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Posts Tagged ‘Let’s Start Talking Ministry’

Relay-race_02If you had asked me five years ago, who I thought would succeed us as the LST Executive Director, I would have had a name and all the reasons why my choice was the only choice!  Privately, I would tell board members, lobbying in a preemptive way to ensure that my choice was their choice.

But I had made a big mistake.  My big mistake was that my One-and-Only-Possible-Choice absolutely did not want to do the job!

I’ve thought a lot about my flawed choice and have decided that asking the current Executive Director to find his/her own successor is not a very good idea. If the ED is a founding director, it may be even worse, and certainly more problematic.

First, why should not the Founding director name his/her own successor?  After all, who would know better about what skill sets or gifts are needed than the Founder?  Allow me to answer this rhetorical question with several more:

  • Can Founders choose someone different in skill sets from themselves?
  • Can they be objective enough to bring in someone who has the gifts that they themselves did not have?
  • Can they see beyond their own circle of relatives/acquaintances/associates to evaluate fairly someone who has not been intimately associated with the organization?
  • And what does it do to their legacy, if their chosen successor does not prove to be a good choice—so does that risk push Founders to safe choices rather than best choices?
  • What if the Founder consciously or unconsciously still wants to control the organization?  Isn’t this almost a predictable tension at a time of transition?  Would that tend to lead toward a choice of someone who can be controlled or overly influenced by the Founder?

These questions are hard for Founders to answer—which is why I would encourage you to opt for strong board involvement in choosing a successor!

What if the board does not want to be involved, but prefers that the Founder/Executive Director do the selection?   Then you have the wrong board!  Regardless of who started has led it for years, the board of directors has the responsibility for the sustainability of the organization.

Your board should lead in choosing the successor for a Founder/Executive Director for the following reasons:

  • The members of the board are legally responsible for the actions of Executive Director.
  • A multi-member board has the advantage of diverse input, out-of-the-box thinking, regional perspectives, and often even generational insights, all of which should engender better candidates.
  • Board members, by the fact of sheer number, have wider circles than a single Founder. If the board searches among their acquaintances, a larger number of good prospects is more likely.
  • A public announcement of an open position by the Board of Directors gives the organization more legitimacy than an appeal by a Founder/Executive Director.  It also makes the process seem more objective.
  • The Board of Directors is almost always the employer of the Executive Director, so giving the Board the responsibility for selection of the new ED builds an appropriate relationship between the employer and employee from the very beginning.  This is much different than if the new ED has been selected and “hired” by the outgoing Executive/Founder.

The LST board went through a bit of transition turmoil after Sherrylee and I gave notice of our retirement.  Let me start by saying that the main problem was not the board members themselves, but probably the constitution of the board at the time.  We were seven members; Sherrylee and I were two of those seven.  That left only five to work through the transition.  As it turned out, one of the board members was to becoming one of the declared candidates interested in the Executive Director’s position.  What we were left with after Sherrylee and I and this other board member recused ourselves was only four “objective” members.

We made the decision to divide into two working groups and to invite some of our non-board member supporters to join us in these work groups in order to expand the number of people in the process as well as to provide a wider perspective.  One work group was to search for the successor; the other work group was to manage the transition of the Founders (Sherrylee and me).  That seemed like a very productive arrangement, but actually things got off track pretty quickly.

I’ll explain what happened in the next post.

 

 

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Relay-race_02Almost three years ago, Sherrylee and I gave the LST board of directors our two-year notice as we had agreed to do many years ago.  The LST Board of Directors wisely had been discussing the eventual transition from the Founders (Sherrylee and me) to a Successor probably for at least five years before we gave notice. In fact, the “Succession Plan” as it was always called in those earlier board meetings is what eventually drove us to the first Strategic Plan in 2013.  Afterwards, Sherrylee and I knew what we were supposed to do to start the transition process.

Just a few months ago, I was sitting with two wonderful kingdom workers who were both in their late 70s, living in a difficult, foreign country, directors of a local non-profit organization—and after eight years there, just exhausted from the physical and spiritual demands of their mission!  As they told me over dinner one night, they had repeatedly told their American Board of Directors and their supporters that one of their top priorities was to find their replacements, and while everyone acknowledged the need, not much was really done to move the process forward.  A few comments in newsletters and a little correspondence with casual inquiries were all that the older couple themselves could do while keeping up with the strenuous daily demands of their foreign ministry.

