Pitfalls Missions Committees Must Avoid
by Allan G. Hedberg
Missions committees must constantly update their mission vision and strategy. Hedberg outlines nine pitfalls committees must avoid.
Are you a member of a missions committee? If so, are you satisfied with your role on the committee and the direction of the missions program of your church? Are you satisfied with the performance and the effectiveness of your supported missionaries and mission organizations? As a committee member, are satisfied that your missions strategy is effectively influencing the world for Christ?
Missions committees must constantly update their vision and strategy in carrying out their responsibilities on behalf of their congregations. All missions committees seek the same outcome—to make the greatest impact on the greatest number of people so that targeted people groups will come to know Christ, learn discipleship skills, and learn to evangelize their own people.
To be sure, it has become increasingly difficult to achieve such objectives in today’s cultural diversity and economic fluctuation. Consider the following: (1) openness to the gospel in a country changes from time to time; (2) religious alternatives are many, and many religious sects are aggressive in the employment of their mission; (3) personal and economic conditions may require missionaries to relocate or transition to a new ministry elsewhere; (4) economic changes can produce a squeeze on a missionary’s capability to stay on the field long term; and (5) North American affluence has made it increasingly difficult to leave one’s comfort zone in response to a calling from God and go to a location of mixed acceptance, loneliness, and abject discomfort.
As always, the gospel message remains unchanged. The Great Commission is as pointed today as ever. Yet strategies and methods have changed and must change. Missions committees play a major leadership role in making the necessary changes so that the essential message of the gospel reaches a needy world in a meaningful and culturally relevant manner.
Below are nine common pitfalls facing every missions committee. Any of the pitfalls could render a missions program impaired and dysfunctional. It is important that missions committees become aware of these pitfalls and proactively avoid them. Only then can there be a sustained focus on the essential purpose and objective of the missions outreach program.
1. Term limits. One of the most self-defeating events of any company, organization, or program is the frequent turnover of key members. No company or organization can succeed to its highest level when its key leadership is in place for a few years and then is dismissed and replaced by someone less aware of the history, vision, and logistical procedures of the company. Missions committees are notorious for membership serving two to three years and then rotating off by virtue of bylaw requirements, time pressures, or loss of interest. Continuity is thereby impossible to establish.
Most missionaries only visit their supporting churches every two to five years. If the missions committee membership and the pastoral staff have turned over in the meantime, the missionary is essentially left high and dry, with no one or very few in leadership who know them and their ministry. A sense of disconnect prevails.
Frequent changes put support at risk. Financial support may be maintained, but may be hollow, without emotional, prayer, and personal support. Consequently, the missionary and the family may feel abandoned. They may continue to serve, but do so in a dysfunctional relationship with their supporting church.
Effective missions committees have members who have a passion and a long-term commitment to serve on the committee and invest in the lives of the missionaries supported by the church. Term limits are not recommended for members of a missions committee. Any new member should be asked to serve for the long term. Long-term chairpersons also give stability. As business executive Arthur Spierer explains, “It takes a long time to make an old friend.”
2. Inadequate leadership. A business flounders when it lacks an articulated vision, a specific strategic plan, a clear set of operational values, and/or positive leadership. It then must defer to consultants and coaches for direction and training. As a result, the professionals consulted become the primary source of influence in the life of the company and its future. Missions committees often function similarly. Many may not have the leadership that possesses a strategic, long-term perspective and depth of knowledge of world missions. In the absence of such leadership and decision-making skills, they may look to and depend upon their pastor for direction. As a result, the pastor becomes the operational architect of the missions program. It is that person who sets the parameters of the missions program for the committee to implement.
Effective missions committees serve and develop a program that represents an arm of the church. The agreed program usually embodies the primary mission and vision of the church. The purpose, mission, and vision statements of the church should be extended to world missions. However, it should not depend upon the pastor to be the architect of the program. Effective missions committees bring together the leadership resources of a church and the needs of the world. It is through the cadre of missionaries who have been selected for support that the missions program gets fully implemented. Missions committees must be comprised of a small group of decision makers and committed leaders with a perspective to extend the vision and purpose of the church beyond the local community to a needy world.
