by Marvin Newell
Missionary agencies are vehicles for the establishment of a missionary vision within the Church and the facilitation of that vision to the world. As such, agencies must manifest the commitment to high quality in their work.
In today’s world, why do standards matter? Think of what our world would be like without standards. Where would we be without some measure of comparison for quantitative or qualitative value? Batting averages and marathon times would be meaningless. Prescriptions would be dangerous. Professionals, purchases, products, organizations, and businesses would not merit our confidence. We would be lost in a sea of confusion and fear. Only by adhering to acknowledged standards can performance, products, people, and even our best plans be measured.
Missionary agencies are vehicles for the establishment of a missionary vision within the Church and the facilitation of that vision to the world. As such, agencies must manifest the commitment to high quality in their work. Churches lay down the ethical principles for the accomplishment of their missionary commitments. However, the agency, because of its exclusive specialization and devotion to the missionary effort, should exhibit measurable and clear quality standards.
The main purpose for the establishment of quality standards is to honor God through a job well done. The establishment of standards is not intended to block access of any person or agency from opportunities for missionary service. Rather, the effect of quality standards should be to help churches and agencies raise the quality of their work and achieve desired outcomes.
The following are not to be taken as absolute, hard-fast codes intended to dictate quality in ministry. Instead, they are presented as best practices to be followed by reputable agencies as evidence of their integrity and trustworthiness.
I. Agency Purposes and Objectives
A mission agency should give satisfactory evidence regarding the purpose and rationale for its existence. Additionally, mission agencies should have statements of mission and objectives that are:
• Clear and understandable
• Achievable and measurable
• Considerate of the contemporary and local contexts
• Reviewed regularly and revised when necessary
II. Agency Standards
A. Message and Doctrinal Standards
1. Integrity begins with fidelity in the message. All of the money and passion devoted to worthy causes goes for naught if the message of the gospel is not preached in purity and power. That’s why the foundation of an agency is first of all theological and doctrinal. The reason is both clear and compelling: millions of people around the world are lost in their sins, without hope, facing eternity without Christ as Lord and Savior. The central message is: “Christ died for our sins according to the scripture” (1 Cor. 15:3). Churches need to be assured that the mission agencies they support are faithful to scripture, to the gospel, and to Jesus Christ.
2. A clear faith statement, which lays out the tenets of belief of the agency, should be readily accessible to anyone who inquires. In today’s world, it is good to have it somewhere on the mission’s website.
B. Organizational Standards
1. An agency must have a set of bylaws that specifies and regulates the agency. Bylaws dictate the form, manner, or procedure in which an agency operates.
2. An agency should be governed by an active board that demonstrates organizational control, including broad policy-making authority.
a. The board is composed of at least five to seven members, the majority of the board members being non-staff and not immediate family members.
b. The board should meet regularly—semi-annually at a minimum.
3. Agencies should have sufficient personnel to make it a viable organization, able to carry out its purposes and to meet minimal administrative demands.
C. Financial Standards
Christians have a right to know that their hard-earned, prayed-over gifts are wisely invested. Administrative costs, salaries, and overhead are carefully monitored for consistency with the mission agency’s stated goals and purposes. Therefore, integrity in all financial dealings is a must.
1. Agencies demonstrate financial responsibility by issuing an annual financial report prepared in conformity with generally-accepted accounting principles, audited by a chartered accountant or certified public accountant in accordance with generally-accepted auditing standards.
2. Agencies prepare financial statements that are consistent with the Accounting and Financial Reporting Guide for Christian Ministries. Minimum financial statements include a balance sheet, a statement of activity, a statement of changes in financial position, and notes to the financial statements.
3. Agencies should have an active audit or finance committee, the majority of whom are non-staff, which is responsible to:
a. Maintain a direct line of communication between the board and the external auditors
b. Assist the board in fulfilling its fiduciary responsibilities relating to accounting and reporting practices
c. Ensure that there is no conflict of interest in its financial operations
4. Agencies use no more for its administration and fund-raising than is reasonable for its size and purpose.
5. Faith missions should evidence their faith in God for the provision of needs without overbearing solicitation of funds.