I told them that they needed to give notice!  Not that they should create a hardship for their Board of Directors, but they needed to do what was right both for the mission and for themselves.  And by giving notice—in this case they decided (quite generously, I believe, for their age) to give their board two years notice—they were also placing the responsibility for the continuation of the mission squarely on the shoulders both of those who truly carry the responsibility as well as those in the best position to successfully find their successors.

If you have been reading carefully, you will have picked up on the fact that we gave our two-year notice almost three years ago!  Perhaps where there is tension between a board of directors and their executive, the official notice might be an irreversible legal step, for most of us in non-profits it is probably more a statement of intent.  In our case, the process of finding a successor took longer than anticipated. For others there could be financial considerations, a health issue, or even questions of momentum that might make the official hand-off date other than what was anticipated. In some cases, the succession might even need to occur earlier for the good of both the executive and/or the organization.

Here are my conclusions about giving notice as a step in the transition process:

  • The Board of Directors should create a Succession Plan long before it is needed, and this plan should include an appropriate and agreed upon timeframe for their executive to give notice.
  • If the Board does not have a succession plan or one that includes giving notice, then the executive should initiate the conversation with them and encourage them to develop one.
  • If the Board does not grasp their responsibilities for succession, the Executive may need to simply give notice on his/her own initiative, in order to raise the urgency level—for the sake of the organization or for him/herself.
  • Only in rare cases, does either the Board or the Executive need to feel that the Notice must be strictly enforced. Neither the organization nor the executive should view it as a bludgeon, rather as a green light signaling the start of a slightly unpredictable journey into a new future for both.

 

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Relay-race_02Just to show how difficult it is to transition from Founders to Successors, let’s be very honest and answer the questions that I said every Founder was thinking when the question of succession is raised:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?

The truth of the matter is that unless your Founder has serious mental or health issues or has done something that morally/ethically disqualifies him/her, then the obvious answer is nobody knows more, no one will do more or risk more personally, and no one has more followers already in step with their vision than Founders. 

And the longer they have led, and the more successful they have been, the harder it is to move them out!

So what reason are you going to give to convince this Leader that he/she needs to step down? 

First, you need to consider that you may not convince them to step down.  Your board may be able to force them out—but unless they are totally out of favor with staff, volunteers, and donors, you will suffer great damage by doing so. The whole ministry/organization may be threatened, and by forcing them out, you may find yourself in competition with their new, parallel organization!  Not good.  Allowing them to continue to lead until such time that they are persuaded by some of the observations listed below may be the only viable strategy.  Sorry, if you were looking for a miracle way out!

Two approaches that I don’t think will work, but that are often attempted anyway are

  • You may be able to appeal to them on the basis of age, health, or family situation. Aren’t you ready to spend more time with your family, with your grandchildren?  Aren’t you going to be spending a great deal of time caring for your spouse now?  You need to focus your energy now on recovering your health/taking care of yourself. It may take family members to convince them, close friends, even their respected church leaders.  And while their own health or age might seem like strong appeals to you, don’t forget that the Founder is used to being sacrificial and may have a “leave it all on the field” attitude about the ministry/organization that keeps them from being moved by what they see as self-serving rationalizations.
  • You may appeal to them on the basis of popular opinion. The staff thinks it’s time . . . . The board thinks you should step down, or Everyone sees it, but you . . . . Don’t forget though that Founders have always had the courage to go against the mainstream or they probably wouldn’t have done what they did.  They probably did not lead by taking polls, so I don’t think this is going to achieve a congenial, voluntary resignation.

My only good suggestion to you is to appeal to their desire for the success of the ministry/organization! More than their own personal welfare, they have given everything so that the ministry/organization can accomplish the greater good which they desired. If you can help them understand that this greater good—the advance of the Kingdom of God, the health of children, the care of the aged, any benevolent cause that was worth someone giving years and years plus all the tangible and intangible sacrifices that Founders make—that their cause will be advanced by their stepping down, then you will have pricked their soul.

