Archive for the ‘Re-Thinking Mission Work’ Category

To become a doctor who saves lives, you must have four years of undergraduate studies, two more intense years of graduate medical school, two years of non-specialized guided practice, and then most doctors spend three to five years in a specialty residency, which is a kind of apprenticeship.

To become a missionary who saves souls, you must have zeal and the ability to raise your support.

Preparation for mission work is one of the areas where we can make the most significant changes in our paradigm with the least pain and the most results!  I believe this because I believe our fellowship has made significant changes even during my lifetime—almost all in the right direction.

Before we go any further, let me just say many hall-of-fame missionaries had zero formal missions training! As we talk about what we can do, let’s not for a moment believe that God is limited by us. I’ve always loved the reminder in Proverbs 21:31, “The horse is prepared for the day of battle, but the victory belongs to the Lord.”  This conversation is just about preparing horses the best we can!!

It was the 1960s when our Christian colleges really started offering academic preparations for missions. I’m sure I took a course in World Religions, but I do not remember any other specific mission courses being offered, though there may have been.

Later, most of our Christian colleges offered missions majors; some even specialized more by offering a vocational missions major/minor. Almost all of the colleges began bringing in visiting missionaries who would teach mission courses. All of this was intended to improve the preparations for future missionaries.

Another positive shift in recent decades was the expectation that future missionaries should have surveyed their prospective field. The most common survey trip would be 2-3 weeks duration, during which the prospective missionaries are shown examples of what is currently being done  The benefits from survey trips vary immensely in my experience, usually depending on whether the hopeful missionaries plan the trip themselves or whether their survey trip is guided by an experienced mentor.

Another positive impulse in our fellowship has been the development of mission internships. Internships could generally be described as a commitment of six months to two years of working beside a local missionary. Again, most of the impulse for internships is coming from our Christian colleges, although Sunset also has a long history of providing these kinds of experiences through their Adventures In Missions Program (AIM).

So here is the typical pathway of preparation for potential missionaries today:  a young person goes on a short-term mission trip overseas. They come back changed and desiring to do long-term missions.  The very young go to AIM. Those in Christian colleges are pointed to mission courses, which they take as their academic program allows. A very small number become mission majors.

These Hopefuls likely will be offered the possibilities of internships—especially if they are single. But, if they are married, they are more likely to move immediately to the team building phase and start making the First Decisions that we have been talking about in previous posts.  If they can form or join a team, then they are more likely to receive additional preparation from either their mentor or a mission organization like Missions Resource Network or Continent of Great Cities.

Of those Hopefuls who began this pathway, only a few get to this point–very few—too few! Others, especially those out of college or older simply start looking for support, and if they are able to raise it, they go.  That’s it.

While I think our fellowship has made great strides, I’d like to suggest two or three areas where we could continue to make some shifts which could move us to more missionaries, better prepared.

First, if you were to calculate the total number of hours of mission training offered across our fellowship, 90% of it would be through Christian universities and 10% would be through mission organizations (The percentages are just my opinion, not researched information!) What this means is

  • only an extremely small percentage of our fellowship has access to the training. (The figures I remember are that less than 10% of college-aged students within our fellowship attend Christian colleges.)
  • the training is usually bundled with other academic requirements
  • the training is very costly
  • the training is scheduled and paced according to academic requirements which have little to do with greatest access  or the most productive use of time.

As with the selection process, we need to move the part of the preparation that is classroom-oriented off of the campuses and into the congregations! Why shouldn’t all available avenues be used to offer training to all of those surfacing with the desire to do foreign missions in our churches?

Let’s begin a project of capturing our best mission teachers teaching their best mission classes, making it available through DVD and/or webinars or any other way to make the excellent classroom instruction accessible to non-students, to state university Christians, to working families, to retiring Christians–why not to anyone seriously wanting to prepare to do mission work?

Secondly, I would suggest that we shift to a much stronger apprenticeship model. What students rarely comprehend, but everyone in industry understands is that a bachelors degree in anything prepares you only for an entry-level job. To become truly skilled, nothing substitutes for workplace, real-time experiences.  As I mentioned earlier, doctors have 2-7 years of “apprenticing.”  Many professional certifications require huge hours of practicum—which is apprentice-type work.

