THIS ARTICLE IS BY LARRY MCCRARY, CO-FOUNDER AND EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR OF THE UPSTREAM COLLECTIVE.
Since being back in the States this past year, I have been working hard with The Upstream Collective to help churches in North America build healthy sending strategies. Through many conversations with pastors and church leaders, some common themes have arisen. Here are five areas for improvement, which are especially important for our present sending culture.
Integrating Mission Education in the Church
When I entered church planting in the States during the early 90’s, we were at the tail end of churches offering mission education programs for the children. In many cases these programs were deemed irrelevant for the newer church model, which was less program oriented and focused more on Sunday gatherings and small group ministries.
At the time we were searching for ways to keep missions relevant for a new generation of church-goers. Yet have we gained anything by removing our programmatic approach to mission education? It seems we have largely swapped out mission education with short-term experiences and conferences. Personally, I feel that we may have lost something. Sure, we are still seeing many people mobilized for missions through preaching, worship gatherings, and mission conferences. But is that sufficient to educate and equip those we send? As it stands, someone still has to pick up the slack through a long education process before potential missionaries can be sent.
Our churches should to seek ways to integrate mission education within the context of their children, student, and adult ministries. How we deliver education may vary. Mission education can be delivered through small groups or community groups, but this should not be solely action oriented. We also need churches that pray for the nations. And just as we need churches engaging the peoples of our world, we also need churches grounded in good missiology.
The Helipad versus the Runway
We actually can and should cultivate marketplace workers to be ready to take off at any time. Historically we have focused on sending vocational missionaries all over the world; however, this pathway to the field has a long incubation period. By the time the potential missionary identifies an agency to go with, is assessed and approved, decides on a place and role, and raises support, he or she has often taken up to two years in order to take off. Picture this process like planes taxying around, waiting for their turn on a long, congested runway.
But if we start emphasizing marketplace workers, students, and retirees, we may not have as much notice to prepare them to go. The company that may be hiring them, for instance, will not wait two years for them to go through our missionary development programs. Therefore mission readiness should be a normal part of discipleship, so that when a sense a calling comes and a job opportunity arises, they are ready to go at a moment’s notice. Picture this readiness like a helicopter that can take off from the helipad it is already resting on.
The Work as Well as the Worker
In our work with sending churches one caution we would add is not to over-emphasize the worker. The workers are extremely important as they are the ones sent from the church, but we also need to remember the work we are sending them for. If we over-emphasize the worker, what happens to the work when the worker moves back to their sending church or to another field? How do churches embrace the work they are engaging in? The simple answer is that churches must work hard to develop and maintain a strategic focus that fit their mission convictions.
Mid-Term Sending Opportunities
I am a big fan of the mid-term mission opportunity. Short-term trips are good, but as an overseas worker, I loved receiving a team member who could remain for up to two or three months.
The analogy of different kinds of runners sheds light on the strategic value of the various lengths of service. Think of a short-term team as sprinters. They take many risks on a daily basis and can do more in a single week. Long-term workers are like marathon runners. They work for many years, so they must run at a different pace.
The mid-term worker is like one who runs the four-hundred. The race is brisk, but not quite a sprint. They have space to establish missional patterns in their daily life, which can even be great preparation for them to return for longer service. They can engage with nationals better than a short-term, one-week team member. They may enter into fruitful relationships that last a lifetime.
A couple of things have to happen in order for this effort to catch on. Sending churches will need to start preparing and mobilizing for this type of worker. Missionary teams will need to think of some strategic uses or roles for this type of worker.
We talk a lot about the sending church. In fact, Upstream exists to help healthy churches send out healthy missionaries. We live and breathe our Sending Church Elements. We also need to emphasize another aspect of missions: the receiving end – those with whom we are connecting on the field.
Over the years I have seen many short-term teams, marketplace workers, students and even long-term missionaries have a hard time integrating into existing teams and team strategies.
Missions organization must address the preparation it takes for their teams to receive new members well. It is important how new people arrive and begin their new life overseas. It is also important how short term teams fit into a strategy, not simply arriving on the field with one set of expectations – only to be greeted by a team with a completely different mindset.
The key is for the missionary team to have a plan for new arrivals. I am currently working with a large mission organization, who is taking seriously the task of sending marketplace workers, students, and retirees to the field. They want these men and women to integrate well into their overall strategy, so we are creating a model in order to coach everyone involved – the sending church, the sent one, and the team receiving them.
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