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Coaching & the New Mission Reality

Mar 12th, 2009 | By | Category: Missions Coaching

The world is rapidly changing and impacting the work of frontline missionaries. Consider the following:

  • Political shifts, globalization and introduction of cell, internet and transportation technologies have opened doors to large blocks of unreached, unevangelized people on an unprecedented scale.
  • Many nations are now closed or highly restricted toward traditional missionary work.
  • Frontline mission leaders are faced with pioneering new strategies and non-traditional approaches that push them way beyond their training and experience.
  • To meet the challenge they require a level of support, encouragement and accountability that most understaffed mission organizations are not able to provide.

Crisis in Missions

A recent 22-nation study coordinated and sponsored by the Mission Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance revealed this alarming trend: Over the past 20 years, there have been an increasing number of people leaving the field for reasons that could potentially have been prevented or avoided! Over a 10-year period, the average U.S. Mission agency is losing nearly half of its people. The low retention agency is losing two thirds of its people, and more than half of these are coming home sooner than expected for reasons that potentially could have been avoided, such as: lack of clarity about call, conflict with the team, difficulties in transition / adjustment; life balance/focus; and, relationship and family issues.

4 Consequences

These are issues that coaches regularly engage. They are are not unique to missionaries, but the intensity may be. The Journal of Psychology and Theology in 2006 reported that 80% of missionaries experienced catastrophic stress with as much 33% still experiencing symptoms 10 years later. So, what happens when missionaries leave the field, especially pre-maturely? David Seaton, retired best practices manager for Shell Oil Products, gave four consequences of unnecessary, avoidable turnover:

  1. Added Costs for the recruitment and training of replacements.
  2. Loss of Synergy, relationships and momentum, which will take at least 3 to 5 years to regain.
  3. Loss of Souls coming to Christ until a replacement is recruited, trained and “up to speed.”
  4. Detriment to the Reputation of Agency, impacting its ability to recruit replacements and new missionaries.

Best Practices

The study went on to identify a set of “7 Best Practices” that have resulted in increased retention of mission personnel. Of these, “Good Leadership Practices” was identified as perhaps the most significant in relation to retention. The caliber of frontline mission leadership impacts the effectiveness of hundreds of others. Even secular studies show that personnel retention is directly related to the way people are treated by their supervisor. Supervision that follows through, proactively supports in problem solving and gives feedback is extremely important in keeping missionaries on the field.

“If it were not for the coaching input….”

Within the Christian coaching movement there seems to be a growing awareness of how the power of coaching can be applied to address these needs of missionaries and mission leaders.  The asking vs. telling nature of coaching is well-suited to the cross-cultural contexts of missions, and modern communication technology has made calling across the world as cheap as calling across the street. Making high quality coaching available and affordable where it will make the greatest impact on the frontlines is becoming a reality. Listen to the testimony of this South Asian mission leader:

“The last year has been one of extreme testing…where a lot of my values, convictions and calling have been challenged. I realize that one factor that has helped me stay on track has been the leadership coaching I received. My wife and I realize that if it were not for the coaching input, we would probably have been very bitter, hurt and apathetic people.”

Missions Coaches: Too Few to Labor Alone

The need is too great and the qualified coaches too few for us to labor alone. We need one another! This community is an attempt to help us connect, communicate, share and learn from one another. That’s why this community has been formed. If you have read this far, then take one step further,….and join. We have something to give, and frontline missionaries and leaders are too valuable to lose!


To learn more about opportunities in missions coaching and professional level mission coach training go to:

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