by Jim Reapsome
The 747’s wheels crunched into the runway with a jarring thud. Their nine-hour flight completed, Joe and Sally and their kids scrambled to gather all their stuff tumbling out of the overhead bins. Forbodding questions pummled their minds as they staggered through customs and immigration.
The 747’s wheels crunched into the runway with a jarring thud. Their nine-hour flight completed, Joe and Sally and their kids scrambled to gather all their stuff tumbling out of the overhead bins. Forbodding questions pummled their minds as they staggered through customs and immigration. What will it be like? Will we fit? Will we look okay? Will we like the food? Will we pass inspection.
Wait a minute. This 747 hasn’t landed at Manila, but at Chicago’s O’Hare airport. These missionaries have not arrived on the mission field, they’ve come home for furlough (now called, by the way, in the latest missionary jargon, "home ministry assignment"). Why are they so worried about coming home?
They won’t know the latest "in" things to do, the latest fads, the latest slang, the latest fast foods, the latest TV shows. It will take them some time to take affluence in stride and not rebel against it. They’ll wonder why some of their friends and churches have either reduced or dropped their support when they see the kinds of houses, cars, clubs and church buildings their friends use.
But perhaps scariest of all will be their appointments, not with their dentists and doctors, but with the missions inspectors who will demand to know what return they have received from their investment in Joe and Sally over the last four years. They’ve heard about such accountability sessions, about missionary report cards (see EMQ, Oct. 1993), about churches and donors demanding more "bang for their bucks."
One night in the middle of trying to explain what they’ve accomplished, and trying to get the same, if not a little more support for their next term, Joe and Sally turned the table on the inspector generals. "Hey, two can play this accountability thing," they said. "We’re happy to give you our report cards, but do you think you could give us yours?"
Embarrassed silence descended like thick fog. A committee member mumbled something he later regretted, "Uh, why sure, of course, why not? What did you have in mind?"
"Well, for starters," Joe said, "how many hours have you spent praying for us? How much evangelistic bang did you get for your bucks? What I mean is, How many people have you brought to faith in Christ this past year? Divide that into your church’s total budget and see how much it costs you per soul. And what’s your total missions budget look like compared to the rest of your expenditures?"
Sally noticed a red tide rising above the committee’s collective collars. We’ll be lucky to get out alive, she thought. But, we’re in over our heads anyway, so here goes:
"I was wondering if we could see some video of your all-night prayer meetings," she asked. "that would help all of us missionaries know you really do remember us. That’s tough, I know, so maybe you could tell us how many birthday cards you sent to your missionaries. Or how many ‘care’ packages. Come to think of it, I don’t think we even get your church newsletter. We’d sure like to pray for you, too."
Before the examiners could recover, Joe said, "Could we see the church’s mission statement, your goals for next year, and your five-year plan?" Slam dunk. The game’s over. It was a rout.
To be sure, this is a parable, but it reflects how missionaries feel about being held accountable fby their sending churches and mission boards. Churches have to learn that accountability works both ways. That’s all Joe and Sally were trying to say. Missionaries don’t mind turning in their report cards, but they would be greatly relieved and encouraged to see their supporters undergoing the same rigorous examination about their own commitment to world evangelization.
What a heart-warming thing for missionaries if their accountability sessions began with their donor’s report cards.
Missionaries would also appreciate some recognition and appreciation from their sending missions committees when they turn in their annual reports. Too often, it seems, the committees’ silence is deadening and disheartening. As one missionary told me, "We haven’t heard back from anyone." This is inexcusable. It seems like we have a long way to go to find partnership in mission.
Mutual accountability is not like a Ping-Pong game. It’s dealy serious business, because all of us in the end will be accountable to Jesus Christ for the way we carry out his assignmens in world missions. Churches will be judged not only by how many dollars they give to missions, but also by how much they spend for other things.
If, as Alan Neely suggestes, our churches face times as demanding as the Middle Ages, they need to draw up some tough, practical standards by which to measure their committment to world missions. They could begin with the things Joe and Sally asked their msisions committee.
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