“Approximately how many times a month do YOU go out to eat?”

by Richelle Wright on October 15, 2013

I can’t remember the first time we received one of those questionnaires in the mail…

Since that time, many more have arrived – although now it is not  uncommon for a link to show up in our inbox, requesting us to respond to a list of questions at an online site which then tabulates our input  and communicates our replies to whatever agency posted the questions. You would think I would have grown accustomed to this. I haven’t. Instead, I find it harder and harder to keep a good attitude, simply answer the questions and send them back. At the same time, I do understand the motivation behind and the significance of those questionnaires; in theory, I support their validity and see their worth… which makes it hard to argue that they shouldn’t be sent.

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photo credit: Brenson Jennings

So I won’t.

On the other hand those questionnaires never fail to, at very best, discourage me. At worst, I get downright angry – as in sinfully angry, even though I hope I know that neither discouragement nor hurt nor sin was the intent.

Perhaps this happens more to those of us who raise the bulk of ministry and work funds from churches and organizations rather than individuals. And maybe those mailings are not as frequent as I seem to recall. But the longer we walk this road, the more I battle resentment each time one arrives.

Often those questionnaires include inquiries like:

  • Have you seen anyone come to the Lord in the past year? How many?
  • Have you personally led anyone to a saving relationship with Jesus?
  • How many people are you presently discipling?
  • How many Bible studies… sermons… Sunday school classes… VBS programs have you conducted during the past 12 months? How many attended those programs?
  • What do you do to continue to grow professionally?
  • Do you watch movies? If so, approximately how many movies per week?
  • How much time do you spend on the internet?
  • Do you hire local help?
  • How many times in a month to you go out to eat?
  • Describe your last family vacation.
  • How do you communicate with your ministry partners? How frequently do you communicate – i.e. write prayer letters?
  • What is the state of your marriage? How are your children doing spiritually?
  • How can we best pray for you and your family?

Those agencies that “send” families like mine to do a specific job as their representatives want to be sure they are good stewards of the investment they are making. They should be.

I also mostly believe the questionnaire senders genuinely are concerned about physical, emotional and spiritual health and growth in addition to the well-being of our families. They ask because they want to probe and find out how their international workers are really doing.

Does anyone else ever similarly struggle? Why do I bristle inside at this sort of accountability? I think I do partly because some of those questions require a level of accountability that I believe should only be reserved for  those willing to be held similarly accountable themselves. Otherwise, such answerability leaves the one answering vulnerable and exposed and often feeling powerless. Sometimes that may be unintentional, while other times it is the clear purpose. After all, what if I give the wrong answers and as a result, I lose support that my family needs to remain on the field?

We are currently in the process of traveling around and visiting our ministry partners, describing and explaining to them what has happened in our region, lives, ministry and family over the course of our last term, I’ve been thinking about accountability… a lot. We aren’t just answering questions and emailing our responses back. This time, we are standing before committees and supporting church members – and we are sometimes being asked to answer private and hard questions. Thankfully our experience this home assignment so far has been partners who genuinely demonstrate their love and concern. Yet something is still missing.

I think I’ve finally come to an understanding of why I adamantly resent (sometimes rightfully so and other times arrogantly and wrongly so) those questionnaires (and sometimes the face to face meetings with pastors and/or missions committees in different churches).  Generally, it appears that the accountability goes one way – missionaries always answering to those who send the money and pray the prayers. I could never imagine asking the sending pastor of one of my churches how much money he spent for his family vacation.

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photo credit: Brenson Jennings

Accountability ~

Or the ability to give an account.

Another way to say it:  The capacity, capability or gift of giving to another an explanation, a justification, an explanation,  a reason for specific actions, words, attitudes, choices etc., and then the accepting of responsibility for any resulting consequences.

International workers DO need to be held accountable by those who invest in and partner with them.

But shouldn’t international workers also be holding their partners similarly accountable?

