by Jim Reapsome
A year ago we published an article on the necessity of evaluating the work of missionaries after they get to the field. Some of our readers applauded and some booed. It remains difficult for some to put a “spiritual” activity under the microscope of objective scrutiny.
A year ago we published an article on the necessity of evaluating the work of missionaries after they get to the field. Some of our readers applauded and some booed. It remains difficult for some to put a "spiritual" activity under the microscope of objective scrutiny. It is much easier to be subjective when evaluating one’s work and to retreat behind the vague facade of, "Oh, yes, the Lord is blessing our work."
If there’s anything even more touchy than evaluating missionaries after they begin their work, it’s evaluating them before they go. Some missions have elaborate screening procedures, including psychological testing, while some feel that the candidate’s call and convictions about God’s leading are all that’s needed (plus support, of course).
There are increasing indications that pastors and churches who must provide the support would also like to know how missionary candidates are picked in the first place. All they know is that they get letters and phone calls from candidates, accepted by the missions. In some cases, pastors do not even get reference forms from the mission.
When a missionary returns from the field – for reasons other than furlough – a frequently asked question is, "Why was he sent in the first place? Why wasn’t he weeded out? Why didn’t the mission uncover his weaknesses?" On the other hand, those asking questions, like that often are the most resistant to any kind of objective, scientific prefield testing: that’s too "unspiritual." After all, the Holy Spirit calls and sends missionaries. What do psychologists know about it?
Obviously, even the best prefield testing and screening are not infallible, but neither are they optional. Christians need not retreat in the face of discoveries about what makes people tick, and why some are likely to do better than others, in everything from repairing trucks, to making speeches, to learning new languages. There is no excuse for any mission board’s failure to do the very best job possible of determining the suitability of candidates, confessing continually the need for wisdom from above, so that the scientific data is interpreted properly by Holy Spirit-guided persons and principles.
Along that line, we encourage serious study of Craig Hanscome’s findings in this issue about why some missionaries failed to make the grade. Some of the facts apply to the difficulty of the field of service-and that’s not new-but what missions should do in the light of this fact is send the best possible people to the toughest fields. For example, too long have we permitted subjective geographic "calls" to determine where new missionaries are sent. No such call should override a hard-headed prefield analysis that shows Mr. and Mrs. Jones simply don’t have what it takes to stick it out in a field that has wiped out a high percentage of people in the past. At the same time, field directors should demand research time to find the reasons why some fields have higher casualty rates than others.
Another significant fact: graduate education makes a major difference; even a single year of such study. Yet there are some boards that continue to send out people with a minimum of education, even with only a year or two of undergraduate schooling, just so it’s Bible school of some kind.
We accept the truth that education alone doesn’t guarantee success on I the field, but why should we continue to discount its value in the face of evidence that graduate education does cut the drop-out rate? (On the other hand, lest the eggheads take over, keep in mind that grade point average accounts for only one percent of the drop-out rate in Hanscome’s study.) Equally applicable to recruitment and prefield screening are the facts about what things don’t make a difference: age, time in Christian work at home before going, and the number of years since conversion.
We are encouraged by the fact that people in missions are looking into what has often been treated like a dirty puppy in the living room: the drop-out rate. It’s time to admit the problem and to use all of the technical data available, and the wisdom of the Lord of the harvest, to bring the rate to a "cold shutdown."
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