by Jim Reapsome
Missionary managers work not only in U.S. board offices, but all around the globe. They manage thousands of people and millions of dollars. Very few of them have had any professional training in management, but they have been swamped by a flood of various management theories and techniques.
Missionary managers work not only in U.S. board offices, but all around the globe. They manage thousands of people and millions of dollars. Very few of them have had any professional training in management, but they have been swamped by a flood of various management theories and techniques. While some administrators have been implementing management theories, others have been reluctant to try. There is an underlying suspicion because of the secular origin of the theories.
Our plea here is for both home and field leaders not to go overboard either way. It’s no use falling in love with the latest management theory and imposing it on everyone. That’s one extreme. The other is to ignore what’s being learned about good management principles. Missionary work at home and abroad has suffered because untrained people have made serious mistakes, hurting many people and costing thousands of dollars.
Missionary work is not a cottage industry. It is big business, big in money and big in the numbers of people who give their lives to it. Therefore, along with dedication and sacrifice, we need skills in the management of people and resources.
If we really believe that we are stewards of the people and the money that churches give to us, then we must do the very best we can to use those people and that money in ways that pay dividends. If mission agencies were publicly held stock corporations, many of them would be run quite differently than they are. I’m afraid that many errors and abuses are covered up with the lame excuse that "this is the Lord’s work, we’re not in this to make money."
Does that mean we should have lower standards than profit-making corporations? No, it means we should have higher ones, if indeed our work is God’s work. Does that mean we should not earn dividends? No, it means we must earn dividends that are of greater value intrinsically than those paid by corporations to stockholders.
Dividends paid by mission agencies are first of all the personal growth, satisfaction, and happiness of our workers. Second, our dividends are the churches and institutions we start and nurture all over the world.
We have invested huge sums to discuss evangelism, church planting, development, and so on. We have studied hard how to reach resistant peoples. But have we ever thought that perhaps one reason our missiological investment in these things has paid so little dividends is that we don’t have the management skills to execute the plans? We don’t know how to take the theories off the papers and transform them into reality. That takes superior management of money and missionaries.
Accepting for the moment that there is much we can learn from secular management people, why can’t we make the jump to our own mission responsibilities? One reason is that we fail to contextualize the principles that work for IBM, for example. Our missionary audiences politely listen to our management lectures and then politely discard them as irrelevant, because they come from U.S. board rooms. Someone has to take the missionary on a "walk through the principles" and simply say, "This is how this applies to your Bible school. This is how this applies to your hospital. This is how this applies to your evangelism team."
When you read the two management books reviewed in this issue, do your own contextualizing. Not all of the ideas will apply. But mull them over, talk them over, and be very cautious about calling your staff together and saying, "Tomorrow this mission will be run the way they run Disneyland!"
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