Being a missionary in a foreign country is an extraordinarily challenging task, and I can think of no better way to complete preparations for one’s own mission work than to work under the tutelage and guidance of an experienced missionary in the target country (or similar country).

And I would suggest a standard practice among us of no less than two years be devoted to a preparatory apprenticeship, one that would include intensive language study and daily work at the side of the master missionary before a new missionary launches out independently.

The benefits of these two shifts in our paradigm are that many, many more people desiring to do mission work would have access to the best training available as they are making their First Decisions. Then with a specific work in mind, they have an opportunity to continue their training on their targeted field in a mentored environment until they were really ready to go out on their own!

Well, I hope that starts the conversation. A blog is no place for details and specifics, but I’m absolutely convinced that all of us want more missionaries who are better prepared. If you don’t like my suggestions, what are yours?

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When our team went to Germany in 1971, we carried with us a written twenty-year plan, describing what we were going to do, how we were going to do it, and when we would accomplish it. This strategic plan was the product of our coursework at Harding, input from our guiding professor, and the impressions that we gathered from our four-day visit to Germany—before we had even selected Germany as our future mission site!

Our plan was not ill-conceived, it was prematurely conceived! We did not yet know the language, so we did not know the people. We had met two or three workers in Germany, but we did know who was wise  or whose work was effective. We did not even know if we were visiting growing or dying congregations there.

I know missionaries who strategically planned on getting jobs in their new country, only to discover when they arrived that local law would not allow them as foreigners to obtain work permits. I know of missionaries who planned on doing house churches, only to learn that apartments are too small and large gatherings are not allowed in private buildings. I know missionaries who have selected a site for a new church plant without even knowing that there was another congregation already there!

And churches have sent all of these missionaries! With support and oversight! What’s wrong with this picture??

I’d like to suggest that the problem is not with making a plan! No, I believe in strategic planning—well, with flexible strategic planning!  But I suspect that most mission plans are done prematurely, that is, before enough experience and information has been gathered to even produce a written draft, much less a concrete plan.

And yet, I would suggest that the vast majority of those wanting to be missionaries have a plan in their hands that is premature.  Why is this?

The answer to this question begins to touch on the core of many problems:  Anyone wanting to be a missionary has to have a concrete plan in order to convince one or more congregations to agree to support their work!  (I think they might get oversight without a plan, but not support—which says what about this process????)

So just think about the preposterousness of creating a mission plan based on what will sell to our congregations!  Imagine with me some of the more “critical” bases that would need to be covered:

  • Plan for a field that is popular right now. (In the 90s, you could get support to any country of the former Soviet bloc, but now the results are not as exciting, so better try China!
  • Plan for a field where the cost of living is low. You can forget getting support to a country where the cost of living is higher than the U.S.
  • Plan for a field where you can establish a self-supporting congregation within five years. Churches do not want long strategic plans.
  • Plan for a field that is accessible to the supporting church. Plane rides should neither be expensive or overnight!  Churches should be able to send their teenagers in the summer.
  • Plans should include some kind of humanitarian effort or community involvement because these are always successful and are great emotional touch points for future reporting.
  • Don’t project building projects or home purchases for long-term works. You don’t know which American mission committees are for them or against them.
  • Try to have something new in your plan that other missionaries in your field are not doing! Mission committees have heard all the old ideas before. (Think about that for a moment!)
  • Plan to use the latest method that is currently being promoted, Use current buzz words! This will let potential supporters know that you have done your homework.


Good plans are essential, but good plans will be made with the integrity and efficacy of the mission work itself in mind, not for the promotional benefits!

I’ve said twice already that most plans are made prematurely.  I want to suggest in the next post that planning belongs to the time of preparation and is, in fact, part of the preparation—and that one of the biggest, most radical changes that we need to make in churches of Christ is in how future missionaries are prepared.

This series is generating lots of comments. Many current and former missionaries are jumping into the conversation—which is just great!  Be sure and take time to read what these people with firsthand experience are saying! 

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In 1969, four young American couples committed to go to Germany to do full-time mission work. Why did they choose Germany? I know because I was part of the team.