As Sherrylee and I looked at our own ministry and what was best for it, several very specific situations propelled us toward our decision to step down voluntarily after thirty-six years. I’ll share these with you with the hope that it will help you with your Founder:

  • As I mentioned in the first of this series, our experiences in our youth watching Founders being locked out of their organizations was so painful that we determined to stop before someone wanted our keys.
  • Although reasonably healthy, our age has made extensive international travel much harder on us physically.
  • The financial responsibility for the ministry had always been heavy, but it began to feel like a burden. We thought that was our problem, not the ministry’s.
  • We have found ourselves getting further and further away from those who volunteer to go, not even recognizing the names of some who have done LST for several years.
  • Sherrylee and I are boomers. When we began working with students, we were dealing with Gen Xers. We’ve now gone through Y’s and are well into millennials.   We have also gone from moderns to post-moderns, and some even say post postmoderns.  We are less sure that we are in touch with the way students today are thinking.

We still believe in the mission; we still see the vision in front of us, and we are still sold out to the goal of sharing Jesus and sharing ourselves—and we will be until the day we die! But, honestly, we believed in that mission before LST began.

I’m very grateful to our board of directors, all of whom are dear friends and people who have been a part of the Let’s Start Talking Ministry, who have understood and walked with us through our own transition.  My prayer is that you will be as wise and gentle with those Founders who need your help with a pretty difficult moment in their lives.

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Relay-race_02Founders, charter members, church planters, entrepreneurs—all of these terms probably describe the same kinds of people—and all of them create unique and real challenges when it comes time for the BIG TRANSITION.

For entrepreneurs, the start-up phase is over and it is time to build the business; for church planters the new church is stable and now needs to appoint its own leaders from within; for charter members who stepped out in faith to establish something new, they are now outnumbered and out-voted by those who joined after the struggle and sacrifice were just the story rolled out for special occasions.

Founders may be the biggest challenge of all. Entrepreneurs move on because they have to in order to scratch their itch; church planters begin with the expectation of growing new leadership; charter members never had that much control to start with, but FOUNDERS are all of the above—and they see that organization/ministry/business they have begun as their life’s work!  They expect to lead until they die!

Sherrylee and I have been all of the above!  We have been instrumental in planting one church, were charter members of another, started a for-profit business in the mid-80s that was a disaster, and, much to our surprise, founded Let’s Start Talking—a mission and ministry that God has blessed and grown far beyond our imagination.  For over 35 years, we have walked in front of hundreds of volunteers and dozens of extraordinary staff members.  We have always worked under the oversight of elders of our sponsoring churches, with advisory boards, and, for the last sixteen years, within a passionately committed board of directors.

So what’s the problem with Founders, especially at the time of the BIG TRANSITION?

Let’s list some characteristics of Founders, just to get some insight into what might make it difficult for them to transition:

  • Founders often launch their boat when and/or where no one else is really going!
  • Founders often launch without the means to achieve the goal, just with an idea or a dream.
  • Founders often launch in the face of opposition, either political, financial, or personal.
  • Founders have often failed at previous launches, so they don’t necessarily inspire overwhelming initial confidence from others.
  • Founders may be “lone rangers”. They don’t need lots of other people to follow them in order to proceed.
  • Founders believe they are prepared for the task. They can do it!
  • Founders, when their project is successful, generate great followings and loyalty.  The longer their organization survives and the more successful it is, the greater the following and loyalty of those who have not only joined them, but who also have committed to their vision.
  • Founders are often willing to sacrifice more for the sake of the mission than most people would be willing or would think reasonable.
  • Founders may “own” their life’s work—sometimes literally, but almost always emotionally.

What makes it hard for Founders to step down or to transition to a supportive role?  In light of the above characteristics, just listen to their questions—their feelings:

  • Who knows more about this ministry than I do?
  • Who is willing to do what I am willing to do?
  • Who will cast a vision that others will follow like they follow our vision?
  • Who is willing to risk what I have been willing to risk?
  • What kind of outcome could be expected without the great risk?
  • Who can lead this ministry better than I can in spite of my age, my health, my family, my . . . ?
  • This is mine.

Please don’t hear me being critical of Founders.  Don’t forget, I am one!  I am trying to describe a category of persons broader than myself, but I will certainly confess to entertaining all of the above questions as we personally go through this transition.

We Founders know what the problem is with Founders.  Next time, we’ll talk about successful ways to deal with Founders when it’s time for them to give up control.

