by Glenn Herr
Who should provide channels of accountability?
Three years ago Duane arrived on the field. It was a bustling metropolis. He would have rather gone to a rural setting, but at the time he could not get an entry visa to the country of his choice.
The language was difficult, the cost of living high, and his family had trouble adjusting. There were no hospitals to construct or airfields to build. This was a church-planting ministry in an urban setting.
Duane got discouraged.
It was probably discouragement more than anything else that caused Duane to decide to return home. Because he felt unproductive, he could no longer keep the struggles he faced in proper perspective. Since Duane lost his sense of direction, the entire family floundered for lack of purpose.
His despondency had not occurred suddenly. A number of insignificant incidents gradually became overwhelming. There had been hints of the problem in his letters. When he cautiously approached co-workers seeking guidance in order to accomplish ministry objectives, their proposed solutions usually suggested that Duane’s spiritual life was in question.
But, perhaps, the breaking point came when he did not receive a response from his commissioning church. He had written to his pastor, pleading for help. No answer came. That was when Duane chose to quit. While other missionaries may not leave the field, many suffer the same depths of frustration as Duane did.
The missionary leaves a loving family, supportive friends, and the fellowship of a local church, to seek meaning in the confusing sounds, unidentifiable smells, and the deluge of new behaviors. Months pass before the basics of life again become routine.
However, cultural adjustments-and often the corresponding interpersonal conflicts-will seem minor when the missionary is able to maintain a sense of usefulness. If the missionary can feel that he is making a contribution toward the completion of measurable goals, he can keep life’s obstacles in proper perspective.
But, unfortunately, often the missionary’s goals—especially those of a church-planting missionary—are difficult to measure. In some cases, after years of faithful ministry, there may be nothing to show for the effort. For such missionaries, the task or the ministry itself does not provide emotional support.
But, if a missionary feels he is productive and contributing to the spread of the gospel, he can deal with stress. If the missionary can focus on the fact that he has been given an important responsibility, his struggles become insignificant.
On the other hand, when we are given an important task, we expect to be held accountable. Reporting must be required, if we are to achieve "job satisfaction." Accountability provides much needed encouragement by maintaining the level of importance surrounding the missionary’s task.
Who, then, should provide these channels of accountability? Primarily, of course, the mission agencies. However, the local sending churches could be the most effective. The missionary is an extension of his local congregation. The church provides prayer and financial support. Ultimately, the local church must accept the responsibility for those whom it commissions.
What kind of response from his church may have helped Duane to stay on the field? The pastor should have conveyed to Duane that what he was doing was important and that he was God’s man to accomplish it. Perhaps the church felt that the mission agency was better equipped to handle such problems. But Duane needed more than problem solving; he needed encouragement.
There are many ways to establish the missionary’s accountability to the sending churches. To start with, the local church could simply ask for an annual report. Next, require a thorough debriefing during furlough.
Our annual report to each of our supporting churches includes a review of ministry objectives and a financial statement. We list our overall ministry goals, a review of the past year’s goals and objectives, and those proposed for the following year. This helps us to sharpen our purpose for being on the mission field. It forces us to evaluate our past year and gives us direction for the new year.
The financial statement lists a breakdown of our monthly support figure, showing by categories the present year and proposed increases. We also give an overview of the money received and the expenditures made. This gives a clear picture of our financial situation and allows churches to examine the management of the money entrusted to us.
Ideally, the churches should have responded to our report, but they didn’t. When we returned on furlough, we were told that our detailed reports were appreciated. But when we most needed the encouragement, we got no feedback. We were left to guess if this was merely an oversight, or possibly an indication of their disapproval.
How much better it would have been if the pastor, the missions committee, or someone directly assigned to it had written a reply to comment on our annual report. Such a reply should state that the last year’s progress has been appreciated and that the proposed goals and objectives are acceptable. If that isn’t true, then the supporting church should request clarification.
Concerning the missionary’s finances, if there is confusion about the amounts or categories of expenditures, an explanation should be requested. If the missionary has financial needs, the church should tell what action it will be taking.
A debriefing while the missionary is on furlough can be more personal. Leaders of the local church should seek to know their missionary’s attitudes, hurts, and joys. They should also reveal their appreciation and concerns. This interview can be a very positive experience, if the missionary senses that the leaders understand him and are standing with him in his ministry.
Four of our supporting churches provide a debriefing interview. In two cases, we met with the pastor. These were very personal times. We were able to share more extensively and more intimately what God had done.
The other interviews were with missions committees, focused on our ministry objectives. The discussion was broader and more comprehensive.
These interviews were encouraging because we received an evaluation of ourselves and our ministry.
Imagine Duane’s outcome, if his local church would have assumed their responsibility and provided him with avenues of accountability. Duane would have sensed the importance of the work given to him as he prepared and submitted his annual reports.
That preparation would have allowed him to review objectively all that God had done during the past year. The church’s feedback would have provided the confirmation, or redirection, needed to give him the proper perspective when so few guideposts were available.
The idea of missionaries being held accountable to the local sending church may seem counter-productive. Some missionaries may fear that they will be misunderstood. The local church, for its part, may hesitate because of the commitment required.
The church’s goal should be to encourage, to understand, and to help the missionary accomplish his task. Providing an opportunity for the missionary to give an accounting of his ministry would do much to increase the effectiveness of the church’s mission to the world.
Copyright © 1987 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.