Monday, August 11, 2014

Seven Words Career Missionaries Fear

“We just want to come and serve” was the comment by a North American family wanting to visit the African country for two weeks.  The family wanting to visit were supporters of the missionaries, so they hated to say no to their request.  The missionary on the field serves in a harsh environment.  His work is an agricultural training project and from 8 to 5 every day he works on the hot, dusty, dry farm.  

In the two weeks the family of five was on the field, they rarely went to the farm to help, ended up mostly touring the area.  The missionary husband had to abandoned most of his ministry responsibilities for two weeks, acting as driver and interpreter for the visitors.  The missionary wife spent most of her time cooking meals for their guests.

Granted, most short-term visitors try not to be an imposition.  Their heart is in the right place, they might even help out financially.  This particular case is unusual to be sure, but certainly more common than most people in the states realize.  Every time a visitor comes to the field it always takes time away from the ministry and in some cases is a financial and physical burden on career missionaries.  We just want to come and serve may be code for, we want to come for an adventure at your expense.




Sunday, July 27, 2014

Friday, June 06, 2014

Give Them A Raise


I received a note from a donor church recently telling me they were going to increase their support by 4%.  The increase wasn’t large, but it was an acknowledgment of (1) they value my service in missions and, (2) knowing that the cost of living increases each year they wanted to help offset the high cost of ongoing ministry.  It was a welcome note and I deeply appreciate it.

In my latest book Energize Your Local Church for Global Outreach (http://Lewis-Training.com/order.html) I discuss the importance of churches keeping abreast of the current needs of their global partners.  Among many churches there is always a tendency to take on new projects.  Of course we do want to encourage growth in our outreach programs, and taking on new missionaries and reaching new fields is important.  However, how long has it been since the church has increased the support of those they made a commitment to five, ten or even twenty years ago?

In 1980 a monthly support of $75 has the buying power of $26.40 in 2014.  If a church made a commitment of $100 in 1990, it takes $181.39 to offset the rate of inflation in today’s world.  Even four years ago, a $100 gift has loss $8.72 of its buying power.  I think we get the point.  Mission support is not a one-time deal; it should be an ongoing process.

Everyone, (company worker, teacher, pastors) expect a raise from time-to-time.  A missionary overseas experiences inflation rates sometimes much greater that the U.S.  Raising support is a constant bane for career cross-cultural workers.  No one likes doing it, but they must, to continue their work overseas.  By a church increasing their support, even 4% annually, it may well keep the missionary on the field rather than looking for new support at home.

One of the buzzwords in missions today is “member care.”  Member care for missionaries is not just prayer or helping them in their spiritual or emotional needs; it is also in their finances.   By raising their support level occasionally, the church sends a strong message that they are not only praying for them, but are actively engaged in their lives by paying attention to their financial needs.  As my old professor use to say, “You can’t eat a ‘God bless you.’”  Give ‘em a raise.

Friday, May 30, 2014

The Great Commission Church



I’ve had an epiphany of sorts recently.  As a missiologist I am concerned with mission strategy, communication of the Gospel to the unreached people groups of this world (3.6 billion people in this world have never met a Christian).  Over the years I have made an attempt to share my own understanding of missions with others, especially local churches throughout the world.   My discovery is that many local churches are, either unaware of the complexities of cross-cultural work or, worse, honestly don’t care.  Some churches are quite happy to just “do missions” as they would any program of the church or, follow the latest trends and fashions to excite their congregation.  One dear brother stated flatly that his only interest in missions was to meet the needs of the local body, which meant taking people on short-term mission trips to areas of the world where there is already a high percentage of Christians. 

However, I am encouraged that there are some churches, pastors and individuals who have a deep desire to know how best to serve Christ in global outreach.  Often people ask me how they can make their missions program more effective.

Energize Your Church for Global Outreach is a short and concise guide that I believe would help any church, mission team member in creating a more effective Great Commission program.  This book is a guide, not the final authority on how the church should structure their mission program.  Read it; make modifications that fit your own local context. 

You can receive a .pdf copy of this book by going to http://Lewis-Training.com/ of download it on your Kindle. 

