by David Hosaflook
When missionaries gather for fellowship, you might overhear them talking about the creative questionnaires they've had to fill out from supporting churches (or potential ones). Missionary men rant on together about the most awkward questions they've ever gotten just as normal men rant on about the biggest fish they've ever caught. Missionaries get some whoppers!
I don't think the problem is that missionaries resent questions or questionnaires. We actually welcome and want churches to get to know about who we are, what we believe, what we've done, what we want to do, etc. Obviously, it would be the epitome of arrogance to ask people for support and simultaneously resent them for asking questions that are important to them! Missionaries ought to have patience and humility. Nevertheless, here are some reasons why a missionary might sigh when getting a questionnaire in the mail:
Sometimes the questionnaires seem too rigid: yes-or-no questions can't always be answered yes or no without clarifications (and there's rarely an invitation to explain).
Sometimes they seem time-consuming and redundant: many missionaries have formulated detailed doctrinal statements and engineered websites which would answer a lot of questions beforehand.
Sometimes they seem too one-way: there is rarely any feedback from the churches about the answers the missionaries have spent time formulating.
Sometimes they seem too stressful: the questions are often controversial, and the poor missionary trying to raise support feels the pressure of trying to answer honestly but carefully. He's dying to get to the field; he's hoping his answers won't be misunderstood.
Sometimes they seem too culturally linked to the American church scene, focusing on issues pertinent to the regions of the sending churches. Missionaries on foreign fields deal with cultural issues like blood feuds or polygamy within the mission churches, and so when they get detailed questions about facial hair, music, or the appropriateness of bermuda shorts, they think, "You guys really need to get out more" (it would be wise for them not to actually express this cheeky thought, Proverbs 10:19).
Sometimes they seem too demanding and numbers-focused: "How many new churches did you plant last year? How many did you baptize last month? How many attended your services last week?" Of course, numbers are great in the sense that the higher the number saved, the more people glorify God and are rescued from The Fire; but the way these questions are phrased seem to turn missionaries off somehow, if they infer that they will lose (or not obtain) support if they had to answer: "0, 0, 23."
Sometimes questionnaires seem out-of-touch: missionaries have been out with their families battling Hell and getting shot at (often literally). They have been hacking through the thicket of new regions untouched by the Gospel and have been engaged in intense spiritual warfare and controversy--not with other Christians splitting hairs over some Biblical preference--but with witch doctors, demon-possessed crazies, radical religious clerics, etc. So when they come home and get asked to rank the level of fellowship they could enjoy with 50 American Christian organizations and Bible colleges on a scale of 1-10, they feel something like Gandalf returning to Middle Earth after fighting the flaming demon Balrog and quipping, "I have not passed through fire and flood to bandy words!"
Sometimes they seem too formal: question forms are no substitute for relationships. There is often little relationship enjoyed with the supporting pastors or the missions committee, just a bunch of formal questions that assumedly get processed and filed away somewhere. A deputee once told me "I don't do questionnaires." I thought that was on the arrogant side, but I think his point was basically, "if they don't want to get to know me personally or read my doctrinal statement, I don't want to waste my time rehashing it all for them."
Missionaries love being asked about their work, but I've often wondered if there is a better way to handle some of these questionnaires. Then, out-of-the-blue, we received one that was so refreshing, so rare, that my wife and I literally wept. Sure, it contained a lot of info-type questions which a church really must ask, but it also showed a heart for missionaries, an understanding of missions, and a desire for relationship. Later, they sent an additional questionnaire. I am posting some of the text for you, for the benefit of local churches desiring to really connect with their missionaries.
Your brothers and sisters at our church are most concerned about how you are doing. Please know that we understand missionaries are people just like the rest of us, and we do not expect you to be to be a super-hero. Please take the time to share with us an accurate description of what the past year has been like for you and how you are doing currently.
Please take as much space as needed to describe your personal walk with God during the past year. (Include things He has taught you or ways in which He is changing you. Share with us honestly what has been happening in your own personal Bible study and devotional life, including prayer times.)
Who are your close friends and accountability partners on the mission field? How are you “encouraging one another day after day, so that you do not become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin” (Hebrews 3:13)?
If you do not have close spiritual friends on the mission field, do you have other people that you keep in touch with and share your heart with on a regular basis? (If yes, who are they and how is that working? If no, please suggest some friends from our church whom you would like for us to connect with you for such a purpose.)
Please describe for us any cultural or emotional struggles that you are having in relationship to where you are living.
How is your physical health and the health of your family members?
