Might Mobilizers Make Good Missionaries?

Some people have told me they felt they wouldn’t be a good missionary, but they could be a good mobilizer. I am not writing to contradict anyone’s calling, but I think we should consider just how much mobilization comprises some missionary roles.

Remember the well-worn saying, “The whole church taking the whole gospel to the whole world.” We all know that no single country’s missionaries will finish the task. Koreans, Filipinos, Nigerians, Ethiopians, South Africans, Chinese, Indians, Indonesians, Europeans, Americans, Latinos—to name just a few—are already involved, and each can take the Gospel to places that others find far more difficult.

Moreover, when we get ‘close’ to the unreached peoples—in particular provinces and districts of particular countries—we find that local believers are (nearly) always far more effective than cross-cultural workers, and often can get into places that no one else can. It is nearly impossible, for example, for an expatriate to get into far rural Afghanistan as a missionary (or even as a development worker). Afghani believers are needed.

Stirring unmobilized churches to send workers to unreached places is a key element of the mission task—everywhere. When I travel and work, most of my labor is in the area of mission research, but I am always ready to function as a mobilizer and share the call of the remaining task. I have done so in a number of places throughout Asia.

I most fondly remember a time in East Asia when a number of believers were gathered in a rural area for a leadership training program; I was asked to speak one night on the remaining task. I didn’t especially think myself equal to that challenge, but with a kind and sympathetic translator helping, I spent about an hour sharing my typical Perspectives Lesson 9 talk. (That was the first time I did it without a Powerpoint and discovered how freeing a whiteboard could be. I’ve pretty much done it with a whiteboard ever since.)

To say they reacted strongly to the talk is an understatement. When I finished, they were still talking. An hour later, when I headed to bed, they had transitioned to praying. The next morning, when I got up and headed to breakfast—they were still there. Still praying and weeping. I have no idea at this point of the total result of that night, but I suspect it was strong.

So if you are a mission mobilizer, and you are fine-tuning your gifts in that area, you could play a significant role amongst peoples and places nearer than unreached than you presently are. Of course, there will be all of the normal lessons you’ll need to learn—culture acquisition, understanding how to communicate, linguistic issues, etc. You can’t expect to simply take a presentation aimed at, say, Americans and give it to Japanese with the same results. (I had to adjust mine on the fly.) But if you do all that, you may find your fruit is substantial.

Is the 10/40 Window still a valid mobilization tool?

The ‘10/40 Window’ is a fairly well known ‘shorthand’ or abbreviation for a region of the world where most of the unreached live. It gets its name from a ‘box’ that can be drawn on a map: from 10 degrees north to 40 degrees north of the equator, and from the western coast of Africa to the eastern coast of Asia. This includes most of North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.

This area has been called many names over time, although ‘The 10/40 Window’ has been perhaps the most popular. It was once referred to as the ‘Resistant Belt,’ although it is not so much resistant as simply unreached. The World Christian Encyclopedia refers to it as ‘World A,’ though there is nuance: ‘World A’ is defined in terms of countries, provinces, cities, peoples and languages; and if mapped, would include much of Indonesia (which is not ‘inside’ the Window).

An old brochure by the AD 2000 & Beyond Movement did much to popularize the idea of the 10/40 Window; you can still see the text online at this link. At the time, 97% of the least-evangelized lived inside the Window—and that hasn’t changed significantly since.

Ralph-WinterIs the 10/40 Window still useful today? In 1975, when Dr. Ralph Winter took the stage at Lausanne and called the unreached the highest priority of mission, he noted that 87% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists were beyond the reach of near-culture (E-1) evangelism—they needed cross-cultural mission if they were to hear the Gospel at all. Today, 85% of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists still have no personal contact with a believer; if they are to hear the Gospel at all, it will have to be by cross-cultural witness.

Since the 1990s when the 10/40 Window was popularized, much has been happened: there are large churches in China, India, Iran and Indonesia, and over 100 movements to Christ. But most of these churches, while large, are a ‘drop in the bucket’ compared to the immense population of the Window: over 2 billion people. The need the Window captures is still great.

However, the Window does have a weakness (which the ‘World A’ methodology tried to avoid): it is geographically centered. Peoples, cities, and works are either ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ the Window. The ‘fixed’ nature of the Window can lead to some idiosyncracies: for example, in the following map, note how Indonesia, Somalia and parts of Central Asia are outside the Window.


And, unfortunately, there have been a number of anecdotal stories (I have not tracked down the truth of them) about churches that say ‘we only fund work inside the 10/40 Window.’ There are several immediate side effects.

