There are so many ways to be involved in missions in the world today. We even had a blog post about that in August of last year. In Jason’s article, he points out some helpful guidelines to shape involvement in missions.
Local church focused, long-term ministry is essential, but it’s often easier to get teams on the field for very practical, hands-on trips. With limited resources, time, and energy, missions organizations need to consider where to focus their efforts.
How do we do missions well? Or, what should we do while serving internationally? These questions are vitally important, but they often get far less attention than the question of why we ought to do missions. There are so many reasons to get involved and support missions: the world is overwhelmingly lost and it desperately needs discipleship. Of course, we recognize this and desire to see change. The question, then, isn’t the need, but what methods and strategies should we invest in to meet that need.
We have seen the bad… It isn’t hard to see the consequences of misguided missionary efforts. Around the world, there are churches fraught with false doctrine and waiting on outside money and help. I recently heard from a friend that had taken dozens of trips to one part of the world, that the people there won’t lift a finger because they are waiting on missions teams to give them what they need. Missions teams are so common in the region, some churches have lost the initiative to do work themselves.
None of us want to be unfeeling or cold towards the needs of our brothers and sisters in Christ, yet the critical success of the gospel lies in wisely assisting rather than doing as much as we can.
A Path Forward
We need some guidelines for missions involvement. It would be foolish for me to assume that I have it all figured out, but as a missionary, I need a basic framework to work from. Here are some ideas to help guide you as you think about how to do missions well.
- Offer myself rather than money or other outside assistance. Most of the time there are solutions in the place where you are serving to meet the needs that people have. If someone is in dire need of medical care, there is often a local provider. If someone needs help with bills or debt, then the local church (if there is one) can and should be able to extend some kind of help. It may not be money, but it could be a meal or some extra work for the person to earn the necessary funds. Whenever Reaching and Teaching takes a short-term teaching trip somewhere, we offer the teaching to students for free and also offer some compensation for our room and board. The goal is to minimize our burden on the people and to pull our own weight for the week of training. The students have some investment in the training because they have to get to the training and perhaps contribute to their room and board. Everyone invests something, and we are all equals.
- Partner with churches rather than going solo. It breaks my heart to see orphanages and other ministries existing on the mission field with no local church involvement. All the money and care pours in from thousands of miles away, but the local churches don’t even have the opportunity to join in the care of orphans. Doors will open and less foreign support is necessary when the local church is involved, even though it will change the texture of the ministry. There can be influence and direction from local leaders, as well as from foreign missionaries.
- Defer to local leaders and get them leading. There will come a day when you can’t go back or your church can’t go back – maybe the missionary retires or the church changes pastors. What happens to the mission? Does it dry up? Does it get shifted to someone else? There needs to be an end game from day one of what it will look like for the local people to lead and to shape the ministry on their own. Get the local leaders leading and invest in them (see #1!) so they can be ready when the time comes for no more trips. It will be hard to do that if the local worker is receiving a salary from your church or if you never bring in the local leaders in the first place (see #2).
- Figure out the balance between going and supporting. This is where we need wisdom and grace. Some people say that long-term missionaries are ones we ought to invest in, and I can’t say that I disagree. They tend to know the language and culture and have all the contacts. Supporting missionaries can and should be a big part of our missions involvement. However, the impact of a mission trip can be enormous. Some participants might feel called to missions or to ministry, while other people might feel strongly that they should invest more time in their local church. A good missions experience can buoy the local church that was struggling to find an identity. So, going on mission trips is also very important. We need to be having candid conversations as local churches about the best way to get involved and stay involved in missions. Pray for wisdom and God will give it (James 1:5).
- Seek accountability from someone. The worst thing we can do is assume that, because we have a good desire, we will be doing the best thing possible. Every ministry should be carefully considering how to do their work well, and we need ministry partners to help evaluate the work. We need to listen to feedback and position ourselves in a way that welcomes feedback. It’s important to evaluate what we are doing with the hope of making Christ known to more and more people.