Many churches nowadays express frustration with the workers they support. Why? In two simple words: accountability and communication. The churches want (and have a right) to know the details of their overseas worker’s life and ministry. This is essential for prayers to be current, vision to be building within the church, and for determining whether or not the people are being good stewards of the Lord’s time and money. Many overseas workers (mission workers) feel that they have no time for such detailed communication and record-keeping.

Having completed 30 years of service overseas, I have come to the conclusion that the churches are right – the mission workers are wrong. There is time… if we make it. Overseas workers (OWs) must make accountability and communication a priority with their sending church. We cannot expect people back home to pray and support us if they do not know what we are doing. However, at the same time, the churches have a responsibility to faithfully fulfill the commitments they make to their workers. In many ways, it is similar to a pastor’s relationship with his church. Most pastors expect certain commitments to be fulfilled by their church members regarding both himself (such as a monthly salary) and his ministry (such as participation in programs). In return, the church also places certain expectations on the pastor (such as preaching and visitation). The church and the pastor hold one another accountable for the sake of Christ’s kingdom. I believe this is the biblical model and should be the same for a church and its workers overseas.

Jerry Daley, my mentor, asked me to consider three questions and write up my thoughts as they might pertain to the local church and sending out overseas workers. The questions are:

1.  How can the local church do missions better?
2.  What is the role for of a mission agency in the process?
3.  What should be the expectations of a church who sends out an overseas worker?

This week I’ll answer Jerry’s first question and next week I’ll cover questions 2 & 3. These are some of the things I believe need to happen in churches who wish to do missions better. I am not referencing verses as I believe most of these things are obvious and this is not meant to be a theological treatise. I look forward to hearing from others too.

1.  How can the local church do missions better?
I believe missions needs to be centered out of the local church. What does this mean? It means churches need to reclaim what they have given away to mission agencies. I believe Jesus gave the church, not the para-church the assignment of reaching all peoples. Para-church ministries sprang up to come alongside churches simply because the churches were either deficient or distracted in raising up and sending out their own workers. There are two places I see the church can do missions better; before a person is sent out and after the person arrives overseas.

a.  Before workers depart for overseas the local church should be the center point for training and discipling those headed overseas. In God’s plan, training and discipling are central to the church, not seminaries or missionary training centers. Such places of learning are usually out of the flow of normal, everyday life. Jesus trained His disciples while doing life. We are commanded to make disciples as we are going through life. Discipleship and modeling of the Gospel needs to first happen in the church member’s daily life before s/he is sent out to do the same in another country. Courses studied and experiences checked off a list are helpful but they are not Jesus’ criteria for selecting workers. Jesus’ criteria centered on relationships; relationship with God and relationship with others. This was measured not by grades but by a person’s obedience to God and their character as lived out and observed by the local the community. Church members need to be trained to be lights in their daily life and work before they qualify for being sent overseas to be lights in their daily life and work.

b.  After workers are living overseas the church who knows the worker and equipped the worker needs to continue to be actively involved in ministering to and with the worker(s) they have sent out. Though miles away, s/he is still a member of the church. There should be regular, monthly or more, communication between the worker and the church. Each overseas worker (OW) should have a mentor or coach in the church who is their advocate in their home fellowship. This advocate should be working to provide for the needs of the OW whether this be in prayer, funding, coaching, etc.  The local church should have an active role in the work of the OW even when s/he is overseas.

PATRICK LAI and his family have worked in SE Asia for over 37 years. His experience in doing business with Jesus has brought him to understand the meaning of work and worship in the marketplace. He started 14 businesses in four countries, six of which are still operating. Patrick and his wife, May, mentor and coach businesspeople working where there are few or no Christians. Check out Patrick’s latest book, Workship, now available in paperback and e-book.

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