I mentioned yesterday, that I have been looking through annual reports from mission agencies and recording changes in finance and missionary numbers over time. Another thing that I’ve been noting is the way in which the reports demonstrate that agencies are responding to the changed situation that they find themselves in today.
To be frank, most of the reports that I have looked at show no sign of creative thinking (or even non-creative thinking) about the world context. This doesn’t mean that it isn’t happening, it may well be, but hasn’t found its way into agency reports as yet. One exception to this rule is OMF UK, whose 2018 annual report shows that their board and leadership are grappling hard with the realities of their situation.
Discussing how OMF measures success in meeting its objectives the report reads:
The criteria used to measure achievement of the objectives are firstly the amount of resources provided through OMF UK for serving the local church operating amongst East Asians as well as establishing pioneer ministries in contexts where the local church is not already well established. One metric for quantifying this is the number of fully supported workers, ensuring they are engaging in ministries which are regularly reviewed for their effectiveness and appropriateness, sent with full sending church involvement in the areas of prayer, finance and pastoral support as a minimum; these members have necessarily been required to go through a thorough screening process to ensure their suitability (including giftedness and calling) and resilience to operate in a demanding mission context.OMF 2018 Report p.9
So far; so traditional. Stripped of the verbiage, this basically says that OMF measures success by looking at the resources it is able to send to East Asia, in particular the number of trained missionaries. This sort of language is repeated by most agencies. However, the next paragraph reads:
It must, however, be highlighted that, increasingly, in the current changing world mission context, this quantifying of objective achievement needs to be considered in the light of whether it is workers (both overseas and in the UK) financed at high cost, or overseas local workers financed at lower cost, which provide the greatest beneficiary impact. Added to this, the roles undertaken by workers that are sent from the UK and Ireland need to be properly critiqued.OMF 2018 Report p.9
In other words, the organisation needs to think long and hard about whether sending expats from Europe rather than supporting local workers is the best use of resources. It should not be assumed that sending workers from this part of the world is always the answer. This indicates a subtle shift in approach but tucked into a paragraph a couple of pages earlier is an even more radical concept (emphasis mine).
OMF UK has hitherto prioritised the selecting and allocating of personnel to work with East Asia’s churches and amongst its peoples, engaging in pastoral, teaching, leadership training, discipleship, resourcing and evangelistic ministries. In addition, OMF UK members are involved in various aspects of practical witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ as they serve in East Asian communities, including addressing significant contemporary issues such as ethical business practices and environmental challenges, as well as providing support ministries in areas such as counselling and people trafficking. In response to the changing context, a significant shift in focus is, however, reflected in the measurement criteria detailed later in this section, being to ensure that it is the East Asian churches’ requirements and agenda which are taking priority, including consideration of whether sending workers from the UK is better and more appropriate than resourcing local East Asian workers.OMF 2018 Report p.7
The consideration of whether it is better to send expats from Europe or to resource local workers is not an isolated decision. It is to be worked out in a context in which “East Asian churches’ requirements and agenda are taking priority”. This is a radical shift in approach. The agency’s own historic goals and the opinions of the churches and individuals that support OMF are a secondary consideration compared to the agenda of their church partners in Asia.
Now there are no details of how the agenda of the Asian partners is assessed or what can be done when partners in one area have a very different agenda to those in another. Indeed, this section raises all sorts of questions. However, it is undoubtedly a (big) step in the right direction.
It could be that many other agencies are doing something similar, but haven’t made it explicit in their reports. However, in my experience, this is still rather rare. Many (and I suspect most) mission agencies make their decisions about what they will do based on their own traditions and the wishes of their supporting churches and pay very little attention to the voices of those they are supposed to be serving. Good, critical feedback on an agency’s activities should be absolutely central to any decision making by boards and leadership in the UK. Getting this feedback isn’t easy and it means much more than listening to the people who benefit from what you do. However, if local people are not helping set your agenda, then you are doing something very wrong.Many mission agencies make their decisions about what they will do based on their own traditions and the wishes of their supporting churches and pay very little attention to the voices of those they are supposed to be serving. Click To Tweet