We chose Germany because a professor at Harding invited us to accompany him on a trip to Europe during Christmas vacation, so that we could visit with European missionaries from various countries. We visited personally with workers from Italy, Switzerland, West Germany, France, Belgium, Denmark, and the Netherlands, all of whom made some effort to recruit us to their field.

That entire year on campus at Harding, we had been visiting with every missionary from every country that came to campus. By February it was time to make a decision. We had statistics and interviews enough. Of course we prayed for wisdom, but in the rearview mirror of forty years, I think we decided on Germany because we just wanted to go there!  My great-grandfather came from Germany and another team member had been stationed with his parents in the Air Force in Germany. Our three-day visit in Germany convinced us of what we already wanted to do!

I wonder how many missionaries have chosen their fields as haphazardly as we did?

Even though today’s missionaries are better prepared, my experience is that most are still guided by inspiration rather than any kind of strategic thinking about how to fulfill the Great Commission! 

And congregations are no different. Occasionally a congregation will select a field and then search for the right workers, but usually a potential missionary appears on their doorstep first. If the congregation likes the worker, then the field is of somewhat secondary importance.

How do we as a fellowship expect to ever go into all the world without a plan? How will we go to the Muslim world? Who is going to the countries in Africa that most Americans have never heard of? Who is going to Scandinavia or to the outposts of Russia? What are we going to do about Tokyo with 33 million people?  Osaka (16.4million)? Jakarta, Indonesia (14.2 million)? Cairo (12.2 million)?  What is our plan? Where is the inspiration for the really tough fields??

To make a strategic plan, we as a fellowship need different criteria for site selection!  If we have used any criteria, it has tended to be either receptivity or bang for the buck (I cringe to even write that!) We need a new criteria for what makes a site important to God! 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you” James 1:5. I believe God has given us a great deal of revelation to permit us to be wiser, but we have not gathered it together into a coherent picture.  We need centralized information will inspire us to see new opportunities. Fortunately, we already have a wonderful organization in our fellowship whose mandate is to be a network for missions resources, ala Missions Resource NetworkMy vote is that this wonderful ministry continue to be and expand its role as a repository for the information churches and missionaries need to strategically select mission sites.

Here’s the picture I’m seeing:

We need a Wikipedia-like site for mission information, preferably one where every country of the world is listed and where our fellowship can share our combined knowledge and experience publically.  This would be a place where the people who love geography could describe the country of Burkina Faso and the handful of people who have done mission work in Denmark can relate the history that only they know. Current workers in Osaka, Japan, could describe the religious climate and what they are doing there, so that the rest of our fellowship can see that Osaka could use a hundred missionaries, not one or two!

Then we need to publish/create some lists of ranked priorities to inspire and captivate congregations and workers looking for a mission field. What if all our churches were made acutely aware of even just the following lists—many of which are already available:

1.            Countries most restricted to Christians

2.            Muslim countries most open to Christians

3.            Countries with the fewest Christians per capita

4.            Countries where no known churches of Christ are meeting

5.            English-speaking countries with the fewest Christians

6.            Countries with the greatest response to Christian broadcasting

7.            Richest/poorest countries with the fewest Christians

8.            Countries with greatest internet access and the fewest Christians

Can you see congregations and potential missionaries using such lists for inspiration—using these lists to pray over, listening for guidance!  Then they get a complete picture of the countries they are drawn towards until God makes clear to them the country/city/continent they should commit to.

I also think it would be good to hold a national conference for all living American missionaries with the goal of producing a list of mission priorities for which American missionaries would be especially appropriate—acknowledging that Christians of other nations are better suited for some parts of the world than Americans–and the list of those places may be growing!

Possible Results

So if we had both congregations seeking mission opportunities for all of those members that they have inspired, as well as members of congregations, inspired by and re-inspiring their congregations, going to such a repository of both information and inspiration, is it possible that the body as a whole would begin to think more strategically?

Is it possible that two congregations, one in Connecticut and one in California  who are both wanting to work in Turkistan might discover each other, then talk to each other, certainly develop a relationship and perhaps even work out a cooperative plan—which might inspire other congregations who then join them in that work!

