by Jim Reapsome
Over the past 30 years or so I have sat on the boards of six mission agencies. How this multifaceted verb came to be used for serving on boards of directors I’ll never know, but it is exquisitely appropriate, considering the innumerable hours members spend sitting through meetings.
Over the past 30 years or so I have sat on the boards of six mission agencies. How this multifaceted verb came to be used for serving on boards of directors I’ll never know, but it is exquisitely appropriate, considering the innumerable hours members spend sitting through meetings. The British say they sit for their degree examinations, and I have to confess that sitting on boards was for me at least a major part of my training in missions.
Just as the Internet and e-mail bear little resemblance to the old hand-cranked telephones, so the complex tasks of mission boards today only faintly resemble those of the pre-World War II generation. The agencies have quickly evolved into huge multinational operations, directing thousands of people and spending more than $2 billion.
They have moved into a more structured corporate model, with layers of managers to administer a host of worthwhile activities—everything from fund raising to member care.
Along with office and staff growth at home has come phenomenal success overseas, where the “product” (the gospel) has been wildly successful almost everywhere. Not unlike McDonald’s hamburger stands, churches bearing the North American image have sprung up across Africa, Latin America, Europe, and Asia. To be sure, not every village has a McDonald’s or a church, but that goal is nevertheless being aggressively pursued according to the American corporate model.
However, this rapid growth has produced an anachronism: Six, 10, or 20 people (virtually all of them men) on the U.S. boards still pretty much run the show, which by now includes thousands of churches, millions of believers, millions of dollars, and thousands of properties and institutions—church buildings, camps, hospitals, schools, publishing houses, farms, and so on. By extension, the power to manage these local enterprises (with a few exceptions) rests in the hands of Americans.
I call this an anachronism because, although mission agencies have copied the corporate model, they are way behind in empowering nationals to run things. They are way behind in nominating national church leaders to sit on their boards.
In the corporate world, some of the leading international consulting firms are headhunting local nationals for top executive posts. Multinational corporations are rapidly moving to recruit local nationals who thoroughly understand their home markets. In Chile, for example, outsiders flopped miserably in starting Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants. Now, in the hands of Chileans, they are starting over, because the Chileans know their people wanted more chicken for less money.
New markets, rapid advances in communications, and new sources of brainpower and skilled labor are forcing businesses to make serious organizational changes. The new corporate model values ethnic diversity. The new model company will be centrally directed by multicul-tural executives who give local managers a long leash.
For example, Citicorp has put a Pakistani in charge of its $800 million finance business for all of Asia except Japan. An Indian heads the consumer business. They are two of eight non-Americans in an elite group of 15 executives who rank directly behind Citicorp’s chairman and the bank’s five vice-chairmen.
Companies prefer local national managers because they better understand cultural taboos, and they help companies shed their imperialist image. In China, Unilever’s local partners helped get its Beijing ice-cream plant up and running in 11 months.
At McDonald’s Hamburger University in Oak Brook, Ill., often half of the 250 management trainees are from overseas. Simultaneous translation is provided in 22 languages. Gillette Co. says it is far more successful when it relies on local people to run the businesses.
Mission agencies have done a superb job training pastors, evangelists, and teachers, but have fallen short in incorporating outstanding talent in management and board positions. As I recall the tough questions I have wrestled with during board meetings—making decisions that affectedthe lives not only of missionaries but also of national churches and believers—how much better it would have been to have had the wisdom of several nationals. Not only does this make good management sense, it also brings us much closer to the New Testament model of unity and shared leadership.
It is way past time to end American domination of the multinational missionary enterprise.
EMQ, Vol. 31, No. 2, pp. 132-133. Copyright © 1995 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.