by Allan Hedberg
Most successful businesses have clearly articulated their mission and vision statements. Most have also implemented a strategic plan that will help accomplish their organization’s mission and vision. The Church has had a vision statement for over two thousand years.
Most successful businesses have clearly articulated their mission and vision statements. Most have also implemented a strategic plan that will help accomplish their organization’s mission and vision. The Church has had a vision statement for over two thousand years. It is best known as the Great Commission, a command for every believer and every church. Jesus enunciated it in Matthew 28:19-20: “Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
The Great Commission is not an option. It is not an extra program. It is the core task of the believer and takes precedence over all else. It is the essential and compelling motivation of Christian living. The four operational directives are: go, make disciples, baptize and teach. How the Great Commission is played out varies greatly at both the individual and the corporate church level.
Most churches establish a missions committee to develop and implement a strategic missions plan on behalf of the church. While the methods may vary, the purpose and intent of a missions program does not. Essentially, a missions program is to facilitate believers: (1) going out into the world, (2) presenting the gospel message, (3) baptizing new disciples and (4) teaching the new believers to live by Christ’s commandments. In turn, new believers are to go, present the gospel, baptize and teach others. This principle was adopted by the Apostle Paul, who taught Timothy, who taught others (2 Tim. 2:2). The Great Commission is a multiplicative principle and command. It is to be implemented simultaneously, not sequentially. It is a model of exponential Christianity.
Missions programs in some churches are shallow, unfocused and have little impact on today’s world. Missions programs that have a global vision and strategic plan designed to impact the world for Christ will be appreciated and financially supported by the church leadership and congregation.
Ten major decisive actions of an effective, fully-functioning church missions program are outlined below. Bringing Christ to the nations is the ultimate objective and purpose of missions. Program depth is achieved when strategic planning is undertaken in each of the ten areas of action.
1. ACCEPTING MISSIONS
The depth of a missions program depends on church leadership placing value and priority on missions in the overall ministry of the church. Accordingly, church leadership will take responsibility to provide for outreach ministry in the annual budget. It is the responsibility of a missions committee to educate church leadership on mission, trends, needs and the specific vision of the church’s missions program. This can be done by inviting church leaders to missions-oriented events, connecting with visiting missionaries and providing copies of missionary prayer letters.
Encouraging church leadership to participate in a mission vision trip is a profound educational experience in missions. When church leaders see the purpose of missions being fulfilled through the efforts of their own missionaries, they will come to value and support the missions program. These leaders will also seek other ways to become involved themselves and to involve the congregation.
Churches with depth in missions provide regular and personal opportunities for involvement. Such churches value their missionaries and develop long-term personal relationships with them. Involvement and financial support is a sign of acceptance of the strategic plan.
2. SELECTING MISSIONARIES
The depth of a missions program is correlated with the selection and support of missionaries who have a track record of effective ministry. The ministry of each supported missionary implements the purpose and vision of the missions program. Missionaries should be placed strategically in a ministry that fulfills the master plan of the church. Missionaries are an outstretched ministry arm of the church to unreached people groups of the world.
Selecting missionaries who can effectively minister to and challenge the congregation by relating their ministry experiences also brings depth to a program. Conversely, selecting missionaries whose ministry is out of sync with the purpose and vision of the missions program makes the program anemic, diluted and unfocused.
When a missions committee selects missionaries to support who are vision-compatible, strategically-oriented and globally-focused, the missions program gains depth and significance. Accordingly, the ministry of the church is expanded exponentially.
3. CONTRIBUTING MISSIONARIES
Depth is also achieved when supported missionaries represent a broad age range. Both mature career missionaries and younger missionaries have much to contribute to a church congregation. Short-termers also play a significant role in giving depth to a missions program. Depth in missions is achieved by a well-selected cadre of effective career missionaries and by those involved in short-term assignments.
Career missionaries generate interest in missions when they visit the church during furloughs and vacations. They introduce a personal touch with missions as they interact with church families and spend time in the homes of congregational members. Short-term missionaries bring enthusiasm, vibrancy and excitement about missions that may be less evident in older, mature missionaries.
The depth of a church missions program develops as supported missionaries generate interest by sharing their experiences with the congregation. A variety of settings and interactional opportunities with the missionaries must be created by the missions committee. The congregation depends on a missions committee that helps them connect with the missionaries in a meaningful way. Personal contact with missionaries engenders personal participation in both short- and long-term missions.
4. RESPECTING MISSIONARIES
Highly qualified missionaries who are serving effectively will readily earn the respect of the congregation, but this respect only comes when the missions committee shares what the missionaries have been doing during their time of service.
A missions committee must highlight for the congregation why the missionaries have the full confidence of the committee. Likewise, a missions committee must present the missionaries being supported as effective models of fulfilling the Great Commission around the world. Giving examples of their effective and faithful service will generate respect and appreciation for individual missionaries and their ministry.
Each missionary has specific gifts. All missionaries are not public speakers. Missionaries who speak fluently, persuasively and relate positively to the congregation should share their experiences with the congregation. Some missionaries are very capable of preaching. Some missionaries work best in a question and answer format. Others do best by giving a brief report. Respect for a missionary’s effectiveness on the field must not be judged by their success in raising funds, presenting sermons or advocating their ministry while at home.
5. SUPPORTING SYSTEMS
Missionaries need to be supported financially. However, they need to be supported emotionally, spiritually and personally as well. A missions program reflects depth as it develops a systematic personal support network throughout the congregation for each missionary and his or her family.
Some churches establish a personal buddy for each missionary. The pair can then establish a mutually supportive and caring relationship. Other churches create prayer cell groups who pray for specific missionaries regularly. Some churches designate someone who will send birthday cards, anniversary cards and gifts to missionaries on special occasions.