3. A narrow perspective. In the world of investments, the greatest risk is associated with the lack of diversification. Financial eggs are at their best advantage when they are deposited in many different and financially healthy baskets. Should one basket crash, the level of loss is softened. Missions committees commonly are known to select one area of the world or one specific type of ministry to target and support. As the global world changes, the doors to various countries close as well as open. Supported missionaries also retire or leave the field for various reasons. In such cases, the missions program of a church undergoes change and can become unfocused and disjointed. Funds invested can be lost, poorly spent, or have limited impact.
As missions committees mature, they strategically spread out their funds among supported missionaries in specific world locations and missions endeavors. As they mature, they begin to grow their own missionaries and assist in the decision of where to best minister in our world. Effective missions committees reach out to a needy world at various levels of involvement or with a wide range of focus. Even with limited resources, a missions committee can reach across the globe and greatly impact several countries or regions simultaneously. Missions committees must be strategically diversified.
4. Strategy stagnation. Any company will be at risk if it does not change or update its product lines, marketing strategies, market locations, and its targeted consumer populations. Companies can only stay on the cutting edge of their industry by regular market-driven analysis of their current production and administrative operations as well as the external competitive market. Even relocation of the company is an ever-present option for strategic business advancement.
Missions committees generally work with limited resources. Strategic creativity in getting Christ’s message to a needy world is a constant struggle for a committee. Missions committees must engage in program restructuring while thinking openly and strategically to reach a targeted people group in a culturally relevant manner.
Further, the world is changing. Many people from around the globe come to America. People are coming and going more readily. Globalization has become an equalizer. There is no longer a primary field base from which to reach the unreached people groups of the world. Missionaries now go out from many different sending countries to a variety of identified mission fields. Missions committee members must rethink their global outreach and be more strategic in keeping with the dynamics of the new “flat world.” A new vision is required as we strive to make Christ known to the unreached people groups of the world.
5. The empty hothouse. Companies invest in their own people. They train and develop those with identified leadership potential. They build leadership within the corporate structure—often even selecting the next president from within the ranks of the company. Missions committees have often overlooked the importance of establishing a missions training program to grow their own future short-term and long-term missionaries. However, missions committees work closely with the people making a difference in the church. As a result, they are in a good position to select their own missionaries to support with proven effectiveness in leadership.
Thus, effective missions committees grow their own missionaries. They have a training program that starts in early childhood, but particularly focuses on those in junior high school, high school, and college—and also young adults. Even older adults can be challenged and directed into the field of missions and serve effectively, often in vital supportive and administrative capacities. Some are able to serve in a direct capacity as well.
Growing your own missionaries requires a graduated series of age-appropriate mission experiences. Going to a foreign country may be step number three or four in the training process. For example, a first step in entering missions could be junior high school students serving in a short-term capacity at a local non-profit agency. Missions committees need to engage in a “grow-your-own” missions-based training program from early childhood through adulthood.
6. Missions dullness. Celebration is generally considered a motivational and energizing event for any company or organization. Setting aside a time to celebrate and experience the success that has been achieved is a time-proven exercise for developing companies. Celebrations and festivals motivate and bond people around a vision or mission.
Unfortunately, missions committees do not regularly celebrate what has been accomplished through their missionary servants. Missions committees tend not to organize ways to periodically energize a focus on missions. Dullness often prevails. Missions highlights, handouts, PowerPoints, and speakers are often presented in a manner that is dull. Unfortunately, that leads to little or no involvement in prayer support, going on short-term mission trips, or even being hospitable to visiting missionaries.
Effective missions committees schedule time on the church calendar for a missions celebration festival. For some, it is one weekend each year. For others, it is several weekends each year. For others, it is a week-long observance; for others, it is a month of celebration and focus. When people get excited about missions, the church will grow and the outreach impact beyond the church walls will accelerate.
7. Missionary loneliness. A buddy system has proven to be critical to the success in the treatment of cancer, alcoholism, and many other life-threatening medical conditions. Mentoring and coaching has become a national endeavor associated with successful organizations and companies and their executive leadership. In contrast, missions committees often find themselves bogged down in the logistics and the details of ministry and program policy. In the process, missionaries and their families are personally forgotten and neglected. When a missionary experiences a time of crisis and personal difficulty, no one is in place to rise to his or her need. Personal support, encouragement, and emergency help must be pre-planned. An Emergency Response Team is the best way to come alongside any missionary at a time of crisis.