First, a sudden redistribution of resources can leave people working ‘outside’ the Window in a bit of a lurch. Further, in our rapidly globalizing world, prioritizing on ‘the 10/40 Window’ can sometimes be difficult to decipher. For example, take my own work. I am headquartered in Dallas. My work involves advocacy for the unreached–but am I working ‘inside’ or ‘outside’ of the Window? Or, consider a worker who labors on behalf of a Window-country where they cannot live full-time—like Syria, Iran, Yemen, Somalia–are they ‘inside’ our ‘outside’?

Second, a fixed focus on the 10/40 Window it can make people who are working with non-Window yet ‘needy’ areas feel like second-class citizens. The reality we covered before: something like 90% of Christian ministry spending is spent on existing church members. About 10% is spent on non-Christians. So while those who have yet to hear the Gospel once need vastly more resources directed at them, those who have yet to hear the Gospel twice need only slightly less (while the average church member might hear the Gospel 100 times a year!). Some people do need to hear the Gospel more than once.

Third, obviously the trends of globalization, diasporas, and people-on-the-move disturbs the whole 10/40 Window idea: you will find ‘Window’ peoples outside the Window far more than ever before. A colleague told me how the mother of an Iranian friend recently came to follow Jesus while visiting her daughter. Through the influence of the mother and the daughter, the Gospel has reached the daughter’s sister. It’s not an absolute rule, but the Gospel found in one place can flow across family lines back into the Window. Investing in a worker who lives outside the Window can be very strategic.

What’s the answer? Should we abandon the Window? Not necessarily. Here are some practical things to perhaps keep in mind:

1. The Window is a valuable tool. It’s an easy way to refer to a region of the world where the majority of the unreached live. When you say ‘10/40 Window’ or ‘unreached’ most of those with an inkling of mission vision know what you’re talking about. It is important to keep these regions of the world ‘in view.’

2. The Window is not a rule. Making a specific geographic location the ‘only’ place we will work is not wise. We need to think about how we will get the Gospel inside the Window, while recognizing the fuzzy nature of its boundaries, and realizing sometimes the best way to work inside the Window is to put ourselves outside it.

3. There are valid ministry callings outside the WindowIf God calls you to Italy, go to Italy. If someone has a calling to a non-Window place, try to help them in the calling, even if your church, as a rule, doesn’t financially support those areas. Prayer, encouragement, advice and connections can all be just as important as money.

4. There are people from the Window around those of us outside the Window. If we look carefully, we’ll likely find some diaspora people very nearby. (I have seen them in some of the most seemingly unlikely places throughout rural mid-West America.) Just because you’re not ‘inside’ the Window doesn’t mean you can’t have an impact on it.

It’s true that, technically, the term ‘unreached’ (or ‘unevangelized,’ or ‘World A’) can perhaps meet some (but not all) of these weaknesses, but I have often found that ‘unreached’ and ‘10/40 Window’ are used interchangeably: both to refer to a specific geographic area. And ‘unreached’ has strengths and weaknesses of its own.

There’s no single perfect term. The main thing is to use these terms as tools, not to forge them into iron policies. They can be maps and guides to get to certain places, but you need to use other methods (prayer, wise counsel, etc.) to decide which places you will be investing in.

People of Peace who open their networks to the mission idea

We need more workersBecause there are not enough workers in the harvest. To find missionaries, who are often 1-in-10,000 believers, requires recommenders. Over the past few weeks we’ve discussed ‘mission magnets’ and ‘hub’ people who can help in mobilization. This week, we’ll borrow the idea of ‘people of peace’ from Disciple-Making Movement thinking.

The ‘Person of Peace’ idea comes from Luke 10, where Jesus commissions his disciples to go from town to town. Beginning in verse 5, he tells them: “Whenever you enter someone’s home, first say ‘May God’s peace be on this house.’ If those who live there are peaceful, the blessing will stand; if they are not, the blessing will return to you. Don’t move from home to home…”

There’s a significant amount of thinking and writing in DMM circles about the application of this. For our purposes today, the most important kernel is: we don’t try to reach the whole village or town or area one-by-one, but rather look for the Person of Peace who will open up their relational networks to the Gospel.

Last Wednesday, we talked about households, communities, and Dunbar’s Number: your 150 casual friends, your 50 good friends, your 15 confidants, your 5 closest intimates. Some people are ‘hubs’ connecting communities together. Some are ‘gateways’ to communities—respected by those inside, whose recommendation can ‘open’ or ‘close’ a network to a particular message. (‘Hubs’ and ‘gateway’ people are sometimes the same, but not always: ‘hubs,’ because of their linkages to other communities, may not be trusted as ‘gateways.’)

