Thus far, we’ve looked at the motivations and biblical principles for missions, as well as how to build a leadership team, communicate, and evaluate your church’s missions program. In the final post of our series on developing an effective missions program, we take a look at how to adjust your missions program to better align with your biblical motivations and principles.
Having evaluated the gaps between your decided strategy and your current missions effort, it is likely that some adjustments will need to be made. This can be a daunting task for a pastoral staff or elder board who are already tasked with many other church needs. It is also a delicate task, involving people, relationships, and money. If the motivations and principles for missions have been effectively taught and the missions strategy process has been thoroughly communicated to the congregation, then change will be accepted more easily. If the congregation trusts the leadership that has been guiding them through the process, they will be willing to follow where they lead.
As discussed previously, your missions strategy will probably focus on certain categories of ministry that are deemed more critical than others. This will generally require that more resources (whether financial or human) be directed at those categories. By inventorying your current missions effort, as described in Step 6, you can see how your church resources are allocated across categories. This can then be matched up with your strategy to determine where reallocation of existing resources may need to take place and/or where any new support should be focused.
A great deal of care and patience will be required to effectively adjust resource allocation. Some changes may be able to be done rather quickly, but some may require up to several years to put into effect. There are several ways that your current missions effort can be brought into alignment with your strategy.
Adjustments to Existing Activities
You may be able to fine-tune certain financial support or missions activity. For example, if part of your missions support goes to a particular missions organization, you could designate those funds to a particular project or geographic region that better fits your new strategy. Adjustments can also be made in short term missions if that remains a feature in your missions effort. Decisions about what sort of teams you send and where you send them should reflect your new strategy.
You may also be able to work with your current supported missionaries to realign their missions activities without changing their financial support level. This would be a good option to explore if a particular missionary had drifted, for example, from his previous evangelistic focus into more support and mercy ministry roles. Others may be open to exploring ways to shift their attention to activities more in line with the new focus of your church strategy. It is important, however, not to be too heavy-handed in these discussions, recognizing that the man in the field is best aware of his context and competing pressures.
Decreasing or Ending Support
Increasing support to a faithful ministry or missionary is a happy occasion and does not generally generate controversy. But it is likely that, after going through the process of interviewing, categorizing, and fully evaluating all your missionaries from the standpoint of your new strategy and goals, you may realize that there are some who no longer fit with what you think God is doing through your church. This may be because of doctrinal or activity changes on the part of the missionary or ministry, or it may be because of the strategy changes you have made as a church. In these cases, financial support may need to be decreased or stopped. With a ministry organization, this is not usually very problematic because any single church will only provide a very small percentage of their financial input. For a missionary, however, particularly one for whom you are the sending church, any decrease of support is a much more difficult thing. Any changes in this regard must be done with the utmost care and compassion for all involved, and with full transparency of actions.
When a problem has been discovered (such as a shift into predominantly non-missions activity or a doctrinal gap short of heresy or false teaching that would require church discipline), it is important to shepherd the missionary carefully. Through loving interaction by the elders, such a missionary may realize places where he is in error or has unintentionally drifted and be willing to make corrections. It is vital to allow the Spirit to work in this way.
Some missionaries, however, will remain firm in their variant convictions. At that point the elders may have to decide that it is best to bring the relationship to a close. This should not be done without much prayer and significant interaction between church leadership and the missionary through visits, videoconferences, and phone calls. In no cases should the support be abruptly cut off without giving the missionary time to find support elsewhere. The most transparent and reasonable way to handle this situation is to clearly designate a number of months that your church will continue to support that missionary and after that, they will not be supported any more. It is advisable to err on the side of generosity in this respect, for the sake of the relationship and the reputation of the church.
The ministries of some existing missionaries may be found to no longer accord well with the focus of the church. However, when they have been faithful, longstanding partners, and are not out of line doctrinally, it is usually best to continue your historical commitment to them. Do not abruptly discontinue or decrease support to a doctrinally sound missionary simply to obtain immediate numerical compliance with your new strategy goals. For those who are nearing the end of their service or term it is often best to let the support come to a close naturally through attrition or near–future retirement. For those who are a long way from the end of their service as a missionary, it is often advisable to decide on a gradually decreasing level of support over several years so that the missionary has more time to adjust.
As you go forward, your new missions strategy should help to integrate and guide all the missions activities of your church. It should not only provide guidelines for financial decisions but also, more importantly, direct a new focus for prayer and disciple-making efforts by your church, through and to your missionaries and their activities. It can help to orient your teaching, prayer and communication efforts even at your church. It should help you to be intentionally faithful to all that the Bible teaches and how the Spirit has guided through this strategy building process. Ultimately, with your new missions strategy as a foundation, your congregation will be able to consider, within a biblical framework, what existing or new missions support opportunities best concur with your goals. As such, your church will be better equipped to maximize its efforts to glorify God and reach the world for Christ.
This post was adapted from the booklet, How to Build an Effective Missions Program.