“As a young pastor in the early 1980’s, I was excited about our church having a missionary come and speak to us. I challenged our members “To come expecting God to move in our hearts!” I will never forget that Sunday morning service when our missionary finally arrived and started speaking. Boring does not even come close to what our church experienced that morning. It was absolutely lifeless There is nothing worse that will keep people from coming to a mission conference than experiencing a boring mission speaker. On Sunday night, we had about 15 people show up to hear the missionary for the second time. After that, I could not get our people to come and listen to a missionary again. That missionary had bored-them-stiff and they never forgot it. It took years to overcome that bad experience.” (Howell) This was the missionary presentation experience of Mission Specialist Norm Howell’s church. Unfortunately it has not only been his church that has had a bad experience with missionary presentations. Many Bible churches across theUnited Stateshave struggled with ineffective missionary presentations.
MISSIONARY REPORTS IN PAUL’S DAYS
Before Jesus ascended back into heaven he told his disciples, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” This was the disciples first and direct calling to go into what we call “Missions” today. So the disciples went and preached the gospel. Eventually God called Paul to himself and set him apart for missionary work as well. Today he is called the “best missionary who ever lived.”
Some of the disciples were called to the Jews and some were called to the Gentiles. Today some of us are called to be missionaries to those people in our work and neighborhood; others of us are called to go to another nation to preach the gospel. Even though Paul was a missionary, he was still connected to his sending church in Antioch. At the end of each missionary journey he would return to Antiochand report about his missionary journey (Acts 14:28, Acts 21:18,19). This report was not a fund raising trip for Paul but it was a time to share the things God had done in the lives of those he had been ministering to.
Acts 14:27, 28 is one of the examples of Paul’s missionary reports to his sending church in Antioch: “From Attalia they sailed back to Antioch, where they had been committed to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” In this passage we see first of all that Paul went back to the church that sent him out as a missionary. We also see in this passage that thechurch ofAntioch was gathered to hear Paul’s missionary report. Finally, we see that the purpose for Paul’s report was simply to share with them the work God had done. As a sending church, thechurch ofAntioch had a big role in Paul’s missionary work. For this reason reports were and are so essential, it is only logical that those who are helping to send the missionary get a good report on what God is doing through the missionary they send. The senders are just as much a part of the missionary work as the missionary is.
The Acts 21:18, 19 passage is also very similar to the one above: “When we arrived atJerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” This passage states that the Christians inJerusalemreceived the missionaries warmly. Also important to note is that Paul reported “all that God had done through them” and “in detail”. Both times Paul reported it was not a short five minute presentation it was more like an hour of story time with the missionary.
MISSIONARY REPORTS IN THE TWENTY FIRST CENTURY
Missionary reports are definitely different today than they were in Paul’s day. When my parents first started off as missionaries they were given ten minutes to report in front of of their sending church. A couple years later the time was reduced to seven minutes, then five, then two and a half, then sixty seconds and now a grand total of 0 seconds. Their names are simply mentioned during the anouncements and they get a table to display. This is not to attack the Bible churches or any churches in specific, however, it is to bring up the question: is the lack of communication within the church the reason why the focus of missions has decreased in the church? Or is it the lack of the missionary’s ability to communicate well causing the decrease in the interest of Missions?
THE TRUTH OF THE MATTER
Before sending out a survey to average church members from various congregations, my assumptions were that the main reason for the decline of interest in missions was because missionaries are not provided sufficient time during the church services. Tim Walton, missions pastor of Alderwood Community Church in Lynwood, Washington confirms that his church does not have missionaries present during the service anymore: ”Almost never anymore,” he says, ” Church does triple layer of morning services and there just isn’t time.”
Is the insufficient amount of time for missionaries to present during the service the disconnect* in communication between the missionaries and the churches? Could it be that simple? Or is the disconnect in something else. My research has shown that it is not the amount of time that has been the greatest deterrence to missionary presentations, it is rather a series of communication disconnections that deters missionaries from being able to do proper presentations. The areas of the most disconnect between missionaries and their churches can be classified as sensory, auditory, and visual.
SENSORY: THE FOREIGNERS
Sensory describes feeling and touch. To know what something is like we need to experience it, feel it, touch it. Without doing this we only have assumptions about things without knowing what the real thing really is. The same thing goes for good communicators. In order to be a good communicator we must know our audience. The problem many missionaries face when they come to their home church is that they do not know their audience. One interviewee said, “Sometimes it seems they (the missionaries) have no connection with the western world,” and another interviewee said that missionaries “are disconnected with the church.” In An Essential Guide to Public Speaking Quentin Schultze says concerning this topic, “We are called to be slow to speak and quick to listen (James 1:19). In other words, we need to know what we are talking about and to whom we are speaking in this multicultural world.” (Schultze, 19) Missionaries definitely know what they are talking about so the disconnect comes when they do not know who they are speaking to. Paul is one missionary who knew his audience well. He kept in touch with his sending church through letters while he was gone and when he came back he spent quality time with them sharing what he had experienced during his missionary journeys.