Successful missions committees keep current on the personal lives and events of their missionaries. Personal support and encouragement is distinctly separate from the logistics of managing a missions program for a church. Successful missions committees establish some type of buddy program so that no missionary is without emotional and spiritual support as well as financial and prayer support. Every missionary needs someone with whom to share his or her successes as well as his or her stresses. A missions program should also have a comprehensive and organized support system in place before any missionary is accepted for support and sent out for ministry.
8. Local community focus. The world today is interconnected by the internet. Business transactions of all kinds have created an international internet commerce system. Email communications make it more likely that people from all over the world can come together for conducting business and social interactions. Foreign-born people groups are coming to the doorsteps of our communities in record numbers. Remote locations are more readily accessible as international travel has become more commonplace. More people are speaking multiple languages. Even the local economies of our communities are internationally influenced. The doorways of the world are open as never before.
In past years, a church missions program was defined by the foreign country in which a missionary served and by the people groups served. A missions program with a budget of twenty percent or more of the annual church budget was the hallmark of a responsible church. Foreign missionaries were role models for the Christian faith. It was honorable to be a foreign missionary.
Over time, the focus has changed. The pendulum has swung so that we now have come to think more highly of involvement in the local community. We somehow think we can monitor our efforts and expenditures better if we invest in our local community. We have given priority to “hands on” human service projects in our communities. We have been led to believe in the goodness of easing someone’s plight of homelessness, unemployment, lack of food, or poor health, to name a few examples. Church leaders have come to believe that church growth will result from the involvement of their members in local agency projects. Our local community-centeredness in missions outreach has come to reflect a similar self-centeredness so persistent in today’s world.
Successful missions committees perceive the entire world from a biblical or Christian worldview. Strong missions committees are not only interested in ministries in their own community, but provide leadership in meeting the spiritual needs of the entire world. The ability to seize opportunities and respond to the deepest human needs at all geographic levels is a sign of a mature missions committee. Supporting ministries where God is working requires alertness to worldwide events. It also requires flexibility. Missions committees must be world-sensitive and responsive, not just local community-centered.
9. American pride. Businesses with a global market have learned to partner with and train nationals to advance the business in an ethnically and culturally relevant context. Nationals speak the language, know the culture, know the country’s leadership, are familiar with the local economy and social system, and operate from a base of personal involvement and acceptance. Nationals have moral, social, and personal capital.
The history of missions has been to take the gospel message to a national population by a person of an entirely different culture and ethnic group. These missionaries did not speak the language or know the nuances of the country and its people. Time was lost and much expense went into language training, cultural awareness, and becoming accepted. The doors of the world have always been open to those of like kind. Supporting key national leaders, trained in evangelism and discipleship, speaking to their fellow nationals in their own language, is the most relevant and cost-effective approach to world missions.
Effective missions committees support missionary efforts that utilize nationals fully to reach their own people. To train a national in evangelism and apply it in his or her own culture where he or she is accepted and respected is far more cost-effective than any other approach to worldwide evangelism. Missions committees need to embrace nationals in the work of world missions.
Without a doubt, it is difficult to avoid all the pitfalls noted above. It takes time and knowledge to do it right and effectively. Unfortunately, committee members are usually volunteers and are only able to spend a small amount of time each week to provide leadership to a missions program for a church body.
Consultation, interviewing, reading, attending conferences, and time for committee deliberation is valuable. It is costly to learn and strategize for an efficient and cost-effective missions program. Effective missions committees do just that. They learn together, pray together, strategize and plan together, visit missionaries together, and bond together. They become a team with longevity, passion, and commitment to the task of grassroots world missions.
Dr. Allan G. Hedberg, a clinical psychologist, has been a member of the missions committee of The Bridge Evangelical Free Church in California for twenty-eight years. He and his family have participated in many short-term mission ventures and outreach ministries around the world.
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