If you're an independent mission worker, who are you accountable to?

I'd be interested to know what people think about this, but also what they have actually done, if anything, to make themselves accountable to another part of the body of Christ.

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I am accountable to God.  It may seem trivial or pompous to say it, but it is an absolute truth worth holding on to.  It is above all other accountabilities.  But then I take various steps at various times to make that more concrete and specific and human.  For instance, I log my time.  This helps me to be accountable to God, via myself, that I am working a reasonable number of hours in spite of the fact that no-one is standing over me to check. My time log also helps me to make commitments to others.  To one I have committed a day a week for two years.  I give them a quarterly report (on my inititiative) to show how I have used my time so we can reflect upon it together.  This is in spite of the fact that no money changes hands and I don't need to justify myself to funders.  To another person I have committed a certain number of hours before a certain date.  I give them regular reports about the time used and what is accomplished to date. I also consider myself in submission to my local church, even though most of the time they just let me do what I want, so I like to report my activities to the one who has pastoral oversight for me.

Good question, Mike.  I have trustees, since I run a registered charity, but have realised how important it is to find trustees who don't think the same way as me and are not afraid to share their opinions or they can just become a rubber stamp.  Good trustees ask challenging questions .

 

However they generally confine their interest to the business of the charity, so the Chair asks questions about me personally, and I also have an outside mentor who is a leader of my church and has no involvement with my charity.

Most of my adult life I have worked with minimal supervision and found that because I am goal oriented and success driven, I needed little accountability. I tend to work long hours to achieve tough goals so that is not so hard for others to see the results.

In terms of finances, I am careful to report on use per designated project including handing in accounts and receipts as soon as is possible. The accounts report has notes for every item requiring them so that they become self-explanatory. Once people have peace about how you handle things, they tend to relax more.

Since I am single, interpersonal relationships are the biggest mine field. Over time, I think people needing to know have asked other people about me before they finally decided that I was faithfully single.

I have generally found that formal accountability structures are porous. They make people behave much like prisoners- doing mostly only what is required to fill the accoutability quota and not much more. Perhaps personality types have to do with the success or failure of accountabitiy models.

Unfortunately I have ended up quite isolated on this level. People no longer ask questions. Fortunately I have just recently started a third-Friday night skype debrief session with a friend who I met last year. I pray this will do what I need it to do. She is really good and can ask me any question so hopefully this will help deal with my isolation.

 

Nims

Thanks for your input so far. It's interesting to see how differently we each can view this.

Thanks, Chris, for reminding us at the start that we're ultimately accountable to God. But, as with most aspects of our Christian lives, being part of 'the body' and a community of faith means that we have responsibilities to each other, and to God through each other. It seems normal and good practice to have formal accountability structures in place when there is money involved, probably because we're using money that other people have given. But what about being accountable to each other for our daily lives, conduct and spirituality? Most of us don't like to give away control, if we don't have to, so being accountable to someone else is usually seen as a negative thing. Do you think we should see it as a positive thing as we often need others to help us make important decisions or to help us see things we can't? Tim raises some good points about having someone who doesn't think the same way as we do and who isn't afraid to ask the challenging questions.

I guess my question stems from knowing a situation where an independent mission family who, because there was no sending organisation involved and at the request of the sending church, set up an advisors group to which they would be accountable. A bit like an informal board of trustees. However, the family never actually gave the group any real power or control, and never really asked their input on big decisions ... so they just became a supporters group. The lack of accountability was quite damaging for both sides and has resulted in the family feeling very isolated and undersupported.

So it makes me wonder if healthy accountability is something that needs to start with us giving away some of the control ... rather than an imposed structure that has to take it from us.

I think that's the point, Mike.  We have to give accountability, even when it's uncomfortable.  I think we could be tempted to try to take it back if we don't like the outcome, which tells us a lot about ourselves if we do.  It takes courage to be voluntarily accountable even to people we love, and so this is a test of our discipleship.  I too have come across accountability groups who've been emasculated by a person who can't cope with the challenge, though I've also seen ones who don't have to courage to make a stand on an issue if it involves conflict.  I guess it take commitment from both sides.

 

That's interesting, Mike.  An attitude of submission may be more important than structures of accountability.  And COMMUNICATION is absolutely fundamental.  If you don't communicate, no-one can begin to hold you accountable.