A ‘Person of Peace’ is (a) a ‘gateway’ into a particular community who is (b) open to the message. In terms of Disciple Making Movements, they are sometimes, but not always, converts. Further, they are sometimes, but more rarely, evangelists or disciple-maker themselves. The key characteristic of the Person of Peace is not that they promote the Gospel, but that they ‘open the gate’ for it. (One anecdotal story is of the imam willing to let a believer come in and discuss the New Testament.)

Likewise, in mobilization, a ‘Person of Peace’ will not necessarily be a missionary, or considering going as a missionary (they may think ‘I can’t go, but I can share this with someone who I know is interested). In fact, they may not be a giver, or even overly mission-passionate—or even, strangely enough, a believer! The only ‘requirement’ for this definition: the Person is willing to allow the message of missions into their network.

We all know people who are gatekeepers on various topics: they recommend books, or websites, or tools, or particular stores or restaurants or service providers. (“You need a plumber? Oh, I know a great guy.”) Their negative reference can also keep messages out. (“I’d be careful of that book; I think the theology is a little poor.”)

You may never know who all of the People of Peace are. Nevertheless, we need to keep the mindset of looking for them. We should never pre-judge a person: a person may not be a candidate or a donor, yet be infinitely more valuable as a gatekeeper to a larger network. We should try to keep in mind the idea that every individual has a role to play, whether on the field or off.

One specific tactical skill this suggests: instead of trying to persuade your immediate audience to act, aim your message at the People of Peace in your audience, and assume they will pass it on. It may be far better to get the forward than to try to argue the Person of Peace into being a respondent. (Ralph Winter once suggested it could be more strategic for a person to stay home and send 100 people than for them to go themselves to the field.)

A few ideas for enabling this kind of resharing:

1. Blog posts and social media reshares are easy to do—in fact, they’re so easy resharing doesn’t necessarily carry the same stamp of credibility (and many specifically say “RT is not endorsement” to indicate they reshare material they don’t always agree with). Nevertheless, resharing often does correlate to a willingness to put the message out there.

2. Well-designed infographics give People of Peace something of value to pass on. They’re easy to reshare, and (depending on the quality) can be appreciated by the people in the Person’s network (so the Person, in turn, is appreciated for providing value). And they can carry, embedded, the message of the mission. As mentioned in #1 above, reshares are easy; but when people take it upon themselves to share an infographic as their own (a new Tweet or Facebook Post, or on their blogs, or print it out or forward it in email), it’s a strong indicator.

3. Well-designed but short videos are great, for much the same reason. Beyond’s DMM Overview video (https://vimeo.com/76341533) has been played thousands of times, mostly because it’s been forwarded by word of mouth. (Good videos can provide inspiration, instruction and encouragement all in the space of under 20 minutes—some in less than 5.) In my experience, resharing a video is a stronger signal than most social media reshares; it suggests they’ve seen the video and approve of it.

4. PDFs and downloadable e-books can contain even more information. I find these are passed on less, but do indicate a significant commitment to the idea of missions.

5. Willingness to pass on an invitation to an event to their circle of influence. This is a much bigger hurdle than simply passing on an infographic, as it’s suggesting something that will require a time commitment of people. It can be a stronger endorsement. Some People of Peace may be more willing to pass on a lighter form: “if you know someone in the area who might be interested.”

The critical point: rather than consider yourself as having a ‘small audience,’ think about who in your audience might be willing to pass on your message. Just because your audience doesn’t respond directly to you doesn’t mean they aren’t listening and taking meaningful action on behalf of the message. By aiming your message at the Person of Peace, you can effectively extend your audience size at least one ‘degree’ or ‘step’ of relationship (to ‘their’ audience). Assume that the message of mission is important, and if well designed, will be passed on to those who might respond.

Nexus and Edge Hub People as Missionary Candidate Recommenders

We need more workers. Because there are not enough workers in the harvest. To find missionaries, who are often 1-in-10,000 believers, requires recommenders.

How might we find ‘mission magnets’ within individual churches? Decentralized networking theory holds one potential clue you might try. Over the past several years I have studied decentralized networks (‘swarms’) exhaustively. One of the most important things about a ‘swarm’ is the ability to scale into a large, loosely-organized networks.

Swarms and other forms of decentralized networks are built on top of natural human relational webs. These webs are usually created by two kinds of connections: ‘strong’ and ‘weak.’ A ‘strong’ connection is a deep, personal connection, such as a parent, sibling, spouse, or very close friend. A ‘weak’ connection is more of a collegial or irregular connection, such as a work colleague, a friend at church, or other acquaintance. (‘Very weak’ connections can be followers on social media.)

