Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. This is Episode 100 of Missions on Point. Thanks for joining us. We're on Episode 13 out of 14 of a series on church-based missionary training. This has to do with accountability, focus, and communication of the missionary on the field.

We've come a long way in this series, all the way from just our introduction and cultivating missionary candidates to defining character and defining the missionary call. Then, we dealt with some very practical things with regard to steps of the missionary as a candidate, moving from here to there, mentoring and accountability, and the actual training curriculum that you might go through. Then, practical studies and research, some core issues for the missionary in their heart and mind with regard to giving up of personal rights and the commissioning and decommissioning process.

Now, we're dealing with things having to do with their field experience, shepherding on the field, now, accountability, focus, and communication, and finally, the last one of the series will deal with the partnership agreement with the mission-sending agency. So, thanks for sticking with us. I hope it's been very informative, and I hope no matter what your role is in the local church that you are eagerly anticipating how you might assist in the process and help your missionaries from your church get to the field.

First, let's talk a little bit about accountability. We've mentioned this already in the process of training your missionary, and yet the missionary when he arrives on the field has a lot of accountability that is probably not normal to American life. That is accountability to the team, the organization, accountability to the immigration authorities, accountability to their sending church as the employee of a nonprofit organization, whether church or mission agency, there's an added accountability just for finances.

I remember one missionary telling me he could barely keep his checkbook reconciled when he was home, and now on the field, he was responsible for four or five different accounts for which he had to give regular accounting. Most missionaries are not used to keeping receipts and doing an expense report or keeping receipts for medical and health expenses. Your missionary may actually need some coaching or mentoring in all of these areas of accountability.

Their status on the field may be as an intern or a junior missionary, so to speak, not having a voting right within the team structure until they achieve some level of language proficiency or time on the field. They certainly need to know how to relate to the person to whom they report directly. If they're starting a business on the field, they will have several other entities to whom they must report on a regular basis and keep records. A lot of this is new, uncharted territory for the new missionary, and they may need somebody to walk alongside them and help them cope with it all as they get it sorted out in the first couple of years on the field.

It is wise for the sending church and the missionary to have a framework of quarterly goals that are reviewed and revised as needed. These goals can be everything from the basics of learning language but also, setting up house and their personal life and spiritual nurture.

I remember a missionary saying he hated goals, but his sending church made him do quarterly goals, and after a year or two, he valued that very highly because it was so effective at keeping him on track. It certainly doesn't mean that the missionary is going to achieve all those goals on a quarterly basis, but like most missionaries, you start out thinking that, "I'm gonna do my to-do list of 10 things every day," and eventually you get to the point where you realize, "If I get three of the 10 things I wanted to do every day actually completed, I'm doing well." Part of the struggle in the area of accountability is making it a natural part of your life. That is a habit, a regular routine, something that is expected and not something that is an imposition or a burden.

That leads us to the next area of focus. While goals and objectives to meet those goals are an important tool to be effective and to grow in your skills on the field, focus is the day-to-day part that is even harder to grab hold of. While language learning and cultural learning in the first year or two on the field are a challenge, it's actually a blessing because they are very focused on those really big accomplishments, and it must be done on a daily basis. It's actually more difficult when you don't have the imposition of most of your schedule being consumed by language and cultural learning that you have to identify things that you're doing day to day to accomplish that larger goal, whatever that is, and life on the field has so many pressures from so many different directions, it just takes a lot of time to live and do the normal things of life.

So, people that are easily distracted often lose focus, and they can't fight through the muddle of so many distractions to actually accomplish the things that are most significant or most important for their ministry on the field. Their sending church, holding their feet to the fire and encouraging them to stay focused, can be a big help for them to stay on track. It almost goes without saying, but I should say it. Prayer is a huge asset for us all to help your missionary stay on focus. Of course, there's accountability, and there's communication on either side of that. But your church and your leaders praying for your missionary to keep focused and doing the most important things and letting some of the much lesser important things just go, that is what's going to be used of the Lord to help your missionary keep on focus.

