As a missiologist, I get it. I haven’t always understood the other side of the conversation, but at this point in my life, I think I do. Accountability. Stewardship. Partnership. Responsibility. These are virtues for those who give. Donors want their giving to make a lasting difference, and missionaries need to learn the importance of these virtues when it comes to their ministry partners. Keeping lines of communication open is a ministry those who give, and mutual affirmation and confession may contribute to a healthy partnership and friendship between parties.
Nevertheless, our best efforts to account for good stewardship and apply metrics for determining the outcomes of a mission work can take its toll as well. I’ve spoken with a number of young leaders who started down the road into missionary service but pulled out early in the journey because they felt their life was going to be too unhealthy. Not because they are bad people or lack a work ethic, but just the opposite. They felt they had to work constantly because, at least in part, the giving of others to their good cause never left their mind. Doing good works was now essentially their job, and they wanted to perform well and responsibly. They were constantly aware of their responsibility as well as their own inability to produce quick results. The expectation to perform haunted them, and they couldn’t ever rest or play without feeling guilty. This probably has more to do with an inherited burden of Protestant guilt than anything else, but it is real nonetheless. At times, I’ve experienced this feeling as well. It’s actually very intuitive. However, these sorts of psychological drivers can also undermine truly effective ministry.
This might seem like an impasse. Ministry partners want to be good & faithful stewards of the resources that God has given them. Missionaries want to be faithful to their calling free of guilt or external pressure. Yet, I might suggest that this potential impasse is not that at all, but rather it is at this intersection of mutual tension that may help us to re-evaluate our metrics for stewarding missionary progress.
Part 2 of this article will try to address the way we have measured missionary efforts, offer some critique, but also seek to offer some constructive ways to think about our missionary stewardship. For now, I think it is enough to say that we all — both missionaries and our partners — share a common need to think together how we apply metrics to missionary service. .