Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Missionary Call - from a Member Care Perspective PART V - The Call as a factor in sustaining missionaries

The Missionary Call as a Factor in Sustaining Missionaries

The missionary call is vital in recruiting and screening missionaries. The missionary call is also invaluable in sustaining missionaries. The missionary call is an ally which may be utilized to strengthen and preserve the troubled missionary, as Kelly O’ Donnell advises:

If a missionary becomes dysfunctional or struggles excessively with ministry issues, it may be wise to review his/her present walk with God and the original call from God concerning missionary work.

The original call, being what compelled the believer to enter missionary service originally, can also be a member care tool to keep them there. Since a clear call will have clear confirmations by the larger body of Christ, the troubled missionary should never lack a wide array of affirmation and support. If the missionary’s initial call was confirmed by the larger body of Christ and the sending agency, even if that missionary has his own momentary doubts about his calling, a large number of supportive believers can strengthen that weary missionary from many sides.

The following illustrates this dynamic well:

Paul and Barnabas were confirmed in their missionary call by the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-4). Many ministers, including missionaries, have had churches confirm their call to ministry because they had watched how they developed a lifestyle of obedience. It is a further confirmation when they support the missionaries in prayer as they go to the mission field. There is also the confirmation that comes through a sending body which affirms that they are gifted for this kind of ministry...When missionaries go to the field, they become aware of the value of having such a “call” from the Lord. When they are asked what difference the call has made to them, the characteristic response is that it has functioned as a stabilizer in their lives during times of crisis. It has a stabilizing effect when the missionaries sense that God has equipped them spiritually with the gifts necessary to carry out a task, and in crisis times the Lord is guiding them. Missionaries sense a stability just knowing that others believe in them.

A steady supplement of, “We believe in you, we affirmed your calling, we attest that God’s gifts are upon you, and we support you,” can do wonders for the missionary in times of stress. It is an invigorating tonic.

Neal Pirolo illustrates the immense moral support that comes from the larger body of Christ:

The church, the home fellowship, the missions fellowship, the prayer group, the college and career class – some group besides the ones wanting to go need to hear the Holy Spirit say, “Separate unto Me [the Barnabas and Saul from your fellowship] for the task to which I have called them.” This confirmation provides tremendous moral support! It is one thing for your missionary to think the Lord has directed him. It is incredibly more reassuring to know He has confirmed it in the hearts of others as well.

The support of the body of Christ towards a missionary rarely ends with mere affirmation. When a missionary call is confirmed by the larger body of Christ, moral support is far from the only thing provided. Multiplied prayers ascend to heaven on behalf of the beleaguered. Material support is more easily attained when the larger body of Christ stamps a missionary with their own seal of approval. Special aid, material assistance and added resources can all serve to buttress the struggling missionary in times of need. Like a frontline soldier amply supplied with the “beans and bullets” needed to sustain the war effort, the missionary is sent forth by the multiplied efforts of many.

The REMAP II study writes the following:

The committed endorsement of the pastor and local church may have an added contribution for retention beyond confirming the call of the candidate. If the church and pastor confirm the call to the mission agency it seems likely that the church would feel greater obligation or responsibility to support in prayer and finances.

A true missionary call results in a missionary being sent, and the one who is sent is sent by a community. The blessings provided by this sending community do not end once the missionary is sent, but can be tapped in times of need as a source of strength, affirmation and comfort.

A Clear Missionary Call and Missionary Attrition: an Inverse Relationship

Two things are striking regarding the correlation between the missionary call and missionary attrition. First, a clear call is one of the most important factors in missionary longevity. Second, the perception by the missionary that he lacks a call or has lost his call are major factors impacting missionary attrition.

The missionary call - one of the top factors in missionary retention.

In the ReMAP II study on missionary attrition, a strong sense of calling possessed, “a strong correlation with retention.” In fact, a clear calling rated as a higher factor in retention than even prior ministry experience. The verdict is clear; a strong sense of calling prevents negative missionary attrition.

The Association of Foreign Missions, meeting in 1998, focused on the topic of missionary “survival” and found that “a definite call to cross-cultural service” was a key ingredient in all of the successful case studies examined.

A “determination to dig in your heels no matter how tough it gets, based on the conviction that you are in the exact place God wants you, ministerially as well as geographically” is vital to missionary longevity.

Doubts about one’s call, or a sense of loss or lack of call is devastating

The World Evangelical Fellowship conducted a study of missionary attrition in the 1990’s consisting of findings from 14 nations, broken down into OSC’s (Old Sending Countries) and NSC’s (New Sending Countries). This landmark ReMAP I study (Reducing Missionary Attrition Project I) interviewed personnel from 453 sending agencies, the total number of these missionary interviews was approximately 31,000, or 1/5th of the known global evangelism force.

The results of ReMAP I were analyzed and published in the book Too Valuable to Lose, edited by Dr. Bill Taylor. ReMAP I’s results encouraged further research. ReMAP II, focusing on obtaining best practices for retention, was completed at the end of 2003 and its results were published in the book Worth Keeping.

The WEF study found that the category “lack of call” influenced an average of 4.1% of missionaries who attritted. Of the NSC’s (new sending countries) fully 8% of attritting missionary personnel listed “lack of call” as the main reason for their attrition.

Finally, the WEF found that “the most important factor in preventing attrition was reported to be the missionary having a clear call.” Asked to list all the top reasons for leaving the field, fully 23% of missionaries from the New Sending Nations marked “Yes” for the reason “Lack of a clear call.” This 23% response is shared with the response “Lack of Home support” as the top reason for negative missionary attrition.

The Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) has one of the lowest attrition rates on record. However, of that very low rate of attrition issues centering on “the call” figured prominently:

The most common reason cited for leaving missionary appointment last year was a change in understanding of God's call. That explanation accounted for 25 percent of all departures. "Fifty-eight individuals resigned because of a change of call; six resigned because they felt they were never really called; and four resigned because their families in the U.S. did not affirm their call," noted an executive summary of the study presented to trustees.

It is evident, therefore, that a clear missionary call, seconded by the larger body of Christ who affirms and supports that call is key to improving member care.

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