Reflections and resources for lifelong learning for missionaries

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Finishing Well: Cheering the Next Runner

What would you think of a relay runner who went to the locker room right after completing his or her lap? Perhaps you would think the runner had suffered an injury or had some other health concern. Aside from that, we would question their relationship with the rest of the team. A healthy relay team recognizes that success depends on the performance of each runner. Therefore, each member of the team who has completed their leg stays on the field and cheers on the remaining runners. They stay off the track and cheer from the sidelines.

In this series, we have been using the analogy of a relay race for finishing well in a ministry assignment. So, how do we cheer those who follow us as we complete our ministry assignment? How do we keep from getting in the way of their performance? Our relationship with those who follow us in ministry shapes our cheering for them as they run their lap.

Relationships Matter

Yes, it would be strange for a relay runner to go directly to the locker room. Similarly, it would be tragic for church planters to cut off the relationship with the local church leaders who succeed them in leading the new church. Tom Steffen wrote:

The seventh and final component is determining how church planters can maintain good relationships after the phase-out. They work themselves out of a job, but not out of a relationship. Continued fellowship includes prayer, visits, letters of challenge and encouragement, sending other people to visit, and cautious financial assistance.

Tom Steffen, Passing the Baton, p. 18.
baton transfer

Finishing Well: Transferring the Baton

We are finally getting to the finishing part in our series on finishing well in a ministry assignment. In a relay race, transferring the baton is crucial to finishing well. For example, the US 4 x 100 meter relay team was disqualified in the 1988 Olympics for a late handoff. In a similar way, how we transfer responsibility and leadership defines to a large extent whether we finish well in a ministry assignment.

The incoming runner has the primary responsibility for the transfer of the baton. Specifically, he/she places the baton so that the outgoing runner can grasp it most efficiently. In a church planting assignment, the missionary is directly involved in the training of emerging leaders. However, in administrative assignments, there is usually less involvement in selecting a successor. Nevertheless, one can leave behind a “Policy and Procedure Guide” or a step-by-step manual for the next person filling that role. So, what characterizes a good transfer when we finish our ministry assignment?

The Transfer is Intentional

Throughout his book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting that Empowers, Tom Steffen emphasizes “a comprehensive, phase-out church planting model” (p 7). From the very beginning, the church planting team intends to transfer responsibility and leadership. In other words, this transfer plan guides the whole process of church planting.

Likewise, in an administrative role, we recognize that others will follow us in the role. We are intentional in passing the baton to those who follow us. Successfully transferring responsibility may include cross-training others in the office prior to our departure. 1Cross-training is the practice of training your people to work in several different roles,2 or training them to do tasks that lie outside their normal responsibilities (from Cross-Training – Team Management Skills From MindTools.com). Furthermore, putting together an up-to-date procedural manual will contribute to a smooth transfer. Of course, we also need to spend adequate time in the transition zone. More about that later.

ministry as relay race

Finishing Well: Ministry as a Relay Race

I have been doing a lot of thinking and reading about finishing well in the past several months. In part, this is because I turn 70 in November and will retire at the end of 2021. But I am also interested in this subject because SEND U has been asked to develop and find resources to help SEND missionaries finish well whether in a ministry assignment or at the end of a career. When reflecting on finishing well, I find it helpful to view ministry as a relay race. 1Tom Steffen’s book, Passing the Baton: Church Planting That Empowers also uses this analogy.

Over the next few months, I will be writing a series of blog posts on finishing well in ministry assignments as a leg in a relay race. In this series, I will be applying the analogy of a relay race to finishing well in a ministry assignment. Presently, I plan to write six more posts. This will be followed by a shorter series on finishing well at the end of a ministry career.

In this post, I want to sketch the analogy between ministry and a relay race.

