Crisis in member care?

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A crisis has been brewing in member care for nearly a decade, which is still widely unacknowledged and has not yet begun to take effect, but when it does, mission workers across the globe will feel the impact.

Since the financial crash of 2008 mission agencies have experienced a significant drop in income which has required them to rethink their approach to doing mission.  This often takes the form of questioning whether structures and processes designed in the 19th century are still relevant today, and if not, how we can reimagine the future of missionary sending.

A major feature of this is the argument (which to be fair, precedes the financial crisis even though declining income has given it more urgency) that sending mission workers should be the responsibility of the local church rather than agencies.  This is a valid perspective, but for more than a century agencies have effectively told churches to give them their people and their cash, so that the agency can send them.  Now they want churches to engage more, but the churches do not always know how.

What is the impact for member care?  Over the last couple of decades member care has made great strides in putting the care of mission workers on the map.  Most sending agencies are fully committed to member care, and many have full-time members of staff coordinating it, even if they don’t always do it as well as they’d like to think they do.  But pushing the sending responsibility over to churches means that agencies are discreetly, possibly even unintentionally, looking to shuffle off their responsibility for member care too.

Churches, meanwhile, are in a similar situation to the agencies.  While many churches already do member care well, others are extremely challenged to care for their mission partners.  Falling church incomes mean fewer staff while longer working hours for church members mean fewer volunteers available to serve.  Yet the church members demand higher quality services and the public are generally more needy of the practical help churches provide.  Add to that, many churches have not been actively involved in providing the member care that will start to come their way.  How are they going to develop the vision, capacity and skills to deal with this situation?

Syzygy is uniquely placed to assist with this challenging situation.  We are able to:

  • help churches develop member care capacity by providing training, mentoring and partnership.
  • work with larger agencies to help them continue to provide member care well should they choose to do so
  • assist smaller agencies which are unable to do their own member care by partnering with them and providing member care ourselves

Over the coming months we will be actively promoting these services so that we are able to provide support to all parties in this situation, with the ultimate goal that mission workers are more effectively supported than ever.  Should your church or agency be interested in finding out more, contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk.

 

 

Sleepwalking into obsolescence with due diligence

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Last week influential blogger Eddie Arthur kicked off an interesting discussion by suggesting that the Trustees of sending agencies, being by selection and temperament prudent and risk-averse people, are not necessarily the best people to be reimagining the future of mission agencies in an era when massive change is required.  I’d like to take this further and suggest that this issue can apply to leadership at every level: church, agency, field or team as well.

Each leader shares to some extent in the Trustees’ core obligations (as I see it) of ensuring:

  • good governance (Is the organisation operating legally and meeting its key objectives?)
  • effective strategy (Do we know where we are going and how we get there?)
  • good management (Can we achieve the above efficiently and economically?)
  • the well-being of our staff and fellow team-members
  • that the organisation and its members are being an effective witness to Jesus.

Those five issues will keep any leader busy enough without the concerns of all the daily challenges of running a team.  When do they find time to do all that?  And that, coincidentally, was one of the big complaints of managers in the merchant bank which I worked for 20 years ago – they never had time to stop and think!

In an increasingly litigious age, Trustees have been forced by the risk to their own personal assets and liberty to spend ever more time ensuring compliance.  This isn’t in itself wrong, because it is important that issues such as safeguarding and health & safety have top-level buy-in.  But it does leave Trustees spending more of their meetings double-checking on their managers, leaving less time to strategise.  This ‘due diligence’ can lead to the unplanned obsolescence of the agency, unless a crisis occurs to force some urgent rethinking.  Hence the reference to sleepwalking.

One such crisis occurred in 2008.  It sent a shockwave through agencies as they had to grapple with significantly reduced income.  It forced some to consider closing down, or merging with other like-minded agencies.  They have started to pool resources and are making much greater efforts to collaborate with churches as a result of the financial crisis.  Yet this is only the start of a transition away from the 19th century model of missions from the West to the rest into a world with 360 degree mission where agencies become centres of expertise resourcing the sending church rather than sending agencies who do all the work themselves.

But how do we get from here to there if the leadership is bogged down in compliance?  Here are some of our practical suggestions:

  • Team leadership. Ensure that at every level leadership is made up of several people with different personalities and skills who can specialise in addressing different areas of responsibility;
  • Skills analysis. Knowing what resources are available to the leadership team, and where the gaps are, helps to focus the process of recruiting new leaders;
  • Create time. How often do we stop to reflect, pray and dream together?  Leadership teams need space to be able to go on retreat together, do awaydays, and get away from routine management issues;
  • Trust staff. Much of the report-gathering and checking implies that managers can’t get on with their jobs.  If they really can’t, retrain them or move them on, but resist the temptation to waste time micromanaging them.  Leaders have better things to do with their time.

It has been rightly observed[1], that in most Christian organisations, Trustees often spend more time managing than they should.  This means they fail to strategise effectively, so management does strategy on an ad hoc basis and pushes it up the line for approval.  No wonder most of us are sleepwalking.  Let’s wake up and dream where mission is going in the 21st century.

[1] Les Stahlke in Governance Matters (2003)

Giving sacrificially to world mission

Some years ago, when I was accepted to be a member of a major UK sending agency, a number of people within that agency commented that I would have significant difficulty raising my support funding for homeside service in the middle of an economic crisis. Although their logic was impeccable, I thought it ironic that the successors of the great man of faith who had founded the mission should focus on the practical challenge rather than the greatness of the God for whom we work. Surely, I reasoned, if God wants me to serve him in this way, he will provide the funding. Surely a mere economic crisis is nothing to our God, or to those who serve him in faith.