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Hello, again. After a lengthy hiatus, I plan to start writing again. We’ll talk about the hiatus later, but today, let’s just jump into the deep water!

 Relay-race_02It’s Friday—the day before the Saturday board meeting—the BIG Saturday board meeting!  Ten board members will begin arriving tonight, though most will just drive to the meeting in the morning. Even though it is not yet noon on the day before, I’m confident that all of these men and women have already been thinking—and, I suspect, praying—about this Saturday’s board meeting.

Tomorrow, the Let’s Start Talking Board of Directors is interviewing the two finalist candidates to take Sherrylee’s and my places as the new Executive Director.  We—Mark and Sherrylee—began this ministry in our home 36 years ago—a lifetime ago. Sherrylee was the first paid staff member. Our three kids were born into it and raised in the backseat of our many rental cars that we drove around Europe each summer of their lives, organizing and supervising those early LST teams.

This short-term missions ministry which we started with a very small, limited vision for working in Germany (actually, still West Germany in 1980) has now sent Christian volunteers into over 60 countries—including some countries that were not even countries in 1980. Literally thousands of Christians have shared their faith with more thousands of people who asked those Christians to tell them why they were so happy and what made them believe the Story of Jesus.  God has truly done greater things than we could have ever imagined.

Three years ago, Sherrylee and I told our board that it was time for us to give the leadership of the ministry to the next generation.  We were not pressured to give notice, not by board politics, not by financial crisis, not by scandal, nor for health reasons.  No, many years ago, when we were young missionaries in Germany, we watched the painful struggles between older missionaries who had planted churches in Europe after WWII and those same churches who needed to break away from their “parent” in order to mature.  My memory is that at least one church changed the locks on their building because their founding father refused to give up his key, aka “control”, of his church.

His church? Really?  Watching those missionary giants rejected by their spiritual children is how we learned not to believe that we possessed, that we owned a ministry just because God used us to start something that He wanted done.  Not owning LST made it easier to start the process three years ago of giving up the keys to the building!  It isn’t our building; they aren’t our keys! They never were!

Tomorrow, we believe we will begin the final step of stepping down. And that’s just the beginning!

What has brought me back to writing again is the opportunity to share with you this transition. I want to share with you what happened when we gave notice three years, what didn’t happen, and what probably should have happened! I’d like to talk about processes, choices, and feelings. And I wish to share this information, not as a history, but perhaps as a case study for those of you who are in non-profits, ministries, or small organizations that will face this same kind of transition sooner or later.

 

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Vukovar watertower after the war

Vukovar watertower after the war

Today Sherrylee and I walked along the beautiful Danube River in a small town in Croatia you have never heard of called Vukovar. We ate at a local pizzeria, then because it was an unusually sunny, warm day, we decided to walk over to the war memorial cross, thinking this was probably another WWII memorial. Not true!

In 1991, the beautiful little town of Vukovar was demolished by shelling, leveled by bombing, and finally massacred as the first victim of the breakup of Yugoslavia after the death of Tito. Located just within the borders of Croatia, Vukovar had been home to a minority of Croatian Serbians. The Serbian minority was fearful of what their ancient enemies the Croats might do to them if Croatia became an independent state, so they called on Serbia to “liberate” them. Serbia saw this as an opportunity to gain new territory and to weaken, if not completely overrun, the new Croatian state.

And so the Serbs invaded Croatia, layed siege to Vukovar, and in August 1991, launched as many as 12,000 shells per day into the city. By November, the obliterated city surrendered, but even this did not bring an end to the horror. Croatian prisoners of war as well as approximately 300 hospital patients were taken out to a farm and shot, then buried in a mass grave. Then 31,000 Croatians were expelled from their homes, one more horrible case of ethnic cleansing—and not the last.

Not until 1998 did Vukovar regain its independence, and in 1999, Croatian refugees began coming back to their homes under the watch of UN peacekeepers. Today, the city is only about half the size it was in 1991, much less prosperous, and once again Croatians and Serbs are living in the same city—but not together!

The Croats and Serbs are segregated both legally and socially. Separate schools, separate neighborhoods, separate alphabets, even separate churches. The war memorials are all for Croatian victims, the parades and the holidays are Croatian, so the Croatian Serbs are at best marginalized and at worst hated.

