by Richard G. Lewis
Training missionaries through email.
The concept was simple, but extremely creative. The training division of a large company developed a case study for plant managers in six states. The case study dealt with a common problem—meeting monthly quotas in face of poor performance by supply distributors. The case study was sent to managers via electronic mail. Through e-mail, a forum of how to make a managerial decision became a shared event. Using technology, the top management “coached” the regional managers to do their jobs better and make their plants more efficient.
Responsible for training missionaries, I wondered why we couldn’t train field missionaries through e-mail. The one technology every missionary seems to have now on the field is e-mail. It is quick, cheap, and, for most of the world, accessible. E-mail training could be a perfect tool for continuous improvement training of cross-cultural missionaries.
I’ve entitled our e-mail training “YOU MAKE THE CALL.” The title is a takeoff from the football series that highlights a play and challenges the man or woman at home to decide what the proper call is for the referee on a question of the rules.
Here are the steps we use to train missionaries through e-mail, followed by a sample case study:
1. Enlist top management. I first enlisted the participation and support of our president, Woody Phillips. While United World Mission missionaries know me and my passion for training, there’s nothing more important than hearing from the top man to motivate busy missionaries to be involved in a new program. Woody sent an e-mail to our missionaries telling them that he not only endorsed this new program but would be monitoring it to see who participated. This nudge from the top ensured that the launch would at least be seen as a high priority from the highest level of leadership.
2. Describe common field problems through case studies. We develop a generic case study on an issue common to almost every field. Whether one lives in Africa or Eastern Europe, interpersonal situations carry remarkable transference. The case studies need to focus on solving problems.
3. Get “echoes” from the field. After one week several missionaries will have responded, giving their opinions. Those opinions are condensed and sent to the mailing list as an “echo.”
4. Get additional feedback. The second “echo” is sent after another week. Missionaries who live in more developed countries often respond by the end of the first week. However, missionaries who live in more remote areas may not get to their e-mail for two or three weeks. The second “echo” is primarily for those on the outer banks to catch up with the rest of those in the discussion.
5. Collect final thoughts. The third, and final, “echo” is sent. Many of these responses are comments about earlier submissions, though some may be new. There has to be a cutoff some time, however. Dragging out a case study beyond a month will cause the participants to lose interest.
After a month, those on the field not only have had an opportunity to express their opinions, they have read the responses of their colleagues throughout the world. Leaders within the mission express their opinions, but these often are sent out only in the last “echo,” in order to avoid prejudicing those on the field. The goal for the missionaries, of course, is to (a) work through the issues themselves and (b) gain some insights from others on the field as they read the comments from their colleagues.
We try to send out a case study no more than quarterly. That way, it will be something they will look forward to participating in, not something that fills their “in box” with a lot of junk e-mail.
The possible topics of e-mail training are wide-ranging. This process can be used as a tool for spiritual formation, team development, financial accountability, church-planting strategy, or cultural anthropology. The only limits to its effectiveness are good case study writing and missionary participation.
To promote effective missionary service, we need to promote continuallifelong learning. One way to do this is to use one of the tools of the age—e-mail. Will this tool help missionaries in their ministries? You make the call.
A CASE STUDY
John and Amy went to the field with great expectations. They felt they had done everything humanly possible to make sure their experience as missionaries would be rewarding and fulfilling. They joined a mission: (a) they felt had a good philosophy in church planting; (b) which believed in training and felt good about what they learned through their 16 weeks in the mission school; (c) which told them they could use their giftedness as medical technicians to help the church-planting team; and (d) which believed strongly in teams.
The team they joined was well established, though none of the team members had been on the field longer than two terms. Immediately they jumped into language learning and after a year were beginning to get a good handle on the culture as well as possible ministry opportunities. As they interacted with the other families, they “floated” ideas of possible ministries. In retrospect, John could see that while no one opposed his ideas, no one embraced them, either.
In a team meeting John and Amy proposed starting a ministry in a different part of the city. They wanted to set up a “medical clinic” and use it as an outreach within the community. John and Amy wanted to receive more than just an “okay” from the rest of the team, but also a commitment to use team field funds.
The idea was rejected. Why? John and Amy were told that their proposal did not follow the strategy by which the team had been formed. If they wanted to teach community health or open a clinic they could do it on their own, but the team’s focus was elsewhere. One team member felt strongly that they shouldn’t do anything but church planting from the strategy developed, since the team had already been on the field a while and really knew how the work should be done. Others tried to think of ways they could “incorporate” medicine into the already developed church-planting structure. None of the team members felt team funds should be diverted to this new project.
John and Amy indeed did open a small clinic, and though moderately successful, they felt like they were basically by themselves. John and Amy did not return to the field after their first term. Bitter, they blamed the team leader, the team members, and especially the mission leadership for false advertising. What got them “in the door” was not happening on the field.
What went wrong?
1. Was the mission leadership really at fault, both toward the new missionaries as well as the team?
2. Was the team wrong, being locked into its program, not willing to explore new avenues of ministry?
3. Were John and Amy wrong, having high expectations which may have overridden the realities of the field situation?
4. If you were the team leader, what would you have done?
You make the call.
Richard G. Lewis is international training vice president for United World Mission (Union Mills, N.C.).
EMQ, Vol. 35, No. 1, pp. 82-84. Copyright © 1999 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.