by Paul Borthwick
Seven roles that missions committee in supporting churches should play.
Consider this quotation from A. R. Hay’s book, The New Testament Order For Church and Missionary: The Lord founded the church as a missionary organization. Such was its original structure. It was not an ecclesiastical organization with missionary endeavor as a department of its work. Missionaries were its leaders. Its primary purpose was missionary and all its members engaged in the propagation of the gospel (p. 131).
How far we have fallen from this ideal. Instead of being missionary organizations, many churches are, at best, involved in the nominal support of a few missionaries. Others support missionaries and missions that they know very little about.
That the local church should be the pivot of world missions goes without argument in most missiological discussions. The problem, however, is lack of deeds. Rather than the local church being the "seedbed for missions," the focus of missions has shifted to mission organizations, Bible colleges, and seminaries. While monies come from churches, they are seldom involved in missionary strategy. Often, missionaries receive their training outside of the church, after having heard the "call" to missions through a campus organization, or at an Urbana missionary conference. The local church has gone from being the pivotal center that "makes things happen" in world missions (as in the book of Acts) to being a docile spectator.
What’s the remedy? Specific steps must be taken to restore the local church’s sense of participation and importance in world missions. These steps involve missionaries, missions executives, and the leaders of local churches. To work towards this restoration, we must define the role of the people who need to bring direction to the church’s missions program, namely, the missions committee. The missions committee is the crucial group to re-establish the local church’s rightful place in missions leadership. Only when the roles of the missions committee are understood and carried out can the local church begin to play its essential part in world missions.
What roles should the missions committee play? I suggest at least seven. Missionaries should recommend them to their supporting churches.
The first and most basic task of the missions committee should be the education of the church family about missions. In our church, the best way to do this has been what we call "short bursts" about missions. These are brief slide shows with music and narration that give an impression about a missionary, rather than detailing every jot and tittle of his work. A brief column in our church newsletter, entitled "Get To Know Your Missionaries," helps people to know more. We also provide missions prayer packets-a digest of the missionaries we support, a page of data about the country in which they work, and an addressed and posted airmail form to the missionaries.
Penetrate the Christian education department. While an adult elective on world missions might educate some, it is far more effective to make missions part of the ongoing program. Get children in a program like World Vision’s "BiTE" project. Use children’s missionary stories; have missionaries speak in classes.
Educate year-round. While some churches feel that an annual missionary conference is enough, it seldom sustains the church for the whole year.
Set the pace
The missions committee must set the pace by getting church members involved in missions in practical ways. First, encourage them to pray for missionaries every day. Show them how to use the monthly prayer guides published by missionary organizations. We use the Frontier Fellowship guide, published by the U.S. Center for World Mission, Pasadena, Calif. Other churches use the timely (twice a month) Pulse and Missionary News Service, published by Evangelical Missions Information Service, Box 794, Wheaton, III. 60189. Remember, though, to start small. Praying for one missionary or one locale every day is a great start. Few people can pray for "the whole world," or "all the missionaries," in any manageable way.
Second, focus on evangelism. In our church, the missions-minded people are reaching their friends at work or in their neighborhoods. Concern for the unsaved nearby leads to a concern for the unsaved overseas. Focusing only on those "over there" leads to what author Eugene Peterson calls "Afghanistanitus," the idea that the real opportunities for significant acts of giving are in faraway places or extreme situations (Traveling Light, p. 181).
Adopt a strategy
In the first two weeks I served our international missions committee at Grace Chapel, I received 10 calls and letters from people or organizations asking for money. They were all worthy causes, but we could not help everyone. I met with our missions chairman, and we decided that we needed some guidelines.
Over the next six months, we wrote a "Strategy for the Allocation of Funds." We spelled out which parts of the world we wanted to work in, what missionary tasks we wanted to do (literacy work, relief, church-planting, etc.), and how we would channel our support. Since then, this strategy has given direction and purpose to our missions committee’s task and to our church’s giving.
The missions committee must decide one basic question: How does God want our church to be involved in world missions? Some churches adopt one of the "hidden people" groups. Others support as many missionaries as possible in certain countries or regions. Others support relatively fewer missionaries, or projects, so as to involve the whole congregation in a uniform strategy.
Many churches have been helped in strategy planning by the Great Commission Workshops provided by Columbia Bible College. Whatever the strategy, the missions committee must let God lead through planning and prayer. Rather than making spontaneous responses to "whatever need comes along," the missions committee must plan ahead to achieve specific goals.
Build financial support
This has to be done according to denominational and local church policies. One way or another, if God’s missionary mandate is to be fulfilled, missionaries must be supported by their home churches. The missions committee’s role is crucial, whether the church determines an annual missions-benevolence contribution, raises a stated amount each year by pledges, or takes on the personal support of a number of missionaries.
Ideally, financial support should be determined by the church’s missionary strategies (see above). That strategy guides budget decisions by the church. Without some direction and purpose to the missions program, money is spent willy-nilly, usually for the most persuasive speakers and causes. This leaves little opportunity for critical needs overseas that get little attention here. The committee must guard against this kind of imbalance.
In churches that have a separate missions budget, specific support and fund-raising goals should be set well in advance, that is, at least for one year. Growth should be targeted for three to five years. The congregation must be kept informed about these targets and the progress being made toward reaching them. People like to have specific challenges tied in with both missionaries and projects.
Once a missionary is appointed, the missions committee should get specific support figures from the sending agency. Some missions follow detailed personal support plans, while others pool their income. The committee is responsible for checking the financial integrity of the agency. An audited statement should be given promptly upon request. The committee should find out what is covered in the "support" figure given. Does it include work and travel funds, insurance, housing, funds for education, and so on? How much will be allocated to home office expenses?