Does this sound similar to the Russian/Ukranian conflict now? What about the plight of Israeli Palestinians? And then, of course, we know what happened in Rwanda– and the ongoing crisis in Sudan, and . . . does the story never end? Even the rising racial tension in the U.S. contains hateful elements of this story.

About six years ago, a couple of Croatian Christians moved by themselves to Vukovar to bring the Peace of Christ. They were not really trained church planters; rather, they just loved people both Croats and Serbs! They have not been successful in starting a church, but they have been very successful in creating a movement called Dolina Blagoslova, or The Valley of Blessings. They host special events, they host radio programs—even local cable-TV programs—promoting what is good, pure, wholesome, peaceful—yes, peaceful for both Croats and Serbs. Their goal is to win the hearts and minds of good people in Vukovar by doing what is good and thereby prepare the way for the Prince of Peace. The Valley of Blessing program is known by Croats and Serbs throughout the city as a peace movement and has built up a strong reputation.

In the last few months, the churches of Christ in Croatia have come along side this work and have agreed to provide new funds for a meeting place as well as the impetus and vision for expansion. We were invited there to bring the Let’s Start Talking program as a small part of this new impetus.

I was watching a documentary on the Ukrainian crisis the other night and amidst all the bullets and bombs, one young woman cries out, “After all these centuries, have we not learned a better way of settling our differences than killing each other?”

Our politicians want either to build walls or to show strength, neither of which sounds very Christ-like to me. I’m convinced that when the angels announced Peace on earth that the One they were announcing is the only way to peace. And in the very face of scourging, abuse, and executions, His words were of forgiveness, not of retaliation.

The hope for reconciliation in Vukovar is the same as the hope for peace in Ukraine or Sudan or Israel or Syria or . . . . Our sole hope is that the Prince of Peace is victorious.

And He is!

That is our only message.

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Honestly, the first time I was asked to do a short-term mission trip, I agreed only because I could not figure out a good enough reason to say no. I was in college, so I even called my parents because I felt sure that they would want me to come home in the summer . . . but, in fact, their answer was, “You need to do what you think God wants you to do.”  I finally committed with my heart and not just my head—and I’ve never stopped. Thank you, Mom and Dad!

So here are a few tips about making the decision the first time, and I say the first time because I do believe that if you go once and do something meaningful, you will continue to find ways to go.

  1. Don’t expect all of your motives to be spiritual. I think many people do not hear the call of God because they love to travel, love to experience new things, love to meet new people. Who do you think gave you these desires? For what possible reason could He have done this? Instead of viewing these as personal or selfish desires, recognize their intended use and go!
  2. In two weeks or less, you can change the focus of your life!Especially if you are at one of those critical points in life, where you are trying to decide what you are really doing that is meaningful?  People who are now unemployed, who fear unemployment, who are nearing retirement, who are into retirement and finding it boring, who are disabled from physical work, who are unhappy in their profession with just punching a clock—a short-term mission project can give you brand new glasses to see your life with.
  3. You will never have more fun! Time spent doing the will of God—all day long—will beat fishing, skiing, cruising, touring, hunting—because it is everything you enjoy about these activities wrapped up into the same package, but framed with an eternal purpose.  When you show someone how to pray, or tell them who Jesus is for the first time, or hear them trusting you with the burdens of their heart because you care about them; when you see the light of understanding go on in their eyes, when you see your new friend baptized—and the huge smile on their face . . . it is so much more than a great round of golf.
  4. “Can you afford it” is really the wrong question. The fact is that a two-week mission trip will probably be much less expensive than a two-week vacation.  However, your investment in a short-term mission trip will come back to you for the rest of your life—and afterwards. Can you afford not to go?  (I’m going to write about raising funds shortly, so watch for those tips too.)
  5. Age doesn’t matter very much!Eighty-year-olds have gone with LST on missions. Eight-year-olds with their parents have also gone. In many cultures, age is revered.  Years ago, a man said to one of our older workers, “I’ve never met a Christian with gray hair.” His comment was the result of too many American Christians thinking that short-term missions were just a youth group or college student activity.  A friend of ours in her 70s just lost her husband this year, but she took her grief and her loneliness to eastern Europe to fulfill a mission call. Now  she exchanges the grief with the joy of pouring her life out for Christ and the loneliness with all the people God brings to her.  Her new life and joy is palpable.
  6. Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid!Fear is our enemy. God spoke these words to His people over and over again in scripture. Count them up if you don’t believe me—then do something to overcome your fears.
  7. Don’t procrastinate. Do it soon! Why should you wait? Does it sound like any of the excuses given for not coming to the Great Banquet? (business, relatives, obligations) Don’t surrender your seat at the table because of just couldn’t decide to do it.

