There’s a lot of things in life that are really important but are also kind of boring: mowing the lawn, doing the laundry, filling out your expense report, etc. Writing a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is one of those things! But hey, since my nickname is “Spreadsheet,” I’m clearly the right person to talk about this.
An MOU is put in place in order to establish an agreement between two or more parties. It is not a legally binding contract; rather, it simply outlines what each of the entities agrees to. In the world of global missions, there are a few entities that are involved in creating an MOU for a sent one:
The sent one
The sending agency
The field team leader
The MOU is a document that provides one source of agreement amongst all those entities. The purpose of the MOU is to find common ground. When a person is getting ready to go to the mission field, everything smells like roses. The excitement of getting overseas overshadows the massive amount of stress and decision-making all parties are about to step into when that sent one hits the field.
We all want our people to thrive in their work and enjoy the people they work with.
Whether it’s two years down the road, six months, or even a few weeks, conflict will inevitably arise. The stress of life overseas increases the likelihood of that conflict going unresolved and becoming divisive. No missions leader ever wants the people they send to the field to face this kind of conflict. We all want our people to thrive in their work and enjoy the people they work with.
God often uses conflict with others to make us more like Christ and to help us find the center of his will, but conflict can get out of hand. Pride, misunderstanding, unmet expectations, and the stress of life overseas can turn what might normally be small issues into massive disagreements. Satan looks on and laughs when workers are sidetracked from their ministry because of brokenness within their teams. We all hope that those we send from our churches are going into a setting they will thrive in, but we can’t know for sure that will happen. When conflicts arise, our hope is that believers in disagreement will come to a place of understanding and unity through healthy conversation, even if it takes multiple conversations to get there.
The reality is, there are sometimes considerable differences and disagreements between team members over expectations and outcomes. If left unchecked, these differences can stew and manifest in unhealthy ways that drive the team apart. When this kind of conflict arises years down the road, it’s easy to forget what was expected at the beginning. This is when having an MOU can be helpful. It can be helpful for the church by reminding them of what they agreed to with the team leader. It can be helpful for the team leader by reminding him of his expectations of the sent one. And so on and so forth.
Vision drifts, and sometimes we need to refocus it.
Even in times of peace, the MOU can be a helpful reminder of the vision, the strategy, and what has been agreed upon and help each entity keep those things front and center. Vision drifts, and sometimes we need to refocus it.
Here are some questions that are helpful to ask when coming up with an MOU:
What is the basic job description of the sent one?
What are their expected work hours?
How long is their term?
Who is their direct overseer? What is their role in overseeing that person?
What are the key values of the team and the sending agency that the sent one will uphold? (Don’t list “permission-to-play values.” List values that are unique to the team that should be upheld.)
What role does the church play in personal care of the sent one and consulting the sent one in ministry? (Some churches will want to have more involvement in strategy than others. Defining the church’s role will help keep them from overstepping their place.)
What is the expectation of the church in regard to communication with the sent one, the team leader, and the sending agency?
When will the team leader or the team member get in touch with the church to help mediate any conflict that arises between them?
What are the evangelism strategies the sent one will utilize?
How will the sent one engage in discipleship?
What will they consider to be church for them?
Will the sent one and the team be expected to host short-term teams on the field? If so, how many? Is the church expected to send short-term teams? What are the qualities of people that you are looking for?
Does the church expect to send long-term workers to the field? Do those on the field expect to receive them?
What are the expectations on the field for how the church will pray for the sent one and the team they are on?
You may notice that these questions are not centered on finances, vacation days, or benefits, which are more contractual in nature. The church should entrust those details to mission leaders and the sending agency. Rather, the focus of these questions is relationship and job description. The aim of creating an MOU is to define expectations for communication and for the work. It helps everyone involved take what are often intangible expectations and put them down on paper so they can be reviewed for refocusing efforts and settling disagreements.
Aren’t you energized?!?! At the very least, we hope you are now well informed about MOUs and can see how a document like this will help your church bring clarity to the relationship between all the entities that are involved in sending. Ultimately, we hope it will help maintain unity within the body of Christ in front of those who have never heard the name of Jesus.
Mike Ironside is Missions Pastor at Cornerstone Church in Ames, Iowa. He has served on staff with Cornerstone since 2006 in varying roles–from college ministry to pastoral staff to being an overseas missionary sent from Cornerstone for two years. Mike is the Director of Cohorts and Content for the Upstream Collective. He also serves as Chairman of the Board for Campus to Campus, a missions organization dedicated to getting US college students connected to church-planting movements amongst college students worldwide.