OK, so let’s pick up where we left off! Our friends who’ve worked in mission for a while will probably have looked at our “What were we looking for in an agency?” list from the Part 1 post and thought “Hmmm, they are maybe a bit over-optimistic!” Well, quite possibly we were: we know that mission agencies are incredibly stretched nowadays and in some cases at least they can’t provide the help to their workers which they’d ideally like to.
As you will know or have guessed, we didn’t make a tie-up with a mission agency. Actually, we do believe this was God’s plan all along. However, if He’d said that to us right at the start, we may just have run away in fear!
Why do we think being without an agency tie-up is God’s plan? We believe very strongly that training of French Christians is a vital part of the Church planting vision God is unfolding to us. In this context, we feel it is better that our organisational link (and we do think it is important to have one!) is with a truly French organisation, not an international mission agency. In addition, the vision God has been sharing with us (more about this in future posts) is ideally suited to being worked out within the context of a French evangelical denomination.
So what was our experience of checking out mission agencies, and what conclusions can we draw? My intention here is to help others who feel called to mission work. Also it may be that people involved in mission agency leadership may find useful ideas. I don’t want to “bash” anyone and won’t be naming names!
Communicate! Mostly we were able to make useful contact with agencies. With the one agency which we had thought was the “go-to agency” for Church planting in France we were unable to establish any useful contact, after a lot of trying. Please, make it easy for potential workers to contact the right person…
Talking Before Forms. Typically we were asked to complete what were to us fairly detailed forms at a very early stage. What we wanted to do was talk face-to-face with someone “in the know.” The forms could then follow if relevant. I understand the desire to collect information, but would make a plea for putting talking before form-filling!
Mature Workers. Although agencies may say they are happy to accept candidates of any age, in practice younger people are likely to find it a lot easier. Mature people will have work, family, home and other stuff to sort out, and a reasonable degree of flexibility is needed on the part of the agency. A 21-year-old who’s just finished college, with no ties, can much more easily fit in with an agency’s ways of doing things. I would make a plea for more flexibility and more mature worker-focussed thinking.
Training. This was a biggie for us. Some agencies said “You must do our training of x months, no exceptions.” This is often around a year. Whilst we don’t at all feel we have nothing to learn (entirely the opposite!), we want to make use of the experience we have gained over many years. A year’s training eats significantly into the time we have available (not being youngsters…). More importantly, our heart is to see French Christians trained on-the-job in a very practical, approachable, hands-on way, not in an academic college-style way. We feel that it would be hypocritical of us to say “We think it’s best that you learn this way, but actually we didn’t.” This is a subject for deeper discussion at another time, but I would make a plea for a fresh look at training, with a more flexible and practical approach.
Church Planting? Although a number of agencies may say “Church planting” on the tin, it seems to us that few (maybe only two) are actually actively planting new Churches year-on-year (as opposed to developing Churches that were begun some years ago, which is a perfectly valid ministry, of course!). We believe God is calling us to be planters, not developers. I would make a plea for agencies to look again at involvement in planting new Churches, not just helping the ones which exist.
Distinctives. Some agencies have doctrinal distinctives, which is fine. But not all agencies are good at making these clear! I have no problem with an agency saying “Actually, we specifically believe X” or “We do not agree with Y” but it’s frustrating when you have to read between the lines of a subtly written doctrinal basis to try and guess. I don’t want to get into discussions of specifics, but you will I am sure know the issues that evangelical Christians may disagree on. When signing up for a multi-year commitment you need to know if you are truly in sympathy with your colleagues (it matters a whole lot less for short-term work, when there is every reason to put our distinctives on one side and all work together). I would make a plea for complete clarity on these distinctives in doctrinal statements.
Strategies. Mission agencies need strategies and need to plan forwards. We are unusual (it seems!) in that we feel God has given us at least the beginnings of a specific vision and outline for our work. The downside is that it’s hard to find an agency with the flexibility to consider altering their plans to incorporate a new vision. I would make a plea for more flexibility and openness to new ideas, even if they come from outside the organisation. Some very well-known agencies started because existing organisations did not accommodate what God wanted to do…
Infrastructure. A significant part of the usefulness of an international agency tie-up is help with logistical things in the worker’s target country, such as healthcare, tax, finding and renting accommodation, moving finances from the home country and so on. Most agencies are very good at this. At least one does not provide any infrastructure support at all, which makes no sense to me, in all honesty.
Working Together. We believe passionately in team Church planting: much more to say about this in later posts! But a team has to come from somewhere, so we had hoped that a mission agency would provide significant help in recruiting a team. Even though someone else’s work may not be so team-focussed, it is still very important to know you are part of a bigger picture. There didn’t seem to be an agency which was able to provide the team-finding help we wanted (and maybe our desires were over-optimistic in that respect), but there appears to be less working together than we thought there would be.