by Phil Parshall
The word “dropout” can render service in any number of contexts. Most likely it will take you an additional three paragraphs to plug in, or should I say “drop in” to this writer’s use of the term.
Oh, just another article on the emotional, physical and spiritual stresses that synchronize to perpetuate the shockingly high missionary attrition rate. Hold on! The word "dropout" can render service in any number of contexts. Most likely it will take you an additional three paragraphs to plug in, or should I say "drop in" to this writer’s use of the term.
Here comes typical Missionary Joe fresh from being grounded in the Word at a leading North American bible School. Added to this dynamic exposure of biblical truth is a stint at a conservative liberal arts Christian college. Well-rounded, reasonably degreed, heart warmed and vision uplifted, friend Joe moves out. He is cognizant of Wagner’s Body Evangelism, Gerber’s Venezuelan Experiment, E-1, E2 and even E-3. McGavran homogenous "heterogeneous" are no longer unpronounceables, while TEE is as familiar as MARC.
A syndrome can be defined as a forward movement in a downward direction. Its influence can be overt and overbearing, or, conversely, it may prove to be covert and insidious. For our purposes the latter characterization proves more appropriate. So–is your curiosity aroused? Let me proceed to define by illustration the "Missionary Dropout Syndrome."
Step One: Missionary Joe arrives in Cumhelpus vibrant with enthusiasm. He is zealous for souls, language, culture, and of course, keen to remain in touch with all the latest missiological brainstorms sparkling forth from sunny Pasadena! But unfortunately, our syndrome greets Joe first off with 15 pounds of language books. "Oh my aching head." Yes that’s right, total assimilation in eleven months with no less than a second division pass! This, followed hard on with an equally laborious second year language syllabus assures Joe of being a 24-month "missionary dropout." Getting the idea?
Wow! Arise 5 a .m. and plop into bed at 9 p.m. totally and completely exhausted! And in between–teaching in the boys’ school preparation of lessons, application of Band-aids and discipline, distribution of powdered milk and tracts, meeting with beggars and government officials! What a grueling schedule. Poor Nancy and Joe, Jr.–so little time for them–much less for that stack of 2nd Class missiological mail sitting on my desk.
Your loving but frustrated son,
The noose of the syndrome slowly tightens.
Sept. 15-25, Seattle Washington
Sept. 27-3O, Chicago, Illinois
Oct. 240, Miami, Florida
Oct. 1-2O, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Oct 21-Nov. 1, Toronto, Canada
And so forth—for eleven months, 200 meetings and 30,000 miles! "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off."
We have now solidified the dropout syndrome so that poor Joe is in an almost inextricable position.
I PROTEST! I protest to senior missionaries, I protest to field councils, I protest to mission home directors, I protest to all who will hear. The pith helmet days of the ’30’s are behind us New, creative and exciting missiological truths are flowing forth from fertile minds in the ’70’s as never before in the history of missions. Sad to say, the majority of our evangelical missionary community are bogged down in the dropout syndrome of Step 1, Step 2 and Step 3, thus causing them to miss out on valuable tools, aids and inspiration that could literally revolutionize their ministries.
What’s the answer? Is there a way out? My postulations are three-fold.
Postulate Number One: The Missionary On the Field. Set aside a disciplined time for reading. A minimum of two books should be read monthly – and I’m not here referring to Agatha Christie! Order material put out by the Church Growth Book Club, Evangelical Missions Information Service, and Missions Advanced Research and Communication Center. Subscribe to Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Missiology. An International Review, Christianity Today, Moody Monthly, and Time or Newsweek. If possible, pool your resources and create a field library that will serve your total missionary staff.
At the time of your annual field council meeting, set aside one day as a "missiological seminar," An outside diagnostician could be invited in to define areas of weaknesses and strengths in your outreach program. Be open and willing for evaluation and resultant change if it be found necessary. Implement mandatory goal-setting among your personnel. This will meet with prickly pear resistance from the entrenched, but persist in LOVE!
Send key men to strategic seminars that will be held in your area. Upon return have them share their findings with each of your missionaries, either verbally or in written form.
To sum it up, readjust time priorities.
The wall of the syndrome begins to crack.
Postulate Number Two: The Missionary on Furlough. Is the eleven-month "tour" really sacrosanct? What about an 18-month furlough with nine months for study, seven months for traditional deputation and two months to catch your breath? Wheaton, Trinity, Columbia, Fuller and the Alliance (Nyack) all offer excellent postgraduate courses leading to a Master’s degree in Missiology. Undergraduate Bible schools also have curriculum offerings that are most stimulating.
So you are hemmed in with a heavy deputation requirement–what to do? Consider one quarter of study at the aforementioned schools. The impact can be terrific. Or plug into significant courses in anthropology or world religions at a local college. Wheaton offers an excellent two-week summer school of six courses. Moody has recently inaugurated a similar summer missions program.
Then what about other short-term possibilities like Missionary Internship’s Furlough Institute, Workshops on Church Growth, Bill Gothard’s Seminar on Basic Youth Conflicts, Olan Hendrix’s Management Seminar, or even a speed reading course like Ben Johnson offers at Trinity College?
Extrication now looms before us within reachable grasp.
Postulate Number Three: The Mission Home Council. If properly approached and challenged, home administrative boards will respond to the needs of their missionaries in these vital areas Study furloughs will be encouraged, funds will be sought to assist in tuition needs, and deputation tours will be scheduled so as not to conflict with study opportunities.
Missiological books and bulletins can be sent to each field for circulation to all missionaries. The home director can prepare a quarterly summation of current mission happenings and share these by air mail with field staff. Above all, the home administration personnel should by life and word be an example to the field missionary of what it means to be on top of current issues in the ever-changing world of missions.
I am now bold to suggest that the "dropout syndrome" cannot resist the impact of the three implemented postulations. But will it happen? No, many of our crew will go on year after year digesting nothing stronger than Reader’s Digest. Anything suspected of being peripheral to Pauline e missiology will be rejected. However, to be truthful, I am encouraged. The "output" and "intake have never been so great among the ambassadors of the cross. May their number increase many fold
A last heartfelt word aimed at self-protection: Nothing, but nothing, can take the place of the power of the Spirit of God in our ministry! All of these innovations must be subjected to the scrutiny of the Word of God. We must pray, fast hunger and thirst or our Lord’s power. Without him our streamlined efforts will be but wood hay and stubble.
"Arise, let us go forward."
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