Short-term versus career, testing versus “letting the Lord lead,” missionary versus national, professional missionary versus self-supporting witnesses. How we recruit and use our human resources in missions today presents a complex picture.

While there is increasing cooperation in many areas, there is still fragmentation and duplication in much of what the evangelical churches are trying to do in missions. On the whole, however, the progressive spirit and innovation in many quarters give us a positive picture.

Missions are trying to come to grip with the world of Alvin Toffler—the world of transience and changing career structures. In addition to the cultural and moral revolution in North American society, the missions executive is faced with rapidly changing structures in the Church around the world: the emerging national church and its leadership role in planning, strategy, and implementation; the relation between missionaries and national leaders on the field; the changing composition of the missionary job market as generalists and a rural orientation give way to specialists and the reality of universal urbanism; the shift of money from denominational and more traditional organizations to new agencies, often independent in purpose and style.

How long the prospective candidate is going to serve is a question that is shaking the foundations of missions recruitment and management. The “new job every few years” mentality in North America flies directly in the face of the “commit your life to South America” view that was so typical of the past in missions. Short-term missionaries now take many forms. There is the student who goes for the summer, the professional who goes for a specific project, the person who signs a contract for two years for a certain field. A number of evangelical boards have moved to arrangements where missionaries cannot “sign on” for more than one term at a time—say, four or five years. At the end of each term, their performance is up for review. In some cases the nationals with whom the missionary work may be asked to evaluate the missionary: do the national leaders want him or her back? Sounds radical to some, but the approach, in various forms, is being used in a number of quarters.

For many missions executives the problem of short-term workers can be summed up by this comment: “Many short-term people on the mission field, particularly the students, are just observers who hopefully have a positive experience. The other kind of short-term person is the specialist—the individual who can immediately make a contribution whether he knows the language or culture or not.”

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Administrative structures for short-term service are a headache. Field personnel are often called off their normal assignments to supervise the short-termer who needs help. Most agree that this is bad, and it has soured many field personnel on the short-term idea. Some agencies have provided detailed orientation before students go out for a summer or other short-term period. Others have sent a supervisor with the group—someone who already knows the country and who can provide liaison with existing missionaries.

Despite the problems, short-term service is a valuable source of career missionaries. Having seen the field, taken part in the real thing, many short-termers return for longer assignments. Programs like Operation Mobilization, Youth With A Mission, and Practical Missionary Training (a division of Central American Mission) are seen by some candidate secretaries as practical, field-related orientation and screening processes.

Where the candidates come from presents another rapidly changing picture. Many major evangelical mission groups are decreasing their effort on Christian liberal arts campuses, choosing to focus instead on the Bible institutes. According to one candidate secretary, “The Bible institute student is more likely to be prepared for our kind of mission.” Quite often this means “more likely to fit into the traditional missions administrative structures—at home and on the field.”

It is generally conceded that many of the well-known Christian liberal arts schools no longer emphasize missions as they used to. Some say it is a “crisis in identity” for the Christian liberal arts schools as they try desperately to recruit students and stay solvent. Others see it as simply an acknowledgement that the committed Christian will be a “missionary” wherever he is, in whatever job he takes.

At times there is consternation among prospective candidates when they find that opportunities loudly discussed by some mission boards are, in fact, “paper” jobs. The “give us 400 men and we’ll win Asia for Christ” often rapidly fades when administrators are asked, “When do you want 400?” The simple truth is that, typically, the administrative structures, both on the field and in North America, are not geared up for major expansion. Add the dilemma of funding and the potential candidates may see a pretty bleak picture.

Increasingly, laymen are quitting their jobs or retiring early and investigating overseas Christian service. Often these people are self-supporting and can make a contribution quickly since they often have a specialized technical background. But these people too present a problem for the mission board—a willingness to serve but little cross-cultural experience and rarely a usable foreign language.

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Major youth gatherings like Inter-Varsity’s Urbana student missionary conference and Explo have always been seen as prime recruiting ground. It is felt that Urbana has been one of the major sources of professional missionaries, and, having heard the “I got my vision of the world at Urbana—years ago” many times around the world, one has to believe it. Inter-Varsity hopes to follow the actual action taken by students from Urbana ’76—following them for three to six years. This may be the first major effort at detailed research on what effect these large conferences really have.

Increasingly the missions agencies are trying to do a better job in evaluating the incoming missionary candidate. In many, testing of aptitude and personality traits is standard procedure. However, testing is highly controversial; some think it conflicts with the traditional position that “the call of God” is the main standard for acceptance. The Evangelical Foreign Missions Association and the Interdenominational Foreign Mission Association (EFMA/IFMA, comprising about 40 per cent of all North America’s missionaries and a large share of those typically classed as “evangelical”) have begun a joint program to develop testing and evaluation techniques—for use both before the candidate goes to the field and for “on the job” evaluation. Started two years ago, under the direction of Dr. Ted Ward of Michigan State University and Sam Rowen of Missionary Internship, the project will not conclude for several years.