Most people have at maximum about 10 to 15 ‘strong’ connection ‘slots,’ and these are typically taken up by parents, siblings, spouses, children, and a few close friends. Some people, on the other hand, have a large number of ‘weak’ connections—some of which take up ‘strong’ slots, and some of which go beyond. These people are ‘hubs’: they are the ones who connect with a lot of different and varied people, often in different networks. (There is some correlation to introversion vs. extroversion, but not much; I am a major introvert and yet I have hundreds of ‘weak’ connections to many people and networks across multiple industries.)

Hub people make swarms and relational networks work. If you think about the famous ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ idea (that we are all just six relational steps from anyone on the planet), most of those ‘steps’ are hubs. (For example, if you’re reading this, you can get probably get to me via email. And once to me, you can take one more ‘connective’ step to any of about 100 different field networks in the world, covering every continent. I am not saying this to boast, but to illustrate how ‘hub’ people significantly shrink the social distance between individuals in vastly different geographic locations.) Hub people may not have ‘deep’ relationships with the people they are connected to. This is more of the ‘I know a guy’ variety.

How does this enter into the issue of mobilization? One way to find ‘missionary magnets’ is to look for people who stand as ‘hubs’ at the nexus or connecting points either inside networks (such as very large churches) or on the fringe between one network and another.

‘Hubs’ may be people who just seem to know everyone. Or, they may be people in group leadership. They may serve as deacons or elders, and know a lot about the families within a particular group. They may be ministry leaders who go out from the church to other locations, or who work with other churches. They may be pulling together networks of multiple churches or multiple small groups.

The interesting thing about a ‘hub’ person that impacts mission: they are typically almost intuitively focused on the transition from one group to another. They may transfer information, or may make introductions, or may lead people from one group to another group. They may cross-pollinate ideas, vision, and best practices. But what is key for us: they know who serves which group, and which individuals are most likely to be interested in crossing boundaries.

The missionary or apostolic task is to cross boundaries—to go from those who have the Gospel to those who do not. Hub people can connect you to other hubs, and eventually you will find ‘hubs’ that are on the ‘edge’ between the the Christian and non-Christian world. (You can expect ‘hub’ people on the ‘edge’ boundaries to be decidedly different in outlook, attitude, and perhaps even appearance than people who are on the ‘deep interior’ of Christianity.) Learning to identify hubs and leap from hub to hub could potentially lead you to deep pools of potential candidates. Here’s some thoughts about you can identify them:

1. Ask someone in the organization (church, agency, business) who knows people of a certain category. The precise category doesn’t matter. You’re looking for are people who are ‘hubs’ within a category, which means they know lots of people in it.

2. Ask the potential ‘hub’ if they know people of that category outside their organizational environment. For example, they may know artist-types in the church, but do they know artist types in other churches? This is a ‘nexus’ kind of hub, connecting multiple organizations.

3. Ask if they know people of another, possibly related category. If they know artist-types, do they know construction types? Or musicians? Or accountants? Or science-types who can help with special effects? Or people who do hospitality work, or cater events? This is indicative of a ‘hub’ that spans multiple categories. This type of person is still a ‘nexus’ within a large category, but is more likely to be an ‘edge’ hub, connecting outside the Christian world.

4. Ask if they know people of a particular category in the non-Christian world. This is the clearest definition of what I’m terming an ‘edge’ hub, bridging into the world outside the church.

5. Ask if they know believers who have been interested in connecting with them to minister to non-Christians. It is unlikely they will know many, but you are now closer to your ‘1-in-10,000’ person.

Hubs of any sort (but especially ‘edge’ hubs) are worth getting to know. Connections and relationships with these individuals will bring you information and viewpoints that you won’t otherwise come into contact with. Hubs also play a vetting role: they decide what information they are going to pass on. Most importantly, hubs will be connecting points for you into other worlds, and could identify potential missionary candidates. So start asking around, and finding people you should have coffee (or a soda!) with.

Read Also
Granovetter, Mark. “The strength of weak ties.” American Journal of Sociology 78:6 (1973). Cited over 30,000 times.
Granovetter, Mark. “The strength of weak ties: a network theory revisited.” Sociological Theory 1 (1983).
Easley, David. “Strong and weak ties.” Chapter 3 of Networks, Crowds and Markets. 2010. PDF.
De Meo, Pasquale, & others. “On Facebook, most ties are weak.” Communications of the ACM 57:11 (2014).
Brown, Eileen. “Strong and weak ties: why your weak ties matter.” Social Media Today (2011).
Morgan, Jacob. “Why every employee should be building weak ties at work.” Forbes (2014). Good explanatory graphics.
Lehrer, Jonah. “Weak ties, Twitter and Revolution.” Wired (2010).

