Solving Mission Board Roulette

by Phill Butler

The claim of God’s Holy Spirit on an individual’s heart regarding commitment to service is certainly a most sacred and cherished matter. However, the way in which a potential missionary candidate finds his place of service is often characterized by some as a sort of “mission board roulette.”

The claim of God’s Holy Spirit on an individual’s heart regarding commitment to service is certainly a most sacred and cherished matter. However, the way in which a potential missionary candidate finds his place of service is often characterized by some as a sort of "mission board roulette." Too often the person considering service is forced to "hunt and peck" through a long list of mission board names that, in turn, may result in months of correspondence which, finally, may result in the candidate’s seeking a job in secular employment.

For many years industry has been using available techniques to minimize this type of problem both for individuals looking for new employment and for those already inside a large organization but looking for transfer. "Skills inventory" or "skills matching" systems are in use by dozens of major corporations around the U.S. and Canada as well as in a number of foreign countries. The U.S. Department of Labor has embarked on an ambitious program to provide this type of computer-based service for local State Employment offices. Two major experiments are now underway in Baltimore and throughout the entire state of Utah.

Because of concern over this problem, the International Christian Organization, Intercristo, began discussions in 1967 with various missions leaders regarding the establishment of some type of information system which would attack problems surrounding the prospective candidate and the mission board communication process. A great deal of guidance and help was obtained from the Missions Advanced Research and Communications Center, active in the research and information field. Consultations were held with Wade Coggins of the EFMA and Jack Frizen of the IFMA. Missions executives pointed out the increasing use of electronic data processing equipment, computers and other devices by various societies for speeding their flow of data on a wide range of subjects.

One of the primary requirements for any such system is a common data base of information regarding applying individuals and the actual openings on the field. Some held that common forms for job descriptions and individual applicants could never be a reality due to the diversity of mission societies and their unique requirements. However, a study for the IFMA by Don Brugmann of the Greater Europe Mission showed clearly that there was a commonality in the majority of information required by candidates by the boards. The information not common could be picked up in secondary forms and/or interviews which would naturally follow.

Intercristo wanted further proof that an information system of this type would have practical value to both applicant and mission board. To determine this, a pilot effort was arranged in cooperation with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship.

At a regional missions conference sponsored by IVCF at the University of California at Los Angeles, the "matching" concept was put to the test. Seventeen of the missions organizations at the conference provided job descriptions for their priority openings. Two hundred and sixty students filled out personal profile forms which were matched against the job descriptions provided by the missions. Twenty-four hours later the students each received a list of openings giving mission, job title and location, for which their personal interest or background qualified them. Each participating mission board, in turn, was given a list of names and addresses of students at the conference who qualified for each one of the job descriptions that particular board had supplied. If the student did not show up at the board’s booth, the mission could take the initiative and follow-up by mail. A total of 650 "matches" were given the students in that short period with a very primitive system of sorting and matching.

For the first time students were able to go to a specific booth or missions representative and know that he was visiting a board that had an opening of interest to him. This, in contrast with having to wander around the display area hoping he might find some group interested in his background.

Shortly after this test of the "matching" concept and the favorable indications regarding the application of data processing techniques to such a system, the discussions between Intercristo and the missions community intensified. Two major conclusions emerged: (1) The acknowledgement that certain basic common forms in evangelical missions would be helpful. (2) That a data bank containing information on all opportunities with Christian organizations world-wide was needed.

Planning has continued between Intercristo and mission board executives working toward the actual implementation of the recommendations. The job description forms and personal profile form contents have been laid out for computer application. Intercristo is developing the actual computer system which will handle the information flow once the program is operating. The present system calls for use of the IBM 360 computer with disc pack memory units providing random access for maximum flexibility.

The forms are designed so that while the content remains standard, the exterior of the form can tie printed with the symbol and/or information of any participating missions organization. Short Terms Abroad, Christian Service Corps and other similar groups have agreed to use the same form content providing continuity throughout the missions community.

The job description form is designed to provide thoroughness in definition of the position’s requirements, but is laid out in such a way so as to require minimum time on the part of the missions executive for completion whether in the home office or on the field. The individual application form is designed to provide tie information from the prospective candidate called for in the job description so that the two complete the data required for a "match" of opportunities and skills.

The forms probe not only such areas as educational requirements but also language proficiency, marital status, Christian background, church-related activity, work experience, geographical interests, and what kind of Christian service has been performed before.

The typical information flow will go like this: (1) Mission board fills out job description form, and keeping a copy for its own files, sends additional copy to Intercristo. (2) Job description is reviewed and entered into computer to become part of the data bank on opportunities world-wide. (3) Potential candidate contacts Intercristo or other organization. Personal profile is completed and sent to data bank where the profile is "matched" against the opportunities outlined in the job descriptions in the computer memory system. (4) Potential candidate is given a print out of all openings for which his background, interest and experience qualify him. This print out includes job title, geographical area of the position and name and address of sponsoring mission. At this point the potential candidate is required to take the initiative and contact those organizations to which he feels led. (5) Periodically (such as monthly) cooperating mission boards receive print out of names and addresses of individuals who have inquired at the data center and who have been given information regarding a job description provided by that mission. Mission now has opportunity to follow up in person or by mail.

The basic service, that of providing any individual a comprehensive view of world-wide opportunities for Christian service, is firmly met with this system.

Inter-Varsity used the system in cooperation with Intercristo at the 1970 Urbana Missionary Convention where students’ backgrounds were matched with specific information about specific openings with specific societies. Mission boards at Urbana reported 6,400 openings; 5,300 students completed individual applications prior to the convention. Each student received a list of ten openings corresponding to his interests and qualifications. Each mission board received a list of all students "matching" their openings.

Subsequent plans call for a regular printed compilation of the opportunities for Christian service world-wide. With the data stored a regularly updated "catalogue" of openings is envisioned. The system can also be used to provide places such as Christian colleges and seminaries with a device which placement offices, missions professors and others can use to assist students in investigating actual possibilities for service where their Christian background and education might be used. The data bank will be updated twice annually by giving participating missions a print out of their job descriptions on file calling for additions, deletions or changes.

Requests are already being made to expand the system to include openings in North America. Consideration is being given to this since the system, once functioning, can handle this type of information as well. However, it is felt that at the outset primary emphasis should be placed on overseas openings that are the first responsibility of missions organizations. There have been discussions with the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students in Lausanne, Switzerland, and InterVarsity Fellowship of Great Britain both of which are now providing career guidance and placement assistance for Christian students in England and on the continent. It is possible that the program will eventually include the same information service for prospective candidates from many countries in addition to Canada and the U.S.

Those who have been involved in the discussion and planning of this program see it only as the first step in the long road of an individual finding a meaningful place of service on some mission field. Interviews, candidate school and all of the other normal steps will be needed to qualify and prepare individuals for service. However, this program will vastly expand the information available to anyone who is interested in knowing if God would have him give his life to missions service.


Copyright © 1971 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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