Welcome to Missions on Point, the Proppempo perspective on church and missions. In the last episode, we talked about an overview of the local church's role. We'll deal with more specifics in another future podcasts. This time we want to deal with the mission sending agency's role, the mission agency. What is it that they do? Why do they exist? It's interesting, in my experience with mission agencies over the years, that every single mission agency that's focused on pioneering kind of ministry like evangelism, discipleship, church, planting state in their original documents that they were founded to come alongside and partner with local churches to give them specific expertise and opportunities to fulfill the great commission with them as partners. In other words, the local church is acknowledged as having this central role and the mission agency comes alongside. That is a really good point of view. One of the things that churches ask me a lot is, why should we even have a mission agency?
Why not do it for ourselves?
Why not do it for ourselves? And that's a legitimate question. A lot of churches feel that maybe they could save money because mission agencies take money to operate, and in most cases, they're gonna take some money from the missionary support as an administrative assessment for the services that they provide. Perfectly legitimate. At first glance, it seems much less expensive to maybe bypass the mission agency. That's not what we advocate. The mission agency provides legitimate good services. Local churches tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the complexities of functioning as their own mission agency. If they were to track the amount of time and effort and expense, it would cost them to pay scale for volunteers at the church and church staff to keep track of all the donor communications, the receding, the filing of federal forms, the communication it takes on the field, the setting up of immigration on the field, all of the things that a mission agency does.
Local churches tend to overestimate their abilities and underestimate the complexities of functioning as their own mission agency.
As an organization, they would be paying much more than the administrative levy that a mission agency takes to support that missionary on the field. Managing and supporting a missionary thousands of miles away in a radically different cultural context is completely different than managing staff at the church.
The Legal Umbrella
So first on my list about the Mission Agency's role is they are the legal umbrella. There are a lot of rules and regulations having to do with donations and accounting and tracking of funds that are required by the US government and other governments in their particular countries. I look at a carefully selected mission agency partner as a delegated partner to the local church. Similar to the way we think of educating our children, most of us don't think of totally educating our children from the cradle till college graduation. We delegate to outside specialists, the curriculum, the education, the specific training of our children through their whole educational life until they become independent.
Mission agencies have specific specialization and orientation and experience on the fields and the particular ministries in which they minister. They have overseas connections and relationships that are significant, including recognition by governments in many cases for the particular work that they do and the role that they play within that country. Mission agencies have a track record of knowing how to get their people, language study, housing, cultural adaptation, and relationships with national Christians in most cases. On the domestic side, they take care of a lot of human resource benefits like retirement plans and group health insurance. They provide field supervision and accountability. They help with financial management, including handling funds across foreign currencies. They make sure that their missionaries are in compliance to tax codes and requirements, and they have experienced strategy and personnel management for their teams. They provide visa and immigration legalities, or at least advice in those places that they don't have specific legal presence.
Mission agencies have specific specialization and orientation and experience on the fields and the particular ministries in which they minister.
They provide a corporate identity, which is significant to the missionary both at home and abroad. Most mission agencies provide a context for fellowship relationship and encouragement on the field. A lot of them are taking more seriously this area that they call member care. We call missionary care from the local church point of view, including administrative and pastoral first responder kind of roles. They have ongoing education and credentialing for people that need it in specialty areas of ministry. And most often in these days, missionaries work on teams, and so they're providing the teammates for that team that you're sending your missionary to. So we encourage the local church to try to find the mission agency that best aligns with their vision and goals and their values, and then work with them to develop a partnership arrangement where the local church can walk hand in hand with the mission agency in both the developments and the shepherding of that missionary out on the field.
Finding a good mission agency
So how do you find a good mission agency? Here's a few thoughts that might help. First of all, what is the agency's doctrinal statement? Most mission agencies out there have a pretty generic doctrinal statement that takes into account a wide sweep of evangelical thought. But if your church has some specific strengths in areas of doctrine that they wanna see practiced, then they need to go with a mission agency that is gonna accept their people and their doctrinal statement. Without any hesitation, how does the agency operate financially? You need to consider a couple of different areas. Some agencies from a long time ago still operate with pooled support. That means all the missionary support is pooled together and then segregated or divvied up as per the rules and regulations of that agency. Others have individualized support where your missionary family is supported and has an account specifically for them as an individual, and their support rises and falls with their own support income.