Discovering Candidates vs. Shaping Candidates

Missionaries aren’t born missionaries. They are shaped: made by a combination of many factors impacting them over the course of their lives.

Personally, I’ve found Rick Warren’s “SHAPE” acronym to be very useful in considering these factors: one’s Spiritual gifts, Heart (or passion), Abilities (skills formed by development), Personality (our temperament), and our Experiences over time.

For example:

  • my spiritual gifts seem to be in the ‘teaching’ arena.
  • I have a passion for the unreached—I am far less passionate about American politics or pastoring believers here (while I honor those that have those passions, I just don’t share them).
  • My abilities are in the area of data acquisition, compilation, analysis, and communication.
  • My personality tends to be that of an explorer and a thinker; on the Myers-Briggs scale (which I know some disagree with, but I find useful), I test out as an INTP.
  • My experiences through the years (writing, speaking, living overseas, interviewing sources, etc) have further developed these traits.

When I first got started in missions, I didn’t think I was headed for a career in it—I thought I was signing up for a short-term ‘temp’ job. When I first went to work for the World Christian Encyclopedia team, I didn’t think of myself as a researcher—I thought my wife and I were headed for a short-term project supporting the team by managing the databases. Encouragement from mentors, bosses and team members, the critique and development of my skills in writing and communication, and opportunities I was given led to the development of my missionary ‘career.’

My time in missions, especially my early days, would have probably been more effective(and my choices more intentionally made) if it were more organized, more thought out and mentored. There are several choice points in a missionary’s career: where one decides to become a missionary, or one decides to transition into a new role as a missionary, or one decides to stay or leave the field. The work of mobilization is perhaps incorrectly thought of as ‘persuading someone to become a missionary’ and better thought of as ‘helping people discover and take the next shaping step on their path as a missionary.’

Having someone who helps you think through these decisions, articulate clear reasons for them, encourages you, connects you, mentors you, can help significantly when living out the decisions becomes difficult. You’ll know why you made the decision, and you’ll have people who help you.

Many mobilizers seem to be looking for people who are willing to sign a form of interest, and refer them to an agency. This role is basically a glorified headhunter or recruiter or placement office.

Churches who have an interest in sending more workers need to tilt away from discovering and placing missionaries (preaching a really good mission sermon, putting out response cards, and then following up with people who fill out the cards) and toward the idea of shaping leaders with an outward, missionary outlook (helping them develop the skills which will eventually lead them to a choice point). And I think the church needs to take responsibility for this, rather than ‘outsourcing’ all of it to others (although there are many good tools—like Perspectives—that can be used by churches in this process).

I have spoken with several churches which have intentional development programs for their members. These can be called discipleship or leadership development or what-have-you: they are practical programs that combine mentoring with outreach and specific opportunities to practice what is learned.

People shaped through these programs go on to become ministry leaders. Some are small group or ministry leaders in the local church. Some are leaders of church plants. Some end up as missionaries, going to the ends of the earth. Some go with agencies, and some are sent out by the churches themselves.

Having an intentional development program means you aren’t leaving the discovery to ‘chance’ (however you theologically define that). You aren’t swarming over the odd person who shows up having already, on their own, read all the missionary material. The possible response—take a short term trip! sign up with an agency! give your life away!-—can be terribly frightening in it suddenness without a few experimental baby steps.

Instead, an intentional development program is always expectantly looking for ‘new people.’ The ‘discovery’ of someone with interest becomes the gateway to encouragement, some first steps, and an easier and well-thought on-ramp to an organized program leading to greater development, experience opportunities, and eventual commissioning.

(Note: the successful development of early leaders can inspire others connected to those leaders to think “I can do that too,” and apply, when they might not have been among the “first wave.”)

In the process, the church is building its depth of leadership, knowing that some will stay at home, some will minister nearby, and some will go far away. I think it’s always easier to send this year’s “best and brightest” to the ends of the Earth if you know that more “best and brightest” are being developed in the next cohort of people.

To do this, the best step a church can take is to have some kind of ‘core group’—whether a mission pastor, or a mission committee, or whatever—who connect with other churches doing this kind of thing, and who help the church develop a set of processes for mentoring disciplemakers. These processes can inspire Heart, impart knowledge and opportunities to build Abilities, mentor Spiritual Gifts and Personalities, and offer Experiences that encourage people to explore where God wants to use them.

These repeatable processes will serve to develop the church’s leadership ability, enabling it to scale to larger impact, and to invest people locally and far off. It will help churches do more than just sprint with the occasional runner, and instead train for marathons and hand-offs.

If you’re interested in this, email justinlong@gmail.com. I can connect you with others who are already doing it, and who can help you do it as well.