 I am happy to interact with anyone, receiving helpful suggestions for further study.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Overreach


I visited a hospital in West Africa several weeks back.  It has nice facilities and the staff I met are good people.  But there was a problem.  Two of the four floors were closed and the second floor barely used at all.  The hospital did not have functioning equipment and, though there is a steady stream of patients every day, if a person has to have an x-ray or blood test they are referred to another hospital.  Great potential, tremendous opportunity for outreach to a predominantly Muslim community, all lost reduced down to one word…overreach.

It’s a classic example of what I see in missions in many places throughout the world.  The person or persons responsible for launching the medical facility were trying to do too much.  Their reach exceeded their grasp.  Vision is of course vital in moving forward on any endeavor and if a person or organization has no vision they prefer managing what they have rather than leaning forward toward growth.  It’s a fine balance, managing and vision.  The “bean counters” in the organization are forever telling us that we can’t afford it while the visionary argues that we walk by faith, not by sight.  Finding the balance between status quo and entrepreneurship boils down to one simple rule, defining your purpose.  The hospital in West Africa is heavily in debt and on the verge of collapse for two reasons.

First, by trying to do too much and in the process they lost their way on what they were suppose to be doing.  The hospital was never the foundational project.  The organization began with reaching neighboring villages with water projects, schools and establishing churches.  Health care is always an issue in the village so a medical clinic was introduced, which then led to establishing the hospital in the major city in the area.  Rather than concentrating on one village and meeting the local needs they branched out to other villages, which drove the vision for a major medical facility.  By the time I observed the projects neither the villages nor the hospital programs were functioning well and all in financial stress.  They were just trying to do too much; they were not doing one thing well.

The second reason for the lack of focus relates to “chasing the money” rather than building a strong foundational purpose.  When analyzing this project it was easy to see that the whole system was a house of cards, a social ponzi scheme.  I am not suggesting that there was evil intent on bilking anyone, but rather money from the west was underwriting projects and short-term teams were giving time and money to programs they were interested in.  Staff was hired, wells dug, construction on churches and hospital were initiated.  However, because the main thing no longer was the main thing, the tail chased the dog.  Well meaning donors drove the agenda, which in-turn drove the people in Africa to try and follow-up all the projects launched.  In the end money designated to feed school kids ended up paying the salaries at the hospital, and money earmarked for a well project supplied support for a church building; a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.  Eventually donors wanted to know why the wells weren’t being dug and what happened to the wheel chairs the church in America bought? (They are stored in the third floor of the hospital storeroom.) Designated money still comes in, leaving the general operational funds in the red.

I know some of the people in this project quite well.  They are good people.  However, due to overreach many have lost a lot sleep, some on the verge of emotional breakdown.  There is not one project started that is not worthy of support, but we (western missionaries, short-term teams and national workers) need to understand we can’t do everything.  Do one thing well; don’t be sidetracked to do twenty other things. 



Thursday, April 24, 2014

The Tale of Two Teams: Case Study In Senegal


At the outset let me say the title of this post is a misnomer for, though I analyze two different sets of cross-cultural workers in Senegal, only one is a true team, the other is a group. 


Team is one of those popular mission buzzwords.  Sending agencies like to promote their team concept, in planting churches or the ethos of their organization.  I saw a T-shirt a few years back with the slogan “It Takes A Team” written in large print below the agencies logo.  However, as this post points out, team is sometimes more of a concept than actual fact.  This short case study helps define what a team and missions is all about.

IT TAKES A GROUP – Over fifteen years ago my brother (who is a business consultant) and myself met with a group of missionaries working in Dakar, Senegal.  The mission organization they were members of had been in the country for over forty years.  At that time we met them there were five families living and serving in the city.  They met every Wednesday for a team meeting and prayer with a team leader facilitating the meeting.  Each member gave a report of his or her projects.  None of the ministry activities were related.  There were no decisions that were made at these meetings, suggestions, perhaps, on how a problem might be resolved within a particular work, but little to no integrated effort in any of the programs throughout the city.  At the conclusion of our time in Dakar my brother stated that they were not a team at all, but a group.  A good group to be sure, as they clearly supported each other and enjoyed getting together, but they were certainly not a team.