I just signed back into this discussion because I am writing my monthly prayer sheet - yes, monthly - and I realised this too is a soft but useful form of accountability.  I think my job is important, I want people to pray for me, so I send a regular prayer sheet.  I have prayed for other people over years, and getting some information every six months is not satisfactory.  So I decided to sent a short note (never more than one side of A4 in 12 point font) every month.  I do miss a month here and there, but not often.  As I am preparing it this month, I realise that this too is a form of accountability, both to God and to my prayer supporters.  It forces me to think: what have I done in the past month? why was it important (otherwise it makes no sense to my supporters)? what will I be doing in the next month? How can my supporters (and I) best pray for me?  I now "take my own medicine" and pray for myself each day using the prayers I have asked my supporters to pray.

I also communicate monthly (once by email, once by voice) with a small group of us who are not much concerned with sharing about work, but primarily with "pursuing God".  The question is not "what work have you done for the Lord this month?", but "What insights and/or struggles rose in your intentional pursuit of God?".  The value of this over the last five years has been incalculable - both to me and my ministry.  Unless we abide in the vine we will bear no fruit, so the real struggle for us humans is not to bear fruit, but to abide in the vine.  It is worth looking for accountability disciplines and people that will help us do that well.  Don't get yourself held accountable for fruit, but for faithfulness.  I think Nims is right: what that looks like will depend a lot on your personality.

Thx guys this discussion has been really helpful to to read. Similar to Tim, I run a charity I founded and it's taken many years for our Board to find the right balance between being supportive and asking the hard questions.

Having worked in business for many years prior, I haven't found accountability a problem, but what we lacked was pastoral support. So we recently decided to make the distinction between the two roles and appointed someone specifically as a Pastoral point person and it's been a great help.

Can I throw in another question? Being so passionate about what I do, spending so much time, energy and thought on it, how does one not take it personally when you are let you down or things go wrong?

I know it's not my work, but His, etc., etc., but would be interested to know other's tips on how they deal with these type of disappointments. 

 

You founded the charity so its your baby. By default you have the most emotional attachment to its struggles so you are expected to take it personally. The discipline I guess is to figure out not just how to deal with that but then use that to improve its operations or directions. I think one way would be to keep working on selling the vision to others so that with joint ownership, the burden is shared out more evenly. That way its a group rather than an individual gripe session when things get tough.

When you empower others to be a part of what you're doing, they take on a share of the ownership and responsibility. If they have genuinely been given the power and opportunity to input into the decisions, they also share some of the responsibility for the outcome, good or bad. I think this is why real accountability can be liberating ... because when things go wrong there is a shared 'blame'. No one carries the whole burden.

Having said that, I agree that those of us who run small organisations or projects and have a high percentage of the input are quite vulnerable to the ups and downs that the responsibility brings. My ways of coping with it: I guess I'm quite open with my trustees, making sure they not only know where the organisation is at, but also what I'm struggling with. That way, they can share in the human side of the work and not just the 'outcomes'. I also realize that good pastoral support, perhaps from a mentor or church leader is important. How about a small prayer group to help pray through the tough times? I always need someone to gripe to ... and my wife takes on that role very well and always has a sympathetic ear :-)

I have been asked to lead a seminar for church mission committees on what supervision a sending church should provide its missionaries.  This is a potential can of worms.  Does anyone have thoughts and experiences on this?   I have had supporting churches send me extensive questionnaires while i was on the field but few came to visit to see first hand what i was doing.  At times i have sought to be accountable but the church has not been willing or able to enter into that helfully.

I run a day course based on the 'Serving as Senders' book and this talks quite a bit about the church's role in supporting missionaries. Whilst they are ultimately responsible for making sure that 'their' missionary is supported and looked after, they may actually delegate that to others ... particularly as few churches are equipped or gifted to play that role. I have seen some, though, who do it very well. I'd be interested in seeing the questionnaires you were sent whilst on the field ... just to see what the church thought its role was.

SIM UK has a good DVD on this ... called 'Who sends them?'.

The term supervision sounds a lot like reprimand. I  think that if people do that very thing that they are averse to- field visit then their supervision will be humane, holistic and contextual. Supervisors need to be vetted- how in touch are they with the situation on the ground, so that their input is sensitive and useful- not just for the purpose of keeping people in check.

Some ideas would be

1. Be involved in the pre-field preparation, send-off, orientation and settling in of the missionaries

2. Be involved in regular debrief with strategic goal analysis in place

3. Be involved in trauma response

4. Be involved in re-entry

The Global Member Care Network has resources for all of these stages in the missionary life cyle. Supervision needs to be translated into care. Questionnaires are insufficient in describing the actual situation and do not lend themselves to real debriefing. A counselling approach to supervision is best.

 

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