Exchanging money for market goods

#13 in a series devoted to sending churches. The content of this post is adapted from BMW’s 6-hour apoLuo workshop. Numbered articles are intended to be read sequentially for maximum benefit.

A few years ago, a missionary appointee reported that he was contacting about five pastors every month to arrange meetings in their churches, and thought he was doing well.

He was wrong.

Think this through with me:

• Let’s say 60% of the pastors he contacts actually respond to him (an unrealistically high estimate.) So he hears from three of them.
• Of those three, let’s assume 33% of them actually agree to have him into their church (a missionary’s “in-your-dreams” scenario, akin to scoring the winning goal with eight seconds left in World Cup Final.) He has one meeting scheduled after a month of “effort.”
• At this pace, he will schedule twelve meetings per year. How long do you think it will take his family to get to the field, even assuming every one of those churches supports him for $100 a month (a fantasy of inestimable magnitude?)

Some churches, like Shenandoah Baptist Church in Roanoke, VA (see Dr. Alderman’s excellent article, “We’ve Changed Our Mind About Missions” in this website’s library) have the vision to view missionaries as staff members and support them 100%. This is biblical and commendable. And unusual.

The reality most missionary appointees face is that a disproportionate number of their inquiries go unheeded or unanswered. Mail is either tossed directly in the trash with the Walmart flyer (“No, wait—don’t throw away that Walmart flyer!”) or screened through various layers of ecclesiastical bureaucracy until it hits a dead end. Secretaries screen phone calls, and pastors are rarely available to potential missionary partners. (“Potential missionary partners.” I like that a lot better than, “appointees”, don’t you? I think I’ll keep it.) The DELETE button is all too handy when those suspicious emails appear–like the trigger on an outlaw’s six-gun: “What did you say your name was, again? No, there’s nothing in my inbox from you…”

Sometimes the low rate of response is the missionaries’ fault. They send material that is ho-hum in appearance with less-than-compelling content. They cease their efforts to speak with a church’s decision-maker(s) when a secretary shrugs them off. They fail to make churches understand that they need them to fulfill the Great Commission. They don’t follow up. They expect pastors to extend invitations without extending any of their own—for coffee or lunch at their own expense, for instance. They think that the only worthwhile visit to a church is one during which they are scheduled to present their work. These are things we are seeking to correct.

On the other hand, one of the “laws of the harvest” is the law of averages: If you reap sparingly, you’ll sow sparingly. In our culture—a culture in which the Great Commission is no longer a priority and larger churches are managed like corporations—establishing effective global partnerships is difficult in the best of times.

If prayer is the fuel that propels deputation, effort is the engine.

I once had a missionary appointee—potential missionary partner—say to me, just before resigning from the mission only a few months after being appointed, “You know, the support just didn’t come in like we’d thought it would.”

Missionary support doesn’t just “come in.” If it did, you wouldn’t be reading these words because I wouldn’t have written them. In every other sector, people work hard for their wages. Most people in the world scrabble and scrape just to pay their rent and feed their children. Missionaries are not an elite corps of entitled specialists. They need to get used to the idea, early on, that what God has chosen for them to do will require a lot of prayer, hard work, long hours, faith, creativity, persistence, and help. And if they think they can wait until they get to the field for this pattern to kick in, they’ll never get there.

Our goal at BMW is for our appointees to leave Candidate Orientation having already begun their deputation ministry. They receive ten hours of training, invaluable tools (such as TntMDP software), and access to the mission’s database of thousands of churches. They learn how to harvest these data and begin to make contacts even before they get home. If they listen carefully in class, ask the right questions, make an effort to get addresses from the office, use the tools and resources they have received, and begin—with their pastor’s help—to enlist a dedicated DEP Squad, there is no reason these new potential missionary partners can’t contact 100 churches every month.

Now let’s crunch the numbers again:

• 100 churches are contacted each month
• 25% of them respond
• Of the 25 that respond, 20% schedule meetings

Even with significantly lower response rates, we’re already seeing a 500% increase in the number of opportunities to be in churches with the purpose of establishing permanent ministry partnerships.

While deputation is ministry—real ministry with eternal implications—it still involves the universal principle that, “Ya gets wutcha pays fer.” A minimum of effort, including the energies expended in fervent prayer, will yield a minimum of results. Missionaries must not expect tidy, forty-hour works weeks when they get to the field, and they must not expect them on the way, either.

BMW’s Deputation Tactical Team discovered that the second and third most important factors in getting to the field quickly (after the involvement of the sending church pastor in the support raising process) are effort and organization. To be blunt, if potential missionary partners are lazy and disorganized, they’re going to have a hard time getting to the field.

And if they’re lazy and disorganized, you’re not even sending them to the mission field…right?

Rob Heijermans, Biblical Ministries Worldwide