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. 


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.  

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Lesson 7: Harvest and Seed Sowing

As we continue the discussion on the purpose of missions in the local church, let us turn to a more philosophical consideration…harvest ministry and seed sowing ministries.

Oswald J. Smith, the late pastor of the People’s Church in Toronto, Canada, famously stated, “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice while before everyone has heard it once?”  It was a great question 40 years ago and it’s still a great question today.

As I stated in the last post, 3.6 billion people in the world have never met a Christian.  Additionally, it is said that 90% of all Christian resources (time, money, ministry) are committed to 95% of the world that has already heard the gospel.  Less than 5% of the church’s resources go to those who have never heard the message of Christ.

It is understandable that people want to give to “harvest” ministries.  A pastor recently stated, “I want to know where in the world God is moving.  Our people need to invest in places where people are being saved and the churches are growing.”  In crass terms the attitude of giving to harvest ministries is an attempt to get more “bang for the buck.”  There is nothing wrong with investing where God is moving.  However, like all things in this discussion, knowing where to invest requires (a) balance and (b) education (which we will discuss in a later post).

I lived and worked in Kenya.  At one time there were more foreign missionaries per capita in Kenya than any other country in Africa.  The reason for so much missionary activity is clear…the people are receptive to the Gospel and the weather is wonderful.  Yet, even in Kenya there are pockets of people that have never had a missionary presence because they are resistant to the Gospel, mostly Muslims, and they live in harsh and even dangerous areas of the country.  On any given summer the country of Kenya is bombarded with short-term missions from America to work in the slums of Nairobi or in orphanages.  However, few, if any, are going to the unreached areas of country.  There are so many churches and denominations in some parts of Kenya that missions is now a competitive game; each group trying to out-do others in programs that will attract more foreign money.  Of course Kenya is not the only place this is happening, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Philippines and Mexico come to mind as well. 

On the other side of the missions ledger are the ministries in countries that are considered resistant, where there are not many gospel gains, not many converts.  Those who serve in these parts of the world labor among Muslims, Hindus and Buddhist.  In many ways these missionaries are working in hard soil, digging to plant a seed of Good News that may or may not be realized in their lifetime, if ever.  If a local church invests their money into these resistant areas of the world they may not feel they are maximizing the bang for the buck, but then again, it depends on how one defines the Great Commission task.

Most mission minded people know the stories of the pioneer missionaries of the William Carey or Adoniram Judson and Hudson Taylor.  Each one of these seed sowing missionaries did not see a convert to Christ for nearly a decade and, in Judson case, even after twenty years had but a handful of followers of Christ. 

In today’s world we seem to be less patient, as well as less strategic in our missions goals.  If your church determines to invest in those who serve in difficult places, they must be resolute to gauge their investment in terms of small gains in missions rather than great reports of the masses coming to Christ.

As stated earlier, the missions team should seek balance in making these decisions.  I do not believe it is wise to invest entirely in either harvest or seed sowing ministries.  If God is working in places such as Nepal, South Sudan, China, where the church populations is new, small but growing, these are places to truly assess for investment.  At the same time, where there is no harvest but opportunity, such as Senegal, Laos or Bangladesh, consider these ministries as well.

A good verse to guide in this discussion is 1 Corinthians 3:6-9 where Paul discusses the issue of harvest ministries, I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.  It’s not important who does the planting, or who does the watering. What’s important is that God makes the seed grow. The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.  For we are both God’s workers. And you are God’s field. You are God’s building."  

Monday, January 06, 2014

Lesson 6: Social Work...Helping the Poor

Perhaps the most popular project for churches and individuals in missions is social work.  These acts of goodness come in the form of feeding programs, orphanages, medical work, agricultural projects and a whole host of niche projects such as rescuing women from the sex trade, outreach to AIDS victims and seasonal projects for earthquake victims, tsunami’s and hurricane relief.

One of the great challenges of career missionaries is to balance the need to help those who are poor and desperate and making sure that the Gospel is not lost in the process.  As I stated earlier, missions is an emotional issue and it is sometimes exploited with pictures of suffering and starving children. 

Working in the semi-nomadic region of Kenya the people we worked with (Pokot and Turkana) were always on the verge of disaster.  Depending on their cattle and goats for their livelihood, if there were a drought year people suffered hunger and disease.   The Turkana have a saying, “The stomach has no ears,” which translates…”If I am hungry I cannot listen to anything.”  To turn a blind eye to the suffering of the people and just preach to them would be of no benefit and would indeed be against the very gospel we proclaim – “If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be that person?” (1 John 3:17).

