We were all surprised, shocked and elated as we heard the news of the Berlin Wall crumbling. As we devoured the reports we began to ask "What does this mean to us in terms of evangelism?" I found myself wondering, "Who can we send? Who's ready? Who's willing? Who's able to respond?" Calls came from all over the country. These questions seemed to be on everybody's mind. Yet, the alarming fact was that the church was caught napping. We simply weren't prepared.
I found myself in Dallas working with the Prestoncrest church to develop a program to generate funding and information resources to help the church respond to this new challenge. One evening, after a hard day's work, I sat down to watch TV-8 News. The documentary they were presenting nearly knocked me out of my chair. It told of a Baptist seminary about a mile down the road in which missionaries were being trained specifically for Eastern European missions. The report included scenes of evangelistic efforts they had been conducting long before the Wall fell. But the real shocker was the announcement that they had trained eighty workers in Eastern European languages, cultures, and missions strategies and had sent them to Vienna, where they were poised and ready. The day after the Wall fell they were on their way!
I did a quick mental scan to determine who we had in our fellowship that might be able to respond to the need. I was looking for people with missions experience in any part of Europe; those who knew any European language (let alone an Eastern European language); and those who could feasibly respond quickly. Counting them on my fingers I couldn't even fill up one hand!
The Lord sought out a handful of men, lived with them, trained them, loved them, provided them a model, then sent them out. If we expect to properly respond to the mandate of the Great Commission, we must do the same. Professional sports, the military, business--all of them understand the need for effective recruiting. There's a lot that we can learn from them. They're constantly on the look-out for the best possible candidates. They don't wait for them to come in. They advertise; they send mailings; they call. My nineteen-year-old son has been swamped with letters and calls from every branch of the military. It's amazing how aggressive their recruiting techniques are! But just as amazing is the fact that they don't accept anyone who's not qualified. They go after the best. Then they provide the necessary training.
I've often wondered what it would be like to go into the Dallas Cowboys office, tell them how the church of Christ recruits missionaries, and then ask them what they think of our methods. I can imagine what the response would be. They would likely look at me with glazed eyes and say, "You've got to be kidding. How do you expect to get results with an approach like that?"
First of all, we conduct a talent search. We ask ourselves: "How can we find people that might be potentially interested in preparing to do missions?" From time to time we receive referrals from people who call to tell us of someone they know who might be interested in training for missions. We respond by contacting the prospective student, but obviously our efforts must go behond this if we are to get the job done.
A vital element involved in this effort is personal visits with youth ministers. Many churches conduct regular youth missions trips in the summer. The youth minister is usually aware of the impact these programs have on his youth group. Some of his students will demonstrate a particularly high aptitude for and interest in missions. We ask him to evaluate his group and to provide us with a list of those whom he feels might be interested in preparing themselves to become more heavily involved in missions.
A similar effort is put forth to contact campus ministers at state schools. We are really impressed with the quality of some of the people involved in these programs. Many of them are involved in evangelistic programs on their campuses as well as participating in summer campaigns. Some of these people are prime candidates for further missions training.
One of the most obvious places to find potential missionaries is on our christian college campuses. An excellent example of this involves a young man I recently met on the ACU campus. He had been the leader of one of our spring break campaigns. I was impressed with ways in which he exhibited leadership qualities among our students. At every opportunity I tried to come into contact with him--to touch his life in some way and to encourage him to become even more involved in missions. One day he just walked into my office and announced that he had decided to major in missions and to join the team preparing to move to Czechoslovakia. He had been doing a lot of soul- searching, and had decided to make a serious commitment. God is moving mightily in his life!
We should also be contacting active adult Christians with a high missions interest. There are a lot of people who are very involved in their local congregation's evangelistic efforts. They have been touched by the need to tell people the Gospel's message. Many stateside preachers are also interested in personal involvement in missions, but just because a man is a good preacher doesn't necessarily mean he would be effective in a cross-cultural situation. Both of these groups should be encouraged to obtain training in missions principles.
One good way to expose high school students to the challenge of missions is through missions-related youth rallies. Youth ministers are looking for new ideas and this appeals to them as a refreshing alternative. We can utilize our students, faculty and missionaries on furlough to provide a high quality, motivational presentation emphasising the need for missions and how teenagers can become involved.
An interesting spin-off of the youth rally approach is receiving enthusiastic response from youth ministers. We are inviting them to get together with a few churches in their immediate area for a "mini high school day." One large congregation or several churches can get a busload of kids to come to our campus on a Saturday morning and spend the day focused on missions.
College students are also an obvious prime target in our recruiting efforts--especially for training on a masters level. To locate them we poll campus ministers in the same way we approach youth ministers. As often as possible we speak at their retreats and group meetings. We also provide chapel speakers at the christian colleges.
While we're recruiting, one of the things we keep in mind is an attempt to provide a menu of choices designed to help people identify the opportunities available to them in missions service. As they begin to see this and relate it to their own personal lives, the idea of getting more training becomes more attractive to them. Then we can plug them into a formal missions training program. During the entire recruiting process we try to have frequent contact with them through phone counselling and written correspondence. We pray with them. We get them to come to campus for our summer missions seminar or for short visits. We assist them with research to help locate potential target areas for their future ministry. We put them into contact with workers on the field, returned missionaries, and potential sponsoring churches. We do everything in our power to reinforce the idea that effective training is a vital part of the missions enterprise.
An absolutely indispensable tool in an effort such as this is an effective system of keeping records. Consequently, we find that some sort of computerized database management system is of vital importance. There are a number of excellent systems available, and one that we have found to work well is called "Q & A." Adaptable to virtually any computer, it is extremely flexible, powerful, and easy to use.
The objective of the data base system is to provide an ever-expanding profile of each person we contact, thus enabling us to properly focus our efforts. To facilitate this we have developed a prospective student profile sheet. It is designed to facilitate obtaining all the pieces of information needed on each prospect. As we visit with each potential candidate, we use this profile sheet as a guide to assure that all the proper questions are asked. The information obtained is then fed into the database. Then the computer enables us to sort, search, and utilize the information in a wide variety of ways to facilitate an effective recruiting effort. Utilizing the information contained in the database, we can provide valuable background information to those making recruiting calls or writing letters. It is also possible to generate a wide variety of reports that help us to track results.
Once we obtain the name and address of a contact we send an introductory letter accompanied by a response form and business reply envelope. Those who respond positively are assigned top priority and a series of at least three personal phone calls and three different mailings are scheduled. We also make every effort to get them to visit us on campus. We bathe our efforts in prayer and trust God to provide the guidance and motivation that will lead the candidates to make a positive decision to become involved in a life of missions service and to acquire the training they need to be effective cross- cultural evangelists.