 

I’m not particularly proud of the story of my first decision to go, but I did learn something that stuck with me. Whatever your reasons for not going are, if you will simply set them aside and go, your life will be changed because you are right in the middle of the will of God. I know that is true.

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The biggest hindrance to Christian youth and college students participating in short-term missions is their parents. I really hate to say that but after thirty years of recruiting college students for summer mission projects, I know this to be true.

Here are a few thoughts for Moms and Dads to think about to help them be more comfortable with what their young people want to do for God.

1. If your goal for your child is that he/she holds on to—even grows in—the faith you have tried to share with them, you need to let them go when they feel called. A great study done by a psychology professor at Abilene Christian University may be all I need to cite:  His study of 25,000 young people in churches of Christ showed that a “summer mission experience” was the top factor correlating with those students who continued in their faith after high school.

2. Before you ask your child to be “sensible” and …….(you fill in the blank with summer school, job, visit Grandma, internship, etc), you should ask yourself what message you are sending about the place of the kingdom in his/her life. Young people tend to “walk by faith” a little more naturally than we adults who have learned what the worst case scenarios are and who try to cover ourselves with insurance against such.

3. Check to see if you are afraid for yourself or are you afraid for your child. Some parents have not traveled much, never been out of the country, never had a passport (even if you are governor of Alaska!). No wonder you are a bit anxious about releasing your student to go to China or Africa or ………  Millions of Americans go overseas every year—for much less important reasons that sharing their faith.   “Be strong and courageous and do not be afraid.” We have to teach our children Christian bravery.

4. You don’t want to teach your children fear of random violence! One year we had a grandmother who offered to pay her granddaughter to stay safely in Oklahoma.  While the daughter was safely in Germany, the Edmond post office massacre occurred near her “safe” home in Oklahoma.  Unless we want to be crippled by fear, we cannot be live our lives afraid of random violence.

 

5. The best response to your child is to say YES–and to go with them! There is no better activity for Mom and/or Dad than to share some special time serving with your young person in serving the Lord.  Yes, you can do that any weekend at home, but to really step out on faith together, going somewhere very different, meeting people that are very different, but doing the most important task in the world together—there is nothing like it!

Sherrylee and I sometimes wondered if we were ruining our children by taking them with us each summer to do Let’s Start Talking—from early children through their teen years.  I guess I better let them tell you what it has meant to them. . . . but I know that God used it for good, and they are all people of strong faith.  Isn’t that what you want for your children?

 

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I have been directly involved in organizing short-term missions (STM) since I was a freshman in college—45 years ago.  Since 1980, Sherrylee and I have sent over 6000 American Christians on thousands of short-term mission projects in sixty-five different countries through the Let’s Start Talking Ministry.

We have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly of short-term missions, but we have always believed that if done well, they were of great value.  For the next few days, I’ll give you some of the things we have learned over the years to help you do short-term missions better.

First, to the church leaders who are asked to send and to support short-term missions, here are a few suggestions for distinguishing the more worthy from the less worthy:

1. Who will be benefited by this short-term mission effort? Some of the possibilities are the Worker, the sending church, the hosting church, and the unchurched/unbelievers that are touched by the work.  Is the work intended to just be a good experience for the Americans going and the encouragement it gives to the local congregation sending them? If so, don’t describe it as mission work. It is edification.  If it is for the hosting church, then it is church nurturing, not missions. If it is for the unchurched/unbelievers, then it is evangelism.  All of these are worthy goals, so decide which you want to support.

2. Does the host really want these people to come? I attended a meeting of local evangelists in a foreign country a while back and the common complaint from all of them was how they felt required to host short-term groups who wanted to come work with them—regardless of whether the group would actually benefit their work—because the group was from a church that supported their work.   It was often assumed that every mission site would love to have a group of 30 people appear on their doorstep, but for many obvious reasons, that is not always the case.  Make sure a real invitation from the site has been issued before you go/send.

