by Jim Reapsome
The capable young doctor was not critical of mission agencies, but definitely puzzled. He had previously volunteered for and served two short terms in Africa.
The capable young doctor was not critical of mission agencies, but definitely puzzled. He had previously volunteered for and served two short terms in Africa. These were eminently satisfying experiences for himself and his family. He assumed the mission agency was pleased with his services. At least, he had heard nothing to the contrary. In fact, since his return from his second stint he had heard nothing at all. That’s why he was puzzled.
I was equally puzzled when I learned that another mission agency has made no effort to follow up its summer short-termers. In fact, this agency does not even have a record of those who over many years have served in that capacity. That means that probably some 1,500 potential missionaries are being overlooked and neglected.
I believe many qualified people would like to be asked to become missionaries. Why, then, do some mission agencies hesitate to be more aggressive in seeking potential missionaries? Why do they fail to keep in touch with short-termers? For one thing, some agencies find it hard to change the way they have recruited throughout their history. Second, it’s easier to wait for volunteers than to pursue them in a sincere, conscientious way. By "pursuing" 1 do not mean arm-twisting, or pressure to induce false guilt. We all know missionaries whose careers lasted six months or less because they were swept up on some foreign shore by a tidal wave of emotion.
Perhaps the greatest hindrance to revamping outdated, ineffective recruiting practices is the fear that by being more aggressive and systematic we might be usurping the role of the Holy Spirit, We want to be so sure that our recruiting is not mere human manipulation, that we-require people to come to us with a certified conviction that they have been called by God to be missionaries. We fear that we might ask someone to be a missionary whom God hasn’t called. I suspect, however, that by asking a qualified doctor, for example, to become a full-time missionary, we actually are God’s means of issuing a call to that doctor.
All of us need the affirmation that our desires to do God’s will, our experience, and our training are indeed useful in the fulfillment of the Great Commission. Mission agencies must take the aspirations of people seriously. People today are used to being pursued, they are not used to volunteering. Many are waiting to be asked to serve. They are not afraid to go overseas, but would relish the chance to take a crack at doing something significant for God in another culture.
Perhaps missionary recruiters could take a page from the recruiting practices of college football coaches. The missionary recruiter does not have material inducements to offer, of course, but he or she can spend time on both Christian and secular campuses, building trust and conveying excitement in a potential career with the mission. Coaches succeed because players trust them and the positive atmosphere they convey about their programs and their schools. Many times their "courting" of top prospects takes years, many visits and phone calls, hours in patient talks over hamburgers, and careful cultivating of the recruit’s family as well.
The recruiting task is too big for one person. Mission agencies would do well to enlist teachers, pastors, and youth workers in the critical job of looking for top student prospects and establishing positive channels of future communications with them. High school, college, and seminary teachers usually are not reluctant about pushing their choice students toward certain attractive, prestigious careers. These teachers can be helped to look beyond the usual career choices, so that they need not be inhibited about counseling their most capable students regarding a career in missions.
The same goes for pastors, youth pastors, Sunday school teachers, and parents. Part of the duty of the senior pastor, especially, is to be alert to the people in his church who have demonstrated missionary skills at home-as personal workers, Bible study leaders, and so on—and then to speak to them privately. The senior pastor should affirm these gifts, suggest further training if needed, and gently nudge the person toward a missionary career. This procedure is far more effective than preaching "Go!" to the whole congregation and waiting for someone to write a letter to a mission agency. This kind of recruiting by the pastoral staff must be reserved for the choicest of the flock. The churches must give their best people to missions.
No parent of a high school football star would have the slightest hesitation about pushing him to get a scholarship and play in college. Why don’t parents push missions for their "spiritual stars"? We can make missionary careers a priority in our families, too.
Missionary recruiters can go to the schools, churches, and homes and say, in effect, "We’re looking to lay hands on the best people we can find. Who do you suggest we talk to?" We may not only get more people, we would also get better ones. All of us can be God’s co-workers in enlisting laborers for his harvest, if we simply put our hands on the shoulders of the best qualified men and women we can find and ask, "Say, have you ever thought about a career in missions? I believe you’ve got the gifts and qualifications to do a great job for God overseas? What do you think? Would you be willing to pray about it?"
I know my doctor friend would appreciate that. No doubt many recruiters are in fact doing what we propose here. But apparently a significant number of qualified and interested people are falling through the cracks, so to speak, even those who have successfully completed short-term service.
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