by Philip E. Armstrong
At the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission at Wheaton, April, 1966, it was declared: “we will engage in periodic self-criticism in the light of the Scriptures and contemporary insights and seek more effective ways to obtain our objectives.”
At the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission at Wheaton, April, 1966, it was declared: "we will engage in periodic self-criticism in the light of the Scriptures and contemporary insights and seek more effective ways to obtain our objectives." Since this was a congress on the church’s worldwide mission, mission agencies must evaluate themselves in terms of the church. Will the organization-its goals, its personnel, its finances-bear such scrutiny at every level? This article is an attempt to ask questions that will help in such self-examination.
Industry talks a great deal about "management by objective." Every mission falls into one or more of three categories as far as its objectives are concerned.
1. Proclamation of the Gospel. The sense of responsibility to preach ought to impel mission boards to explore every unevangelized area, and exploit every method of mass communications. How can they do this in the light of the universal nature of the church? Do the sending agencies recognize the national church’s inalienable right and responsibility to proclaim the Gospel within its shores? Preaching must be related to this responsibility.
2. Planting the Church. If the objective is to plant the church, are mission boards prepared to live with the results of their success? Instead of that success forcing an organizational dilemma, the mission board ought to provide the national church with its own means of reproducing.
3. Partnership. In the post-war period many service organizations were born, particularly utilizing methods of mass communications. Does their presence foster or retard the initiative of the church where they are working? The church in any given country would be disastrously limited without these communications skills. Can they be used at every level of the church? If so, these agencies will be long needed and much appreciated by the church.
Missions must evaluate relationships on the field in the light of their objectives. Although missions talk about the autonomy of the indigenous church, many questions center around authority. Should these questions not rather center around initiative, responsibility, and then authority? Can missions avoid any such thing as `extra-territorial rights" for the mission program by recognizing oneness with the goals of the church?
Mission agencies must also think in terms of inter-mission and inter-church relationships. Evangelical minority groups frequently are looked upon as "fringe sects." The trend of ecumenism will continue to feed this sense of inferiority. Can missions examine their inter-church and inter-mission relationships to provide both a sense of context and a sense of continuity to any group of believers brought into being?
1. The Problem. In 1916 Donald Fleming wrote a book, Devolution of Mission Administration. Evangelicals have been slow to catch up with it. Consequently, structural competition arises between well-organized western organizations and young, developing churches. The self-hood of new nations, and of the young churches in these nations, increasingly objects to the establishment," that is, any permanent organization from the West. One missionary put it this way: "They don’t object to me because I’m an American or because I’m white; they object to me because I represent a source of authority over which they have no control."
Reverse the picture. Would you tolerate a mission board next door to your church-particularly if the board had unlimited facilities, professionally trained personnel, and a budget that would make your church look like you were playing sandlot baseball beside a major league team?
2. The Possibilities. Are missions prepared to make their structures as unobtrusive as possible? Are they prepared to consider such decentralization of authority that the mission provides the missionary, but all work overseas is directed by the workers? This will not be easy. Someone has said, "Missionaries show heir oneness with the rest of humanity when possession of authority leads to the desire to retain it."
Mission executive, what is the decision level of your organization? Take some of the problems that are before you now. How long have they been on your desk? How many hands have they gone through? Are you the best one to answer them? Decisions should be made at the lowest possible level. If we are to avoid imposing the mission on the church, can the present chain of command from constituency, home council, field conference, field council, field directors and then to the church be broken?
What is the mission’s purpose? Are each field’s goals the highest possible? Is the mission continuing in its calling, or is it slipping into some subsidiary functions? If so, why?
1. Priority planning. Check where the emphasis really lies. What is the ratio of (1) energy, or personnel, (2) time, and (3) expense to results? If the goal is to plant the church, is there a balance in the overall program between widespread evangelizing, concentrated discipling, and church planting? Most work falls in cycles. It is easy lo be bogged down in one area and completely ignore another.
2. Project evaluation. Check the total number of projects begun in the last ten years. How many of them are still going? Why were they begun in the first place-because of a need, one missionary’s individual gifts, or because there was a clear goal? How many have been dropped? Why? Personnel? Finance? If so, planning and program did not jibe. Are there some projects that ought to be dropped now-they were fine then, but they have fulfilled their mission?
3. Institutionalism. Institutions probably cause more problems in the mission’s relationship to the church than any other one thing. Institutions tend to make missions inflexible. They produce vested interests in property. They produce a self-generated pride that seeks to justify the existence of the organization on the basis of past successes. They tend to become self-perpetuating. They produce professionals.
To evaluate institutional work in the light of increasing state control in young nations, most overseas specialists tend to advocate that assistance in social welfare should be in selfhelp at a grass-roots level, rather than within institutions. They say, limit institutions to lay and clerical leadership training.
4. Use of facilities. If the facilities of missions are fulfilling their function, are them still things to look for? Is this facility essential? Is it duplicated by anyone else? Is it available to the church at large? Evaluate the use of mass communications media, such as literature, radio, tent evangelism, etc. Many a missionary and many a mission use equipment they have not made available to a local pastor who might make far more effective use of it.