On the other side of the issue, Jesus was well aware that many came to him, not to receive salvation but not healing.  Jesus replied, "I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs” (John 6:26 NLT).  “Rice Christians” have been a concern for career missionaries for centuries.  The tension continues between wanting to help people in desperate situations yet at the same time not using food, clothing, medical assistance, care for widows or children as a tool to draw people to church or baptism.

The role of the local church mission team is to be (1) educated on missionary social work and (2) discerning as the team becomes more knowledgeable of missionary social work.  Your missions team should function very much like a charitable foundation that gives millions of dollars to good causes.  When a foundation receives a request for funds they put the effort, or do-diligence, to make sure the funds are used efficiently and those who receive money have a track record of integrity.  Charitable foundations do not grant monies based on emotion.

Missionary social work is attractive because Christian people, for the most part, are compassionate and caring people.  Who isn’t inspired with a Mother Teresa helping the poorest of the poor, or who is not willing to fill a shoebox full of toys for needy kids all over the world?  But social work also is trendy and, in some cases, often abused.  Orphanage ministries in Africa and India can be legitimate, or it can be just a source of foreign revenue for the national organization.  It is the task of the mission team to do do-diligence to make sure they are legitimate.  Feeding the poor is noble, but does our charity help or hurt (recommended reading, “When Helping Hurts”  by Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert)? 

Social work is, in some ways, the easiest work of missions.  Starting a school for children, a work program for widows, digging wells (all good stuff) is more rewarding than trying to establish a church among the Hindus or Muslims.  During the severe drought in northern Kenya and Ethiopia one missionary related to me that he could raise thousands of dollars to feed the starving but no one was interested in helping him finish the church building.

In discerning need, it is important that the mission team find balance.  There is certainly are worthy social work that must be done to demonstrate the love of Christ.  At the same time there are 3.6 billion people in this world who have never met a Christian.  In every missionary endeavor the prevailing goal should be, how do we reach those have not yet heard of His grace?

Thursday, January 02, 2014

Lesson 5: Support Ministries

Probably the largest activity of missionaries is supporting the “machinery” of missions, which we call support ministries.  Administrators, teachers, guesthouse operators, printing Bibles or tracts, radio and television ministries and even translators of Scripture are what I would consider to be second tier ministries.  All of these support ministries and helpful as they are a part of the body that serves overseas.  Without support ministries many church planting programs would not exist.

Teachers – When we lived in Kenya our daughters attended Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids.  RVA is an old school, started around the time of Teddy Roosevelt, which serves missionary families all over Africa.  In today’s world the option of home schooling is available but providing for MK education is still not easy for missionaries working in remote parts of the world.  If it were not for the missionaries of RVA to serve missionary kids our work would have been more difficult.  There are schools for missionary kids all over the globe and some of them are in remote areas.  Teachers on the mission field are one category of support ministries.

Translators – Translating the Scriptures into the “heart” language of the people is an important mission undertaking.  Though not as essential as it was one hundred years ago, there are still many languages that do not have the Bible in their own mother tongue.  According to Wycliffe, there 180 million people who do not have the Scriptures in their language.  That does not mean they do not have access to God’s Word.  Though the Scriptures may not be translated into a tribal language, the people may still have God’s Word in Spanish, French, English, Hindi, Swahili, etc.  Wycliffe, and other translation missionaries, are also involved in literacy programs.

Administrators – Wherever there is a large missionary presence on a field you will find administrators.  I know many mission organizations that have team or field leaders which oversee the work and activity of the missionary community in the country. 

The job description of support missionaries is too numerous to mention.  The challenge for the missions team of the local sending church is recognize that there is a difference in missionary activity and to write a guideline on what type of support ministries they want to promote.  Though most missionary projects are valuable, not all are equal.  It is up to the local church mission team to decide who and how much the church body wants to be involved with.  

What about feeding the poor?  Next post I will discuss missionary “social work.”

Monday, December 30, 2013

Lesson 4: Discipleship, Equipping and Training

The theme of the January 2014 issue of Evangelical Missions Quarterly (EMQ) emphasizes the importance of training, equipping, discipling (you choose your term) of nationals.  It’s a theme that most cross-cultural workers are keenly aware.  Even when I was living in Kenya thirty years ago, I understood that planting a church (evangelism, preaching) is only one step in the process of our Lord’s commission, and equally important was the admonishment to baptize and teach the new converts “all things which I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20).  Why is discipling so important? 

