Friday, January 06, 2012

Church Missions... Is It Time to Rethink Our Approach?

Maybe it is time for us to reroute our global mission GPS.  Like a car stuck in midday traffic in Los Angeles, there has got to be a better route to where we want to go.
For years the Christian Mission Movement has been focused on sending people abroad to preach the Good News of Jesus.  Those missionaries, in the spirit of earlier times when funerals were held prior to departure, dedicated their lives to one place, one people, and one mission...sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
There are still a few of us out there, but more and more people are sensing God’s call to worldwide mission are choosing to give only part of their lives instead of the whole enchilada.  This is the short-term mission movement.
This is presenting the church with a profound opportunity to rethink and reframe its philosophy of sharing the Gospel, both here and abroad.
Failure to do so will surely result in lost prestige, influence, and a weakening of our message that we could have prevented if only we had seen the coming storm and decided to make the changes necessary to stay engaged in our rapidly evolving cultural world.
Here are my suggestions, gleaned from years of on field experience and conversations with long and short-term missionaries from around the globe. 
Accept the reality of short-term mission [STM].  Many churches and long-term missionaries still look at short-term mission with a jaded eye.  Short-term mission is still being judged by the mistakes of its youth and this is unfair.  While not perfect, many organizations and people connected with short-term mission have worked hard to improve, and are making real substantive changes in the way they carry out their ministry.  
A great example of this are the US Standards of Excellence for Short-Term Mission.  The standards call us to understand that STM is not about us as goers, but those we are trying to serve.  Isn’t the view that STM is primarily concerned with their own participants one of the main criticisms of the long-term in field missionaries?
The STM community is not going away.  Rather than engage this community in a critical way, wouldn’t a more effective approach be to encourage and join in the process of improving the largest group of cross cultural missionaries in the world?  I believe the answer is a resounding yes!
Recruit and develop a new breed of long-term missionaries who understand the realities of, and can embrace the improving short-term mission community for the good of the Kingdom.
Let me explain.  With the current global networking environment, long-term mission will never again happen in a vacuum.  We need people in the field who understand this and are committed to working together for the success of the local church.  

Here is what that might look like.  Instead of working to develop his or her own personal ministry in another country, the new long-term missionary will see their mission as one of supporting and standing behind local leaders to help them become more effective for Christ.  

It is the approach Henry Blackaby championed 15 years ago.  Sadly missionaries today, both long and short-term do not value partnership with others and prefer to work independently, continuing to pursue their own agendas.  
We should expect long-term missionaries to be a encouragers like Barnabas.  Someone who can encourage the local leaders and also sees it as his mission to help mentor and facilitate the hundreds of thousands of short-term missionaries who for whatever reason, are only going to give 2 or 3 weeks of their lives each year for global mission.

Everywhere I go in Mexico, pastors and leaders tell me they can do the majority of reaching their people for Christ, they just need a little help and encouragement for some of the heavy lifting involved in their Herculean task.
Finally, use short-term ministry to fund long-term mission work that supports the STM movement.
Imagine the impact we could have if we developed a more effective way for these STM participants to support in country churches and missionaries.  The empowering effect that this would have on in field ministry, through encouragement, targeted resources, and enthusiasm cannot be overestimated.
I written on this before and am convinced that short-term mission holds the key to financing long-term global mission.  Research shows STM participants are more connected to the field, more enthusiastic givers and more likely to grow into long-term missionaries themselves.
Father Knows Best went off the air long ago.  It is now way past time for the Christian Church to rethink and re-imagine our global mission and leave Jim and his family behind.  The days of missionary Bill and the kids waving goodbye from the deck of the good ship Endeavor as the congregation weeps will never return.
Isn’t it about time we adjusted our mission strategy for dealing with this reality? 

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