Fast-forward fifteen years and it could be said that today that they are barely a group and certainly no closer to becoming a team.  They are in fact a fractured group as one member stated categorically to me that as a group living in the same country they were on the verge of “imploding” (partly due to poor leadership management from the home office in the U.S.).

IT TAKES A TEAM – Visiting another area of the country I met with a relatively new team that are involved in an agricultural project.  This team is comprised of seven families (five expatriates and two Senegalese), and three singles (one Senegalese).  The team was formed just four years ago; all seasoned cross-cultural workers, from different mission agencies, all of them having a good grasp of the language.  Through personal interviews and sitting in on team meetings it was apparent they truly function as a team.  Each member of this team has a specific role; each person also has a part of the decisions that make up this ministry.  At least five families are a part of the pooled finances for the operation of the farm and they freely share property, i.e. vehicles and tools.  This team has a strong focused purpose; to train local Christians in appropriate farming techniques as well as biblical studies.   They have one hundred acres of land to teach farming and train fifteen interns for a year who live and work on the farm.  After the interns have completed the program and they return to they’re village, the team members visit them, following-up to help the interns implement what they learn through they’re training.

This brief description of the two sets of cross-cultural workers in West Africa is not to disparage one and exalt the other.  The agricultural team has weaknesses; the group in Dakar has (individual) strengths.   The point is, there is a difference between being a team that works together for a common cause and a group, who just happen to be members of a the same sending agency.

Please click HERE to read the detailed analysis of the agricultural team and judge for yourself.  Are you a team or just a group?

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Wrapping Up: Energizing the Local Church


In this series I’ve given broad guidelines I believe will energize your church for global outreach.  Each church has it’s own ideas on what and who to support.  Younger congregations tend to lean toward social mission programs, missional churches tend to look at the strategic approach to reaching the unreached.  Some additional thoughts as your mission’s team develop its Great Commission goals.

Age – The effectiveness of a missionary or project does not depend on age.  There is always a push to support younger projects and it is indeed important to invest in the future of missions.  However, there is something to be said for people and organizations that have been serving for ten years or more.  New missionaries must learn culture and language while those on the field long term are in place to do significant ministries.  Those who invest in the stock market look for a proven track record of the companies.  That would be true of missionaries and mission organizations on the field as well. Venture capitalism is important, but I wouldn’t put all of the resources into those with just a good idea.

Diversify -  Try to keep your projects in balance.  Avoid investing all your capital into one region of the world or one people group.  The congregation will weary if they only hear about the needs in China when there interest may be in Ukraine or some other part of the world.  Even if your mission budget is only $10,000 a year, divide that money among two or three projects, not just one.

Keep People Informed – There are several good ways to keep the congregation informed.  One is to focus on a missionary or missions project each month.  If you have a bulletin for Sunday services, highlight one project or person each month in that bulletin.  Some churches have “mission moments” each month, where they take five minutes of the morning service to report on missions.  Sometimes it is a video clip from the missionary on the field.  One of our supporting churches writes me occasionally to set up a Skpe presentation.  The person in charge video’s my greetings to the congregation, activities I am involved in and prayer requests.  They then show that presentation in their morning service.  Posting prayer letters on a board is okay, but it’s not the best approach these days.  People want “real time” updates.  Always remind the congregation how the church’s mission program is funded and how vital there participation to the Great Commission.

Conferences -  Whether you call it a global impact week or discover missions or a missions conference, each year their should be at least one Sunday that is dedicated to the Great Commission effort.  Though the days of having nightly services Wednesday through Sunday is not as effective with 21st century Christians, a week of highlighting the congregations missions effort is still the best way to keep global outreach a priority before the people.  One church I know has bookend Sunday’s.  The fist Sunday sets the tone for the missions emphasis week, with different missionaries speaking in Bible classes and a special speaker for the morning service.  International suppers on Saturday sometimes work as well as a breakfast for men or women to hear a missionary speaker.  Though the attendance may not be high for all venues, the goal is to give opportunity for busy people in the church to pick the forum that fits their need for engaging in missions.  The first Sunday is informational, the second Sunday should be for challenge people to do their part in reaching the world with the Gospel.