How are they expected to raise their financial support? Some agencies have a great help. Some are denominational type agencies that raise the funds on behalf of the missionary, and then they work their funding for missionaries through a consolidated budget. What are the agency's administrative fees? Some mission agencies don't charge very much for their administrative fees. Others charge a very large amount, and the church might want to take into account the amount that's used for administrative overhead beyond what they may take from the missionary's designated support. Does the mission agency operate with financial integrity? Do they have any kind of checks and balances and reporting of how they operate financially? The next major area though is does the agency have experience in the particular ministry or the region that you want your missionary to go? You need to be asking those questions because you don't want to be the first person to be sent out in a new field with a mission agency that has no experience at all.
you don't want to be the first person to be sent out in a new field with a mission agency that has no experience at all
A Partnering Relationship
You'll want to ask questions about how the agency is organized to lead the work on the field. A lot of agencies today have the missionary team, the local missionary team as the basic component of their organization. Some have layers then beyond that for the country, for the region, for the whole part of the world or continent that they're located in. The issue is how much autonomy you and your team might have with the missionary that you're sending from your church with respect to strategy and type of ministry and methodology. Is the agency willing to partner with your church and allow you a great degree of latitude in how you handle and work with and shepherd your missionary? Some agencies are really totally against anyone from outside having anything to do with their missionary. They want to claim that they have rules against potential negative litigation against them for privacy or some such.
However, we would strongly encourage the church to have a partnership relationship already outlined with the mission agency before their missionary signs on the dotted line to join them so that then there's no question and you have an avenue of communication and relationship with the agency before your missionary actually joins. Does the mission agency have a standardized or required methodology or strategy that must be used by their missionaries on the field? And how does that align with your own church's understanding of strategies and methodologies in ministry? How does the agency relate to indigenous Christians on the field? Is there a strong sense of the missionary and the mission agency wanting to have indigeneity that is appointing locals to be the leaders of churches and ministries rather than being in control the whole time? And lastly, what is the Mission agency's role? With regard to member care?
Documents and first name basis
We would strongly encourage you to get all the documents that the agency has to offer with regard to their bylaws, their doctrinal statement, their position statements on whatever issues they have, position statements on their member handbook. Anything like that that you can read and understand will better help you have the right expectations. With regard to the Mission Agency service to facilitate your missionary's ministry on the field, the local church's relationship with a mission agency is not strictly a baton handoff. It's a partnership in which they're working together. And so there must be a basis of relationship communication. We encourage a first name basis with the primary people up and down the line of accountability that will be involved so that it's not a surprise when the missionary hits some trouble on the field and the church wants to enter in along with a partnership of the mission agency to resolve that to keep them on the field.
The most important thing is that goal. Long term you wanna see ministry accomplished. What is the best partner that will enable you and your church and your missionary to accomplish that? And then do all the spade work that has to be done to develop and cultivate the relationship long term that is gonna be the most beneficial for that ministry goal.
We haven't really talked about what the mission agency qualifications for a application of a new missionary coming on with their organization. They will have requirements, and it's up to the church along with the missionary candidate to find out what those requirements are. We would maintain that if the church is doing a good job of qualifying their missionary in every way, whether through formal education, informal education experience, mentoring, counseling, all the stuff that has to take place before one gets to the field. By the time your missionary applies with the mission agency and gets invited to that first candidate school, they will be fully qualified to join the mission and move quickly to the field.
By the time your missionary applies with the mission agency and gets invited to that first candidate school, they will be fully qualified to join the mission and move quickly to the field.
A business partnership not a marriage
One last note. Most missionaries and churches often look at the Mission agency joining with the missionary, the missionary joining with the Mission Agency as kind of like a marriage. But I want you to look at it more like a business partnership. If it's meeting the goals and facilitating things in the way that you wish and it's the best choice, go for it. It's a good thing. But if it doesn't, it's not like as traumatic as a divorce to move and adopt a different business partner to accomplish what you want to get done.
Hey, thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propoempo perspective on church and missions. We trust that you'll find more resources and help on the website, propempo.com.
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