by Jim Reapsome
Reading Fortune magazine is not part of my routine, although I must confess that mission work at the end of the century shares some of the characteristics of international business operations.
Reading Fortune magazine is not part of my routine, although I must confess that mission work at the end of the century shares some of the characteristics of international business operations. However, a friend sent me a copy of an article about the overseas operations of Microsoft, which really stunned me. He was impressed—as I was—by the fact that Microsoft’s subsidiaries in nearly 60 countries are staffed by 6,200 employees, among whom only five are expatriates.
More than half of Microsoft’s software sales come from overseas, where the company hires mostly local managers. These managers, knowledgeable about their home markets, create partnerships with small companies that sell Microsoft products. This allows Microsoft to keep its foreign staff small—.08 percent of the total. Each overseas employee generates more than $1 million in revenue.
Microsoft’s small local partners do most of the sales and support work. The partners in turn train other partners, and the sales network grows. In China, for example, Microsoft’s staff of 70 works with hundreds of budding software companies and a legion of 15,000 certified resellers (not people, but companies), whose ranks could soon easily double. Microsoft also bankrolls independent software distributors and invites promising people from key resellers and software developers to come to work for Microsoft for a year or so to pick up more business skills.
When Microsoft opened its first office in India, it did not fly in an expatriate to get things started. That was the key. Bringing in a foreigner to run things “sends the wrong message,” according to Bill Gates. Instead, the company hired a U.S.-educated Indian.
These successful company principles very much resemble both New Testament missionary literature and books written by eminent missio-logists down through the years. The apostle Paul turned things over to local managers right away. He and his team devoted themselves to training and to what might be called a biblical pyramid scheme: “Teach these great truths to trustworthy people who are able to pass them on to others” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Strange as it seems, the church actually grew and prospered by following these principles. Yet we find it hard to do the same. We have become severely addicted to the opposite principle: Foreigners know best and can run things better. Therefore, expatriate missionaries are as hard to dislodge as a glob of bubble gum from your shoe. Sometimes, when they have been dislodged by wars, new churches have sprouted like never before.
As charitable, sacrificial, and well-meaning as our efforts may be, we still send the wrong message when we take control. It’s not only unbiblical, because it sets aside the New Testament doctrine of the ministries of all believers, but in the end it is self-defeating because it destroys local incentives and initiatives.
Microsoft offers financial incentives to inspire its local managers. Our incentive is to prepare a people fit for the Lord. The local churches will grow, and believers will find the resources they need in Jesus Christ, when we acknowledge and practice that the church is theirs, not ours.
Over the years I have heard this tired excuse: “We can’t let go and turn things over because the church isn’t ready.” Some agencies have been saying their mission is to train and turn over, but somehow they never succeed. Is this because they don’t know how to train, or because they keep raising the bar higher and higher so they’ll never be satisfied to leave?
Part of our failure can be attributed to evangelism and church planting that leaves the church leaderless. We must learn to start new churches and train their leaders without exercising our heavy-handed control.
Does Microsoft expect accountability? Of course, because its locally managed subsidiaries either succeed or fail on their own. If the resellers don’t sell, they’re out of business. But the company is also patient and willing to invest for the long haul. In India, for example, it took three years to surpass $1 millioninsales, even though Indians had embraced PCs with a vengeance.
Some churches don’t make it, either. But we cannot keep on investing so many thousands of people and millions of dollars propping up weak and dying churches. We must pack up and leave.
We need sheets showing our investment of missionaries and money in what we might call old fields. We need the same thing for our new, or pioneering, fields, where we are trying to establish new churches. No accounting principle can tell us how to divide our resources and efforts, but would it be asking too much to divide them equally?
The best way to arrive at parity is by attrition (do not replace people leaving old fields) and by making sure that when we enter new fields we resist our strong inclination to control. Instead, from the start we must yield control to local managers, invest in them, and train them. If this can be done in the business world, it can be done in the world of missions.
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 2, pp. 134-135. Copyright © 1999 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.