Why is it that money equals power? Accountability always seems to flow a single direction – the one receiving funds has to answer a lot more to the one providing. As long as that check arrives and partners attest of their prolific prayers, it is assumed that the recipient has no reason to ask, check up on, or expect anything more from the partner…

It doesn’t feel very authentic.

Instead, resembles more a modern day type of indentured servitude.

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Do you agree with these observations? Why or why not?

Have you personally experienced anything like this?

How do you suggest we go about facilitating and encouraging more authentic, genuine and caring accountability between international workers and those partnering with them?

– Richelle Wright, missionary on home assignment from Niger, W. Africa

blog:   Our Wright-ing Pad    ministry:   Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger     facebook:  Richelle Wright

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About Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|
  • Gretchen

    Good points! I would agree with the need for mutual accountability. It also seems that the questionnaires aren’t very relational. Ultimately, you would want to have an organic relationship with the churches or organizations. Questionnaires aren’t very relational, other than they relate or cull information. They don’t engender care or relational accountability.

    • Richelle Wright

      I do think our churches/organizations strive to build relationships – but you are correct. Those questionnaires seem so sterile and unfeeling and almost like a test with right or wrong answers. At the same time, not thinking churches/organizations need to throw out the baby with the bath water.

      And as far as the mutual accountability – I’m at a loss as to how to encourage that… outside of missions committees in churches who are willing to ask for missionary input. I was so impressed with the church we were at yesterday. The pastor was interviewing 3 of our children and he asked our 16 year old daughter what they could do to better encourage her as a tck… and I think the church was a little surprised by her answer. I think that sort of thing is a first step.

      • Priscilla

        Would love to hear what your daughter’s answer was!

        • Richelle Wright

          She said she always enjoyed visiting churches and meeting people and sometimes renewing those acquaintances and being treated like a princess with everyone kind and interested in their work. But then she most people she felt like she connected with, she’d never hear from them again until the next trip back to visit… so she didn’t always feel like a real person. Helping her to feel real was her answer. (And it was several weeks ago, so I can’t remember her exact words… but it was along those lines). She also said that when churches back home did things that encouraged her parents, she could tell. That answer surprised us because I can’t remember really discussing much about our partners other than praying for things we knew we could pray for. So either I’m missing something or she could pick up on the nonverbals and could tell when something going on with a church back home was resulting in some level of discouragement or stress for us.

          • Priscilla

            Kids seem to have special antennas for those kinds of things – and I think TCK antennas are twice as long or they have more of them! That was a pretty special response – honest, transparent and quite affirmative (of both churches and parents!) Sort of a third-party testimonial about how sending churches -from quite a distance – can help (or sometimes hinder) their partnering mission family. Our sons were also encouraged by several of our supporting churches – not surprisingly, the ones we had close relationships with – especially when there were families and kids their age involved. And this started before internet and low cost air fares that later significantly helped maintain those relationships.

          • Richelle Wright

            i think i’d lean toward believing that they have several antennas!

            Neat to hear that your partnering churches were encouraging to your boys. The parent side of me tends to think that both parents and partners must be intentional about promoting that sort of a relationship for it to happen, especially back in the day.

          • Priscilla

            Kids are the best, aren’t they? They seem to have antennas for those kinds of things, and I think TCKs have longer antennas or more of them! That was a great response: sincere, transparent, authentic – and very positive for both church and parents! Sort of a third-party testimonial for how churches, even across distances can help (or sometimes hinder) their partnering mission family. Our sons were encouraged by several of our supporting churches, not surprisingly especially when they included relationships with families and children/friends their age. And this was before internet and low cost air fares that more recently allows for more frequent communication and contact.

  • Wendy

    I feel it comes down to trust. More work needs to be done on the front end to ensure a family is capable of handling their finances well on the field. Then, if the sending organization feels they can trust a family with support funds, they should trust them to decide what their family needs on the field.

