certain responsibilities: (1) selecting personnel or works to support, (2) deciding on locations, (3) providing an appropriate level of financial (not too high and not too low), spiritual, and emotional support, (4) knowing how to realistically evaluate the works, and (5) eventually helping workers return to their homeland.
Hardin describes the levels at which a church may have responsibility in a helpful diagram, which moves from little church responsibility and much responsibility on the missionary to almost total church responsibility and little missionary freedom. His five positions are independence, endorsement, partnership, supervision, and control. Churches must have a clear awareness of the level of involvement they are willing to undertake.

Workers. Specific preparation of cross-cultural workers increases their effectiveness, enhances their longevity on the field, and brings fewer headaches to the sponsoring church or group. We are increasingly seeing the value of sending workers who are already culturally aware if such workers are available. We are training more and more workers in their own cultural context before sending them forth. The first preference is to send native, culturally aware workers if such are available. There are many different kinds of work which need to be done. Workers should prepare for the specific work they intend to do.

The work. We are increasingly aware that the work done in "missions" may be directly evangelistic, but it may also be medical, benevolent, educational, and health related. A church must understand the exact nature of the work in order to develop realistic expectations.

The field. Much frustration occurs when the church and the worker are unaware of the field. Much information is now available and there is no excuse for any church or worker to enter any field unprepared. We should understand the field, know who else is there, understand receptivity, and other such factors. The ease of accessing the field may be a factor in a church's selection of an area, especially for churches just beginning in missions. It is ideal if the members can visit and develop ownership of the work, and if those charged with oversight of the work can visit from time to time without too much inconvenience or expense.

Factors in the Selection Process

Network. The first need in today's world of high-tech communication is to be involved in talking to others who have knowledge and involvement. Who is available to go? Who is thinking about going where? Who wants to go? What teams are available for support? What is the current level of progress in the work? In answering these questions, our Christian colleges, the "Open Doors" section of the Christian Chronicle, MRN, Continent, Pan-American Lectureship, Pan-European Lectureship, and other similar groups can be helpful. Put yourself in places where you can collect information, i.e. visit various mission works, attend Christian College lectureships or other missions meetings. This process is quite similar to the process of looking for a minister.

Begin gradually, with "outs". Sometimes it is helpful to begin at a minimal level with automatic exit points. One example of this approach would be ministry training in other nations. It is often possible for a congregation to support a student at a minimal level of involvement, get to know that student, and then decide if support will be continued after graduation. This is a way to work with native workers, as it is often not advisable to have that worker come stateside and spend time with the church.

Integrate the process. The selection of a missionary, field, and work is really only one process or step. These are not three different things, but one. This requires integrated thinking. When you choose a missionary, often the field and work have already been chosen. Once you choose a field and or work, that may limit who is available as a missionary.

Commit to your members' personal involvement in missions. This will help identify future fields. I know about one church that commits $10000 annually to members' missions and will match up to $500 for a member mission trip. This church has about 20 members annually making mission trips, and the mission committee is almost overwhelmed with the possibilities made known in this way.

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Last updated November 7, 2006