From the Archives: This post originally published in 2016 as part of our 'Ask a Missiologist' series. This week’s contributor is Matthew Ellison, President of Sixteen:Fifteen. With years of experience as a church missions coach, Matthew took some time to answer the question,
Why is it essential for churches to ask for help in mobilizing their members for mission?
I am passionate about seeing local churches fulfill their God-given role in reaching the nations. Through my experience of coaching hundreds of churches across the United States, I have found that outside help is often critical in generating an honest assessment of a church’s current mission reality, bringing focus, implementing needed changes and engaging the entire church congregation in a compelling vision.
I want to start with a story about a friend of mine who served as an elder at a large church. His church believed in missions and had a long history of generously supporting missions, but they had never really been proactive about reaching the world. They had basically developed missions commitments without strategic integration. He longed for more and knew his church’s potential to reach the nations was not being realized.
My friend arranged a couple of meetings between me and their missions pastor. I explained the missions coaching process and its benefits to help them develop a Christ-centered, endemic global vision with the potential to engage every member of their church. The missions pastor seemed to resonate with what I was saying but then without any explanation, he brushed me off. Nearly two years later, the phone call from the missions pastor came, âI need your help. After I heard about your mobilization process, I thought I could do it myself. But I just keep banging my head against the wall. I am not sure if I am asking the right questions and no matter what questions I do ask, people seem to take them personally.
This illustrates the following key reasons why it is important for churches to ask for help in mobilizing their people to be on mission:
This is no surprise, but usually there are unhealthy biases within a church keeping people from being mobilized. I regularly work with churches that have not yet developed a strategic, church-based missions vision, but they do have ad-hoc missions committees. These committees consist of well-intentioned, big-hearted people who are often lobbying to get support for their pet-projects. Therefore, missions team members tend to have a bias towards a particular mission agency or missionary who is often a family member or a friend. Frankly, this can cause a conflict of interest, especially when the missions team is responsible for determining who and what to support. When a church has a strategic missions vision, it moves them from asking, âWhat missionaries are we going to support?â to first asking, What mission has God called us to undertake together?
Someone from the outside can often see what those on the inside cannot or choose not to see. This includes not only the seeing the unpleasant things, but also the encouraging things. For example, it may be tough for a church to face the reality that their missions program is relegated to just a few people, or that they are supporting missionaries with whom they have little relationship and do not even know what those missionaries are doing.
Sometimes churches know in their gut what questions they should be asking. Sometimes they do not. However, it is usually fear of how others will perceive those questions that keeps them from being asked. Someone from the outside can more easily ask the tough questions without fear of reprisal. For example, What are you currently doing poorly in your missions approach? or, What is it about your current missions approach that frustrates you the most?â
I once worked with a church and after several months of walking alongside them, the missions pastor told me one of the greatest benefits of the missions coaching process was knowing that you were going to periodically touch base. It motivated me to implement our plans. Sometimes missions plans are not implemented because of the pain that real change requires, or a church may dream a vision but fail to identify the key objectives to get the vision moving forward.
Preservation of Relationships
When a church goes through a mobilization process that is facilitated by someone from the outside, it can preserve relationships, especially when that process leads to changes in the way things had previously been done. For example, a missions team member was lobbying for a particular mission in Africa, but this focus was not emerging as something the church was going to support. This was becoming obvious to everyone, even that team member. Had the decision to cut support to Africa been made without a process from an outside party, it could have been taken very personally.
Back to the story that I started with- the mobilization process at this church was a bit messy. Courageous questions were asked and the changes that needed to be made were at times painful, but in the end a clear, heart-grabbing missions vision was forged. This church engaged the Silver Palaung people of Burma. The church partnered with a few key agencies, funded a recording of the recently translated New Testament, launched strategic short-term missions trips, and even sent some of their own members to plant churches. Asking for help mobilized more people to be on mission with God than this church had ever known.