Mission Meetups: Getting Started

In Virginia Beach, Virginia (USA), where we lived once upon a time, there was a weekly Monday morning missions meeting. It was called “7-Ms” (which stood for a long string of Ms, and I’ve forgotten what they all were). The meeting was held in the back room of a restaurant. Each time we had a speaker–usually a missionary passing through, or someone returning from a short-term trip. The purpose of the meeting was to connect people who had a heart for missions, and to encourage that mission vision.

Similar meetings are held in other cities around the country (and, I imagine, in cities in other countries). Some of them are weekly, and some are monthly. Recently, one of the founders of 7-Ms moved to Dallas, Texas (where we live now), and we met over Thai noodles to discuss starting up a similar meeting here. (There is one already being held quarterly on the Fort Worth side, but the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex is big enough for more than one (arguably, more than two).

I share here some of the steps we are taking to start the regular meeting, in the hopes that it might help you get one started in your city.

1. You need a core group interested in seeing the meeting happen. It doesn’t have to be large. We had three sitting at the table. The core group gives you connections into the churches, agencies, and other groups within the city. This group will also be the ones responsible for identifying and solving problems, and sending out emails to let people know when the meeting will happen.

2. You need to expressly define the vision and purpose of the group.

3. You need to be willing to reach out into the community and invite others to take part in the meetings. It doesn’t have to be a big beginning. When 7-Ms first started, it was two guys sitting at a table, praying for missions; then a third joined them, then a fourth. It slowly grew to an average attendance of a dozen-to-twenty.

4. You need to be able to draw different speakers throughout the year. This is where being in a larger city, with multiple churches with missions programs and possibly a Perspectives event, is helpful. 7-Ms simply suggests in a weekly email:

As usual, if you know of anyone involved in missions passing through or someone who lives here and has done missions work, let me know and I’ll contact them about speaking to us. Also, if you know folks with a heart for missions, let them know about 7Ms and encourage them to come and be blessed. We are up to 210 on this e-mail announcement!

5. You need to have a place to meet, and a regular schedule. 7-Ms uses a restaurant, so it’s a “neutral” ground–with no perception of being “owned” by one specific ministry. Other meetups go ahead and use a church.

6. You need to have some speaker guidelines. The TED Speaker Guidelines are one hilarious way this is done. I’m not suggesting you use these, but you need to have some.

I am starting a page on JustinLong.org to index mission meet ups. If you know of one that’s happening on a regular basis, either email me or post a comment on the page.

Networking Recommenders: Missionary Magnets, Candidate Curators

We need more workers. Because there are not enough workers in the harvest.

In an interview with a long-term worker laboring among an unreached people group in East Asia today, I asked: “What are the obstacles to the Gospel getting out among this people group?”

His answer: “Not enough workers. They are receptive, but they have too little contact with Christians. Especially Christians of their own culture.” (But you need workers of any kind–foreign or local–to see those first believers discipled.)

Workers aren’t that common. And some argue churches should send fewer workers, not more (largely because sending more workers results in quantity at a loss of quality).

There are 100 cities in America with populations of over 100,000. (I use America as an example; this can work anywhere else.) If 100 churches in each of these cities each sent one worker to the unreached–that would be 10,000 workers.

Double the size of the IMB (and larger than Wycliffe).

Yet just one worker per church. and for a city of 100,000, 100 workers represents 0.1% of the population. These are needles in the haystack.

How will mobilizers are to find people who are essentially 1-in-10,000?

To find needles, you need magnets. So if you are a city-wide mobilizer seeking more workers for the harvest, may I suggest one of your first goals should be to build a network of magnets in the individual churches.

You need recommenders. People who are not full-time mobilizers, but who are mission-passionate and regularly around other Christians. People who are can see potential candidates and take them out for a cup of coffee. Curators of candidates.

Rather than constantly trying to do things that attract candidates or argue with people about becoming candidates – why not focus on building a network of “candidate radar stations”?

Get yourself a list of the churches in your city, and ask yourself: how might I find the mission magnets in each church? The people who will be there for years and will be watching, waiting, praying for potential candidates?

The Marks of a Good Candidate

Some time ago I did a small research project on what mission agencies looked for in a good candidate. I asked all of the big agencies to send me a copy of their mission application form and process, and I synthesized these together to get a good view of what they seemed to measure.

I realize what we look for in candidates isn’t necessarily a good thing. Still, I think that by looking at all the existing mission agencies, we get a comprehensive view that can keep the good and drop the less-good (except for anything that might be systemic to Western missions as a whole–but that’s a subject for a different post).