    For example, if a family feels they need to go out to eat however many times a month to stay sane, or give themselves a break, or whatever, and they are able to do that within their budget, then who is to say they shouldn’t be able to do that? And don’t even get me started on hiring local help. In our area, if you don’t hire help, a common misconception is that you think you are “too good” to hire locals. It’s actually better for your ministry to employ locals and welcome them into your home. Plus, it frees us up to spend more time serving.

    • Richelle Wright

      I think part of the problem is the misconception that life there looks like life here. House help in the States is considered a luxury in most communities. So some of that is educating our partners about our lives – yet to do so without sensationalizing is also a challenge.

      On the other hand, I don’t think we just say trust and leave it at that. And I don’t know… perhaps deacon/elder boards have similar discussions with pastors. We are responsible to give accounts – but in most churches, most places, the way it comes across is confrontational and competitive instead of loving and gracious with the hope to encourage.

    • Katy

      I agree. They should trust someone before they decide to appoint/support them. Not that I am saying I don’t think they should check in from time to time, but I feel like their should be enough trust that casual observation is enough. If they feel like there is a problem they can tactfully inquire into the situation.

      Where I lived we also found that hiring locals was a help to ministry. If a missionary family moved in and didn’t provide a job opportunity they were disappointed and a little upset because it’s very difficult to find jobs. It can also be a great way to build a relationship with a local and their family.

      • Richelle Wright

        i think the organization would say the questionnaire serves as that from time to time check in… or a way to casually observe when they can’t bet there to physically do so or when it is cost prohibitive to actually send someone.

        totally get where you are coming from with the house help issue – we’ve done both: had house help, not had house help, had part time house help and even considering the cultural implications (it is a bit of an expectation where we’ve served as well), there are pros and cons to both… but that is another discussion for another day.

  • Eric

    I wonder how the supporting churches/individuals would feel if you asked them how often they prayed for you in the last month? Does accountability go both ways or do supporters feel they have done all they need to merely by writing a check? Money in some ways does equal power but if that is all that the senders are promising then it is no longer a spiritual endeavor on their part: It is purely mercenary. I think your observations are true and your post has challenged me regarding the missionaries whom my wife and I support.

    • Richelle Wright

      I’ve often asked myself that same question… only I want to ask, “How many coffees do you buy at Starbucks each week?”

      I want to and try for our supporting churches – but sometimes that only happens when we hear from them and some of them, we don’t, very often… unless it is one of these questionnaires. The paradigm needs to shift from one of sender and goer to partners collaborating, each with different roles but deeply invested in what the other is doing in their place as well. That takes communication and time – which are not unlimited resources.

      So… we are trying to make significant investments and build those relationships and are thankful that we’ve got some partners who feel the same. But that’s still the exception. I pray that this “challenge” blossoms into something amazing in your partnering relationships.

  • Phil Wilmot

    Yeah, the accountability thing shouldn’t go one way. I think the cultural phenomenon of “don’t question the pastor” is terrifying. I’ve seen pastors make upwards of $90,000 in my home area, a region at the low end of the economic ladder. (Often they are even crappy pastors.)

    Another thing is the vague nature of some of these surveys you are filling out. “Do you hire local help?” – Are they supposed to understand whether you are doing a good job based on a simple “yes” or “no” response? Are there follow up questions like “What duties do they perform and how much are they paid”, “how many people do you hire for which tasks”, “what qualifications do you examine before hiring”, “do you pay their bills if they are hurt on the job”, etc etc? I’m not opposed to surveys when groups need a system for quantifying success, but at least make the survey analyzable!

    • Richelle Wright

      Really good points on the questionnaire. I’ve also thought about skype conferencing or something along those lines where the questionnaire gives the missionaries a frame of reference for what the conversation/interview will include… but it would also be neat if the partnering organization also encouraged missionaries to ask questions back… if they said – let’s make this mutual accountability…. because as long as there are money strings involved, it is hard unless we’re expressly given that freedom.