Is it possible that congregations would check the site information and see that 250 congregations are considering summer mission works in Honduras, so maybe they would choose a different country?

Is it possible that some congregation would learn that the Muslim country of Senegal is very open and that one African brother has started five congregations there in the last eight years—and they might start exploring ways to help him?

Is it possible that congregations would use their businessmen who travel abroad as scouts for new mission opportunities?

If our churches were prayerfully but strategically inspiring their members to go literally, purposefully, into all the world, then finally we would have begun to get a hint of what it means to fulfill the Great Commission!

And, by the way, our team’s decision to go to Germany was Spirit-led! We had a blessed work, and we loved Germany and the German people. Never doubt that God uses us in our weakness and ignorance!

I want to explore next the first decisions about the type of work and then follow that with thoughts on preparation.

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With the exception of the Antioch church sending out Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13), we really have no model of missions being initiated by a local congregation. Persecution drove Christians out of Jerusalem, and certain people moved between early churches, working as evangelists, but even to the very conservative among us, it should be clear that there is no explicitly prescriptive revelation about how congregations should organize, support, or oversee missionaries.

Without crossing the rather artificially determined boundaries of congregational autonomy, and while respecting our historical rejection of missionary societies , I believe we can improve our paradigm for missions considerably.

In light of the selection/support/oversight issues that I have discussed in preceding posts, I would like to suggest the following goals for any new paradigm:

  • A clear and accessible path through selection, first decisions, and training, allowing more people to become missionaries.
  • More Christians involved both relationally and financially in sending more missionaries.
  • Spiritual, personal, and financial oversight of missionaries by those people in the best position to know and understand both them and the work they do.
  • Elimination of control mechanisms used for mission work driven primarily by financial support.

If we can find ways to meet these goals, then I believe we can expect to be a fellowship that is sending many more missionaries better prepared to many more fields, better supported in both visible and invisible ways by many more people who themselves will be blessed richly, all of which will result in the spread of God’s reign on earth.

Improving the Selection Process

As I stated earlier, most potential missionaries self-select based on inspiration! That a person should strongly desire and feel called to missions, I would consider essential. But I do feel that we can do better in both the areas of selection and inspiration.

For decades, the World Mission Workshop for Christian college students has concluded with an invitation to commitment to missions. Literally hundreds of our finest students have responded—although only a handful has actually made it to the field. But what this tells me is that we have hundreds, if not thousands of people in our church buildings right now who have unfulfilled desires to serve as missionaries.

Let’s begin shifting our paradigm by making home congregations—no matter the size—the first place of inspiration and where the first opportunities for selection take place.  What would it look like if it were the norm in our congregations for children to hear missionary stories, for middle schoolers to make short  service mission trips, for high schoolers to move toward faith-sharing mission experiences,–but it didn’t stop there!

What if the college students were encouraged and enabled to do longer summer missions, and young families were encouraged to take their children with them on missions, if parents of teens did mission trips with their teenagers, and grandparents took their grandchildren with them.

What would it take for your congregation to make this kind of involvement the norm at your church (and, by the norm I mean where those who did not participate were in the minority!)?

  • Every church leader (yes, including ministers and elders) would need not only to affirm commitment, but lead from the front by going and supporting those who do!
  • Intentional planning at every age level for inspiration through every avenue at the church’s disposal.
  • Planting the seeds in the hearts of all new members who become a part of the congregation, whether through conversion or transference of membership.
  • Taking this stance as an ongoing way of congregational life, not a new program.

A church—regardless of its size– that created this kind of environment would expect to have many more of its members want to become missionaries! This church is always providing the first seeds of inspiration, and those seeds will be watered and nurtured for years with intentional love.

Now, not only is the pool of potential workers much larger, but the first level of the selection process would also be moved into a much more natural and advantageous position! The leadership of the church, the fellowship of believers, all are more intimately acquainted with those of their own who desire to become missionaries, so they can help them evaluate their own sense of calling and provide spiritual discernment that is often impossible to obtain from professors or missions experts who have little if any personal history with the applicant.

If the vast majority of missionary candidates were selected first by their home congregations, we could end most of the wanderings from church to church by missionary hopefuls who have self-selected.  We would put an end to using the ability to raise support as the primary tool of discernment. 

