STRATEGY: CASE STUDIES: LESSONS LEARNED FROM MOBILIZATION FAILURES
From: Alexander Mares-Manton <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I have been working mobilizing college students for missions for about 8 years now. We worked at one college (Oberlin College in Ohio, founded by Charles Finney!) for four years and saw a lot of lasting fruit. Several students are now either missionaries or working in that direction. Although we were happy with the lives changed, the missions vision of the group died when we left (3 yrs ago).
Then we moved here to Seattle and started working with graduate students. A big difference from undergrads! These guys really didn't want to be distracted from their career tracts with any ideas of missions. Although several people went to Urbana and a few short-term missions, the missions vision still died when we left.
Last year we started a ministry to international students. We started it from the ground up and had never done something like that before. We are about to move again (we are finally headed to the mission field), and the ministry will die when we leave in a few months.
Over the years, there has been a lot of discouragement...Three times in a row, we have failed to do the exact thing that a missionary is supposed to do - build up indigenous leadership and work their way out of the job! The substance of our work only exists in the few people's lives that were changed - not in any on-going ministry.
We are now headed toward the mission field - not to do church planting (we don't know how to raise up leaders yet!), but to do further mobilization for a specific unreached people group. All of a sudden, God opens up the floodgates and the contacts start pouring in! Churches we don't even know existed have heard about us and want to adopt whatever people group we end up working with! The churches that we did mobilization in are now wanting to send us out in prayer as their missionaries (their idea, not ours!)! A few people in the churches have even started planning to visit us on the field - before we ever mentioned our idea of raising up prayer walking teams to come over to India (where we are headed). Many of the students that we thought would go to the mission field have asked to support us as we go.
In the midst of our discouragement with the "outcome" (we may never see most of the outcome from our labors) of our ministry efforts over the past years, God is raising up people to be a part of our role in reaching a people group. The people we had "written off" are joining the team and getting involved, even before we know what exact people group we are headed to! We had our eyes in one direction, but God's plan for our efforts was a bit different.
I'll give you one specific instance: one of the churches we have been doing mobilization had a missions committee that was into a lot of things, few of which were really missions. We were frustrated because we could see the potential and saw them spinning their wheels. All of a sudden this summer, the chairman...resigned, and the person who took his place is totally into frontier missions, wants to send us out as their missionaries (we are members of another church), wants to adopt "our" people group, etc, etc. Before I knew it, I was asked to preach a two-part series to two services (never preached before) and lead a Saturday missions workshop! The pastor now quotes from my sermons nearly every other sermon (my main point was "blessed to be a blessing" a la Bob Sjogren, etc.). Just when we were ready to give up, God broke through, because He didn't want us to say that we did this on our own, but He wanted us to give Him the Glory because all of this is obviously His work!!
Here's a few things we have learned from our "failures":
1) Whenever possible, always work in teams. Don't think that you alone will change the direction of a church. Spread your vision to a few friends, a few influential people, and especially the pastor. THEN, when they are convinced that God is in your vision, let them grasp it and think that it was originally their idea. Ownership of a vision is very important.
2) Pray, pray, pray for missions in small groups, individually, and as a couple (this is our weakest point and probably the biggest reason for our failures!).
3) Make sure that you practice what you preach. Make sure that people can look at your life and say, "he is sold out for God's Global Purpose". We did well in this area, but not in the area of combining this with personal devotion to God Himself. Sometimes we get "missions" and "God" mixed up a bit (I do, at least).
4) Choose a few close friends and "disciple them" in missions. Sometimes this is more important to do well than mobilizing an entire church.
5) Don't put "programs" before "changed hearts". For so many years my church tried to mobilize the congregation to pray for missions without focusing on "changing their hearts". We need to have broken hearts for God before we can embrace what it is that He is embracing.
6) (Maybe this is the most important thing that we have learned!!!) According to scripture, you can't be a blessing to others, unless you are being blessed (by others and by God) yourself. We fell into this a lot - "the output exceeding the input and the upkeep became our downfall"!...
There's a lot more to this stuff, but I feel a bit like I'm preaching now, and that's not what I intended to do. I want to encourage you that it is not OUR global purpose that we are working for, but it is God's global purpose. He will accomplish it, and delights to use us in that process. ...I hope you can grasp a bit of this and that God will use it in you...We will rejoice in heaven together.