Evaluate Annually -  Each year the mission’s team should meet to evaluate the missionaries and projects they support.  Analysis should include their ministry activities the past year, their prayer needs and their support level. 

Prayer – Finally, in all things pray that the Lord of the harvest guide and direct the team and the church in how to be engaged in world missions.  If the church members are praying then it is probably a safe bet they are also giving and going. 

One lady came up to me after a conference and said she just couldn’t wrap her head around missions, that it was vast and complicated, “like the national debt.”  All too often when people think about “taking the Gospel to the whole world,” they are overwhelmed.  They don’t believe God is calling them to be a career missionary and they are dissatisfied with just giving money.  It’s the role of the local church to help each member to recognize they do have a role.  Giving is indeed a part and certainly going.  But being engaged with missionaries and projects may be as simple as getting on Facebook with a missionary family.  Through constant contact people can be informed and pray for those who serve in different parts of the world. 

CONCLUSION

I trust these simple guidelines on how to energize the local church for the Great Commission has been helpful.  Certainly there are many other issues that need to be discussed.  If you have a specific question, please write to me (drrglewis@gmail.com) and I will give you my best opinion, and recognize, it is just my opinion.  God bless, as together we seek to take the blessed hope of Christ to every nation, people and tongue in the world.


Saturday, February 01, 2014

Part III: Analysis and Implentation (D)

 
 So far we have looked at the mission projects the church wants to be involved in, the budget for global outreach and now it is time to determine the dollar amount of support for those projects.

As with earlier topics, when it comes to determining financial contributions, one size does not fit all.  It is the role of the mission’s team to determine global outreach expenditures.  

First, what is the budget of each missionary or missions project?   For a North American missionary family of four, the annual support need will probably range from $50,000 to $70,000.  Obviously it depends where missionaries live in the world.  In developing countries it will obviously be less that developed countries.  The mission’s team must do its homework in understanding how to analyze a missionary’s budget, which would include asking the sending mission agency about cost of living in those countries as well as going to the Internet for cost of living index.   While Kenya may be a developing country, cost of living in Nairobi is much higher than another city in the country.   Obviously a family of four will be different for a single missionary.  My advice is to ask the missionary to help your team understand their financial needs and work accordingly.

This financial analysis also would apply to national missionaries, mission organizations and projects.  If the project is for Sudanese refugees, instead of just responding to the appeal, “$20 dollars will feed a refugee for a month,” find out what their budget is and how the money is spent.  There is always overhead in every project, whether it is the cost of promotion, administration and personnel needs and they are usually legitimate.  An astute mission’s committee (team) should be able to inform the congregation how much a $20 contribution actually goes to feeding the refugees.   

Determining Support Amount

How much to support missionaries and mission projects?  Again, it depends on your scale of priority.   If those missionaries and projects were in the 15 – 20 point scale, perhaps your church would support them 5% of their total budget.  Let’s suppose a missionary or project’s annual need is $65,000 (about $5,500 per month) meaning your church’s monthly contribution would be approximately $270 per month or $3,240 annually.  Perhaps their missionary activity is in the 10-point scale and you want to support those in that group at 3%.  Your support to those people and projects, using the same annual budget would be around $165 per month or $1,950 annually. 

Of course every dollar counts and every contribution is appreciated.  However, some churches have a standard amount of giving no matter the need.  A monthly contribution of $100 means a missionary must find 54 other churches or people to give that amount to reach their budget.  There is always outgoing expenses as well, emergency travel or unforeseen ministry expenses (the breakdown of a vehicle or the sudden devaluation of the local currency).  For the missionary that means they must find at least 60 or 65 donors at that $100 level just to stay current with their financial obligations.  My recommendation is that churches make an attempt to provide at least 3% for each missionary project that is 10 points or more on your scale. For those who are less than 10 points, either discontinue their support or commit to giving them 1% of their support needs.  (There is nothing wrong with supporting the retired missionary living in Omaha, if that is what they need to live on.  After all, they were faithful servants representing your church for 40 years. )

When is the last time you gave your missionary a raise?  A church supporting a missionary $75 per month since 1980 is actually contributing, adjusting for inflation, approximately $26.40.