First, because in many places of the world the church is truly “a mile wide and an inch deep.”  Statistically most of the Christians in the world now live in what is described as the “majority south” (Africa and Latin America).  In terms of sheer numbers this is encouraging as it is a testimony of God’s blessings on the work of early pioneer missionaries.  The faithfulness of those men and women who forged into areas of the then unknown world to take the Gospel is now revealed in a harvest of people who claim to be followers of Christ.  However, perhaps a weakness of those early missionaries, and what is being repeated in today’s missionary effort, is the lack of discipleship and especially pastoral, theological, biblical training.

I have visited and worked in ten African countries.  In some places where the Gospel has been well received a vast number of Christians know little about the Scriptures.  Africans are emotional and expressive and it is reflected throughout their culture, including the church.  While the music and dance is colorful and entertaining, it is possible to sit through a two-hour service without hearing God’s Word read one time.  A church that is mile wide and inch deep results in false doctrine, heresy and one wonders if they truly know Christ as their Lord.  Discipling must be coupled with evangelism.

Second, because historically the mission effort has been on evangelism and not equipping the saints for the ministry (Ephesians 4:12), there is a gaping hole in national leadership.  As was cited in EMQ, one of the largest evangelical denominations in Ethiopia, seven million members with eight thousand congregations, report only seven percent of the pastors in those churches have had any theological training at all.  The evidence of why biblical training is important can be ratified by such statistics. 

What can the church do about this need for training/discipleship national leaders?  First, we need more teachers to go to the field.  The Western church needs to put a priority on equipping the saints.  Second, churches in America can help in discipling by supporting national seminaries and colleges.   

As your missions team assembles to map out your local church world outreach, pay attention to those who are going out with a focus on “teaching them to observe all things which I have commanded you.”

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Define Your Purpose: The Third Lesson in Creating a Missions Program

After you have assembled your team for missions, the first item on the docket to discuss is the fundamental questions, what are we trying to accomplish in missions?  In my classes I routinely remind my students “hazy goals will produce, at best, hazy results.”  If missionaries surrender their lives to overseas service they should at least have a plan for where they are going, what people group they are going to serve and what ministry they will be involved in that process.  If this is true for missionaries going, it certainly should be true for sending churches as well.  So, what’s the plan?

Here are three things to consider when creating a mission policy or guidelines.

1.     What type of work do we want to support?
2.     Who do want we want to focus on in terms of mission outreach?
3.     Who are the best people to help us reach out world outreach goals?

Mission Work

There are about as many mission activities as there are missionaries on the field.  Most of them are worthy of support.  Unfortunately no church can be involved in every mission ministry so it is important to choose what type of ministry is most important and focus on those programs.  I would suggest that you limit your support to two, possibly three, projects.

Church Planting – The heart of Christianity is the local assembly of believers.  Our Lord’s Great Commission was for His followers to go into the entire world, present the good news of His salvation, baptize those who choose to follow Him and then disciple those new believers in God’s Word.  There is no other singular important ministry that is more vital than establishing local congregations.  Of all the ministries your mission committee will consider the one question that should be asked is, “how does this ministry contribute to the establishing of the church?” 

Evangelistic ministries are worthwhile but evangelism does not plant churches.  It’s been said that you can do evangelism and not plant a church, but you can’t plant a church without evangelism.  Too many evangelistic programs are stand-alone programs.  The printings of tracks, radio or television programs and open-air evangelistic meetings are most effective when they are tied to the church planting process. 

Discipleship programs within themselves are not church planting projects.  Orphanages, rescue shelters, feeding programs, youth camps, seminaries and countless numbers of other ministry programs (which I will address later), though helpful, are not church planting programs.  As a missions team, you should always have at the forefront of your thinking, “how does this ministry aid in the establishing of a church?”

Types Of Church Planters

Pioneer Church Planters – A pioneer church planter is one who goes to a defined location and a people where there are few or no churches.  That was my job description when we moved to Kenya in 1976.  After language school I worked among two tribal groups called the Pokot and Turkana.  Both of these tribal groups lived in remote semi-desert regions of the northwest, bordering near Uganda and South Sudan.  The roads were often impassible, not easily accessible.  As a result of their remoteness there were few churches among the people and very few missionaries working among them.  For fourteen years I went to the towns and villages and established twelve congregations through witness, evangelism and discipling.