1. Recruiting. What is the growth rate of the mission? Check this by figuring the average age of mission personnel for each of the past ten years. Is it going up? That’s bad. If it’s going down, this means the mission is recruiting new blood. But what about the caliber of the people recruited? Is the mission getting a good balance between leadership and followership type personnel?
Population explosion and urbanization demand a creativity in leadership that missions have not yet seen. Does the mission have the capacity to prepare itself for such leadership tomorrow? If it does not now have that leadership in its ranks, is it prepared to accept candidates whose gifts and training far exceed those of personnel in its present membership? If so, is the mission willing to appoint future leadership in the mission on the basis of gifts rather than seniority?
2. Supervision and utilization. Are the people in the mission both happy and effective? The supervision and utilization of all personnel is one of the most neglected areas of mission administration. Look at the dropout rate. How many candidates have not completed their applications? How many dropped out before they went to the field? How many dropped out during their first term? Their first furlough? Their second term, their third team? Check also the actual length of terms of service against the ones stated in the mission handbook. Check the length of furlough. Is the mission being realistic?
3. Placement, performance, and progress. Virgil Newbrander came back from four months on the field with the Far Eastern Gospel Crusade and said the individual missionary had three questions: (1) What is my job? (2) How am I doing? (3) Where do I go for help?
Mission executives should make the placement 9 performance, and progress of every missionary their greatest concern. Take placement. How many times has a missionary been put into a place just to fill in? If so, what kind of performance can the mission expect? The mission should design a master plan, showing every furlough and every return by areas or assignments, so that some long-range planning can be done. Study the tension periods in the missionary’s career. These periods of stress come during deputation, language study and orientation, assignment, and reassignment after furlough. What a difference it would make to the furlough missionary, if he would know exactly what he is going to be asked to do when he returns.
4. Development of personal gifts. Misplaced and misused gifts are one of the biggest concerns of mission executives. Make a list of all the jobs that need to be done. Make a second list of all the personnel available-nationals working with the mission and missionaries. Beside each name put that person’s gifts. Is he functioning in this area now? If not, try to match needs and gifts. The supervisor may recognize gifts the missionary doesn’t know he has. How can they be developed, at home and on the field?
5. Security and equality of personnel. This is an unsettled world. The mission of the future will likely go one of two ways: it will either become a tightly-knit, self-sufficient organization that can offer its workers security in itself, or it will so identify itself in its work with the church overseas that the missionary will find his security in bonds of fellowship that far outstrip any organizational entity.
This means that missions are going to have to think in terms of development and of equality of gifts, not only within the mission but within the church. Are missions truly international and interracial in their thinking? Can they provide a Filipino co-worker, for example, with the same opportunities for development that they provide North American personnel?
In the past mission financial principles have often worked on the basis of supply rather than demand. If the mission received the funds, it alone was custodian, cashier, and disbursing officer. Many a project has been approved because of the popularity of the individual who raised the money, rather than as a result of strategic consultation with national brethren as to its actual necessity. In the future indigenous principles will be invalidated if the mission’s access to funds gives it the right to regulate their use. Two financial pitfalls must be avoided: capital investment and handouts.
1. Capital investment. Foreign investment in property cannot help but be labeled imperialistic. In the past missions have thought in terms of schools, programs, and institutions. In the future can missions invest in skills and tools? Can they provide instruments of self-help that, put at the disposal of the church, will help develop the self-respect of the national worker and the self-sufficiency of the national church? When owning property is necessary, can missions make it their goal that capital investments will be made only when the church is ready to receive such and hold it in its name? Even then, mutual responsibility for the distribution of funds is not enough. If the church is to function alongside the mission without a sense of inferiority, it must share the responsibility for both providing and distributing funds.
2. Giving—blessing or burden? The United States is a rather new participant in poverty programs overseas; missions have been doing it for years. But they cannot continue to look upon nations as "the white man’s burden." Handouts from the well-meaning wealthy are just as hard to accept overseas as they are at home. Biblically, Christians are ordered to share (2 Corinthians 8:13-14 ) , but can missions give out of a sense of stewardship, not ownership? Can they find creative ways to give so that the blessing, instead of the burden, is on the recipient?
Every oriental country has a word for this sense of burden. Filipinos refer to it as utang na laob. The Japanese call it girl. It means inner-obligation or debt. If missions give what these nationals cannot repay, missions are building up an embarrassing indebtedness that smacks of feudalism. Young churches in young nations want to feel that they are not only selfsufficient, but that they have something to contribute to Christians the world over. Missions must find contributions that the rational churches can make to fulfill their sense of worldwide mission.
Here then are six areas, six guidelines, for any mission to use that is serious about self-criticism. It is easy to talk and write about self-criticism, but harder to take the time and effort-the prayer, the honesty before God and men, nationals and mission staff alike – to launch such an effort. However, missions may not have much longer to indulge themselves in the luxury of the status quo. Self-criticism may not be optional. The simple steps outlined above are designed to help mission executives get their feet vet in the waters of self-criticism before they are flooded and washed away by the inexorable tides of history.
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