Wise Accountability

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February 2021 | Volume 16 | Issue 2

Wise Accountability

Assessments that help missionary and ministry thrive

Christians are directly responsible to God, but He has also established human leaders to be a part of the accountability process.

Accountability, what is it?

Accountability has long been a component of good business practices, with performance reviews used as a tool to help measure employees’ progress in achieving predetermined goals. But long before businesses adopted the idea, Scripture taught accountability. Christians are directly responsible to God, but He has also established human leaders to be a part of the accountability process. Hebrew 13:17 tells us that leaders will give an account for the fulfillment of their responsibilities: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.”

Accountability was a part of missions from the very onset as the Apostle Paul was accountable to his sending church: “…they [Paul and Barnabas] sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had fulfilled. And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them” Acts 14:26-27. Apparently this first missionary team had a specific assignment. When they had fulfilled it, they returned to give a full report to their sending church.

Fast forward to today. Can we define the essential elements of healthy missionary accountability and assessment for a local church, particularly for the church that sends them out? How do we practice it well?

Three- or four-way assessment

Effective missionary accountability should include collaboration among missionary, sending church, and agency. Increasingly, local leaders alongside whom the missionary is serving are also essential voices in this assessment process. Getting honest input from indigenous leaders will require developing relationships and building trust so that they realize that their opinions are highly valued.

The sending church commissions the worker and then sends and supports them on a specific assignment. The agency brings specialized cross-cultural expertise to help define the missionary’s role and specific goals, and then provides teamwork and support to achieve them. The national receiving entity/partners determine how the missionary can make a vital contribution to the overall work of God in this context. The missionary proactively works with all of these partners to define the assignment, draft measurable goals, and work diligently to achieve them.

Therefore, healthy assessment occurs within a complementary relationship where missionary, sending church, local partners, and agency collaborate to make regular, honest assessments and determine how to continually increase ministry impact. Other financially supporting congregations should expect this accountability triad/quad to hold each other accountable for both the process and results. If this is not happening, supporting churches may need to be more proactively engaged in the accountability process.

Missionary accountability needs to be designed as a life-giving practice, not a “got’cha” game to judge a worker for failures.

Designed for affirmation

Missionary accountability needs to be designed as a life-giving practice, not a “got’cha” game to judge a worker for failures. When the goal is identifying reasons to celebrate and areas where mutual improvement can address difficulties, the tone of the assessment interview will be uplifting and collegial. If the sending and accountability processes are working well, in most instances an assessment will result in missionary and church joyfully celebrating together what God has done through their partnership. This must have been the outcome when Paul and Barnabas reported back to the Antioch church about their first journey.

Transparency and teamwork for problem solving

If the evaluation process does surface problems, then ideally the accountability triad/quad will honestly and humbly work together to determine the best way to address them. For a worker to be vulnerable, they must know that all parties have their best interest at heart as well as the ultimate good of the work. If a missionary is convinced that the church considers them a failure or if they fear that the church summarily will drop support if problems are identified, it will be difficult to work together to seek solutions. Therefore, trust-building must be a prerequisite as well as one of the desired outcomes.

Reciprocity

Accountability should be a two-way street—well actually, a multilane highway! Missionary, receiving entity, sending church, and agency are all responsible to help achieve goals and improve effectiveness. For instance, the missionary should speak to whether the sending church has been fulfilling the expectations and commitments it has assumed in sending the worker and how it can improve. The agency should also be open to critique and improvement in their supervisory role. Indigenous leaders must be committed to improving the cultural integration of their expat colleagues.

Painful retrofitting

Many churches today have missionaries on their roster who were sent out in the past with no clear accountability process and few if any stipulated expectations. In such cases, when the church begins to implement a proactive accountability process it may be met with fear or resistance from missionary and/or agency. That doesn’t mean the process should be abandoned. Transparency regarding purposes and methods will help as will a focus on prayer, humility, and Spirit-led discernment. Because the church is responsible to steward their people and resources in a God-honoring way, they will need to persevere even if they are met with reluctance.

Assessment vs. reporting

Many churches ask all of their missionaries (not just those sent from their church) to complete a report either quarterly, semi-annually, or annually. This report provides an update about ministry goals and activities, prayer requests, and answers to prayer. Here’s a sample report form. These reports are primarily to keep the church informed but also provide information essential for the assessment with sent missionaries.

The Assessment Process

An annual pause for an assessment dialog between the missionary and their sending church is usually a good frequency. This yearly review often includes a written report from the supervisor. In addition, a fuller 360° assessment should be pursued perhaps once each term and any time deeper issues are identified. A 360° assessment involves getting input via conversations with supervisor(s), teammates, and national colleagues. A professional counselor’s assessment may also be crucial when dealing with complex personal situations.

