Thursday, April 19, 2012

"We Value Relationships"

Since the mid-1990's a number of churches have begun to re-evaluate their mission strategies. They've recognized that supporting a variety of ministries doing lots of different things around the world gives them a nicely diverse profile, but that their ministries can make a bigger difference both out there in the world and among those involved in their own church if they focus their efforts on fewer initiatives. Sometimes they will "adopt" a specific mission field, people group, or ministry focus. They support fewer missionaries.

When I hear people talk about this, they often say things like this: "We say no to most funding requests. We choose to invest in a smaller number of ministries/missionaries at a higher level. That's really what's best for them, too, so they don't have to travel from church to church raising money or visiting supporters." (Hmm, maybe they don't realize that the days of having 10-15 supporting churches are long gone. Now a typical missionary who makes it through the fundraising process will come out with 2-3.)

Those who hesitate to be that focused say things more like this: "We can't cut off the missionaries we already support! That feels too heartless. We want to stand with them too, no matter what their calling and current assignment may be." Also an admirable sentiment, I would say.

In both cases, these folks are expressing a high value for relationship; cultivating and honoring relationships with the missionaries they support is something they really care about.

I recently heard a presentation that took a closer look at the claim, "what we value is relationships." Is this an actual value that works out in a church's priorities and practices in relating to their missionaries? Or is it just a "aspirational value" a pattern to which we aspire but don't currently practice?

The presenter suggested that in most cases, even though people say they value relationship, their decisions don't line up with that value. At least not when it comes to their partners in global outreach, their missionaries.

"Two Women Having Tea," painting by Frank Desch.
Maybe it's time to admit many sending and supporting churches have relatively weak relationships with their missionaries, be they few or be they many. Or to look at it from the other side, many missionaries have relatively weak ties to their home/supporting churches. When the need for money does not drive them back toward the church, the field or agency's policies - or church requirements - sometimes can. But often these are only sporadically "enforced."

A woman I met a few years back wrote to me with a relatively simple and fun approach to cultivating and continuing relationships between churches and the missionaries they send and support. She'd read my post  Church Mobilization: Handles for Global Outreach and wanted to suggest a good "handle."

"One thing that our women's ministry does that really connects us with the missionaries we support is hosting teas. Hosts chose a female missionary from those our church supports. She invites a bunch of her female friends to her home for tea (or dinner or...) and can be as frilly or casual according to her personality. The host is responsible to connect with the missionary and learn about her beforehand to share or Skype with her at the tea. The women hear personal stories about the woman, what she does, her challenges, her environment, etc. Hearing the personal stories in an intimate context endears the missionaries to the women. The women spend time praying and writing cards to the missionary (birthday, Christmas, etc). The women's ministry collects the cards to mail throughout the year and uses any special donations to send a Christmas check to the missionaries." 

A tea-party and card-writing session sounds a little old-school, but fun. And fun is an important motivational factor. I also like the idea that you could add your own touches to this and make it into a special event; this isn't something that's meant to be "as simple as possible" (and possibly the kind of thing everyone will forget immediately after). Online video-chatting makes for a new and more personal dynamic. You could have tea with a woman in China just as easily as one who lives down the street.

1 comment:

Marti said...

For an interesting article on the dynamics missionaries face in trying to explain how they live, see "Should We Tell Them about the Pool?" (Peter's Wife)