Intercristo, an international Christian communications group, has developed its own Vocational Interest Questionnaire in cooperation with consultants from Seattle Pacific College and the University of Washington. It is designed to help a Christian student see himself in light of specific Christian types of vocations.

Many feel that basic theological issues often crop up when you question recruitment techniques. Many missions agencies take the position that the candidate has to come to them, the mission—that the mission cannot aggressively “recruit” people. Again, it is the question, “Has this person been ‘called’ to our mission, our field? Or is he just ‘shopping’ the Christian service market?” Yet indications are that the agencies that are expanding most rapidly, such as Wycliffe and Campus Crusade, do aggressively go after people—particularly after there has been an initial contact.

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The “non-professional” missionary, working for Shell Oil, UNESCO, the U.S. military, or some other secular organization, is often seen as an outsider—not a real part of the true missionary picture. Yet, for every missionary overseas from the United States today, it is estimated there are 105 other Americans serving in these self-supporting positions. In some countries the self-supporting person moves in a sphere that is completely different from that of the professional missionary. He can often influence the indigenous power structures in ways the traditional missionary cannot. Further, these people are able to provide contacts and help badly needed by their fellow Christians, the professional missionaries. And, as has been said, the best thing is that “this guy doesn’t have to raise his support!”

But the fact remains: when did you last hear from the pulpit, “Let’s pray for Jack Marshall, our missionary with Monsanto Chemical in Belgium”? Often, in this environment, the non-professional goes out with high hopes for Christian service in his key position only to become disillusioned as he finds himself ineffective in witness. Some have become spiritual derelicts in the often jet-set, amoral international communities overseas.

While the multi-national company may be seen as a threat by some governments, it obviously provides a major new frontier for church missionary strategy.

In Seeing the Task Graphically, Ralph Winter pulls the picture into focus. There are only 45,000–50,000 missionaries to reach 3.8 billion people. Among these 3.8 billion are some 2.4 billion “unreached” in Asia and Africa. Of this 2.4 billion, nearly two billion have fewer than 2,000 missionaries working among them! To give the same effort to these nearly two billion as we have to other groups we would need 212,000 new missionaries—100 times more than we are now sending! Staggering implications? Indeed!

To complete the Great Commission of our Lord, we badly need a radically new, unified strategy—a comprehensive view of how we are to recruit and use the human resources God has given us. Here are some elements that seem essential.

First, we must work with the existing structures—enlarging, encouraging, and improving where possible. New administrative procedures are needed, as is an infusion of forward-looking leadership—men and women of great faith and vision. But present structures are not enough.

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Second, we must radically reshape our views on what constitutes Christian service. Like the professional missionary, the Christian who is a Shell Oil worker overseas needs orientation, prayer support, and local in-country Christian contact to make him effective. Every one of the positions held by the 2.5 million Americans overseas needs to be seen as a target for infiltration.

Third, we need to encourage new agencies that will meet the specialized needs and opportunities present. Proliferation without duplication is what is needed. I recently met a man who asked, “When did you last think of the men at sea in the merchant marine who are without Christ?” I had to admit that I had never thought of them—but thank God that man had. This is an example of the kind of proliferation we need—new agencies to meet new needs.

Fourth, we need to help develop “sending” and missionary counterparts throughout the national churches around the world. Existing national ministries must be encouraged and strengthened with our vast financial and technical resources. Further, foreign Christian structures of value to North America must be implemented here; pollination should work both ways in the Church.

Finally, we must call for sacrifice and a new awareness of God’s competence at all levels. We must realize that there are no “supermen” in God’s economy, and that the same level of radical, Spirit-born dedication and faith is needed in the Church in the United States as is needed for “missionary” service overseas. Plainly, if we were recruiting more of those J. B. Phillips calls “God’s picked representatives of the new humanity,” the Church at home as well as “missions” abroad would be different.


He comes The Leader with much applause

and turning of heads and scraping

and bring out the candles and celebrity damask.

(Color the carpet red,

the ride first class,

the bills paid.

Color His face smiley in the morning papers.)

For He’s here our great our only

our venerated Christian VIP!

So spread the banquet rich and pungent

and politely munch and listen

to His poised and perpendicular words

on world poverty the whole man

healing helping loving feeding

(please pass the shrimp cocktail).

Render to Him His due acclamation.

And meanwhile gently ignore the other—

the servant the sufferer the lowly lamb

watching in sorrow from behind

the potted geraniums.


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