Each missionary’s situation should be reviewed annually. Each sending agency should give an annual evaluation, not only of the missionary’s financial support needs, but also of his performance on the field. Church members today expect that their funds will be used according to agreed upon principles and goals. They also want to know that receiving agencies are responsible in their use of donated support funds.
The missions committee must also shield the budget from "pet" causes, which often arise from friends within the church. Tough, sometimes unpopular decisions must be made. This is easier to do when the church has agreed on both its missions strategy and its budget a year in advance.
Proper accounting and receipting, as well as adherence to Internal Revenue Service regulations, are part of the committee’s responsibility, in cooperation with the church treasurer or financial secretary. Financial integrity must be guarded at all costs.
Most committees probably spend more time in helping raise support than they do in securing accountability for money raised. But in these days when missions agencies spend millions of dollars every year, the missions committee should not slight the painstaking work of being sure that every dollar given is used honestly and toward the church’s own goals for world missions.
Be responsible for missionaries
While I fully accept the necessity of missions sending agencies, I fear that the church has abdicated its responsibility to recruit, train, screen, and nurture its missionaries. In full cooperation with mission boards, churches must take more responsibility for missionaries.
Some churches not only screen prospective missionaries, they also put them to work in the church before they go overseas. This helps the mission boards, because the ill-equipped and unprepared will not make it through this screening.
After the missionaries launch their careers, the missions committee must work closely with mission boards in caring for them. For example: When Fred and Betty encountered some deep problems on the mission field, Bob (the personnel director of their mission) called us for advice. He handed the responsibility to us and we had to decide whether or not to accept it. Although we wondered, "Why is he asking us? That’s his problem now," we moved ahead and took a hand in solving the crisis. This meant some overseas phone calls and some rearranged schedules. We provided advice, not just because Bob asked us, but also because we knew Fred and Betty better than he did.
Care of missionaries means keeping in touch after support has been raised and the commissioning service held. The missions committee should insist on regular communication from the field. In turn, they should mobilize and train church members to write and visit missionaries, as well as send them "care packages" once in a while.
The welfare of missionaries’ children should be a central concern of the committee, especially when they come back to the United States for their education. Church people should be aware of the pain of cultural adjustments, the loneliness, and the keen moral tests that MKs face.
Of course, furloughs give the committee many chances to show care in meeting such needs as housing, cars, clothing, vacation retreats, clerical assistance, and so on.
Call new missionaries
Many young people get their "call" to missions in Christian college organizations, or at the Urbana missionary conferences. That’s great, but I am chagrined that so few of the church’s best people are selected and called forth by the local church.
In the book of Acts, the "call" of Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13) came to them from the Holy Spirit through the church at Antioch. The idea of selecting or appointing people is foreign to us in the individualistic culture of the West. But if we want to see people raised up and sent out into world missions, we can’t rely alone on their hearing a subjective, individualistic call. The missions committee should watch for people with skills in ministry, and even expertise in cross-cultural adaptation, and then be courageous enough to go to them and say, "We see your God-given gifts and abilities, and we would like to challenge you to think seriously about serving in missions."
The role of "appointers" can be effectively carried out, if the missions committee keeps abreast of mission happenings and needs. With current personnel needs lists from various mission board publications, the missions committee can go to people with specific jobs and say, "We have prayed about this job, and we are wondering if you would pray about it, too, to see if you might be the person to do it."
Be missions experts
It sounds rather intimidating to try to be an expert at anything. The vast explosion of knowledge and information makes the expert category almost unattainable, especially in a task as awesome as world missions. Nevertheless, the missions committee can become the missions experts if two things happen: (a) resources are provided, and (b) tasks are limited and made definable.
Resources include missionary books, magazines and newsletters, as well as special seminars and conferences. The church library should have a healthy dose of missions books and magazines. Tell people about them via pulpit announcements and bulletin board notices.
Missions committee members should specialize. Subcommittees can be organized by geographic regions, by "people groups," or by missions tasks and issues: hunger and relief, theological education by extension, church planting, translation, and so on.
Our committee has five subcommittees: (1) Monies. Responsible for new candidate support or project support, as well as the management of the budget and the implementation of the "Strategy for the Allocation of Funds." (2) Education. Responsible for missions in the Christian education program, the "short burst" slide shows in church services, publications, the missions book table, and the missions conference. (3) Care. Responsible for missionary care on the field (letters, gifts, etc.), as well as while on furlough (hospitality, housing, etc.). (4) Exposure. Responsible for church involvement with international students, for visits by church members to various mission fields, and for cross cultural outreach training right here at home. (5) Candidates. Responsible for defining a candidate program, for following-up people who are interested in missions, and for approaching those who should go.
Taking the ideals into reality
The seven roles of the missions committee cannot be fulfilled just by hoping for the best. There must be a concerted effort by missionaries, mission leaders, and church leaders, as follows:
Church leaders: Support is needed for the responsibilities set forth in this article. Some churches do not have any missions zeal, let alone an active missions committee. Pastors and leaders must revitalize the church to assume its authority and responsibility in the fulfillment of the Great Commission.
Missionaries: Support the missions committee when you visit churches, or correspond with your donors. Your input is vital in challenging churches to undertake more responsibility in the missionary cause. Your feedback is needed so that churches (and missions committees) know how to care for and relate to you more effectively.
Missions executives: Support is needed as you interrelate with church leaders. Pastors need to know fresh ideas for bringing missions to the congregation. Missions committees need to be consulted and involved in making decisions. Churches need to be brought into partnership, if they are to sense their responsibility for the task of world evangelization.
Working together: Missionaries, church leaders, missions executives, and missions committees can restore the biblical stance of the local church into world missions. As missions committees begin to undertake these and other roles to make missions come alive in the local church, it can play its proper pivotal role in the great task before us.
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