Two hundred years ago most Western missionaries did pioneer work, but that is no longer the case today.  Most Western missionaries are involved in other types of ministry, but there are still a few that do pioneer church planting. 

Facilitative Church Planters -  The reason there are fewer American pioneer church planters is because in many places of the world it is the national missionaries and pastors who are engaged in pioneer outreach.  There are, however, Western missionaries who come alongside the national church and help facilitate pioneer church planting efforts.  The FCP missionaries teach, disciple and promote the work of national church planting. 

After leaving Kenya as a resident pioneer missionary, I became a non-resident facilitative church planter.  There are several seasoned veteran missionaries with experience and expertise, like myself, who now train nationals in how to plant churches.  In my case, because I have worked in over 50 countries, I bring a perspective in training that comes with age.

It should be noted that not all discipling ministries are FCP.  Many short-term ministries from North Americans today are engaged in teaching marriage seminars, teaching a Bible course in a college or a two week children’s programs.  Much of those programs is taught from a mono-cultural Western perspective that is not contextual, and therefore could not be classified as FCP activity.

To recap, the role of a church planter is one who establishes or helps establish a congregation.  A pure church planting missionary, be they Western or national, does not pastor a church for an extended period of time, their focus in multiplying congregations, not a single assembly.  Like the Apostle Paul, a pioneer church planter is always on the move, with a focus of establishing another church in the next town or region.

As we will see later, other ministries can and should point to establishing a church.  

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Part One in Developing a Missions Program: Create a Team

There are two common approaches to determining the mission program of the local church.  The first is pastor led.  In many congregations the pastor determines which missionaries will be invited to be a part of a mission conference or speak before the congregation.  In some cases, the pastor has the authority to take on missionaries for support or pledge money to a project without the congregation voting on such projects.  The second approach is through committees.  Committees are important, but many times committees can be cumbersome and time consuming. 

I personally do not have a problem with either approach as long as the pastor or the committee know the issues of missions and its complexity.  I will no doubt say this many times in the course of this series, but missions is for the most part an emotional exercise and that is unfortunate.  For a mission program to be successful the emotion of ministry (serving the poor, or having a warm feeling for a family of six going to Congo), must be eliminated. 

Because “committee” has a negative connotation in some quarters, I suggest that the local body create a team, which is a trend concept that fits well in today’s twenty-first century vocabulary.

The reason to create a team on missions for the local church is, first, it fosters inclusion and a sense of belonging into the life of the church.  Not everyone has the talent or ability to teach a class or be a part of the worship team.  However, they want to serve Christ and being a part of a world outreach program gives them a sense of belonging.  Second, group decisions give balance to any project.  If the decisions of world evangelism are just in the hands of the senior staff it may not have a balanced approach.  Third, if the rest of the body is aware there is a missions team that is giving direction in the congregation, theoretically, they will have more confidence that missions is not just another program that the church is doing.


First, they should be people who are active participants of the congregation.  By that I mean they attend regularly and support their congregation financially. 

Second, they should be interested in global outreach.  Between ten and fifteen percent of people in any congregation, including liberal non-evangelical churches, are interested in missions in one form or another.  We can safely say that there is the same percentage of people in any congregation that are not interested nor engaged in missions of any kind.  Obviously the first place to look for a mission team would be people who are already interested global outreach.

The makeup of the missions team should be a combination of older and younger people, male and female.  I don’t think it’s imperative that the senior pastor is a part of the team, but I also know that if the pastor or senior leadership of the church is disinterested in missions it will be very difficult for the program to advance in an effective way.  One mission policy I am aware of state that at least one person in the leadership, be they a deacon or elder, be on the mission team.

Start off by announcing to the congregation that a missions team is being formed and all those who are interested meet.  If there are people in the church that is known to be interested in missions, they should be encouraged to attend the meeting.  At the first gathering you might prepare a questionnaire for those in attendance as a guide.  Here is a sample questionnaire.

1.     Have you ever served on a missions team/committee before?  Yes – No

2.     Do you presently support missions either through the church or outside of the local congregation?  Yes – No

3.     What type of missions are you most interested in?  (a) local missions (b) foreign missions (c) Bible translation (d) church planting (d) social action – orphanages, feeding program etc. (e) Other (explain) ________________________

4.     Would you be willing to take a course in missions provided by the church to be a part of this team?

5.     Name one part of the world or people group that most interest you?

This is the beginning, step one in creating a good mission program for your church.  We will visit the purpose of the team in the next post.