No matter how you analyze your mission program one thing is clear…the support should be focused and intentional.  Who, what, how much, should be a process.  I believe that if the local church leadership will treat missions in a serious, prayerful and thoughtful way, it will energize the whole body of believers for the Great Commission.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Part III: Analysis and Implementation (C)


How does a church body determine their support?  We have discussed the “who” or “what” to support, but there needs to be a discussion on how much.

Mission Budget for Local Church - Determine how much your church is engaged in giving to foreign missions.  Most of the studies have concluded that most churches in America give less than 5% of all income to mission causes and less that 2% is dedicated to the unreached/unevangelized people of the world.  The first task of the missions team is to determine how much your local body gives to foreign missions.

Most churches believe that 10% of a Christian’s income, the tithe, is a good standard for faithful giving.  Though the average throughout the Western church giving to missions is a nickel out of every dollar, I would suggest that the missions team move the local church to give a tithe, a dime, to the Great Commission cause.  (My apologies for my bias, but a part of that 10 cents should not include home missions or local evangelistic outreach, but money actually going outside the continental U.S.  If the church desires to support AWANA or a homeless shelter, which they should, then it should be separate from the 10% dedicated to missions). 

Some churches, though admittedly few, take 10% out of every Sunday’s contributions and place that into the mission fund.  That is probably the best way to do it, reminding the congregation every Sunday morning that their contributions truly are used to take the Gospel around town and around the world.  I have one donor church that gives 15% of their monthly income and if the offerings are up, so is my support, and visa-versa.

 Another approach is for the church to have an annual missions budget.  If a church’s annual income is $100,000, between the missions committee (team) and elders a decision is made each year how much will go to missions.  Hopefully, it’s a least $10,000. 

Some churches have what is called Faith Promise for supporting their missionary program.  Each year these churches have a mission conference and at the end of the conference the congregation gives a faith promise pledge (by faith, as the Lord provides, above their tithe and offerings, they will give a certain amount of money to missions.)  In the past it was a very effective way to energize the congregation for the Great Commission.  In today’s world, people often don’t attend mission conferences so this approach is waning.

No matter what method you use in analyzing the missions budget, it is critical for the church to know its global outreach budget.  We believe this is key to business, home and even government finance, to have a budget and work within that budget and I believe it should be true with the church as well.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Part III: Analysis/Implementation (B)


In any business, and, since missions is part of the King’s business therefore requires the same amount of earnest attention as though it was for-profit venture, decisive decisions must be made.  It does no good to go through the process of analysis of missionary personnel or projects if you are not going to act on its findings.  The tough work of actually doing something with the teams findings is one of the great failings of the church.  The implementation of this lesson is crucial, so read carefully.

Determine who fits within your church’s focus and purpose.  It’s inevitable there will be some on the support list that is outside the purpose of your missions outreach.  It is important that the church supports only the people and projects which is clearly an interest.  So, unfortunately, this will mean discontinue the support of some people.  How is this done?


DO NOT DROP ANY MISSIONARY OR MISSIONS SUPPORT IMMEDIATELY.  You made a commitment to these people and projects, even if was twenty years ago, so honor that commitment until they are home in the states.  I believe it is unethical to discontinue support to a missionary if they have no means of raising of lost funds. 

Write a letter stating that because of shift in focus and purpose, your church will no longer be able to continue their support.  However, your church will continue their support until they return home and write them and ask specifically when they will be home.  Many missionaries do not take a year off these days for furlough, so even if they are home for a month or the summer, give them at least that amount of time to count on the support from your church.  If it is a project, rather than an individual (a orphanage in Peru), give that project a year before discontinuance.  There are some projects you may be able to discontinue immediately, such as the youth camp in New Mexico.  Be wise and compassionate in everything you do.

