Horizon Two: A Pre-Candidate Network Global Links with Local Touch
Could we work together on a joint, nationwide pre-candidate network to move God's purposes forward?
In the book, Choosing a Future for U.S. Missions, Paul McKaughan and William and Dellanna O'Brien summarize their findings from several "think-tank" meetings all over the U.S. by noting:
"...there is a negative backlash with movements or groups that are self-serving. World problems and tightening resources force us to be better stewards in an interdependent relationship."
The idea of working together is not new. The question is: how deeply will mission agencies work together?
A True Story--Told Thousands of Times
A friend of ours--now a wife, mom and an involved church member--felt a sense of calling during her college days at a big student event. It was InterVarsity's 1976 student convention called Urbana. I was there also. I didn't know her then, but during a mission talk I gave in a class at our church recently, she said to me, "I really felt God was speaking to me then, telling me to go as a missionary. I guess that just didn't work out."
Every few weeks, thousands of people like my friend contact mission agencies to find out what is the next step for them. While, for any given agency, that may only represent 100 new letters a month, few agencies can give these keen people more than a basic information packet. Out of those who get this packet, normally less than 10 percent respond. Of those who do, only 6-8 per year (out of 1200) attend some sort of an introductory event in any given year.1
What can mission agencies do with the other 90-plus percent? What can they do with these "pre-candidates," many of whom are not ready to go now, and many who won't be ready for a while--if ever?
Unless these pre-canidates have had personal contact with someone related to the mission, it is safe to assume that the agency will probably not hear from them again.
Is it possible that many more of them could be raised up and prepared to become senders or goers?
The Realities We Face
A mission agency that is doing very well in terms of increasing their recruits, noted (quote summarized): "The way things are going [in our culture] I think only the 'in-your-face' accountability of someone at the local level will make an impact with these [young] people. Someone who is near them may just be the best option. A call from my office every six months at most will never get them to move forward."
So often, mission agencies focus their energies on trying to convince people--like that "average" person in the church--to make some sort of commitment to mission. Instead, agencies should be tapping into the resources that are coming their way through these highly interested folks. Certainly, speaking in churches and in other places can help some people gain the basic vision they need to give them a desire to serve in missions. The crucial issue is: How can mission agencies keep them moving on that track?
Resources to provide for adequate follow-up are part of the problem missions all feel. With short staff in headquarters offices there are few mission agencies could handle "discipling" an additional 100 people per month. If they could, they probably would still get more than they could closely deal with.
Putting a Network Together
Whar might happen if the agencies could link these people to local, missions-interested encouragers in a nation-wide network? Could they help them meet with more mature, committed folks in their area who could, in turn, assist them in taking steps toward the vision God has given them?
These "encouragers" could come from many sources including the agencies themselves. The referrals would build as people hear about the network through publications and existing regional representatives, as well as relationships with local churches and their pastors who are already connected with the agency. Training and tools could be given to pastors to fill this role in smaller churches, or to oversee others in their church to become "encouragers."
"Pre-candidates" could be fed into the network by agencies who realize that these are "cold" contacts at this point. Later--as they grow--the pre-candidates may "warm-up" to a more serious level in relationship to the agency's ministry.
Encouragers would also come from the generic mobilization agencies like the USCWM and Caleb Resources. The Perspectives Study Program Coordinators (500) or Alumni (32,000) would be good sources.
These local encouragers would agree to willingly promote missions generically, not just push their favorite agency. They would need to learn about and represent the views of several agencies and be willing to work with a broad range of people from various backgrounds. They would also need to continue learning and growing in their own global understanding.
Agencies would feed the pre-candidates their agency's information, prayer needs and ministry breakthroughs. They would also suggest certain core steps or activities that would be basic to encouraging the pre-candidates forward like:
- Taking the Perspectives course or another course that an agency recommends. (See page 41 for a spring course listing for Perspectives.) How many more pre-candidates might come back to become full-fledged candidates if they take this step?
- Beginning to support other missionaries in prayer and giving. This is what they may be asking people to do for them in the near future. As we begin to pray and give to missionaries we are much more connected to them and to what God is doing. It stretches our faith and puts feet to our vision.
- Other study, practical experience or a field internship, based on their gifting, calling and the agency's recommendations.
An Example of How This Pre-Candidate Network Might Work.
A young, newly married couple is still in college but has caught a vision for sharing their faith in the Buddhist world. They're involved in their church in the youth ministry, and their pastor is encouraging them; but beyond what they are doing already through their involvement in the church and sharing their faith on campus, he doesn't quite know what to tell them in terms of the steps they need to take. He does know about their church's denominational agency, so he encourages them to write to that mission board. Let's say it is Mission to the World (MTW) and this church is part of the Presbyterian Church in America.
They write and, in return, they get the basic information from the agency. But they are so busy that they forget to return the "I'm-interested-in-more-info" card; While MTW staff tried to call them and keep in touch, it was hard to reach them.
In addition, they are:
- Given information about the Pre-Candidate Network.
- Told to take an introductory (hopefully life-changing!) course on missions.
- Informed that there may be a person in their area that can encourage them-- maybe even someone in their own church-- to pray with them and to keep them moving forward.
In the process, they are encouraged to do what they may soon be asking others to do, namely, support other missionaries in prayer and giving.
Through all this, their vision grows and they are fueled with information.
The encourager keeps the pre-candidate network and/or the mission agency informed of their progress. MTW is sure to continue to track with them in terms of communications (newsletters, calls, etc., depending on how they progress).
The role of the local "staff" person--who is praying and encouraging them to "press-on"--is the central element.
After working through many issues, they feel they would like to get some field exposure. They join the two-year program with MTW where they get exposure to field missionaries. This gives them a real taste of field work.
After that two years, they have grown and know much more about who they are and how they fit. They don't feel called to go long-term, but have a love for the people on the field and the missionaries they met. They decide to try and help others experience what they did; and so they join the pre-candidate network in their home area to encourage others, while working, serving in their church, and becoming "senders" (financially and prayerfully) of other missionaries.
Can We Make It Work?
I can think of no better group of people to focus energies on than these pre-candidates who sense a call but don't know what to do next. If they can be connected with encouragers in their area who are committed to God's purpose, to make His name known among the nations, they would be much more likely to join in His plan.
Paul McKaughan, President of the Evangelical Fellowship of Mission Agencies, addressed key issues related to how we might "do" mission together in his paper to the EFMA board, "New Ecospheres for the Great Commission Community," he noted:
Perhaps the most shocking realization for me of late is that, in the present equation, I can no longer determine the answers to these questions for my organization, my network, and my ministry. These are systemic issues that must be dealt with and answered in the context of the greater great commission community. The whole network must be the focus of my consideration. A long time ago somebody said, "A rising tide raises all ships." This is a true statement. The opposite is also true.
Could a network like this be set-up? Can we work together to make this happen? What do you think? Please give your feedback.