A New Concept of Recruitment?

(I wrote a proposal in 1995, much of which is included here)

There are two basic methods of financial stewardship: The primary method (as with a child) is to count ones’ pennies and figure out what one can buy with them. The mature method involves a careful assessment of needs and determining how to go about obtaining or attaining these.

A similar situation exists in recruitment. We attempt to follow the mature approach (like most secular organizations). We set goals, create job descriptions and go about seeking people to fill these positions in order to accomplish the task. Missionaries fill out detailed personnel request forms for their respective fields. There are forms for summer workers, short-termers and career missionaries (I am not very infatuated with such terms - see second part of this document). This information is made available to missionaries, mission reps, churches and Bible Colleges.

The problem both missionaries and the mission face, is getting what we want. We often feel like the fisherman fishing for trout but who keeps catching eel! An eel is a slippery critter that is difficult to get a handle on! Our Regional Director once asked why I had not filled out the personnel request forms for Austria. I replied, “We don’t want any more missionaries; send us some qualified employees!”

The present practice only leads to frustration for both field leaders and new missionaries. Our frustration lies in the fact that we attempt to operate as though missionaries were employees, but in effect, we have volunteers. This is the situation in most local churches and charitable organizations. Should we revert to the primitive approach and simply look over the people available to us and decide what can be accomplished with them?

I think that there is a better, more effective way to go about recruitment to accomplish our purposes. I would like to see missions at least consider the following:

1. Gather information on the kind of people who are potential candidates for missions. Learn about their attitudes and character traits, study their family, church, educational and cultural backgrounds and...

2. ...in cooperation with Christian colleges (and perhaps other missions), discover ways to train these young people in order to use them effectively in ministry. This might be called “Pre-Mission Training” or something of the sort. At this point if not earlier, the local church should be brought into the process and educated on the value of such a program. The initial program would include general missions courses and involvement in summer missions programs or short term assignments.

3. Graduates of the preliminary program might choose to join with the mission, another mission or perhaps none at all. But in every case, the time and effort would not be lost. Even as Christians, they would have benefited immensely.

4. Those who join a sponsoring mission would have a great advantage and be of greater usefulness on their field of service. A mission could provide special rules or privileges for these individuals. Candidate orientation could be shortened for graduates of the program.

5. Our mission has an excellent training facility that could be used for this purpose and a number of retirees or missionaries on furlough could help with such a program.

In other words, we need to quit this vain hoping for the kind of people we would like to get for our “vacancies” and begin to do something constructive about it. We must begin to look over potential candidates and see what we can do to train and involve them in reaching the lost and building the Lord’s church. This is a long range program, but I can see a number of benefits in this concept:

• Mission Reps could recruit young people right out of High School along with cooperating Bible Colleges.
• The development of “home grown” missionaries, would foster a sense of belonging long before these youths get to the field.
• The home churches would be encouraged to pick up support even during the training period, in order to prevent the build-up of college debts (in event the person does not enter missions, this money could be considered a normal college debt, to be paid back).
• It is likely that a number of these young people would marry fellow participants in the program.
• Missionaries trained in this manner would likely have more longevity and productivity.
• One could determine individual gifts, develop skills, give help in cross cultural relationships and more.
• One or two years of Bible courses and general studies could be followed by a year of missions related courses and preparation.
• This program would allow for “weeding out” unqualified prospects without embarrassment on their part before they actually apply as missionaries.
• Even if participants drop out or decide not to join a sponsoring mission, they would make excellent chairpersons of church mission committees or employees in the mission office.

I believe that mission organizations should work together with churches and training institutions on recruitment. We should aim for long-term relationships with prospective missionaries in order to produce longer term workers.

By this, I mean to instill a missionary vision and heart in young people and nourish their evangelistic and missionary interest as they grow. An on-going program of information, involvement and encouragement at different age levels should prove to be fruitful. I believe that we could sell this to churches and Christian education institutions (both lower and upper levels), since they are also hopefully interested in missions. Churches may be willing to finance the entire package including summer missions trips, training seminars and even assisting with the participant’s college education. All concerned would benefit. I could also perceive this as a cooperative project of mission organizations.

I suggest we eliminate the word “career” and "short-term" from our missions vocabulary!

“Normal" North Americans change jobs like they change their clothes and even change professions several times in their lifetimes. A lifelong career in missions is no longer an option for many. For this reason, mission organizations have changed their emphasis. They have taken a gigantic leap from recruiting career missionaries to seeking short term workers and summer teams. This is in my view entirely unnecessary and non-productive. A brick layer lays bricks, but that doesn’t say much about what he builds. The impression is given (correctly) that it is just his job and the goal is a weekly pay check. The word “missionary” says little more than how the person earns his living and “career missionary” just means that he is expected to do this until retirement.

Eliminating the word “missionary” would be too much to expect, but I suggest that we eliminate the use of “carreer missionary” and even seek other terms for “short termer”. As I look back in past issues of our mission’s publication, I see names and faces of many who were appointed as career missionaries yet few of them are still with the mission after ten years. On the other hand, a few “short termers” have remained.