I have had my share of “donor attrition” and I can tell you that no matter how gracious you are in crafting your letter of discontinuance, it will be a blow to the missionary.  Raising support is difficult and not fun.  It’s hard not to take the dropping of support personally.  So, be prepared for all types of reaction.

Over a period of time funds for the projects and people you want to support will become available.  Begin to pray about the people and projects your church wants to partner with.  Make good decisions upfront and you won’t have to write letters of discontinuance in the future

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Part III: Analysis/Implementation (A)


Now that the mission team has gone through the process of defining the purpose of missions for their local congregation, educated themselves in missions through Perspectives and reading, it’s time to implement a comprehensive global program.

Based on your three top priories in missions, who and what projects you now support.  Are they in line with your missions goals?  Let me give you an example (not based on any church I know…random thoughts).  Here is a list of a common mission projects:

1.     Church planting family in Bolivia working with the Quechua.
2.     Youth camp in Albuquerque
3.     Teacher of English in Beijing
4.     Crisis Pregnancy clinic in the city
5.     Retired missionary couple in Omaha (served 40 years in Botswana)
6.     Missionary with orphanage in India
7.     Bible/tract printing in Cambodia
8.     Bible teacher in Lebanon
9.     Single woman missionary in Mexico
10. Agricultural project in Mali (West Africa)


Let’s suppose that your evaluation scale looks something like this:

Church planter -                                 10 points
Unreached people or country             10 points
Church planting facilitator                    8 points
Administration/support                         5
Evangelism                                           5
Social work                                          3
Other                                                   1


Now let’s evaluate your present mission projects


1. Church planting couple in Bolivia – Their score would be 20, as they are involved in church planting among an unreached people group.

2. Youth camp in Albuquerque: Score 1 – My thought that not everything that is outside the local church budget should be paid for from the missions budget.  If the church feels strongly about this youth camp then it should funded through general offerings.

3. Teacher in Beijing 10 points for working in restricted country, perhaps 8 points for facilitating church planting or church growth, depending on what they are teaching and interaction with the local church.  If they are just teaching English with no specific outreach perhaps only a 3

4. Crisis Pregnancy clinic in the city –  Score 1, same as youth camp.

5. Retired missionary couple in Omaha (served 50 years in Botswana) Score 1.  Is this retired couple dependent on support to live?  If so, perhaps a stipend, depending on the relation of the church it has with former missionaries and for how long.   This is one of those emotional issues you will have to work through.

6 Missionary with orphanage in India Very much like the teacher in China, if it is a specific outreach to a community of Hindus or Muslims, 10 and 8 points.  If it is a stand-alone project perhaps 3

7. Bible/tract printing in Cambodia 5 points for evangelism, 10 points for unreached people.  If, however, it is just a printing press without any tie to outreach 5 points

8. Bible teacher in Lebanon – Probably a score of 18, unreached area of the world, facilitating church growth and, hopefully the planting of new churches.

Single woman missionary working with women in the church or seminary in Mexico - score 8  as a facilitator in an evangelized country.

Family involved in an agricultural project in Mali (West Africa).   If the project is associated with the national church as a means of outreach to Muslims, score it as a 20.  If it is just teaching people how to farm with no tie into outreach give it a score of 3.

Well, I think you have an idea of how to go about it.  You no doubt will create your own evaluation method as it fits your church context.  But an assessment system is important as you continue to work the process of making your missions program more effective. 

How do you gain information on missionaries and projects and their work?  First, read all the letters they have sent to your church over the past two years.  If you are not keeping these updates, shame on you.  There should be a file (and in these days of electronic filing is easy to keep missionary reports), and so go through these files and read carefully what is happening on the field.  If you don’t receive regular reports then write them a personal letter saying, in a non-threatening way, “Hey, haven’t heard from you in awhile.  What’s happening with you and your family and the ministry you are involved in?”  DO NOT SEND OUT A QUESTIONNAIRE.  Missionaries hate these things and, quite frankly, if the supporting church has been paying attention to the missionaries or organizational reports, you won’t need to send out a questionnaire.  Of course, relationships are the key to an effective missions program.  If your church members are engaged in missions, at least with regular updates, then you probably have a good idea what’s happening on the field.   Of course, when the missionary is home on furlough (home assignment) you will as a team have a perfect time to learn more about what they are doing on the field.