Your brothers and sisters at our church recognize that the families of ministry leaders are often under immense pressures, and we are very concerned about the health of your marriage and your family. We recognize that these areas are sometimes the most difficult to share, but we want to encourage you to give us a honest update so that we can respond with prayers, love and even help, if necessary.
Please give an overview of how you are doing in your relationship as husband and wife, and explain how you contribute to the priority and deepening of this relationship in the midst of your ministry.
Please describe both encouragements and concerns for each of your children. Be sure to mention if there are any issues with your children specifically related to being on the mission field.
Do you believe your family needs any direct attention in the area of marriage or parenting? (If yes, please explain how you believe we might be the best help to you in this area.)
Your brothers and sisters at our church whole-heartedly believe that while some “plant” and some “water,” it is God who gives the increase. We look to Him as we pray for spiritual fruit that will remain in your part of the world. While we do not want to put pressure on you by counting conversions or baptisms, we do want to stay knowledgeable about what is happening specifically in your ministry, and we request you complete the following questions, using the back if necessary.
Please summarize how you have seen God leading and working in specific areas of your ministry during the last year.
Please explain your vision for ministry in the coming year, including any specific goals you have established.
Please share some ministry highlights and reasons for rejoicing from the past year.
Please share any ministry disappointments or discouragements from the past year.
Please share any specific training, materials, etc., that you believe you need to more effectively reach your ministry objectives.
Your brothers and sisters at our church consider it a privilege to partner with you in the work of the Gospel by supporting you financially. We recognize with you that our faithful God ultimately provides for our needs, and we enter a new year trusting Him to do that for you and your ministry. In an effort to best serve our missionaries, we want to be both informed and responsible in handling the Lord’s money that He has entrusted to the church mission board through the sacrificial giving of His people here. Please respond to the following questions that will help us better understand your financial situation and the way we may most effectively partner with you in this area. Thank you very much.
Please attach or write out below the support budget established by your mission board or sending agency. (By month or by year—either one is fine.)
Please write out a detail of the current monthly support commitments to you and your ministry, including both churches and individuals. (You do not need to list out personal gifts or special one-time gifts.)
Please circle the amount of our church's support in the listing for question 2, and offer additional written explanation of how these monies are being used if they are for purposes other than contributing towards the budget presented above.
Are you falling short in your monthly income, based upon the comparison of your monthly receipts and your monthly needs during the last year? If yes, how much are you short? What are your plans, if any, for raising more financial support?
Please share with us any financial needs you anticipate during the next year related to special ministry projects, travel, equipment, etc.
Our Church's Involvement
Your brothers and sisters here take seriously our commitment to partner with those who have gone out for the sake of the Gospel. We want to do more for you than send you monthly financial support. We want to keep you, your family, and your ministry close to our hearts. We want to invest in your spiritual and ministry success in every way. Please complete the following questions honestly to help us evaluate how we are doing.
It is our desire to faithfully pray for our missionaries as a church, and we highlight this privilege through a monthly missions prayer meeting. Looking over the past year, have you sensed that our church family is praying for you?
It is our desire to provide occasional communications from us to you. Looking back over the past year, do you feel that you have had contact from the people from our church?
We want to be faithful and responsive in supporting you financially. Looking back over the past year, do you believe that we have demonstrated that to you specifically?
Please share any insights or ideas that you may have about how we may better serve you in this area.
1. How connected do you feel to our church while you’re away? I.e. how well do we keep you informed on what is going on here? What kinds of information would be helpful in this regard?
2. Do you feel supported and kept accountable by individuals in the church? I.e. is there someone in the church that you keep in close contact with regularly; someone you feel comfortable sharing with, and who understands your situation there? If so, about how often do you communicate, and who usually initiates, you or them?
3. What means do you use to communicate with people at our church? What is your preferred way of keeping people informed about what is happening where you are? Would any of the following be helpful if available: Email, Web Blog, Facebook, Skype, Twitter? Do you have any concerns about communication over the internet?
4. What suggestions do you have for improving communication between us?
5. How connected do you feel to our church when you’re back here? What would you like your experience to be like when you’re back? (Be honest!)
6. Have you ever been given the opportunity to share what you are doing with the church body?
7. On a scale of 1-10 rate how meaningful each of these would be to you:
Receiving great Christian books from time to time.
Receiving commentaries or Bible study tools from time to time.
Receiving periodic “care packages” with fun and practical stuff from “home.”
Having birthdays, anniversaries or other special occasions remembered.
Receiving educational materials or supplements for home schooling.
Receiving good Christian music, DVD’s or other media from time to time.
Short-term visit from a friend or a small team of workers from our church.