A face-to-face evaluation process is always preferred especially for a 360° review. Some churches combine assessment with a field visit to provide missionary care. Wedding the two makes sense in terms of travel efficiency, but if significant issues need to be addressed, trying to provide in-depth care at the same time by the same people is difficult.

Many sending churches make in-depth assessment part of the missionary’s home assignment. This may be ideal if the worker is not under severe time limitations or dealing with family, health, or financial issues that may make a healthy assessment difficult. If there are extenuating circumstances, assessment is probably more important than ever and should be scheduled for a mutually agreed time.

Assessment interviews should always include at least two representatives from the church in order to avoid a singular bias. Church members with a professional HR background may come with skills honed over years of asking key questions. People with cross-cultural experience also bring a valuable perspective to the process. Some churches include the entire missions leadership team in assessment interviews, however this runs the risk of making the missionary feel outnumbered and reticent to be as transparent as they might be in a smaller group.

An Assessment Tool

A sending church will often go into the assessment process with some idea of areas needing particular focus. However, it is helpful to also have a big-picture overview of topics for review. Here is a tool that churches can adapt to help them assess the work and flourishing of their missionary and family.

MISSIONARY 360° ASSESSMENT

Download this tool in Word format here

Feedback from both spouses is essential. Dialoging with children, especially teens, may provide important insights, too. Important note: Don’t stop with a yes/no answer. Most questions should be expanded with “Please explain further,” “Why/Why not?” and/or “How could this be improved?” questions.

  1. Clear, strategic assignment
    1. What is the assignment and what are the current goals they have established? What goals have been achieved since the previous assessment? Important: Assessment should look at measurable action goals, not results which are determined by God alone.
    2. How is this assignment considered strategic by the church? By the agency? By local partners?
    3. For couples, does the assignment involve just one spouse? Both? Equally?
    4. How much time is the missionary investing in order to fulfill the assignment? Is this sufficient to achieve the goals (especially true for those who are bivocational or part time) or too demanding to be healthy for the missionary and family?
    5. Are necessary resources available to be successful in this assignment?
  1. Match for assignment
    1. Do the missionary’s gifting and training (consider both spouses, if married and both involved in assignment) give them the ability to succeed in this role?
    2. Does the missionary have a deep passion for this task or are they doing it because it needs to be done or is there no better-fitting role available?
  1. Personal/Family thriving
    1. How is the spiritual, physical, mental, emotional, social, and financial health of the missionary/couple?*
    2. Are the children healthy in these areas? Is the schooling situation working well?
    3. Are there concerns with aging parents or adult children?
  1. Good accountability and healthy relationships
    1. With the sending church
      1. Are both the sending church and missionary clear on the criteria by which they are evaluating their relationship? How could both worker and church do a better job of assessment?
      2. Is the missionary willing for the sending church to have a major voice in key decisions (location, primary assignment, agency)? Is there likelihood that changes in these areas are in the offing?
    2. With the agency
      1. Is there top-to-bottom consistency within the agency in vision, goals, and standards of accountability, and is there good communication all the way from the executive leader down to the team level?
      2. Does the agency have a clear and consistently implemented accountability system?
      3. Is the missionary’s supervisor capable of and fulfilling their role?
      4. Is the missionary/supervisor relationship positive and effective?
    3. With their team
      1. Is there a functioning team or is it just a loose connection of people or no team at all? Are there shared, measurable team goals?
      2. Are relationships healthy enough to work through conflict?
      3. Is the team leader adequately gifted for, prepared for, and supported by the organization to fulfill their leadership responsibilities?
    4. With their national partners
      1. Are there deep, mutually respectful relationships with nationals, both believers and unbelievers?
      2. How do nationals in ministry leadership positions evaluate the current contribution of this missionary?
      3. How do the preferences of the national leaders shape the work of the missionary and their team?
    1. Partnership with the sending church
      1. Does the church evidence a commitment to, and involvement in, the vision/work of the missionary? How could both sides proactively make this stronger?
      2. Is there frequent, high-quality, two-way communication that satisfies the need of both the missionary and the church for information and growing relationships?
      3. Is there sufficient time for face-to-face connections on home assignment to strengthen and refresh the partnership?
      4. Are there opportunities for the church to directly participate in the ministry through short-term visits? In other ways?

    * Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care edited by David Wilson defines these needs and provides insights on how to discuss them with your missionaries.

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