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Posts Tagged ‘becoming a missionary’

I was at the Ballpark in Arlington last night for a Ranger game. You may have seen it on the news because a severe storm hit in the fourth inning, one that brought high winds, heavy rains, hail, and the threat of tornadoes!

About the second inning they asked all the fans in the upper deck to move to a vacant seat in the lower stands, so almost everyone in the ballpark tried to move to a better seat! The instructions for determining which seats were vacant and could you move into the seat by Nolan Ryan were very unclear, which caused obvious confusion.

A bit later, the officials cleared the lower stands, but with no explanation. Still later, I noticed lots of fans being taken down the stairs, through the dugouts into the tunnels under the stadium—not all of the fans, just some!  Not us!

My father-in-law and I moved from the second level down to the ground level on our own initiative. But during the most serious part of the storm, when some were going underground, we stood with thousands of others just looking around waiting for someone to tell us either that we were OK or that there was a safer place to which we should go.  No one ever told us anything!

We survived the storm just fine, but it did remind me that without intelligible guidance and a clear path to follow, most people will just stand around helplessly.  My goal in this series of posts on Rethinking Missions is to suggest a generally clear path that we as a fellowship could encourage hopeful missionaries to follow, with the goal of having more people go into all the world, making disciples and baptizing more people!

If you don’t mind, I want to just use this post to briefly summarize the whole area of First Decisions, which is where we are in the conversation!

The Desire to be a Missionary

The desire to be a missionary arises mostly from inspiration either through exposure to others who are missionaries or through personal experience with short-term missions. My suggestion is that the point of inspiration be moved from the Christian college, which is where the majority of opportunities now lie, to the local congregation.

Moving the point of inspiration to the local congregation has the following significant advantages:

  • Virtually everyone in our fellowship is part of a congregation, so the total number of people being exposed to missionary inspiration is exponentially greater!
  • The inspiration can begin younger and continue through elder years, again increasing the potential number of Hopefuls!
  • Hopeful Missionaries would already have a significant relationship with a congregation, which would make every future interaction easier.
  • Having known the local Hopeful as part of the congregation’s life will help in guiding them through a prayerful selection process.
  • The members of the local congregation will more likely support the Hopefuls from their own congregation, both financially and spiritually.

Even if a person is inspired somewhere else–on a vacation, or at a state university, or from a relative who has done a short-term mission–if the local congregation is the first stop in the selection process, this new Hopeful will have all of the advantages of the relationship to their congregation to build upon.

And if a person is a new Christian, the immediate, affectionate circle of a local church can close around them and provide good guidance and strong relationships for exploring their desire to be a missionary.

First Decisions

We have talked about three main First Decisions for any Hopeful Missionary:

  • which mission field,
  • what type of work, and
  • how should I prepare to go.

Let me suggest a how these stepping-stones to the mission field should line up.

1.            The first decision should probably be the mission field. Some of the beginning questions that a Hopeful should ask—and that the congregation should ask of the Hopeful–might be

  1. What country/city/region are you drawn towards? Why? (I would avoid the “called to” question because that is what the Hopeful is trying to determine with your guidance.)
  2. What do you know about these areas? (With some guidance, they should research the geography, the culture, and the religion.)
  3. What mission work is already being done there? (Both in and out of our fellowship. Again, they may need guidance to know where to find complete information.)
  4. What gifts do you have that will be appropriate for this site?
  5. What will be the greatest difficulties for you personally? For your work?

These kinds of questions will start a great conversation that could certainly lead to a “calling” to a specific site.

2.            The selection of a mission site probably will determine the strategy or type of work.  If the Hopeful is called to a third world country, then internet evangelism may not be a good strategy! If it is an industrialized country, a well-digging ministry would be equally inappropriate.

The strategy for communicating the gospel so that a particular people can hear it should come after a great deal of prayer, of consultation with current workers, after extensive research, and with much guidance.

3.            Then comes the plan for preparation for both the field and the type of work to which the Hopeful is called!  By the time, the Hopeful gets to this stage, a whole congregation has been inspiring and guiding them for a longer period of time, and much prayerful research and consultation has given the Hopeful a significant knowledge base. The plan for preparation should fill two or three significant gaps:

  • Some knowledge is better learned from teachers than on one’s own. This may include basic Bible knowledge, knowledge of God and how He works, cross-cultural information, leadership skills. With guidance, a Hopeful can know what areas he/she needs special preparation in.
  • Some skills may need to be learned:  language may be the most obvious of these, but there may be others: translation skills, musical skills, writing, teaching skills, conversation skills, etc.
  • Experience is often completely lacking!  An apprenticeship under a strong Master Missionary will fill the largest gap!

Preparation sometimes fills these three gaps simultaneously in an apprenticeship, but often a preparation plan needs to be outlined and scheduled sequentially.  The counselors, mentors, and guides gathered along the path can help the Hopeful with this part of the process.

Next

What remains to be done is raising the necessary financial support. I have left most money questions untouched because I’m convinced that we have been guilty of letting the money questions control too much of the whole process.

Now that we have a path for the crucial First Decisions, we are in a better position to rethink the issue of supporting missions!

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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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