Project Orientation
I would suggest project orientation rather than "short-term" or "career". If the job description is starting a church, the requirements and expectations would be set accordingly. Once that project is completed, the missionary could become engaged in another project. This system would give the missionary a sense of fulfillment, a natural cut-off date without embarrassment. Instead of being considered a "drop-out," mention of the completed task(s) would enhance the person's resume. Project orientation could also apply to field leadership positions, but previous involvement in field projects would be a prerequisite.

In each project, we should detail requirements, recommend training or experience needed and also project a time frame. We can speak of "term commitments" of five to ten years or commitment until the project is completed, but commitment is necessary in any occupation. The word “short term” gives the impression that there is no real goal to be attained, but just adventure to experience. Perhaps we could use a system or terminology that would encourage longer term service such as:

Trainees: (green)
Participants: (blue)
Project Leader: (red)
Reservists: (orange)
Trainers: (purple)

Field Leadership Problems
Recruitment is presently most effective in producing short term workers, but these can not be easily placed without field leadership. The practice of sending teams out with mission reps is fine, but it is not the most efficient method in terms of results. Reps normally have a limited knowledge of the language, culture and project at hand. I believe that the greatest problem in recruitment lies with unmotivated field leaders. Overworked leaders are often reluctant to spend the time and effort necessary to take on teams or "short termers." If these don’t set a precedent, one can hardly expect other missionaries to accept the added work and responsibility.

In my opinion, there are certain areas of concern with field leadership which need attention.

One matter is that of restrictions, privileges, responsibility and recognition. In secular work, rookies do the dirty work and senior officers receive benefits. In most evangelical missions, the case is often the opposite. Missionaries who remain faithful and committed to their task over longer periods of time are given more work and responsibility, while missionaries who stay shorter times enjoy certain freedoms or advantages. Some restrictive rules for “career missionaries” do not apply to summer workers or “short termers”. A Field Director not only has more responsibility, but also more expenses which are not always covered by the Field Fund. He generally has a normal ministry in addition to his duties as FD. Add to this the burden of responsibility, counseling, reporting and being criticized for well intended but not so well received decisions, and you begin to get the picture.

A mission organization without leaders can not function, yet field leaders are too often just taken for granted. An occasional “well done” from Management is fine, but when the field leader feels that he is not being heard, such notes are not exactly encouraging. Leadership conferences and seminars are great, but usually one-sided. Sessions are led by members of the Home Board or special speakers from outside the mission. Too often, insufficient time is planned for field leaders to share what is on their hearts. Sometimes I wonder if mission management sometimes fears “sounding boards” where field leaders can openly express ideas, opinions, criticism or disenchantment with certain policies. My own feeling is that eliminating or discouraging that input tends to discourage and isolate field leaders. In extreme cases, these most qualified and experienced missionaries resign their position and perhaps the mission. Ideally, a special care program should be instituted to give support, counsel and encouragement to field leaders.

Another problem area is the extra burden imposed on the missionary who hosts summer workers. We nearly always accepted them, often as teams. Although it meant more work and responsibility, we considered this a valuable part of recruitment. We didn’t really expect them to accomplish a lot. We tried to arrange our ministries so that the summer teams got in on the harvest, but preparation and follow-up meant extra work for us. Although we tried to encourage our workers to do the same, few were eager to take on the added burden.

In retrospect, I can see the reason for their reluctance. Missionaries generally have a vision for the work they were called to do, but not for the ministry of recruitment or encouraging summer workers. I can perceive a possible solution to this problem in sending “Summer Project Supervisors”.

Relatively new missionaries could be recruited and trained to manage summer work teams. Or mission workers who plan to start churches could be required to supervise a summer team as part of the preparation. I have observed that these younger missionaries often display more interest in summer teams than career missionaries for various reasons:

• They can use their slightly better knowledge of the language and culture in helping the summer worker(s);
• They still remember the questions and problems they faced upon arrival;
• They are not so involved in ministry and can devote more of their time to the summer workers;
• If a problem arises, they know that they can always come to the senior missionary or field leader for advice and help.

By entrusting these younger missionaries with responsibility for summer teams, the senior missionaries would be free to go about their regular ministries; the "Summer Team Supervisor" would not get as frustrated with the mistakes that summer workers make and nationals would not be as likely to criticize. Summer workers would feel freer to share with these less-experienced workers, yet expect less of them. This ministry could be included in the project description of a new missionary. “Summer Project Leaders” would spend much time preparing for the summer teams and also be involved in the follow up. I can conceive of some of these staying on for several years and eventually accepting a long term assignment.

FDs and missionaries should be informed and encouraged in this area. If the senior missionary can come to recognize the value of junior missionaries, he would be more willing to recruit and work with them.

Copyright © 2015 - Ralph V. Harvey