Wouldn’t that be better?

Some of you are already sweating heavily because you wonder where all the money is going to come from because your church couldn’t support all those who would want to go! Well, I’m going to just postpone that question for a while—but we will get back to it, I promise.

Next we will look at creating a clear path through decisions about which field, what type of work, and how to prepare for the mission. 

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Although both of the first two posts in this series contain serious areas of concern with respect to the way Churches of Christ do mission work, today’s post is where we really want to get to the most critical issues of all!

In the first post of this series, I talked about the process in which those who want to become missionaries must prevail. In the second post, we reviewed the limited number of support/oversight opportunities available to the potential missionary in Churches of Christ.

Local churches Are ill-equipped to truly oversee foreign mission work.

Typically, churches who agree to provide oversight of a foreign mission effort have very little idea of what they are really agreeing to. For most congregations, total oversight means they have hired another employee (the missionary) and that they have ultimate responsibility for the missionary’s

  • complete job performance,
  • all monies given by them, both personal and work-related funds,
  • all work-related decisions, including those made by the mission congregation.
  • all doctrinal issues and/or congregational practices
  • growth strategies, including types of facilities

Any serious differences in opinion in any area or dissatisfaction within the overseeing church results in loss of financial support, the premature return of the missionary family, and often the complete termination of the missionary efforts at that site.

The most common variation on the total oversight model above is financial oversight, which usually means the overseeing church simply provides regular financial support to the missionary and as long as no criminal or moral irregularities occur, they are satisfied and continue this relationship of benevolent neglect until one of the following occurs

  • the missionary chooses to return to the States,
  • the overseeing church loses interest in the missionary—often because of excitement about a new missionary, or
  • the mission site is not seen as one that excites the overseeing congregation any longer, often because a new site seems more appealing now.

Attempting to Educate Local Churches


Mission professors at our Christian colleges as well as several groups like Mission Resource Network (MRN) and Sunset (SIBI) have tried for years to educate churches of Christ about missions. In spite of valiant efforts, the truth is that most congregations are woefully ill-prepared to provide oversight of a foreign mission work—much less several works at multiple sites.

We need to seriously consider whether it is realistic to expect every congregation to develop mission expertise—and then not only to continually renew this expertise, but also to educate succeeding generations.


Here are the difficulties that battle against education as the solution to the serious flaws in our missions paradigm:

  • Very few congregations have members who have any personal experience in mission work. The most experienced have often only visited a foreign site for a few days.
  • Knowledge gained through expert instruction is secondhand information that too often becomes a mission template that may or may not be appropriate for a specific mission work or site.
  • Turnover in mission committees or elderships who oversee missions is enough that even if some members are satisfactorily educated, what about the new ones who replace them?
  • The education that our institutions offer must by design be general, that is, mostly general policy oriented. In the application of these general policies to a specific site, whose judgment prevails—the missionary on site or the overseeing church who now has been through the mission policy course?

In my opinion, Alexander Pope was right when he said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing!”


Recognizing the weakness of the church education model, many larger churches have responded by limiting their mission focus to only a few workers that they fully support in one or few sites for long periods of time. By limiting the number of workers and the number of sites, they are able to gain a degree of expertise and feel more competent about their oversight.  With longer missionary tenures, overseeing churches are able to pass down this expertise more easily.

 The challenge of this corrective measure, however, is that it puts a virtual cap on the number of workers on the field, limiting the number to what a relative handful of people in a few large churches feel comfortable managing.

Other churches deal with the oversight dilemma by limiting their active responsibility to financial oversight only—although they are often reluctant to admit this. As long as the missionary reports regularly and accounts properly for the funds, these churches are happy. They may or may not have any emotional relationship to the established church or mission site. They do not wish any further commitment as long as they can report to their congregation that they are doing mission work.

Smaller churches (under 500 members), since they do not feel capable of major financial commitments, are rarely willing to accept oversight responsibilities. They limit their involvement to sending checks to the larger churches and enjoying the visits of “their” missionaries, when the larger churches bring the missionaries home on furlough.