Mobilizers would do well to keep these “marks” in mind, and use them as a sort of “filter” when looking for candidates. Churches that are mission-passionate might also keep these in mind and look for leadership-development processes that will help Christians mature in each of these areas. (These are not necessarily in order of importance.)

(The factors below go beyond the basic “must have a vision for the unreached”.)

1. Basic demographics. Every agency is going to vary a little bit with regard to basic parameters like age, marital status, dependents, etc. YWAM takes younger people; many agencies take only older people (usually determined by educational requirements like college). By putting a basic requirement like college in the mix, the agency is determining in large part the most common age and marital status. So if you have a short list of agencies that you work with, you need to have these basic demographics in mind.

Special note: many agencies have big red flags about people who have been divorced, widowed, or recently remarried. The general rule of thumb: if a person is going through a significant life change, they probably aren’t a good candidate right now.

2. Citizenship. Some agencies obviously have citizenship requirements (for example, Beyond only sends US and Canadian citizens; other agencies, like WEC or Wycliffe, etc., are multinationals and can send from other places).

3. Language. You need someone who is proficient in the common language of the agency (for Beyond, English). But being multilingual is a plus. If you already know the language of the place you want to serve, you can shave a couple of years off the inculturation process.

4. Testimony. Does the candidate present clear evidence of their faith in the life they live out? More to the point, can they clearly present their personal testimony? And even more to the point–are they willing to do so? Are they making converts or disciples now, in the church? If they aren’t willing to do these things in their home culture, they won’t do it in a foreign place.

5. Membership. Most agencies are going to have requirements about a person being a member in good standing of their home church. Sometimes this is a time requirement (e.g. for a few years). Sometimes it’s an endorsement requirement. If the church isn’t willing to validate their missionary calling, that’s a big red flag. (Some churches, obviously, aren’t interested in missions or mission-sending, and that’s a different issue, which may honestly only be resolved by changing congregations. Again, subject for a different post.)

6. Education, Skills, and Experience
. Some agencies make a big deal out of education and training; others, less so. At Beyond, we don’t have a seminary requirement, but we do look at education, skills and experience as potential platforms as well as evidence of a lifelong learner. The mark a mobilizer should look for is a person who is fairly well rounded and continuing to add to their store of knowledge and wisdom.

7. Strong. God can use both the strong and the weak, so this isn’t about being buff. But a candidate should be able to pass a basic medical examination. I’ve seen testimonies of people who went to the field in their dying days and had great impact. The general “rule of thumb,” however, is that if you’re going, you ought to be able to endure (health-wise) for many years.

8. Sane. I name this category a little tongue-in-cheek, but many agencies (ours, definitely) have psychological profiles as part of the candidate assessment process. A person who is not emotionally stable will not be able to get along with others and handle the massive stress of change, culture shock, and adaptation to the new place. One of the most common factors sending people home from the field is team conflict and marital stress, so we try not to send people who are unstable in these areas to start with.

9. Funds. For some agencies, the ability to access or raise the necessary funds is critical. There are several reasons why this is important, and not all of them are “spoken.” The reality is, someone who won’t raise funds isn’t committed to the vision. Someone who can’t raise funds may not have the necessary skills (yet) for networking, team building, prayer-partner development, etc. Building for a movement among a people group means being able to develop the funds for tools like Bibles, media, disaster relief, etc.; if a person can’t raise funds for personal support, they probably can’t raise larger funds for these projects. (This is not unlike a business startup–a person can be a phenomenal worker, but if they can’t raise the venture capital they can’t start something new.)

10. Doctrine. Every agency is going to have a basic doctrinal standard the person must agree to. Sometimes it’s written, and sometimes important parts are unspoken. Know the doctrinal realities of the agencies you work with and be sure to clarify those with potential candidates. Things like the role of women in ministry, opinions on charismatics, etc., are often unwritten but very important to know.

11. Flexibility.
Last but definitely not least, the person you’re looking for is more flexible and less rigid. They have to be able to be strong in important areas (for example, theology and witness and boldness for Christ) and flexible in others (schedules, plans, etc). They must be able to set goals, yet not fall apart when the goals aren’t met.

Here are a few additional points I would make, beyond the study:

a) are they interested – do they evidence any interest in other cultures?

b) are they willing – do they say things like “I’m glad I’m not called” or “I wish I could do that”?

c) are they available – do they have significant family or monetary ties that are difficult to break?

d) do they show up for mission-related events?

This may seem like a long list. A lot of it is just plain common sense. Some of the filters are easily seen (demographics, citizenship, language); others are easily obtained (if you ask them, will they easily share their testimony?). Others only come out over time. It’s important to keep your eyes open and know when the list is “bendable” and when something is a “red flag.” Pour your time into the most probable folks, while being available for “wildcards” and the “less likely.” And remember, mobilization is a long marathon, not a short sprint–someone who says “no” now, or who by these measures is a bad candidate now, may be an ideal one later on. Don’t give up.

