Monday, March 17, 2008

Preparing Your Church to Send

Counting the Costs and Staying the Course

By Jerry McAtee, Executive Director,
Missions Together, Inc.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Peter exploded with his good news: "It's God's own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you're from-if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open. The Message he sent to the children of Israel-that through Jesus Christ everything is being put together again-well, he's doing it everywhere, among everyone." Acts 10:34-36 (The Message, Eugene H. Peterson)

This remarkable text in Acts is a very simple yet sober reminder that "if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open". This statement is loaded with responsibility, blessings and opportunities.

Visionaries can easily get many churches excited about assuming responsibility of sending missionaries to foreign lands to share the Gospel with those who have never heard. I love the visionaries; however, once they exit the scene, they leave behind the difficult work of planning and implementation. On the surface, all is exciting, wonderful and very spiritual. However, as we start unpacking the layers of meaning of the words "and are ready", the message becomes somewhat more daunting and serious. What does it mean to say "and are ready"?

There are a number of things to consider before a church commits to the role of becoming the sending entity of missionaries from their congregation. The church must count the cost and be committed for the long haul.

It is essential that process and structure be established that will not be dependent on a pastor or key leaders if and when they leave the church. A missionary or a missionary family living in a foreign land should not have to worry about their church giving up, should unstable and negative circumstances evolve in the supporting church.

A strong, well thought out plan and commitment needs to be built around people in the church who will implement and maintain the process on a long-term basis. From the start, the church will want to seek God's leadership in the selection of multiple individuals in the church who will be committed to supporting and continuing the ministry of sending missionaries. In the beginning, the list of potential committee members might be long; however, it will be pared down as certain characteristics are sought.

Committee members must have track records of sound leadership, stability, faithfulness and spiritual maturity. Each member should have a heart for missions and demonstrate a strong prayer life. They will have a history of "sticking" with a project long term and of demonstrating their ability to keep confidential information. Committee members will be opinion shapers in the church. As a former marine friend said, "They are the people that you would want in a fox hole with you".

A church must consider the costs. Placing an individual or a family with children in a foreign setting requires that the church understand the responsibilities and the investment of time into the process from the start to the end. It will take a lot of hard work, prayer, time, money, meetings, networking, partnering, hard decisions, communication, vision, planning, networking, partnering, training, personal sacrifice and evaluation. Most of all it will take the ability to stick to the task for the long haul.

A comprehensive missionary candidate screening process is vital. No church does an individual a service by sending them to a foreign setting to live and work if the individual does not have the gifting emotionally, spiritually or physically to succeed. This involves physical and psychological screening. Granted, no system is perfect. However, with consistent and reliable references and experienced personnel to implement the process, the obvious issues can be caught early. Be prepared to say no to individuals who do not qualify.

A church will be well served to have crucial networking and partnering relationships in order to provide training to the missionaries. Subjects for consideration might include cross-cultural communication, vocational training, language learning, theological/ missiological training, strategy coordination/ implementation, team building, partnership, stress/ conflict management, marriage enrichment, family and group dynamics in a foreign setting, spiritual growth and networking. Support relationships can also provide technological support for international communication, technology and public information distribution regarding their mission work.

The congregation will want to work toward developing networking and partnering relationships that will enable placement of personnel in strategic foreign settings. Along with this, such networking can make it possible to connect their missionaries with local support groups in their country location.

An emotional and spiritual support group should be established for missionaries before and after they get to the filed assignment. Multiple meetings can be held prior to leaving in order to establish mutual support, love and respect. Ongoing communication between the support group and missionaries should continue using email, phones and other modern day communications methods. The missionary should be provided at least one or more points of contact on a 24-hour basis for times of emergency circumstances.

A vital part of the church's networking and partnering consideration will be the need for an action plan that will meet emergency needs for the missionary family. There are excellent Christian organizations that can assist a family or individual during political unrest, medical emergencies and family emergencies of various types.

The sending church will need to design and implement a reliable process for receiving and distributing funding for salaries and projects for the missionaries. A credible and professional handling of all finances is essential for everyone involved.

Before the missionaries arrive on the field, accountability and reporting expectations should be agreed on by all parties involved. This will involve "reasonable" and periodic reporting to the supporting church and to those who provide financial resources.

When applicable, security guidelines should be developed and agreed on between all parties prior to the missionaries leaving their home country for their field assignment. In many areas of the world, secure communications becomes vital to safety and successful fulfillment of one's calling. This will include, among other things, an understanding of how the church will communicate publicly about the missionary's work.

There are other topics that could be covered, but this is a start. God expects us to be found faithful to the calling and complete the task set before us. May the Lord richly bless you as you prepare your church to send.


Post a Comment

<< Home