Paul had a pretty good excuse to not send letters. The mail system was not the same as it is now, he had to find someone reliable to send the letter with and even then it could take weeks for the letter to arrive to its destination. However, it did not stop Paul. If it was possible in Paul’s day for him to be connected with his audience, then it is definitely possible for missionaries in the 21st century to connect with their audience. Proper communication requires at least two groups though. Paul was not the only one sending letters. If that had been the case then he still would have been disconnected from the church. They would have known him but they would have been complete strangers. There was dual communication. He knew what was going on in his church through letters they sent him and messages that were relayed by word of mouth. If the communication had only been on Paul’s side then he would not have known his audience.
For our missionaries to know their audience it is important that the audience know the missionaries as well. Today we have many ways to communicate with our missionaries. Some of the interviewees said that their church keeps in contact with their missionaries via skype and telephone calls. Another interviewee suggested that blogging might provide for more current information from the missionaries as well as making it more convenient for the church members. Since there is a disconnection between the church and the missionaries the obvious solution is to fix the connection. The missionary and the church should establish some sort of communication venue.
In addition, to being in communication while on the field it is also vital for proper communication if the missionaries are received well when they come back. This does not have to be by a five minute presentation time in front of the church. In Paul’s case a more relaxed environment was created to do his missionary report. Some interviewees said that missionaries need to learn to speak the American cultural language. As a church we should help the missionaries do so by keeping them informed about things back home so that they can speak our language. But the church should also learn to speak the missionary’s language. Remember it’s not just the missionaries’ job to keep the connection with the church, it is the churches job as well.
AUDITORY: THE SPEAKING FACTOR
Auditory refers to what we hear. The auditory system is extremely important in communication. When communicating, it is important for a message to be delivered well. If the speaker is boring and does not have good speaking skills, the message will not be received, a disconnect in communication occurs. This disconnect is very common between missionaries and their churches. A missionary that has a wonderful relationship with God and does great missionary work but no speaking skills will not have the effect on people as the missionary who has all those same qualities but with good speaking skills. To communicate well with the church the missionary needs to have the ability to communicate. In Communicating for Life Quentin Schultze says:
“Philosophers before and during Augustine’s life had emphasized method, or eloquence. They argued that communicator’s impact was more important than their ethics, and that method was more important than truth. Augustine, on the other hand, taught that Christians need to combine eloquence with a knowledge of the truth. In his view, the church must use the best possible means to advocate truth and dispute falsity. He argued that eloquence should not abandon wisdom. Once Augustine combined truth and eloquence, the giftedness of the communicator became a crucial concern for the Christian community. Christians could no longer focus just on the veracity of messages. Believers were obligated to look also at their messengers’ rhetorical ability.” (Schultze, 67)
Although the passion of a missionary plays a big role in communicating, his speaking abilities will only enhance that. However, unfortunately many missionaries lack the ability to communicate well. Walton says that out of the thirty missionaries supported by his church half of them lack the ability to communicate well. Of the 42 people surveyed from different churches seventy five percent of them said that most missionaries do not have good speaking abilities. Some missionaries’ ministries require good speaking abilities but most of their ministries do not, which makes their lack of public speaking skills understandable. However, though it makes their lack of speaking skills understandable for their ministry it does not for their presentations. As missionaries supported by a church they should have at least enough public speaking skills to get them by in their missionary presentations. This is especially important in this age inAmericain which people will not listen attentively to people without good public speaking skills. Many of our churches are full of members who chose to go to the church based on the speaking abilities of the pastor. The church can help missionaries by providing the missionaries with resources to aide them in their public speaking abilities.
As mentioned before, in order for missionaries to communicate effectively they need to speak the language of the church members, this includes style. In response to the question “Have you ever seen missionaries do an extremely boring job at presenting?” One of the people surveyed responded, “Yes, all that was done was a presentation on numbers and figures and not a single story or testimony.” Another interviewee said, “Yes. It is always dull when a missionary talks about their organization, or propositional ideas instead of relational stories.” In the passages about Paul’s reports above we see that Paul told them all that God had done and in detail. He told them stories of people’s lives being changed not just the number of how many people got saved. The disconnection here is threefold. It includes the missionaries, the audience, and the churches mission board. One missions pastor whose name will remain anonymous said in answer to how missionaries could make their presentations better, “Stay on the missional message. Stress results. Just a couple of key “bullets.” Unfortunately though this is not what the congregation wants to hear. People are always drawn to stories. Not many people would get excited about going to a two hour long event just to listen to statistics but they would be excited about going to an event with funny, heart-wrenching, and/or relatable stories. People are more compelled to act after hearing a story than they are after hearing statistics. The majority of the people interviewed said that what they enjoy most about missionary presentations is the story telling and they want to hear more stories from the missionaries. One interviewee said about missionary presentations “The most inspirational part for me are true-life stories and experiences.” This is not to say that statistics do not have a place. In Acts, Luke mentions several times the number of those who were converted, however, the stories are what we remember from Acts not the statistics.
