Is Your Church “Missions-Minded”? Whose Noses Are You Counting?

Dave: Have you ever visited a church and asked a member or leader, “How are you guys doing in missions?” If the answer is to show you a large world map in the foyer with stickpins indicating the missionaries that church supports, you have discovered in all probability how that church measures its “missions-mindedness.” Or perhaps the person will pull out the church missions budget to indicate the great things that are happening in missions in their congregation.

Joe: We are in a day and age when we measure everything. Businesses need to measure every expense and every transaction to make sure it is in the company’s best interest. If they didn’t do that, the balance sheet would suffer.

Dave: So how do you or your church quantify your missions-mindedness? Do we utilize the “balance sheet” approach of banks? Or the “standardized tests” of schools?

Joe: And even if you were able to put the poor balance sheet out of your mind, your bank and your shareholders would be pretty quick to remind you. Obviously it isn’t just businesses that are measuring things. Schools are measuring how the children are progressing academically. If the standardized tests aren’t showing progress, teachers and administrators are retrained or fired.

Dave: Churches are under pressure today to demonstrate their effectiveness. What if pastors and church leaders were retained or dismissed based on their congregation’s quantifiable “missions-mindedness”?

Joe: Then we get into the question of what exactly what we are going to measure. The schools say a junior in high school, for example, should be able to be proficient in certain areas. Then they test in those areas and see how the student measures up to that particular standard. Pretty simple, right? You would think so, except if you happen to talk to a frustratedl teacher who has had to completely change the lesson plan in order to teach to a particular test. They don’t like the loss of freedom and creativity they enjoyed as teachers.

Dave: So by this reasoning, should churches impose standards on their missions committee or pastor that require the meeting of measurable expectations in missions? If “yes,” what standard(s) do we use? WIll the leaders bristle and resist the imposition of such standards and their subsequent “loss of freedom and creativity”?

Joe: So, if you ask a church leader: “How are you guys doing in missions?” – what answer might you get? A question like that naturally leaves one grasping for some standard. The most common responses are “we give ___% of our general budget to missions” or “we have sent ___ number of short-term missions trips in the last year” or “we have sent out or are supporting ___ number of missionaries.”

Dave: But by what biblical principle do we decide to measure our effectiveness in missions by budgetary line items or number of missionaries? Using that standard, the church in Antioch in Acts 13 was terribly deficient. I mean, here you have a growing vibrant church, and yet (according to Acts), they can only send out two missionaries??? Fire the pastor of the Church at Antioch!!!

Joe: I even had one pastor tell me his goal was to be involved in some way on every continent. I made some quip about reaching flightless waterfowl in Antarctica to which he told me he had already looked into it. He had located teams of science researchers in Antarctica and he was trying to get an invitation to speak at their chapel.

Dave: I wonder if we were able to place permanent residents in outer space if that pastor would be compelled to target those space travelers in order to feel that his church was succeeding in missions.

Joe: So exactly what is the standard? Well, a good place to start would be the great commission in Matthew 28:19-20. Most missiologists and Bible scholars agree that, if you have to find one text in all of scripture which identifies the mission of the church, this would be it: “Go and make disciples of all nations”.

Dave: And we’ve already suggested in previous blogs that Mt. 28:19-20 may rank at the top of the list of “Most Quoted but Least Understood and Applied Texts in Scripture.”

Joe: So, the good news is, we have our standard. The bad news is, it isn’t the one most churches are using. When asking the question: “How are you guys doing in missions?” – I haven’t gotten the response: “Well, we made ___ number of disciples in the _____ unreached people group in our pursuit of the Great Commission.” To which you might respond, “Hold on, Joe! You can’t answer that way. That’s counting noses.” Well, you are also counting noses when you tell me how many missionaries you have sent out. It’s just a different set of noses.

Dave: I hope it’s clear that we are challenging churches to engage in a mega-paradigm shift away from the managerial, quantifying, measuring approach to assessing “missions-mindedness” to move towards a more biblical model of evaluating our effectiveness in light of the mandate of the Great Commission.

Joe: Correct. Our goal in raising this issue isn’t so we can become cross-cultural nose counters. It is so that when we evaluate and measure our missions outreach efforts, we will keep in mind the big picture. What is it that God ultimately is looking for, at least in the words of the Great Commission? The purpose here is not to have churches jettison what they are doing in missions and start over. The purpose is to begin the discussion: “What is the bulls eye on our target?” How can we start with the “bulls eye” laid out in the Great Commission and begin asking God how we can make what we do line up with that?

Dave: Future blogs will go into more detail as to different ways to do this. Feel free to contact us to talk more about this as well. Be thinking about how to answer the question: “How is your church doing in missions?” Whose noses are you counting?

Dave Shive and Joe Steinitz