Good and Faithful—New Zealand Missionaries and Their Experience of Attrition

by Hudson Deane

Why do missionaries come home prematurely and what can be done about it? Hudson Deane has asked these questions to ninety-two evangelical missionaries from nineteen agencies who were returning to New Zealand.

Daystar Publications Trust, P.O. Box 65494, Mairangi Bay 0754, New Zealand, 2008, 104 pages, NZ $19.95. Also available through SIM NZ, info@sim.org.nz.

Reviewed by Detlef Bloecher, executive director of German Missionary Fellowship (DMG).

Why do missionaries come home prematurely and what can be done about it? These are two of the crucial questions in missions. Unwanted attrition is usually associated with shattered lives, disappointed sending churches, disruption in projects, and immense costs. Hudson Deane has asked these questions to ninety-two evangelical missionaries from nineteen agencies who were returning to New Zealand. While other attrition studies have primarily surveyed mission executives, Deane interviewed the affected persons themselves and asked for their insights.

The results are quite revealing. Mission executives often name interpersonal conflicts as the prime reason for return. Missionaries, however, identified family needs (14.3%) and work-related (13.2%) issues as their top two issues. Conflicts with peers (2.6%) came in at a distant number thirteen. These unexpected outcomes underline the fact that executives and missionaries can have quite diverging (complementary) views.

Deane analyzed family status as well. While singles are challenged most by work overload (9%), emotional stress (7.8%), culture fatigue (7.2%), and lack of pastoral support (6.8%), married missionaries are affected most by their children’s education (15.3%) and completion of the task (10.9%). Missionaries are challenged according to their life situations so that member care and leadership need to be specific and situational.

Deane also gives responses according to the different age groups in missions. While Boosters (born before 1946) predominately face physical health, lack of participation in decision making, and emotional stress, Boomers (born 1946-1964) identified children’s education, emotional stress, care for aged parents, and work overload. Gen X (born 1965-1983) primarily stated cultural fatigue, physical health, loneliness, and lack of job satisfaction. The three different age groups expressed what they perceived their sending churches, training centers, mission agencies, and receiving churches could do to reduce attrition. Practical issues are identified that direct the way into the future of missions.

The final chapter, “The Challenges of the Future,” is dedicated to the emerging generation of workers, Gen Y (born after 1984). Deane calls for: flatter leadership structures in agencies; new pre-field training models; more emphasis on experimental learning and team training; partnerships between sending churches, training institutions, and mission agencies; on-going professional development; structured internships; and careful re-evaluation of policies and the central role of host churches in the placement of missionaries. It is a call for personal care, people development, and organizational change.

The study goes much beyond the scope of New Zealand, and addresses many fundamental issues facing international missions. Its statistical base might be limited; however, the book offers lots of inspiration and heart reflections for all involved in the selection, sending, and care of missionaries—pastors, missionaries, Bible school teachers, and mission leaders.

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Copyright © 2008 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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