This last week at the Pepperdine Bible Lectures, Let’s Start Talking and Missions Resource Network announced a new initiative for carrying the message of Jesus to the world more effectively. With this initiative, we believe we can help make better use of time, resources, and people when sending Americans overseas on the mission of God.
Let’s start with the most common current approach to new missions: Most of our missionaries first participate in some kind of short-term mission. Many of these trips are either compassion missions—medical, disaster relief, construction, poverty-related, or children/orphans—or they are “survey” trips to better understand what needs to be done to prepare for a long-term mission. A few short-term missions could be categorized as evangelistic, though all of them are intended to share the love of Jesus.
Usually young couples, some young single professionals, or an occasional family then makes the commitment to long-term missions. By this, we usually mean a complete move to a foreign location for five years or more. You sell your house and your car and move to a foreign place, spend probably two years learning the language and acclimating to the new culture, perhaps working with an established congregation or, if not, laying the groundwork for establishing a new congregation—mostly “house churches” today. The sponsoring church is willing to invest a huge amount of money to move these new workers and spend two years preparing them because they expect to get at least three more years—maybe longer—of excellent service from them.
So here are the unfortunate facts that drove LST and MRN to stop and think about an alternative strategy for churches to send Americans overseas on mission:
- Most Americans stay on average just over 3 years on their mission site—regardless of what their commitment was.
- In three years time with two spent primarily in preparation, it is very difficult to accomplish any of the initial long-term goals. Planting self-sustaining churches with national leaders which survive the departure of the American missionary in essentially one year is really a completely unrealistic goal.
- The supporters and sending churches look at their investment in this failed effort and feel as if they have been burned, making them less interested in ever doing something similar again.
Instead of simply wringing our hands and bemoaning the current situation, MRN and LST sat down to pray and talk, asking God for wisdom to see a new path. Why these two ministries?
Missions Resource Network was begun to help churches send missionaries and to help care for them better while on the field. Because of that mandate, potential missionaries began coming to them for training which they then received from highly competent missions experts. In recent years, MRN has begun focusing also on training foreign churches to be sending churches and not just receiving churches. Let’s Start Talking has always been focused on sending short-term workers (2-6 weeks) on evangelistic missions. We also send a few interns each year on 6-12 month missions, usually following up an LST project.
So, after months of prayerful conversation and much collaboration between our two ministries, we would like to offer our churches and potential workers a new strategy– our Midterm Missions Initiative– that we believe will be better for the workers, better for the sending churches, better for the global church being served, therefore better for the Kingdom!
Key components of this new initiative are
- Planning to stay for 2-3 years. If this is how long people will stay, then let’s not pretend that they will stay longer; rather, let’s plan a work with goals that are reachable in this midterm timeframe.
- Planning to avoid many of the upfront expenses of a long-term work, such as moving whole households, investing heavily in language study, start-up costs for new church plants (including buildings), etc.
- Focused training for midterm work, not overtraining them for tasks they will not be there to do.
- Working in English, taking advantage of the world-wide interest in English in both industrialized and developing countries allows workers to go where they are called and to begin working effectively the day after they arrive.
- Through specific training in making disciples, they will be able to expand the vision and presence of the global church, working for multiplying growth, but not creating dependency on their presence.
Here is the path as we currently see it:
- A global church requests help and is willing to invite a midterm missionary or couple.
- Potential workers are identified or identify themselves and contact MRN or LST.
- Workers make application and do some preliminary testing to determine readiness.
- Workers then commit to an LST project, probably to the site where they will eventually be going. In conjunction with their project, they receive complete training in the LST approach.
- After successfully completing their LST project, they are coached by MRN through specific tasks including finding a sponsoring church as well as preparing themselves to implement a disciple-making This period may take 3-6 months.
- When ready, they return to their mission site and begin working with the local church in two specific ways:
- First, they will follow up with people contacted through LST and will continue reading the Gospel story with them while helping them with their English.
- While doing this, they will begin looking among their Readers for those people who are seeking faith AND who are willing to share what they are finding with other people in their network. When they identify such a person, they approach them about beginning a Discovery Bible study—a very simple and intuitive approach to finding Jesus—in their home or at work. One of the big differences is that it is not the American worker who leads this, but the person at the center of this network. He/She shares just as much as they have learned the week before from the American worker. As they share with their friends, this first Person is also encouraged to look for seekers among them who will begin a new group in their home. That second person shares what they have learned from Person #1—and so it grows and multiplies. As people become believers, then Christians, they are either integrated into the local congregation or they collect themselves into new churches. Either way, the Lord has added to those who are being saved! And when the American leaves in 2-3 years, the work has far outgrown him/her and is not dependent on their efforts to continue.
And our sending churches in the States will love this. They will have shorter commitments with more reachable, tangible goals which can be achieved at much less expense. They can send their own members to do LST, thus helping their midterm worker. They will have the cooperation and partnership with MRN and with LST to walk beside them. What is there not to like about this!!
And some of these midtermers will become long-termers—and some lifers! But the process of making these major decisions for both the workers and their sending churches will be much more tested and proven before those kinds of commitments to each other are made. And that’s good too.