Why Limiting Your Missions Strategy Won’t Limit You
We’re firm believers that every church should have a long-term strategy for its global missions work — one that provides focus and clarity on where to invest your resources and people. But having a strategy isn’t without its challenges.
For example, what happens if your church decides to focus on missions in Asia… and then someone in your church senses a call to go to Kenya? Do you refuse to support them because they don’t fit with the bigger strategy? Or do you toss aside the strategy every time someone comes with a new idea?
How do you know if your strategy is keeping you focused or keeping you from what God has in store?
While we’re sensitive to these challenges, we’re not convinced that they should keep you from putting a missions strategy in place! With that in mind, here are three principles to guide your church as you seek to implement a long-term strategy and respond faithfully to the other opportunities.
1. Limiting Options Isn’t Bad. Really.
If you’re given to generational-type studies, you’ve probably heard that fear of missing out, or “FOMO,” is a uniquely millennial struggle. But let’s be honest, none of us wants to miss out. When church leaders push back on setting a missions strategy because they’re afraid that it might prematurely limit how God can lead them in the future, I contend that they’re being driven by the missions equivalent of FOMO.
Choices are an inevitable part of life, and every choice we make limits the options available to us in the future. This is true whether we commit to a strategy or we wait for opportunities to present themselves with some sense of urgency. The difference in these two approaches is that a strategy can help you anticipate which choices will lead to a more fruitful outcome, while operating without a strategy makes it harder to anticipate more than a step or two into the future.
It’s natural to feel paralyzed when we’re faced with an overwhelming number of good options, but a missions strategy can help us overcome that. Limiting our options isn’t just good. It’s inevitable. And doing so before they become crises is even better.
2. Champion Your Strategy.
It’s not uncommon for a church to set a strategy only to be approached by a family or individual who feels a personal call to serve beyond the church’s strategy. These situations can be painful, especially if the sense of personal calling is strong and well-developed. In these cases, it can feel like the church is squashing someone’s dream or telling them that they’ve misheard God’s call for their life.
One thing to keep in mind is that the call of God isn’t merely personal and private, but should be subject to the collective discernment of Christ’s body. Instead of thinking of calling in quasi-mystical terms, individuals sensing the Lord’s leading should always seek wise counsel from the body of Christ at large. Remember that at least one significant biblical example is of a missionary call came to the corporate people of God (Acts 13).
Another side of this corporate approach to the missionary calling is that churches should boldly champion the strategy they’ve committed to. If God uses the preached word to call individuals to repentance, He can also use the bold proclamation of your missions strategy to inspire those He wants to join you on that mission.
Keeping your strategy bottled up increases the likelihood that those in your community will have their attention caught by something else. But putting your strategy out there gives you the opportunity to shape the call your people hear.
3. Re-Evaluate Your Strategy Regularly.
Committing yourself to a strategy gives you a sense of purpose. It helps you discern between multiple good options and gives you some confidence that you’re taking steps towards a satisfying result. But strategies don’t have to be set in stone to accomplish all of that. In fact, they probably shouldn’t be.
The point of setting a strategy isn’t to eliminate the need to ever make another choice, but to provide some rails to run on. Since you don’t know what doors will be open in 12 months (or even two months), constant re-evaluation also needs to be built into your plan.
Of course, re-evaluating at every twist and turn is the same as having no strategy at all, but a commitment to taking a step back from your strategy every once in a while can allow you to make course corrections along the way.
Staying Firm but Flexible
At the end of the day, your missions strategy shouldn’t be so firm that you’re unable to flex as the Lord brings new people or opportunities your way. But neither should it be easily pushed aside by every changing circumstance. Finding the right balance requires lots of prayer, discernment, humility and grace. But setting a strategy, championing that strategy and regularly re-evaluating your strategy will put you well on your way.
Ready to get started on your church’s missions strategy? Download this free resource designed to guide you through creating and executing a strategy.
4 CommentsLeave a comment
Thanks for this update on mission work. A senario i find myself in but thanks be to God for TEAM. With this guide and Counsel we shall achieve more. Blessings.
Thank you so much for this article! During the past two years we worked hard to develop our missions strategies/priorities, and it has been freeing, yet also a challenge when we get applications and are torn between our priorities and the personal involvement in the applicant. We want to make sure that our church people know our strategies/priorities so that they take those into account when they explore a career in missions.
Great article, thank you for writing this. Question: What about missionaries who are already fielded? I’ve seen churches redefine their strategy and then discontinue supporting them because they no longer fit in their strategy. Id love to know your thoughts. Thanks!
Thanks, Matt, for this question. In my opinion, every situation is unique, so a lot of discernment and wisdom is needed to make good decisions about these kinds of things. That said, here are a couple of my personal thoughts on this one.
1. This is one of the reasons that continual communication between missionaries and their sending churches is critical. And when I say “communication” I don’t just mean sending a generic prayer letter every once in a while, but real, ongoing relational maintenance and development. When churches reassess strategies (as they should), they’re naturally going to prioritize the work of missionaries that they believe in, so it would be wise for missionaries to do what they can to keep their churches on board with the value of what they’re doing even after departing.
2. It feels harsh to say, but I think missionaries need to remember that they’re not entitled to a church’s support indefinitely. I think it’s best for missionaries and churches to talk openly about expectations right from the beginning, and to especially talk about how long a church intends to offer their support, what kind of results they’re praying for as a result, etc. As a missionary, remember that your work is one of many good things God is doing through the church, and your ministry might not always fit with how God is using that community. While God may call some supporters to your team for your whole career, He might not.
3. As a missionary, you can never stop networking and vision-casting for the work that you’re doing. If you stop “support raising” once you’ve hit 100%, or once you’re on the field, then it’s almost inevitable that you’ll find yourself in a bind at some point in your career. But if you embrace the reality that relationship-building and vision-casting are part of the what it means to be a support-raising missionary, then you’ll always be ready for some supporters to come and others to go.