3. What’s the purpose and how will it be accomplished? Make sure that the activities match the purpose.  If the purpose is to share the Gospel with people, establishing an obvious way to contact people who do not believe is critical. Then, how will the workers begin a conversation with them? There is room for a variety of purposes, but the activities must match the purpose.

4. What’s the plan for the time on site? The very nature of short-term missions means that good use of the time is critical. Showing up to “do whatever the missionary wants” is simply a way to shift all the responsibility on the local people to do all the thinking and preparation.

5. Have the workers prepared to go? Let’s Start Talking provides all workers with a minimum of 20 hours of preparation. Our college students receive more like 50 hours for their mission projects. There are good resources out there for individuals and groups to use in preparation.  Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use the expertise of short-term mission leaders with lots of experience.

6. Is the cost appropriate? I do not believe at all in the “most bang for the buck” model of missions—but we will talk about that later.  But I also know that spending $3000/person for a five-day short-term mission project when two of the days are mostly getting to and from the site does not appear on the surface to be a wise use of that money.  Church leaders should weigh the costs against all of the outcomes, then make a prayerfully informed decision.

Next, I’ll offer a few tips for those trying to decide about a short-term mission trip—or not!

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Let’s Start Talking approaches churches on almost a daily basis, asking for a few minutes at one of their assemblies to present to that church’s members opportunities  to be involved in short-term missions.  We do not ask for money, we do not ask for any long-term commitments, nor do we ask for anything that would detract from that church’s current mission efforts.   We do not need the sermon time. Class time, time before or after a service, even Wednesday night would be wonderful!

Why is it so hard to get an opportunity to tell the Body of Christ about specific requests from mission churches who are asking for help in telling the story of Jesus to their neighbors?

One of the most common reasons we hear when churches say that now is not a good time is that their mission work/mission committee is not functioning or is in disarray and they don’t know what they are doing, so let them get their act together and they will get back to LST.  I can’t remember when we have ever been called back at a later date by a church that had pulled themselves together.

In the previous post, we talked about questions that a strong church with a good mission program—at least in their own eyes—might ask in order to be sure they were not deceiving themselves, being satisfied with a mediocre mission effort when they desire and are capable of a great mission effort.

Now I’d like to talk with those church leaders/members in smaller churches, with either no real mission program or one in disarray as described above!  Let’s ask some hard questions and see where the answers lead us!

1.       Why is your church small?  Myriad reasons come to mind as to why a church might be small, some perfectly healthy and other reasons very unhealthy.  Some healthier reasons might include being a new church plant, being in an unchurched area where growth is slow. Unhealthy reasons might include because you are the only right ones, or you like to do things one way—your way.  I do challenge you to list ten reasons why your congregation is small—then evaluate those reasons for health.

2.      How are you trying to grow?  And holding Sunday services does not count.

3.       To what part of the Great Commission are you devoting your available resources?  Sherrylee and I met with a church recently in a resort area that often has no more than five members present, yet they rent a church building for Sundays and pray mostly for Christian tourists to attend. After the service the 4-5 members all went out to eat together, without inviting any of us guests to go with them.  Does this picture feel wrong to you?

4.       What could you do that would increase your “strength”? Could you merge with another church? I was in a small Texas town of about 1500 people recently that had four churches of Christ listed in the phone book. I believe we went to the largest with a membership of about 150. I wonder how long it has been since anyone made overtures about merging with any of the other congregations?   My only solace was that the Baptist had 17 churches in the same phonebook.  Human frailty is not denominational.

5.       What opportunities do you have because you are small that a large church might not have? What if the whole church supported that one young person or the just-retired couple to prepare for missions!  You don’t have anyone?—then why don’t you adopt a new Christian who has a strong desire to serve abroad, but no church home.  Find them through one of the Christian university mission departments.

I’ve worshipped in many small churches all over the world.  Small is not the same as weak.  The fact that eighty percent of American churches of Christ have fewer than a hundred members is often quoted as an excuse, but I keep hearing the words of the Messenger to the little church in Asia Minor, which he described as having just a “little strength.”  To this church he says, “I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut!” (Revelation 3:8)

Rethinking your mission efforts may start—for large or for small churches—with rethinking who you are and why you exist at all.  I do believe that when you know why it is worth all the time and effort to be church together, you will have a much better perspective for pursuing the mission of every church!

 

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