Exceptions exist to every statement I have made, but Sherrylee and I have been involved intimately in missions in Churches of Christ for over forty years. If you will accept the general truth of what I have stated, then these are the necessary conclusions!

  1. Most missionaries self-select and quality of preparation/training varies widely!
  2. The number of missionaries that Churches of Christ can send to the field is limited to those that large churches can and will both oversee and financially support.
  3. The number of Christians directly involved in sending missionaries is virtually limited to the number on mission committees in large churches.
  4. The oversight of missionaries is done primarily through financial control, usually by people with even less training or experience than the missionaries themselves.
  5. Spiritual oversight is grossly neglected.
  6. The number of missionaries in Churches of Christ is limited to those who either have good large church connections, and/or good fund raising personalities—neither of which are essential qualities for doing good mission work.

In the next posts, we’ll talk about alternatives to the current paradigm, but my suggestions are out of the box—just warning you!

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After making most of the first decisions, the potential missionary still lacks two very essential components before he/she can go to the mission field: financial support and oversight.  Historically, Churches of Christ have opposed missionary societies  and/or sending agencies, primarily because of a belief that the New Testament pattern requires congregational autonomy, especially in the area ultimate accountability for both the mission funds and the missionary.

Just a quick tangential comment:  in spite of a strong belief in congregational oversight, the major decisions about the mission work, such as the place and type of work, team members, training needs, and date of departure, are usually made independent of and prior to acquiring funding or oversight.  This is probably because these first decisions can be made independently, while the potential missionary is totally dependent on others for financial support and oversight. In addition, these first decisions  are part of the mission package that must be created  to sell  to congregations that might assume support and/or oversight. I wonder whether the “promotional” aspect of this package doesn’t have the potential to skew the strategic possibilities of the mission plans??

Current models for securing support and oversight among Churches of Christ

  1. Single congregation model – The potential missionary meets with a larger congregation (500+ members) and convinces either the elders and/or the mission committee that he/she is worthy of their support and that the mission project is worthy. The local congregation then provides all of the personal funding as well as working fund and assumes complete oversight of the work.  This model is usually viewed as the ideal arrangement for missionaries in Churches of Christ.
  2. Multiple congregations model – The potential missionary finds one larger congregation (500+ members) who accepts oversight of the mission project, but only provides partial funding. The potential missionary then solicits funding from other congregations until full personal and working funds are secured. The number of additional churches needed may vary from few (2-5) to many (20+). These contributing churches then funnel their funds through the “overseeing” congregation. They have no oversight responsibilities.  This model dominates Churches of Christ.
  3. Church/individual model – Same as the multiple congregations model except that in the place of multiple congregations, the potential missionary also finds individuals who wish to support them independently.  These individuals may or may not funnel their funds through the overseeing church.  This model has become much more common in recent years.
  4. Individual model – Occasionally, wealthier Christians are bypassing local churches and themselves sponsoring missionaries. The funds may be funneled through a local church for tax purposes only, but the local congregation is otherwise disengaged from the mission work.


Common Assumptions About Oversight and Support

  1. One must usually first find oversight before support is secured. This is because churches and some individuals want assurances that the funds are properly managed and that the potential missionary is accountable to someone before they are willing to make any financial commitment.  The expectation is also that the overseeing church will be a major contributor to the worker. Other potential contributors see themselves as only supplementing the overseeing churches contribution.
  2. The overseeing church must also be a major contributor. .  If the worker happens to have grown up in a larger church or is a relatively long-term member of a larger church, then that is where their hopes lie. However, since only a handful of these churches are actually expanding their mission program in any given year, it is not uncommon that the desire of the potential missionary for funding and oversight and the schedule of the home church for expansion of their mission budget do not coincide.

If the potential missionary’s most familiar congregation cannot or will not accept  oversight, then there remain only two options for obtaining oversight and support:

  1. They can start looking for another large church—all of which are overrun with solicitations–or find a small church who will give them “temporary oversight” so they can solicit funds from other small churches and individuals until such time that they can find a larger church to assume oversight. The assumption is that if enough financial support can be found to reduce the financial demands on a larger church, it will be more willing to assume oversight.
  2. They can accept oversight from a smaller church—probably one that knows them well–and spend weeks, months, and sometimes years visiting other small churches  and individuals, trying to collect enough commitments to realize their mission plans and go.

