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Conversations about missionaries and missions strategy are commonplace in our home. We talk about the latest newsletter updates, who’s “home,” and who’s “back on the field.” We wonder about the members of our missionary family when we don’t hear from them, and we puzzle over big picture concerns in an era in which more missionaries are retiring than can possibly be replaced by new recruits.
In Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy, Sharon Hoover introduces a way of thinking about the genuine challenges of initiating and maintaining a program of global outreach that is in keeping with a biblical view of The Great Commission, while also taking into consideration the uniqueness of each body of believers. Her good work and varied experiences have helped her to produce a road map for intentional missions strategy that transcends personal interests and agendas.
Rarely are our burning questions about church practices able to be corralled with a pat answer. My husband chairs the missions committee in our church, and his life would be so much easier if shimmering golden percentages were handed down from heaven to guide missions policy: What is the ideal percentage of the budget to allocate to foreign missions and how much for local ministries? Approval of short-term projects would be a cinch if everyone could just agree that their purpose is outreach and impact on the field. Or is it mainly for the development and growth of the participants . . .?
7 Continuums to Sort the Issues
Since pat answers are unavailable (and mostly unhelpful), Hoover has identified seven topics, seven conversations that need to happen and each one represents a continuum:
- Is the church called to perform good works OR to to engage in activities that present the gospel?
- Is our highest priority to meet the needs we can see all around us OR should our focus be centered on the regions beyond, those who have never even heard of Jesus?
- Are we to direct our resources mainly toward emergency crisis relief OR will people best be served by long-term engagement once the crisis has passed?
- Which is most necessary: Tangible investments such as money, clothing, and vehicles? OR will an investment of time and talent be more valuable in the long run?
- Can short-term ministry teams work effectively on the field OR is this nothing more than Christian tourism?
- Is the focus of ministry a matter of serving those who are sent to minister OR those who will receive that ministry?
- How much risk is acceptable in planning a ministry? Is safety an obstacle to fulfilling the Great Commission OR should “common sense” prevail?
These seven questions are a wise starting point for conversations that assist local church leaders in discovering and then maintaining their location on these key bandwidths for missional engagement. Sharon Hoover asserts that “we need to check our compass bearing frequently to confirm that our direction remains true to our initial calling. As time passes and we become familiar with the terrain, we are tempted to set the compass aside. But when we do this our kingdom-focused navigation gets off track.”
“If You Want to Go Fast, Go Alone. If You Want to Go Far, Go Together.”
Driving south on I-95, my Kindle illuminated the front seat of our car as my husband and I made an impulsive trip to L.L. Bean one August evening. I had brought Mapping Church Missions: A Compass for Ministry Strategy along for the hour’s ride because I wanted to get his input, but soon found myself reading great chunks aloud. The questions stimulated conversation and the well-conceived scenarios at each chapter’s end acted as both mirror and light.
Sharon Hoover has developed a resource that is thought provoking and will challenge any individual who is excited about the call to build God’s kingdom. However, she has also constructed a compass, a tool for groups who need to have monumental conversations that will help them get their bearings, clarify their thinking, and ensure that they are traveling in line with both the truth of Scripture and the passions and callings of those who are on the road together.
Many thanks to Intervarsity Press for providing a copy of this book to facilitate my review, which, of course, is offered freely and with honesty.