Be a sending church – not a rubber stamp!

Photo by Craig Hauger from FreeImages

Syzygy frequently comes across situations where mission workers feel (whether reasonably or not) unsupported by their sending churches.

On deeper investigation we can find that these situations arise where a church member has developed and explored a calling into mission independently of their church leaders.  Only when they are already quite a way down the road have they involved their church.  We always encourage potential mission workers to discuss this with their church at the earliest possibility – see our briefing paper on this subject!

When this situation occurs the individual is in the driving seat, developing a vision and then asking the church to endorse it.  The problem with this is that the church should not have such a passive role in mission – sending is an active verb!  We see this in action in the famous calling of Acts 13 which turned the Antioch church into the sending church of Barnabas and Saul.  They may have been talking about it together in advance because God doesn’t tell them what the ministry is to be even though it seems clear to them, but they all hear the call together.  Perhaps that’s why they were meeting in the first place.  Possibly that the idea had occurred to Barnabas and Saul and they got together with the other leaders to seek God about it.

The whole situation of churches finding themselves being asked to endorse a call they haven’t been part of discerning could be avoided if a church is intentionally seeking to be a sending church.  If this happens, the church leadership is driving the process of encouraging people to commit themselves to mission and helping people on their missionary journey.  Sending church should not merely be rubber-stamping an application but should intentionally be looking for people to send.

So how would an effective sending church promote mission?

  • It regularly teaches on the importance of sharing the gospel globally as well as locally
  • It highlights the needs of mission workers and agencies
  • It supports people going on short term mission experiences
  • It invests in mentoring and supporting those who are going
  • It provides quality support to its existing mission workers
  • It gives generously into mission
  • It involves its mission workers in church meetings even while they’re overseas.
  • It actively prays about who it can be sending next
  • It regularly prays for the needs of mission workers and the global church
  • It makes it known that it is keen to support those who go
  • It specifically identifies suitable people and suggests to them that they could explore going in mission
  • Its leadership makes overseas trips to support and encourage mission workers
  • It gives a big platform welcome to visiting mission workers
  • It challenges its members to think about how they are committed to serving God whether at home or abroad
  • It cares more about building God’s kingdom throughout the world than growing its own numbers
  • It informs people about mission opportunities

All of these activities and attitudes foster a mission-focussed culture which encourages people to engage with God as they think about mission, and create an expectation that everyone in the church, whether they go or not, are involved in some respect in world mission.  So this creates a context where the church is already driving mission worker calling and is able to move forward readily when a candidate responds to a call.

If you would like to help your church be an effective sending church, just get in touch with Syzygy on info@syzygy.org.uk for a free introductory consultation.

 

What support?

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Sadly, I frequently come across mission workers who have returned from an assignment disillusioned by the lack of support they received from their church.  Often these are independent people who’ve gone with their own vision, but sometimes they’re also people who have been sent by their church.

So together we unpack their disillusion.  What did they expect?  Why did they expect it?  Did the church know they expected it?  How do you know they did?

And it often turns out that these expectations were based on a loose verbal undertaking such as “Of course we’ll support you!” which was never fully discussed or documented.  By the time the mission worker realises that there was never any real agreement, it is usually too late to resolve and there needs to be some conciliation work.  I come away from such meetings thinking “If only…”

I always recommend that mission workers and churches (and of course agencies too if they’re involved) talk through their mutual expectations and document them in a partnership agreement or memorandum of understanding.  It’s not a legal contract, it’s too loose for that, and it’s not done in a litigious spirit but one of partnership.  But it does spell out in very simple terms, what everyone expects.  And it has signatures to prove that it was properly agreed.  You can put in in whatever you think is important, and I’ve seen really long ones and also ones that can fit on one side of A4, which I prefer, as I don’t think too many details make it easier to come to an agreement.

A good structure would be: the church will do this; the mission partner will do that.  It sounds positive.  And the issues that should be addressed should ideally include the following:

  • How frequently does the church formally pray for the mission partner, and communicate with the congregation about needs?
  • Does the church provide financial support, how much and how long for? Does it include extras like flights home, and how long should it continue after return?
  • How much is the church involved in making major decisions?
  • Is the church responsible for providing Member Care, and what would that look like?
  • Who is involved in making decisions in an emergency, and what funding is available?
  • Who is the principal point of contact for communicating?
  • Who is responsible for National Insurance, tax, pension and health insurance contributions?
  • How long will the agreement last and what happens when it expires?
  • Who provides operational oversight in the field?
  • What arrangements are there for pre-departure and post return health screening and training/debriefing?
  • How does the church hold the mission partner accountable? Are there other parties involved?
  • Is an appraisal involved and who will do it?
  • How much home assignment is permitted?
  • How much funding is the mission partner responsible for raising?
  • How frequently should the mission partner communicate with the church, and how?
  • How are any disputes about the agreement adjudicated?

 

It might seem like a lot of work to talk through all these issues, but the situation will be a lot clearer if time is taken to do so.  There will be less confusion, better support, and a much smaller chance of a relationship breakdown.  Syzygy is always ready to talk such issues through with churches – contact us on info@syzygy.org.uk to request an appointment.

Have they been with Jesus?

Getting to know you well?

Getting to know you well?

Last week’s reflection on the importance of being with Jesus can also be a reflection on our mission training practices.  When we look to recruit new mission workers we can so easily focus on their skills and abilities, but overlook their character, which is transformed by the amount of time they have been with Jesus.  It’s fairly easy to recognise what people can do, but how do we get to know who they really are when they’re not putting on their best performance at an interview?

Once upon a time some mission agencies invited candidates to work in their sending offices for a number of months before they go, so that they could really be known.  One or two agencies still do spend time with them immediately prior to departure, but often only a couple of weeks.  We may talk about journeying with them through the application process, but that’s often a series of short meetings, not real time together.  Agencies often rely on the Bible Colleges to be part of this process, but the multi-year residential model is increasingly under pressure so this is unlikely to satisfy.  References from churches can often help, but likewise, much of the time that a church leader spends with their candidates will be in a ministry context, or in meetings, and not necessarily getting to know who they really are.

As a sending team of churches, family, friends and agency we need to make sure we really get to know people.  Perhaps it’s not practical for our mission mobilisers to share their lives for three years with candidates, but can we move towards at least having people to stay for a weekend?  Churches – how much time are you spending with your candidates on a personal level, getting to know what really makes them tick?  And can we establish some intentional mentoring, whereby our candidates form relationships with mature believers, whether mission workers or not, so that their lives can be opened up to some critical influencing and constructive support?  How do we build around mission workers a sending community who really get to know them well, putting less stress on an agency to do all the decision making?  And ultimately, how can we together discern whether people really have been with Jesus?  Let’s really walk together through the application process.