Yet four years into the economic crisis, the evidence shows that the economic crisis is in fact hitting mission hard. Most mission agencies report reduced general giving, and reduced financial support for mission workers. Nearly all agencies have been forced to reconsider their priorities and reduce their spending commitments. Some have merged, and others have been teetering on the brink of financial collapse. Many potential mission workers are stranded at home, unable to raise the funding they so badly need before they are allowed to go.

So is this economic crisis really bigger than God? Although this situation can easily be understood in financial terms, why should a miracle-working God be limited by the laws of economics?   The problem is not that God’s funding is limited, it is all to do with where God keeps his money. Not in failing banks, or worthless government bonds, but in the pockets and wallets of his people.  he gives us the privilege of partnering with him in his mission, and provides us with the funds to complete the mission.  Yet faced with economic uncertainty, and for many of us redundancy, unemployment or reductions in state benefits, our natural response has been to curtail our giving in order to maintain our own standards of living, or at least to put some funding aside for the future. This might have a small financial benefit to us but has huge negative consequences on those whose ministry depends on our generosity.

How might we review our own economic situations in this light? First we need to remind ourselves that God is in control, and cares for us. God provides, even when we are unemployed. I spent five years living on sickness benefit, and never lacked anything I needed. Needed, not wanted.

And that brings me to my second point: we need to evaluate our own lifestyles and make a distinction between that which is a necessity, and that which isn’t. During the years of prosperity we came to accept certain things which might previously have been luxuries as essential to our standard of living. Perhaps some of those things need to be relegated again to being desirable but not absolutely necessary.

The resulting funds can be released for mission. I recently reviewed my own situation and realised that by doing without certain things that I enjoy, I was able to release several hundred pounds into mission. Yes, it was a sacrifice, but as Neal Pirolo writes in his book Serving as Senders:

Christians with a renewed lifestyle can free up thousands – even millions- of creative dollars

for cross-cultural ministry. Living more with less is an exciting, viable option.

So, as a new-year resolution, would you join with me in reviewing how much money we really need, and release more to support those working in mission? When we consider how many millions of people have not yet heard the good news of Jesus Christ, surely it is a small sacrifice to help send more workers into the harvest (Matthew 9:37-38).

Moving Staircases?

Recent years have seen much change in the world of missions, and for nearly all of us it feels like the change is relentless.  Factors affecting this include the current financial situation, the changing relationship between agencies and churches, new paradigms of mission, technological innovation, the rise of Generation X and now Y, the decline of the West and the change of the centre of the global church’s gravity towards the south/east, and indeed many more.  It feels stressful just to list these things!

Many of us don’t feel at home in this fast-paced and rapidly developing world.  It shakes our security in the way we’ve got used to doing things, and it can be disturbing when the mission field becomes flooded with people who do things very differently.  Some of the changes afoot at the moment threaten our own long-term futures in mission unless we are able to adapt, and even the survival of some well-established mission agencies may be in doubt if they cannot embrace the necessary change.  This is, quite frankly, alarming.

It reminds me of the scene in the first Harry Potter movie (is it ok to reference Harry Potter in a Christian blog?) where the children discover the staircases can move by themselves.  All of a sudden, they can’t get back to their rooms, and have to find a different way.  They have to duck quickly as several tons of hardwood comes flying over their heads to a new destination.  They have the challenge of working out how to get to their lessons by a new route.

‘Keep an eye on the staircases – they like to change!’

For some of them it is a, well, magical experience, full of awe and wonder at this marvellous spectacle, but for others  it must be bewildering and frightening, as they find their security challenged and their assumptions about life questioned.  I wonder if you can sympathise with them as you see the change going on around you in the mission field.

Yet, when the staircases have settled down, it’s still possible to find your way to your destination.  It may take a bit of time to explore, experiment, and come back from dead ends, but in fact many of us will already be experienced at doing that.  For most of us, that’s part of life, and part of our calling.

The church, despite often being conservative, and preserving many practices and traditions handed down from its earliest days and even before the time of Christ, is no stranger to change, and the first generation of believers must have had the hardest time of all, adapting their worldview to believe first that Jesus was the Messiah they were waiting for even though he wasn’t what they were expecting, then having to cope with his suffering and death, followed by his resurrection and ascension.  Then they had to face ejection from the synagogues and hostility from Rome.  Just when they thought they had it figured out, and that he’d return within their lifetimes, he didn’t come to rescue them when the Temple was destroyed by the Romans.

A picture of the church – migrants not settlers?

So what might they have to say to us about change?  Peter tells us that we are aliens and sojourners (1 Peter 2:11), not citizens or residents, but migrants who won’t be staying around.  John warns us not to get attached to anything in this world (1 John 2:15) because it’s only temporary – and so are we.  They were very much aware of the transient nature of our existence, and chose to focus instead on our eternal heritage.  Peter reminds us that we are looking for a new heaven and a new earth (2 Peter 3:13).  Paul tells us that our citizenship is in heaven (Philippians 3:20) and the Hebrew writer challenges us to emulate the saints of old who lived by faith, and walked away from all this world has, seeking a better country (Hebrews 11:16).

In the midst of their changeable, temporary, transient world, they looked to the One who is the sole source of stability, Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8), who will one day take us to a home of unchangeable glory.  We cannot do better than to follow their example.