by Bradford Greer
Influenced by the times, mission agencies have come of age and require that their missionaries develop strategic plans.
Influenced by the times, mission agencies have come of age and require that their missionaries develop strategic plans. After all, if missionaries don’t know what they are going to accomplish, how can they be evaluated? Planning and measurable goals dominate our horizons now.
Strategic planning in mission work is unquestionably a useful tool. Linear time, strategic planning works well in countries where unexpected interruptions and system failures are limited in number and scope. In my context I found it impossible to achieve realistic goals within a given time frame due to the endless stream of obstacles that arose. A Singaporean friend of mine, addressing this problem with his visiting pastor said: “In Singapore we make things happen; here we let things happen.” Mission agencies and missionaries need to adjust their expectations to the on-the-ground realities.
How can missionaries make plans where principles of strategic planning and time management don’t work? The principle that helped my wife and I was this: discover what God was doing around us, prayerfully make measurable goals and then totally depend on the sovereignty of God to achieve them, leaving time frames flexible.
My wife and I have worked in a strategic access country for seventeen years. As we were winding down our last term I realized that we actually achieved all of the goals that we had set eight years before. In spite of all the obstacles, we ended up doing everything we wanted. We conducted evangelistic Bible studies, discipled Muslim background believers’ families, saw Bible courses and other literature translated into the target language, and mentored people in the ministry. This list does not include the impact of the visible work that I can’t mention.
When I realized we reached our goals my response was to worship the Lord. Our success, if it can be called that, was not the result of our skills in plan management. After all, it did take seventeen years. Also, we didn’t make these things happen—they just happened. People and events pulled together in ways that we did not foresee. We were just fortunate to stick around long enough to see everything come together.
Spending our first two years in language study was the one thing we did right. This laid the foundation for all future work. For the next seven years we worked in relief and development. Finally, after nine years of faithfully working on the tasks at hand and patiently praying for something we could really put our energies into, we caught sight of what we could do to move the gospel forward. Yet, our vision grew out of relationships that God had given us with national believers, missionaries and ministries within the country. We only responded to the vision by making appropriate goals.
For the first four months everything went according to plan, but then we encountered obstacles that were beyond anyone’s capability to manage. Problems arose like the conflicting opinions of missionaries in positions of power, interpersonal conflicts among national workers, sickness and more, all of which made life interesting. At one point my health deteriorated and we had to leave the field for two years.
When we returned we were able to restart some of the work we had begun. Other projects had to wait almost a year before things were back in place so we could continue. However, even after everything was back in full gear we were constantly confronting obstacles that threatened to shut it all down.
We learned that we could not make things happen. We had to depend completely on divine intervention for any results. When problems arose I had to consciously let go of my desire to finish what I had started and commit my success or failure to God. I reminded myself that Jesus took ultimate responsibility for the work when he said: “I will build my church…” (Matt. 16:18). The Lord had allowed my wife and I to join him in the work, not to take responsibility for it.
As missionaries we don’t sit in seats of power; we sit on thrones (Eph. 2:6), the foundation of which is justice and mercy. There are limitations to what we can do to succeed. Secular managers have no such restrictions. Anger, manipulation, fear of “the pink slip” are tools at their disposal.
Healthy mission strategic planning and plan management are rooted in divine inspiration and the gifts of faith and perseverance. Prayer and patience open the door for inspiration. The gift of faith enables us to trust God for the results, whatever they turn out to be. The gift of perseverance enables us to hang on for the long ride.
Bradford Greer has been a missionary working in a strategic access country for seventeen years.
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 418-419. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.