Missionaries live in a cauldron of culture and environment and circumstances that are very different from the life they grew up in in the United States, so this area of focus is a subtle battleground of their mind and heart in order to be effective and faithful long term. If the missionary fails in focus and keeping the big things, the big things, keeping the really big picture of what they're accomplishing, however slowly it may seem, may cause them to be frustrated to the point of leaving the field.

It's interesting that this next area of communication is sometimes taken to be one of those big distractions that keep people off focus. However, I argue that that's not the case. Communication is absolutely essential. The key is having the right balance of communication and the right formula, if you will, of frequency and type of communication.

I've known a number of missionaries who got just entangled in having so many Skype calls with family and friends that they neglected doing some of the most important things. That's not good communication. Most mission agencies even limit the volume of communication or the time spent in communication that missionaries can have because appropriately, they need to be focused on the right things, and just kind of catching up with family and friends unless there's a crisis situation is something that takes a lot of time. The missionary and the sending church should give appropriate kinds of boundaries for how much communication the missionary should be able to do with these personal communication segments that are not directly related to the work. So, it might be Skype or some other type of video call. It might be just texting or calling, which is prominent all over the world now, and yet, we just can't text to Mom like we used to when we were home. And Mom needs to know that that expectation has changed, also.

There are core bits of communication that the missionary must be committed to. For example, a quarterly newsletter or prayer letter that's sent out to the widest distribution of their friends, family, and supporters. There should be regular quarterly accountability kinds of communication with their supporting churches and perhaps with their key supporters. Certainly, regular communication is expected between the missionary and their sending agency. The best practice for missionaries with a tighter group of people that are following them and taking care of them, supporting and shepherding them in a special way should be more frequently than quarterly. Certainly, monthly is fair, but a simple bullet-point kind of email could be done as frequently as weekly.

Different circles or spheres of relationships require different kinds of communication. A missionary doesn't share their most intimate needs and concerns with everybody, and the big picture of ministry progress, relationships, and opportunities can be shared with a wider group of people who are interested, supporting, and praying.

Another factor, overlaying all of this is the missionary's own inclination and skill in communicating. Some missionaries are great about communicating, and they share a lot of things, maybe too much. There are others that are so reluctant to communicate. They're not used to it. It's not a habit of theirs, or they're too shy. They don't know what to write. There are ways that we can come alongside and assist and help them build a framework or a checklist or a template for communication that makes it easier for them to fulfill those duties. It is important that the missionary realizes that those communication, accountability, and focus issues are actually duties. They are responsibilities. They're not optional.

In general, helping them develop a reasonable and practical structure will help them. It doesn't have to be lengthy and voluminous and detailed communication, but it does have to be regular and appropriate communication. It is part of the job. People back home need to know how to pray, and the more specific the prayer requests, the more timely the prayer requests, the more specific and timely are God's answers to those prayers.

I remember talking to some really long-term missionaries in a challenging field, and they said as soon as they amped up the frequency and detail of their communication, God answered prayers in so many ways, including raising their support to a better level than they'd ever had before. It was simply a matter of having good and regular and effective communication.

Going back to the bigger picture of church-based missionary training, these things about life on the field, including shepherding on the field, accountability, focus, and communication and functioning partnership agreement with the mission-sending agency are things that your missionary candidate and perhaps one or two of your church leaders should have a conversation about with people who have actually been in or on or near the field that your missionary is going to with the agency that they're going with.

These issues are not things that missionaries normally talk about, but you should ask these questions because your missionary is going into that environment. Everybody on both sides of the water needs to have appropriate expectations about these things and to work out some of those details before they ever hit the field. You want your missionary to have those right kinds of expectations so that when they hit the field, they're not hitting any barriers or obstacles or potholes that are gonna slow them down or confuse them or make things harder for them than they need to be.

Thanks for sticking with us in this series on church-based missionary training. We have one last episode in this series to go. Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now, to God, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.

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