6. Agencies use all donated funds for the purposes for which they are accepted.
D. Operational Standards
1. An agency must maintain a reputation for integrity and stability in all its operations in North America and overseas, practice high ethical standards, and avoid all conflicts of interest.
2. Home office administrative functions should be managed effectively by qualified staff hired for their particular expertise. An environment of trust and respect, which promotes cordial staff rapport, should be maintained.
3. Relationships between home-side directors, missionaries, and teams should promote free interchange of information and ideas.
a. Directors must be properly informed and updated about the development of the missionaries’ work on the field.
b. Directors must supervise without unduly prevailing upon or impairing overseas ministry leaders or leadership teams.
4. Before entering a new geographic area or people group, agencies should conduct a thorough survey. Before starting the ministry, consultation should be held with other evangelical missions and/or churches working in the area or among the people group when feasible (restricted access countries may be different).
E. Personnel Standards
The agency carefully selects, assigns, and supervises its personnel in order to practice good stewardship and achieve maximum effectiveness in the use of gifts, abilities, and training of missionaries and staff. The agency should:
1. Have a clear and effective selection and admission process of candidates, which includes input from the candidate’s home church
2. Conduct a thorough orientation process, which clearly informs the appointee of the responsibilities of the agency in every aspect of missionary care, mission policies, rules, philosophy, strategy, and mutual responsibility
3. Set the level of regular financial support for each different economic reality overseas, and manage the transfer of funds efficiently
4. Care for the missionary and family with health insurance, health care, retirement plans, and education for the children
5. Communicate often with the missionary and provide accountability oversight
6. Provide regular pastoral assistance, and, when necessary, counseling services to the missionary
7. Make possible on-going education and life-long learning opportunities
8. Provide an emergency safety net in case of emergencies or death
9. When the missionary is on home assignment, assist in crafting a home assignment plan for the missionary, preferably in conjunction with the missionary’s sending church. The plan allows the missionary to report, rest, and get replenished and renewed for continued service overseas.
10. Establish and implement an evaluation process relating to both the
ministry and personal life of the missionary
III. Agency Policies
Agencies should have and adhere to board-approved internal policies to which each mission member is orientated. These policies should include:
A. Sexual conduct policy
B. Child protection policy
C. Crisis management policy
D. Kidnapping policy
E. Conflict of interest policy
F. Children education policy
G. Life-long learning policy
H. Dismissal policy
IV. Agency Relationships
A. With Other Agencies
1. Due to the wide scope and variety of churches and charitable organizations seeking funds, influence, and partnerships today, mission agencies should make evident how they relate to one another and with whom they partner and have fellowship.
2. Reputable agencies hold membership in mission accreditation associations. For North America, evangelical mission associations include: CrossGlobal Link, The Mission Exchange, and the Association of North American Missions.
3. As an evidence of Christian integrity and mutual respect, any agency considering recruitment of a person from another Christian organization is expected to consult with the leadership of that organization before entering into serious negotiations.
B. With Churches
1. Agencies should recognize that they exist to serve the church. A function of agencies is to help churches understand their missionary responsibility.
2. It should inform the church of its expectations of a candidate regarding Christian life, ministry, and relationships within the church community before being sent out.
3. It should guide the church in its responsibility for missionary care.
4. It should confer with the church about the location and assignment of its missionary.
C. With Academic Institutions
Agencies should establish healthy relationships with theological schools where they are free to present the missionary challenge to students. They should be available to teach about cross-cultural mission services and work with the school in curriculum planning specific to missions.
CrossGlobal Link Bylaws. 2007. “Standards.”
Orme, John H. 2001. “In Our ‘Whatever’ World, Do Standards Matter?” IFMA News. 52(3).
World Evangelical Alliance. 2007. “Quality Standards” of the Brazilian Association of Cross-Cultural Missions (BMCA), Connections—The Journal of the WEA Mission Commission. 6(2).
Dr. Marvin Newell is executive director of CrossGlobal Link. He and his wife Peggy served as missionaries for fifteen years in Papua (Irian Jaya). Marvin also served as Asia-Pacific regional director with TEAM and then as professor of missions and intercultural studies at the Moody Graduate School.
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