Communicating church news and sending CDs of services is usually welcomed and appreciated by the missionary. A support network maintains the connective relationship between the missionary and the church. Should stressful events or trauma occur, the network of support is in place to readily respond.
Churches that provide financial support but do not provide ongoing personal care and encouragement fail their missionaries. Having an active system of personal care and emotional support is a mark of a missions program with depth.
6. EXPERIENCING MISSIONS
There are multidimensional opportunities for a congregation to experience involvement in a missions experience. The more people who become involved, the greater the depth of the missions program.
Praying for missionaries is a vital ministry. Some churches organize periodic concerts of prayer. Responding to the monthly missionary prayer letters is another informative involvement. Having church families invite missionaries into their homes is also a significant sign of involvement. Devoting several Sundays during the year to a missions emphasis facilitates personal involvement in the enterprise of missions around the world.
Organizing an annual month-long missions emphasis is a powerful way to unite the whole church around a deeper exposure to missions. Participating in a short-term missions experience or going on brief vision trips are two excellent examples of experiencing missions firsthand.
Organizing a special missions-focused fundraising project during the year gives everyone the opportunity to personally participate in advancing the Great Commission. Such a project can be exciting and unifying for the church body that experiences this together. Offering multiple opportunities for meaningful personal experience in missions is essential for building depth into the church missions program.
7. SERVING COMMITTEE MEMBERS
Missions programs gain depth when the church has committee members who have a passion and vision for missions. Depth is achieved when committee members are effectively and actively contributing to vision fulfillment. As committee members serve long-term, they come to know the missionaries and their ministries intimately. They more fully understand the problems and issues facing the missionaries. They are able to plan ahead and develop a five- to ten-year vision and strategic plan for the missions program of the church. With committed, long-term committee membership, the program grows in depth and maturity.
However, many churches operate on the organizational philosophy of a time-based duty of service. Committee members are elected for a pre-determined term of service. Such a policy creates frequent turnover of committee membership. Under such a policy, the missions program becomes vulnerable to detached and short-sighted committee members. Rapid turnover does not allow for a sufficient duration of service during which committee members can personally connect with the missionaries and their families. Accordingly and unfortunately, missionaries come to feel emotionally disassociated from the church leadership and congregation.
8. STAFFING THE PROGRAM
Missions programs are usually implemented by dedicated and faithful lay leaders who (1) have a strong interest in missions, (2) have a history of missionary connections and (3) are determined to make a global impact for Christ. A missions program has depth when it is led by a lay leadership with personal and historical roots in missions. While it is good to have a pastoral staff who support missions, they should only serve in a consulting role. The depth of a missions program is enhanced when a committee of lay leaders represents a variety of experience and age levels.
Program depth generally requires secretarial support or an administrative assistant who devotes focused and concentrated time to the missions program and the supported missionaries. Staff support works under the direction of and in coordination with the missions committee chair.
In contrast, a missions program that depends on a pastor who has limited time, high congregational demands and a local church priority will remain weak. A pastor of missions is sometimes hired by larger churches. However, this model can remove and disassociate missions from the lay leadership and the congregation. A professional staff model can create distance and a barrier between the congregation and the missionaries.
9. MAKING DECISIONS
An operations manual for structure and function can be most helpful for long-term decision making. A manual provides continuity and guidance for problem solving and the decision-making process. An operations manual is not a policy manual or a legal document. Rather, it is a guideline that sets forth the parameters and boundaries for program development and implementation. A detailed operations manual provides strength and depth to a missions program.
The operations manual needs to be regularly updated regarding new decisions and agreed changes in procedures. As new situations and problems develop, the guidelines are expanded to handle such situations in the future. Hence, an operations manual is a dynamic and living document for program implementation, problem solving and decision making.
A missions program will have depth as it maintains systematic minutes of all meetings, emphasizing actions and decisions. In contrast, a missions program which operates on verbal exchanges or a few handwritten notes will not mature and achieve depth over time. Such missions programs are subjective and capricious.
10. MAPPING THE BUDGET
Some view a budget as a restraint indicating what cannot be done. A missions program with depth views a budget as a road map to fulfilling a purpose and accomplishing a vision. A budget allows the necessary freedom for the full implementation of the strategic plan; it places reasonable and strategic boundaries on the functioning of a missions program. A budget is not intended to curtail program creativity or counter ministry objectives; it is for the purposeful utilization of funds for vision fulfillment.
Further, a missions program has depth in accordance with the percentage of the church budget devoted to missions. A five percent missions budget gives little encouragement or opportunity to impact the world for Christ. However, a budget of fifteen percent or more provides for significant impact at the local, national and international levels. Encouraging designated giving beyond the annual budget further advances the vision of the church for missions.
It is the responsibility of the missions committee to influence the church’s decision-makers and leaders to place the missions program in a prominent position in the annual budget. Admittedly, a significant missions budget is difficult to obtain when the leadership of the church is young and who, by their very nature, tend to be self-centered and less altruistic. If the church leadership enjoy and experience a vibrant missions program, they will support the vision more easily. It is important that the missions committee map out a budget which coordinates with the strategic plan for global missions involvement by the congregation and assures worldwide impact for Christ.
The Church and the individual believer have a specific and definite call to which a response is expected. Obedience to the Great Commission is imperative. God blesses those who honor his call to “go into all the world and preach the gospel.” Whether going personally or supporting those who are going, we all must assume our role in the Great Commission. The key issue for each of us is how we integrate our faith and a lifestyle of ministry.
Allan Hedberg is a clinical and consulting psychologist and maintains a private practice in Fresno, California. He serves on the board of governors of Trinity Western University and on the missions committee of his church.
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