by Jim Reapsome
One of those truly earthshaking innovations that was supposed to revolutionize education back in the 1930s when I was in grade school lasted about six weeks, as I recall.
One of those truly earthshaking innovations that was supposed to revolutionize education back in the 1930s when I was in grade school lasted about six weeks, as I recall. Instead of being traumatized by carrying home my report card delcaring that I had make A’s, B’s and C’s (or worse), I was going to be emotionally fulfilled by bringing home one that simply said U (for unsatisfactory) or S (for satisfactory) for reading, writing, arithmetic and so on. In one stroke those geniuses wiped out my true incentive for learning: a dime for every A.
A similar bombshell smote me recently when a pastor asked me if I knew how his church could evaluate the quality of work its missionaries were doing. there ought to be some system, he said, by which supporting churches could get a really accurate picture of how their people were doing on the field. Before asking how this can be done, I suggested that the prior question is, Should churches and donors be given access to information that could help them decide whether or not to maintain their monthly missionary support?
Now that’s not much of an issue if the church gives the missionary $10 a month, but more and more churches (and individuals) are giving much more significant chunks of their money to support people overseas, many of whom need $65,000 a year and up. Therefore, as their contributions grow, so do their expectations of geting good report cards.
I think missionaries need to realize that a new day has dawned at home. It’s a day when you can’t depend on your missionary call and your board’s acceptance of your qualifications as sufficient reason for a church or donor to keep on supporting you year after year. People expect some kind of accountability, some record of deeds done, some idea of your work plan, some estimation of how well you are doing when judged according to your own plan.
Part of the valid reason for expecting a missionary report card springs from the spiraling costs of keeping missionaries on the field, plus the fierce competition among missionaries for support. To put it simply, churches and donors want to support the most effective and productive people, because their funds are limited. Supporters on overseas work projects have observed some efficient, productive missionaries and also some who are not.
Another concern voiced by churches and donors is the apparent lack of good supervision and accountability on the field. They know that in some circumstances missionaries work very much on their own, with limited supervision. In some cases, underperformance becomes habitual, especially when no report cards come due, even those with an S or a U.
Alarm bells go off when inquiries to the home office either go unanswered or get a vague, "They’re doing fine." Some home offices resent these questions from donors as an unwarranted intrusion into the mission’s and the missionary’s private affairs. Churches and donors then suspect that no one really knows how well Sally and Joe are doing. They are deeply hurt when, as often happens, Sally and Joe come home defeated, carrying a heavy load of guilt.
So, are churches and donors sticking noses into places they shouldn’t be? Are laymen trying to judge missions by secular business standards? Questions like these mask what I think is the real issue about missionary report cards. Are mission boards and their missionaries not only ready, but eager to be vulnerable to their constituencies, regardless of supposed flaws? That’s the core issue.
Why should anyone be offended if people who pray and give sacrificially ask for at least an annual report card — something more than a perfunctory prayer letter? The missionary’s report card should state some specific annual goals, to stimulate intelligent prayer. Donors are not judge and jury but partners in the Great Commission. At the end of the year the report card should simply tally hits and misses, success and failures, with brief explanations. "We had hoped to see a new church up and running in 1993, but we didn’t make it. Here’s why." People love to see the big picture behind all of the normal missionary aches and pains. They are not necessarily going to judge a missionary by numbers of conversions, but by faithfulness to agreed upon, measurable goals.
Beyond that, every field supervisor should prepare annual evaluation of workers, so that church mission committee files are accurate and up-to-date. This will be a major factor in determining ongoing support. In too many cases, "the field," suppresses "bad news" as it were, so the churches at home never know about festering problems.
Good missionaries, like good students, have nothing to fear from report cards. The rest? For the sake of the churches and donors, and for the good of the work on the field, they should come home.
EMQ, Vo. 29, No. 4, pp. Copyright © 1993 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.