The Reality that Few are Interested

I’ve been to college mission events, church mission days, and mission festivals. I’ve stood at our booth, spoken in classrooms and Sunday schools, talked with kids at homeschool events and youth groups. The stark reality every mobilizer must face: few are actually interested in long-term service as a missionary.

Being in an event attended by dozens, even hundreds, and seeing no one come up to your table – or, worse, no one come up to any of the tables – can be depressing. Mission agencies are often searching for needles in haystacks.

How will I, as a mobilizer, deal with this?

I keep in mind this is a spiritual battle. We aren’t wrestling against apathetic, lazy, indifferent people, but rather against spiritual powers that would prefer church members consider missions to be Someone Else’s Problem.

I guard my heart against emotions that would keep me from persevering. Really, the search for good candidates for mission is no different than the search for good candidates for work. I have read many articles on how hard it is for entrepreneurs with a great idea for a startup to find a co-founder, or to find someone to work with them on programming, and so on. Finding people to work for you is perhaps even harder than finding clients. So the struggle to find missionaries shouldn’t surprise us.

I don’t argue or guilt, I serve. I aim myself at the person–out there, but invisible to me–whose heart is being tugged toward a missionary career. I’m never going to successfully argue someone into becoming a missionary (and I wouldn’t want to! How long would they last?), but if I find someone whose heart God is touching, I can serve them, enabling them to be what God is calling them to be. Some times people feel a tug toward the missionary life, but their perception of barriers keeps them from pursuing it: “I can’t be a missionary, because…” These barriers can be wrong ideas of field life, about missionaries, fears, etc. If we can help them see the reality of what being a missionary means, we can help them past these barriers and on toward their calling.

I am constantly testing my approach to recruiting. I hold firmly to the belief that candidates are out there–God is already calling hearts, and people are responding. We just need to find them. If a discovery method results in no candidates, either the particular pool we are fishing in has no fish, or our method is bad. We need to be constantly testing, revising, iterating, and re-testing our methods.

In 2016, I’m reserving Tuesdays on this daily post to blog out loud about how to be a better mobilizer. If you have ideas, case studies, experiments you’ve tried, feel free to email justin@beyond.org.

What we need: more workers

At the start of the year, it’s time once again for my annual comment on what mission needs: more workers.

The Status of Global Mission 2016 isn’t out yet. But the situation hasn’t changed dramatically since 2015.

Then, there were at most 2.4 billion Christians in the world (and some would argue far fewer). There are at least 4.9 billion non-Christians (who would say they definitely, positively, are not Christians–they are something else).

Of those, at least 2.1 billion have little or no access to the Gospel–meaning they will never hear the Good News once in their lifetimes. (This is a conservative estimate. The IMB estimates far more.)

Roughly 86% of all non-Christians (the 4.9 billion) do not personally know a believer. This is because about half of Christians live in countries that are more than 80% Christian – or, to put it another way, half of Christians live in places where most are Christian – they areconcentrated.

When most non-Christians do not personally know a believer, it’s hard for them to hear the Gospel in a way that can’t be ignored. Yes, we can pump out television, Internet ads, Gideon Bibles in hotels, tracts in various places, and what have you – but the Gospel travels best through a life lived out in front of someone.

So we need workers.

The best kind of witness is a person who speaks my language, knows my culture, understands my idioms, works the same kind of job as me, lives in the same kind of home as me–where the Gospel has “put on flesh and moved into the neighborhood.” That’s why, obviously, “indigenous missionaries” or “national workers” are important. The end result of the foreign missionary effort should be a planted church that fields national workers.

But in a lot of places there are no Christians. Hence no churches, no national workers. We need foreign workers to start the process.

At a broad stroke, 86% of 4.9 billion people is 4.1 billion. One strategy team (2 to 3 people) can effectively engage 100,000 people with a movement strategy that raises up ‘national workers’ using a disciples-make-disciples-who-make-disciples approach.

4.1 billion divided into 100,000 chunks (to use round numbers) is 41,000 teams, or about 120,000 missionaries.

I’m not saying they all have to come from America, obviously. But the biggest challenge we face, to see the world reached, is mobilization for engagement–recruiting people who will pick up, move to a neighborhood where the Gospel is not, and put down roots there. Live out life in front of people.

We must get better at advocating for those places, at recruiting people, at sending them, at sustaining them, at networking and encouraging them. Because until more non-Christians at the very least know a believer, this job won’t get done.