by Jim Reapsome
It’s hard to knock a booming enterprise, but Denis Lane, overseas director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship, has done just that with a hard-hitting article, “Short-Term Commitment is Just Not Good Enough” (East Asia Millions, December 1981/January 1982).
It’s hard to knock a booming enterprise, but Denis Lane, overseas director of Overseas Missionary Fellowship, has done just that with a hard-hitting article, "Short-Term Commitment is Just Not Good Enough" (East Asia Millions, December 1981/January 1982). The current MARC Mission Handbook reveals precisely how the short-term phenomenon has exploded on the missions scene. The number of short-termers grew from 5,764 in 1975 to 17,633 in 1979. Asked to forecast their future use of short-termers, 116 agencies said they would increase "some" and 41 agencies said they would increase "greatly."
Purely on pragmatic grounds, it appears that Lane is like Peter sticking his finger in the dike, trying to hold back a flood of short-termers. But before we dismiss his view as a throwback to the past, we need to look at the overall missions enterprise from the standpoint of the need for leaders and managers on the field, as well as the need for temporary stop-gap people.
The missions personnel force is not unlike the military service in one regard. For example, the Army continually trains thousands of short-termers. These people are essential for battle strategy and tactics, but they come and go. The Army depends on career people to train the short-termers and to maintain ongoing research and development. The corps of officers is absolutely essential.
Denis Lane’s basic point is that the missionary army is in danger of losing its officer corps. He says the OMF lacks older, experienced workers. " In more than one area of OMF work the number of men in the 40 – to – 5 5 age bracket can be counted on the fingers of one hand, " he says. We wonder what the results would be in other missions agencies and encourage the top brass to make such a count.
Obviously, if we take a long-range perspective, missions agencies will ultimately be bereft of experienced managers. MARC reports that onethird of all overseas people in 1979 were short-termers, compared to 16 percent three years previously. If that trend continues, there could be very few managers in another decade. Apart from the immediate service values of short-termers, which are considerable, there are also serious drawbacks to be considered. We must be careful lest we sacrifice seasoned leadership at the altar of immediate expedience.
Comparatively, it is easier to recruit, assign and support short-term missionaries. Recruiters and senders have climbed on the bandwagon without thinking of the alternatives. In some cases, we have succumbed to the easy way, preferring more workers for shorter terms to fewer workers with longer terms. It’s easier emotionally and financially to go for six months than for six years.
Perhaps the policy-makers need to review immediate recruitment plans and put a moratorium on the number of short-term workers they will take. Pastors and missions committee chairmen could help by holding the line on the number of short-termers they will support. Would it not be strong medicine to say, in effect, "We know you want to go to Mexico for six months, but in the interests of long-term strategy and because of our concern for building up the experienced officer corps of XYZ Mission, we have decided not to send you"?
Such a policy would discourage frivolous…short-term ventures, but would not undermine the valid contributions that short-termers are
making. As with most issues, this one is not either-or. We are not discounting what people have accomplished on short assignments, any more than we would discount what the two-year draftees have done for the U.S. Army. On the other hand, the military consistently develops its trained officer corps. The question for mission agencies is whether or not they have stopped to look at where the next generation of leaders is coming from. It is easy to send the temporaries into the battle without doing the very difficult task of recruiting and training officers.
Denis Lane also argues that short-termers can’t be effective in Asia, but probably he would admit that in selected assignments they can be extremely effective. One has to look at the overall mission strategy and decide what type of people are needed to do what kind of job. Many industries do very well by jobbing out some kinds of work, but the people who do that work are not counted on to execute the company’s longrange goals.
The OMF leader says his mission has more opportunities than it has experienced people to grab them. What do other leaders say? On the fields are we limiting ourselves to the opportunities that short-termers can meet? Are we bypassing tougher assignments because we don’t have people who are willing to stay at it for big chunks of time? If that’s true, then we are failing, because we have succumbed to what is easiest and have not knuckled down to invest our people in long-range ministry, training and development.
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