Ministry as a Race

The apostle Paul describes his ministry as a race in a number of passages (Acts 20:24; 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; 2 Timothy 4:7). In the Acts and 2 Timothy passages, he uses the same word in the original language2 (the ESV translates it “course” in Acts and “race” in 2 Timothy). Interestingly, in both passages, he writes about finishing his course or race. In the former passage, he expresses his desire to finish his course and ministry well. In the latter, he expresses his confidence that he has finished his race well.

preparing sermons

Preparing to Preach as a Missionary

“Missionaries need to be ready to preach, pray, or die at a moment’s notice.” Or so I’ve heard all my life. Though this is often said jokingly, there is a ring of truth to it. In this new blog series, I am focusing on how to prepare a sermon. Missionaries often have opportunity to preach both in their home country and in their host country. Yet, many missionaries do not have formal training in preaching. In this post and four additional posts, I will share my perspective on preparing expository sermons gleaned from teaching homiletics (the art of preaching) at Alaska Bible College for 35 years. In this introductory post, I will define expository preaching, and focus on the preacher’s relationship with the Word and the audience. I will also list the topics for the next four posts.

Expository Preaching

Expository preaching is also known as expositional preaching. It is a form of preaching that focuses its attention on the meaning of a particular passage of Scripture.1See Wikipedia article.

mission drift

Avoiding Mission Drift – part two

I have been looking at how a non-profit organization can avoid mission drift. You can find Part One of this series at this link. My mission organization, SEND International, says our mission is “to mobilize God’s people and engage the unreached in order to establish reproducing churches.” Recently, we have adopted the theme of “kingdom transformation.” We want to broaden our ministries to more than just spiritual needs. In so doing, we want to strengthen our evangelism and church planting among the unreached. We are not in any way changing our mission statement.

Historical examples of mission drift

Nevertheless, as I noted in my previous blog post, this new theme raises the danger of mission drift. This has happened many times in the past. Organizations that were focused on one thing gradually changed until their work in no way matched what they originally set out to do. For example, the Puritans of New English who founded Harvard University stated it’s purpose in this way:

mission drift
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Avoiding Mission Drift

It happens every day. I have a project or task in mind, put it on my schedule, get started on it, but then get distracted. My thoughts and then my actions drift off in another direction and I begin to work on another project instead. The same thing can happen to organizations. We call it “mission drift.” We have a stated purpose, but we are no longer doing what we said we are going to be doing.

Boundary markers

Over the years, I have adopted a few tools to get me back on track through the course of the workday. Keeping track of how I use my time on Toggl is one such tool. See also my blog post on “Deep Work.” I have also developed a few warning signs or boundary markers to prevent me from permanently drifting off course. My personal mission statement and my job description are two really important boundary markers. I review my alignment with these documents every quarter. My monthly goals prominently featured on my to-do list is another such boundary marker. What are the boundary markers for a non-profit organization to avoid mission drift?

Partnership in the Gospel
Cytonn Photography on Unsplash

Follow-Up: Partnership in the Gospel

How does Paul follow-up with the church at Philippi? We have been asking this question in previous posts about Galatia, Thessalonica, and Corinth. Our source of information has been Paul’s letters to these churches. Today we will look at his letter to Philippi.

Philippians, a Friendship Letter

Many commentators have noted that Philippians has features common to friendship letters in the Greco-Roman world.1G. Walter Hansen, The Letter to the Philippians, Eerdmans: 2009, p6f. and Gordon Fee, Paul’s Letter to the Philippians, NICNT, 1995, p 2f. For instance, expressions of affection and terminology like “yoke-fellow” (Phil. 4:3) were common in letters between friends at that time. Yet the letter is more than just communication between friends. Gordon Fee writes:

But “hortatory letter of friendship” is only part of the story, and in many ways the least significant part of that. For in Paul’s hands everything turns into gospel, including both formal and material aspects of such a letter. Most significantly, friendship in particular is radically transformed from a two-way to a three-way bond – between him, the Philippians, and Christ. And obviously it is Christ who is the center and focus of everything. Paul’s and their friendship is predicated on their mutual “participation/partnership” in the gospel.2Gordon D. Fee, p 13.

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