As you can readily see, neither of these latter options is promising! But many, many potential missionaries find themselves left with only these options.  The most ambitious for God are sometimes even successful, but most potential missionaries are lost to the mission field, giving up on their call   because they

a) have only a small number of congregations who know them personally and none of those is willing or in a position to offer oversight and/or support, or

b) they personally do not have the resources to fund weeks, if not months, of cross-country travel for full-time fund raising, or

c) they simply do not have the skills for fund raising. Their desire and training, perhaps their giftedness, is being a missionary, not a fundraiser.

In the next installment, I will expand on the problems and challenges caused by bundling oversight and support—which is where I see that our current paradigm creates the greatest barriers to mission work.

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The person who desires to become a full-time missionary supported by churches of Christ has an extraordinarily difficult mountain to climb—unduly difficult—before they will ever reach the mission field. Many never attempt to climb the mountain, and others fall off the mountain in the attempt.

 The current support/oversight paradigm among churches of Christ discourages both potential and existing missionaries. The results are too few long-term missionaries which means less mission work and fewer souls hearing the story of Jesus—none of which can possibly be pleasing to God!

I want to challenge us to rethink the oversight-support model for long-term mission work from churches of Christ and look together at a different model of oversight/support that will lead, I believe, to more missionaries who stay longer and can reach more people more effectively.

Let’s first work our way through the whole process of becoming a missionary as it generally happens among churches of Christ.

First Decisions

 When someone is motivated to become a missionary, he/she/they usually will go through a series of decisive steps before they actually can begin their work.  The basis for all of these decisions is usually the point of first inspiration.

  • If they were inspired by a short-term mission experience, then they want to return to the field they first experienced and work in a similar manner to the missionaries with whom they have worked.
  • If they were inspired by a teacher/mentor, they will make their choice based on the teacher/mentor’s experiences.
  • If they were inspired by a challenge or a public presentation, they will look for an expert (mission professor, missionary, preacher, mission organization.) to help them proceed.
  • Decisions about the field of work are most often driven first by inspiration, followed usually by short-term mission experience in a field or a short survey trip. The experiences and information gained are then supplemented with interviews with current and past missionaries to whom the potential worker might have access.
  • Decisions about the type of work are more difficult.  
  1. First plans are often very broad plans, such as church planting, strengthen the local church, campus ministry, even community outreach.
  2. Some plans are method specific; for example, potential missionaries might decide to start house churches, or do children’s work, or do media-based evangelism.
  3. First plans made by mission teams are often very personality and role specific. For example, the team might have one couple that likes children, so they will plan to do children’s work, while another team member wants to preach, so they will plan for public preaching. Overall their plans still tend to be broad.
  • Decisions about means and types of preparation depend mostly on those advising the future missionary.
  1. Undergraduates/graduate students at Christian universities may begin by taking general mission courses and seeking contact with mentors in mission study groups.
  2. Some desiring to do mission work may seek out higher level mission training, for example, through ACU Summer Mission Seminar, SIBI Advanced Mission Training.
  3. A few parachurch ministries offer mission training.  Continent of Great Cities and Missions Resource Network come to mind right away.
  4. Other people will look for short-term internships on the desired field, if possible, with a current missionary.
  5. Many will work with American churches—often required by sponsoring congregations– and learn to work with and evangelize through an American model.And there are those who will go with little or no specialized training other than their own life/church experiences. This is especially true of those who are a bit older when they decide to become missionaries.

If you haven’t already, go back through this first section and notice the following:

  • All initiative and initial actions come from the person desiring to become a missionary, who is most often untrained, inexperienced, perhaps not completely educated, but highly motivated.
  • While capable professors, mentors, and friends are available for guiding potential missionaries, the number of options for fields, types of work, and for training are enormous. In my experience, most go along a path of inspiration and least resistance rather than a strategic path.

And this is the easy part! Next, I want to lay out the ways we in churches of Christ have typically supported and overseen foreign mission work—and why it is an unsuccessful paradigm.

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