What can be done about this auditory disconnection in missionary presentations? There are some mission boards that provide missionaries with story telling lessons, however, not all missionaries have this venue. Churches can help their missionaries learn to communicate their stories well by either providing them with a book with helpful tips in storytelling, connecting them with a gifted storyteller in the church, or accommodating a comfortable situation for the missionaries to share stories.
Collaborate with the missionary, learn to ask the right questions to get the full story out of them. This is their life. Some of the mundane things that they would not think twice about may be what surprises you the most. Good questions bring out good stories, interact with your missionaries during their presentations. Doing these things can breach the disconnection your church has with its missionaries, don’t let what happened in Howell’s church happen to yours as well.
VISUAL: THE TECHNIQUE OF TECHNOLOGY
We live in a very visual world. Rarely ever, except on the radio, will something be promoted without some sort of visual presentation. A picture can cause feelings of hunger, sorrow, pity, or joy. A video can be even more compelling and if done correctly, can virtually transport the viewer to a different world allowing them to feel the joys and pains of that world. Compelling pictures and videos have been used to promote organizations, events, and people. Just think of Paul, he used great video and power point presentations during his missionary reports…okay, okay I am just kidding…as far as I know they did not have National Geographic pictures and Papyrus fonts to add to power point presentations in Paul’s time. However, even though Paul did not have videos or pictures to show on his reports he did have other visual stimuli. People for example. Timothy went with him on his second missionary journey. That was a great testimony to Paul’s ministry, to actually have visual and living proof of God’s work. In a church inWashingtona Columbian lady who had been ministered to by a missionary couple came to theU.S.to help the missionary wife during her last years of struggling with cancer. It was an amazing testimony of the missionary family to have one of the people they had ministered to ministering back to them through care giving. However, it is rarely possible for missionaries to bring people back with them. This is where technology comes in. One interviewee said that the most inspiring missionary presentation was when “the(y) had us watch an entire sermon given by one of the local people who had been led to Christ by him two years earlier.” Amanda Meier a missionary kid and a junior communications major at Moody Bible Institute said that the reason why she became a video major was because she saw how video helped bring more awareness to her parent’s ministry. Videos and compelling power point presentations help to virtually transport the church to the mission field in a way they could not possibly go otherwise.
Not only do videos and pictures help the church connect with missionaries but it is also in the congregation’s language. Video is the new method of communication. It is what our generation is used to. Video can make a presentation not only more entertaining but also more compelling. Good story telling is one step forward but add real video footage to the story and you have evidence with entertainment. This is one thing that would help the disconnect in communication between the missionary and the church. Half of the people surveyed said that videos made the missionary presentation more compelling. They also said that they rarely ever see missionaries use video presentations.
Most missionaries function on a low budget which means they cannot afford the high quality video cameras and video editing programs. While some may afford a flip camera, there is a problem, who will do the videoing? Missionaries do not have much time to video themselves doing ministry. So if the missionaries cannot do it, who will? The church. Not necessarily the church as in those on the missions board or the communication staff in the church, I mean the people sitting in the pews. Walton said that though the church helps some missionaries by helping them make compelling videos for their ministry they can not offer this service to everyone due to their budget. It is surprising how many talented people the church is full of and many of them know how to make videos. Learn who these people are in the church and connect them with the missionaries. Often college students are willing to take up opportunities to practice and enhance their talents. Connect these people with the missionaries so they can get their story out. If it is not possible to send someone onto the field to do some videoing make it an option for the missionaries who are visiting. Find someone to help edit their video footage or to help them make and manage an effective power point presentation to add to their report. Give them feedback, help them know whether a picture or video adds or detracts from their presentation.
As with most problems that need solving, there is no quick easy solution to this problem. The solution does not lie entirely with the missionary nor does it lie entirely with the church. The solution is a collaborative process between the missionary and the church. I was astonished while analyzing the survey responses that in answer to the question “What can churches do to help missionaries with their presentations?” one of the interviewees responded, “That’s all on the missionaries.” Since when is mission work not part of the church’s mission? This is a bad response from the church who is supposed to act as the body of Christ. God has given different talents and gifts to each member of the body. As much as we are not to tell other member’s of the body that we don’t need them we also should not lay all the responsibility on one member. We should, like thechurchofJerusalem, warmly receive our missionaries. This includes helping them out and giving them what they need to do an effective presentation. It is then that we will be able to make a proper communication connection between the missionary and the church.
*disconnect-this term is used throughout the paper referring to the broken form of communication which occurs between the church and the missionary.
Anonymous surveys, from a survey I made on monkeysurvey.com
Howell, Norm. “Seven Steps to Giving a Missions Presentation.” The Singles Network. 6 November 2011. Web. (unknown) www.thesinglesnetwork.org
Meier, Amanda. Conversation
Schultze, Quentin. “An Essential Guide to Public Speaking.”Grand RapidsMichigan, Baker Academic, 2006
Schultze, Quentin. “Communicating for Life.”Grand Rapids,Michigan: Baker Academic, 2000
Walton, Tim. “Church Missions Survey”. 9 November 2011