Next post will be on what do to with the information you have acquired.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Part II: Mission Team Education


The old adage, “A stream will only rise as high as its source,” is appropriate at this juncture of our discussion.   As a missions team you are charged with guiding the congregation toward an effective global outreach.  A congregation will only rise in its understanding of missions as to those who guide them.  Therefore, it’s imperative that the missions team of the local church be knowledgeable of the issues of global outreach.  As stated before, ad nauseam, determining the support or need of a missionary or project, should not be an emotional exercise.  The team should go back to their purpose statement, its focus of missions and then equip themselves with solid information to shepherd the congregation.

As with any education program, being astute in missions takes a conscious effort.  Here are some tips on how the missions team of the church can upgrade their knowledge of missions.

Perspectives on the World Christian Movement is a sixteen week course that is offered throughout the country.  These classes usually are two to three hours long and meet just one day a week.  In these classes the students learn the history of missions, the theology of missions, cultural aspects of missions and the types of missions that is done throughout the world.  Churches or colleges host these classes and there is a different speaker for every session.  Those who do the lectures are missionaries, missiologist and other well-informed people in the mission community.  I cannot think of a better introduction to missions for the team than committing to attending these Perspective classes.  In fact, I would even suggest that it be a mandatory requirement for anyone wanting to be a part of the local mission team.

Operation World is a handbook of every country in the world, who are the reached and unreached peoples in those countries and the mission organizations that are presently serving in those fields.   This resource is especially helpful in guiding potential missionaries looking for support. The local church might guide interested people for missions to the agencies and countries that fit their, and your, goals in missions.  Of course another task of the missions team is learning about the missions agencies.  After all, you wouldn’t want to recommend people join something that you have not first investigated.

On my blog site there is a daily-unreached group profile.  The Joshua Project provides these profile updates.  This helpful website provides detailed information about people and their need in hearing the Gospel.

Another avenue for education is reading.  William Carey Library is dedicated to producing books helping missionaries and mission-minded people understand the issues facing today’s global outreach.  Perhaps a monthly assigned reading for each member of the missions team would be beneficial. 

Too many churches in the U.S. depend on their denomination for their world outreach program.  Though the denominational mission department has validity, I don’t see anywhere in the Scripture where the role of the Great Commission is in the hands of anyone except the local body of believers.  That would be true with mission organizations in which the local church may partner with.  The local church and missions team should take ownership of what type of people they will send and what people group they are being sent to.  The education process is vital.  Yes, it will take effort and time, but I believe the missions team and the local church be energized for the Great Commission through mission awareness. 

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Lesson 9: Short-Term Mission Trips


The missions team is responsible for guiding the local church body in making their outreach as effective as it can in the task of the Great Commission.  One project that is very popular among North American churches today is supporting and sending short-term teams.  With limited resources that are available in the church, what role does and should be in funding short-term missions projects?

By way of definition, a broad description of short-term missions is a person or group who goes to countries for from ten days to two weeks.  The activities of these short-term projects range from building churches, working in orphanages, evangelism, medical work and youth camps.  These projects certainly can help the national church in their growth and outreach.  The question before the missions committee is one of priority, not necessarily its strategic impact. 

For the most part, short-term missions are beneficial (a) to those who go on these trips and (b) to help the local national church.  As to the first part, the question should be asked is “how” does it help the short-termer? For those who go on short-term trips, do they come back more engaged in world outreach through prayer or giving?  It’s hard to quantify these results, but there should be some measure of accountability when designing a short-term trip.  I have heard the argument that many career missionaries today are a result of them taking a short-term trip to the mission field.  While I do believe this has merit, throughout the history of missions most people who gave their lives to missions did so without visiting the field first.  For every one person who commits to becoming a career missionary after a short-term trip, a hundred, or more, do not. 

