By Christine Harding
I received a rare kind of phone call a couple of years ago which still bugs me: “Our church wants to support a missionary – a real one though, not one that does administration or any of those support roles…”
It was rare because we don’t often get ‘cold calls’ from churches wanting to partner with our members, but the sentiment expressed wasn’t that rare. I often come in contact with those who think, whether it’s expressed verbally or not, that ‘support roles’ are not as important as ‘frontline’ missionaries and therefore not as deserving of their support and attention.
I read a great article a few months ago which I highly recommend to you – “Three Blind Spots of Mission” by N. Doug Gamble*. It resonated with the experience I have had in this role over these last seven years.
The author unpacks three commonly-held ‘blind spots’ regarding the Great Commission.
“Blind Spot #1: Seeing our Great Commission mandate through a keyhole instead of a big picture window;
Blind Spot #2: Allowing missionary candidates to see the Great Commission as their private calling;
Blind Spot #3: Agencies own the Great Commission exclusively instead of seeing it as the shared task of local church, agency and national church.”
I want to add a fourth point that I’ve frequently encountered. Blind Spot #4: Believing those in supporting roles are less significant than ‘frontline’ missionaries – especially those working in their home country.
Seeing disciples of Jesus function as a team for the greater good is not a new idea! Paul describes this in 1 Corinthians 12 where he teaches about spiritual gifts and their uses, explained as one body with many parts contributing to a ‘whole.’
God gifts us in different ways for His purpose now, here on earth – His great mission. He asks us to work together in this mission so that we are fruitful and make the best use of our resources. Imagine a body without a skeleton; it would resemble a jelly fish! The muscles could not move and reach out, and there would be no traction or movement.
It’s the same with God’s mission – without the ‘skeleton’ of support people, those on the ‘frontline’ would not have traction and many could not survive in their context of ministry for long. Administrators make sure money is transacted wisely, that the laws of the country are upheld, and that communication is happening; those in leadership ensure that there is organisation, vision and progress; and without support from medical, educational and member care specialists, many missionaries would come home early and burnt out.
I’m a support person, and like others I know in support roles, I am as equally committed to serving in God’s mission as those ‘on the frontline.’ What’s more, I live and serve in New Zealand so sometimes am not viewed as a ‘real’ missionary. Thankfully I am supported by a great group of people who understand that the role I do, along with many others in similar roles, is vital to the health and progress of this mission.
Those in roles such as mine can be of great help countering those three blind spots I started with. Here’s how:
#1: We help churches to be better informed about areas/people/projects they feel the Lord is leading them to be involved in. OMF has 150 years’ worth of experience in East Asia, and we long to share this for the sake of God’s mission. There is no need to ‘re-invent the wheel’ – some churches are making the same mistakes we made years ago!
#2: We can partner with local churches and encourage them to drive the process of discerning a candidate’s call, plus help with their training and preparation.
#3: This I take issue with. All the agencies I know are fully engaged in seeing the Great Commission ‘owned’ by the local church and are helping to facilitate partnerships for this purpose. One challenge is that local churches feel that they need to ‘go it alone’ and ignore the huge source of expertise, training and encouragement available to them (often free of charge!) which would save them time, trouble and heartache.
So . . . let’s redefine ‘support person’ to be one who is a bridge – ensuring that resources can flow freely. They can provide a skeleton – a frame allowing others to do what they do best. They bring a certain kind of expertise, and without their input others could not function fruitfully. Support people are vital to the outworking of God’s mission. Let’s continue to work together, each doing whatever He has given us to do, wherever He has called us to do it, so that as we work together He would be glorified!
*Catalyst Services Postings newsletter, Nov 2015, Vol 10, Issue 11. http://www.catalystservices.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/3-blind-mice.pdf