It is true that short-term projects do help the national church as the western team provides funds and encouragement to the local people.  The flip side of this help, however, can lead to apathy on the part of the local Christians.  If the church in the west provides support for the local church, does that take away the incentive of the national Christian to be involved?  Why should a struggling, poor African church member support missions or their pastor if they know that the Americans are doing it?  It’s a delicate issue not easily resolved.

Caring for orphans or giving medicine to the sick might be humanitarian, but how do these well-intended programs advance the Kingdom?  If social projects are not directly tied to the outreach of the local church then does it violate the core purpose of missions?

These are philosophical issues the missions team in the local church must wrestle with.  However, the main thing a missions team must determine is, again, with the limited resources that is available for missions, what percentage of the budget should be allocated to short-term projects.  Of course my bias is that a greater portion of support should go to those who are living on the field, learning the language, struggling with culture and planting churches among the most unreached peoples of the world.

It is my belief that short-termer’s should pay for their own trips and it not be a part of the few missions dollars that is in the mission fund.  Sending out letters by short-term missionaries to fund a ten-day trip to other members in the congregation often take away from long term mission projects.  Bottom line, I do believe short-term projects can be helpful, but for the missions team, funding these activities should further down the list of priorities.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Lesson 8: Supporting Nationals



The trend in U.S. missions for a time was supporting national missionaries rather than American missionaries.  A popular advertisement by a national initiative went so far as to state clearly that it would be better if the western missionary stayed home and just send support for national missionaries.  Their rational was that supporting national missionaries was more cost effective and strategic.  Rather than supporting an American $200 a month, that same amount of money could support 10 national evangelists.  The argument continues that nationals already know the language and culture and so it makes more sense to invest where you can, again, get more bang for the missions buck in supporting national missionaries.

The problem with this argument is two-fold.  In today’s economic world very few national missionaries can live on the paltry support that is advertised.  While there may be a national evangelist working in a village that can live on less than $50 a month, most cannot survive on that income if they have a family and it certainly is not adequate for a national living in most towns and cities. 

The second weakness of this theory is that, though the national may be from that culture does not mean they know either the targeted people group or the language. 

One of the reasons I became a facilitator to the national church was due to what a prominent national leader in India said to me several years back.  This brother was one of those who, in essence said, “American stay home, just send money.”  Through a mutual friend we had a meeting in which this leader asked if I would come to their seminary and teach cross-cultural church planting.  Knowing his reputation, I asked him why he would invite me, an American, to teach.  His reply was revealing.  “We are supporting hundreds of evangelists throughout India, Bhutan and Nepal,” he stated, “but we’re not really having much success reaching Hindus, Sikhs or Muslims.  Many times our evangelist from the south go up north and work among non-Christians from their home districts, nominal Christians and tribal’s.  We don’t know how to serve cross-culturally.”

Cross-cultural missionaries are just that, taking the Gospel across cultural, linguistic, religious, caste, tribe boundaries.  Every missionary, no matter where they are from in the world, must learn how to serve cross-culturally, even in his or her own country.  Just sending money to national missionaries does not make them more effective. 

There are certainly many worthy national ministries that are worthy of support.  However, as I stated earlier, the missions teams responsibility is to investigate those national programs.  Not built on emotion, analysis of the national organization should include their purpose, their structure (do they have a board or belong to a national accountability network) and their finances.  There is nothing paternalistic in asking these questions.  Quite honestly, when it comes to Americans and national church workers, most Americans are woefully na├»ve. 

Indeed, the western church has been, and still is, guilty of paternalism.  If your church enters into a financial partnership with a national ministry recognize, beyond a standard yearly financial report, your contribution should not have strings attached and your church should not micro-manage how money is spent.  If you give to any program, national or local, there is a certain amount of trust that should be a part of any partnership.  Trust is built over time, so do your homework, be diligent in knowing what you are funding and then trust that your national co-worker is using your investment wisely.

Because of my role in world outreach, I have many wonderful partners throughout the world.  Some of these co-workers I help financially.  Though I get requests for financial help routinely, I never give to a cause that I don’t anything about.  

As a missions team, do your homework.  Ask for references, visit the project on the field with someone who understands the context, not just the need.  Spend much time in prayer, asking the Lord to give your team discernment.