    • Scardoza

      Thank you Phil. I have been getting increasingly frustrated over this very issue. I am afraid at times to question our pastor because he is big into the “honor your pastor thing.” While that is biblical and good, it can be used in such a way that we feel we cannot question them in any way. I am afraid if I confront him, I will be accused of not respecting or honoring his authority. I also do not want to fester in my frustration. He has been our biggest financial supporter, which we appreciate greatly, but I feel he truly does not understand our struggles here at times.

  • Duane & Carin Guthrie

    I have NEVER received anything like this before! I would feel resentful as well. I would think that my supporters didn’t have a good relationship with me if they felt they needed to send this or collect this info. Why not write me letters and know what is going on in my life. I agree that accountability is important, but that accountability is directly with my mission and to God and not to individual supporters. We all serve the same God, we give to ministries we believe in because the spirit directs us you and then we read prayer letters to hear how things are going. Why more than that?

    • Richelle Wright

      Communication is key – that’s for sure. And it has to go both ways.

      But I do think accountability can be a gift – both ways. And it is not something to fear so much as long as that is the perspective. But when what is communicated is a striving for the best investment of limited resources… then, as the missionary, I’m sorely tempted to be less than forthcoming and certainly resentful.

  • SeekinHIM

    Wow, those questions make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. They cause me to think about how I’m using my time. That makes me angry to have to analyze myself. No one likes an inspection:) They bring out all sorts of emotions.

    I suppose I can see the flip-side of the coin after many meetings with church mission committees. They ask questions because they have once sponsored someone who did nothing or very little, who abused the system. It caused them to make up rules and guidelines.

    This job comes with a responsibility to the public eye. We are being watched not only by the nationals with whom we work, but also the supporters from another culture. Neither quite understands where we are coming from and why we do somethings that we do. Both will criticize. Ultimately we are accountable to God, but we also have to think as Paul does in 1 Cor 10:33 even as I please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, so that they may be saved.

    • Richelle Wright

      I just have to say I love the heart I “see” in your response. 🙂

      And I’d love to hear more of what you think about how to encourage a true mutual accountability dialogue between missionaries and their partners.

  • Michele

    Yes, I agree. I can see the desire to make missionaries accountable but these type of questionnaires come almost always when a new pastor has taken a church and is looking to only support his type of missionary. And that my friends is downright sad.

    • Richelle Wright

      hmmm… that is an interesting observation… that such questionnaires come only at a certain point in time in the life of a church. had not particularly noticed, or looked for, or thought about that.

      is that a comment based on your specific experiences? would love to hear more.

      • Michele

        Yes, I would say that nine out of every ten such questionnaires that we have ever received within our 20+ years of service have been at some change in the leadership crossroads of the church sending out the questions. Sadly there are often questions that don’t apply and are plain intrusive. But we all decide what to do – answer respectively or not. We usually try to kindly reply as carefully as possible.

        • Richelle Wright

          that is what we’ve always done, as well. i just mentioned to one other commenter, though, that this home assignment year might be an opportunity to bring up the discouragement and hurtfulness that sometimes accompanies sending that type of questionnaire.

  • Marla Taviano

    My husband and I are planning/dreaming of serving overseas, and we’d seriously consider being “digital tentmakers” or whatever you want to call it–earning our own money to support ourselves instead of asking others or having a sending church/organization. I just hate the thought of having to justify/explain everything to someone all the time. It’s just not as simple as answering one-liners on a questionnaire. Like you said, unless someone is living your life and doing what you do, how can they possibly understand what you’re going through? I’d feel like I was on the defensive all the time and not able to focus on my purpose in being there in the first place. Sigh.

    (I still remember 10 years ago when people at our church were arguing about why we would send the MKs some PlayStation games. Like they weren’t allowed to sit and relax and have some fun for a minute before
    they go share the gospel some more.)

    • Richelle Wright

      ouch… that play station argument. yikes!

      the tentmaking idea is one that has crossed our mind several times as well – although not necessarily for those reasons. and i think i’d still hope for some sort of mutual accountability – even if there was no sending in of funds.

  • kaybruner.com

    Tell them the truth, let it blow up if it needs to, and let God provide you with people who actually get it! And TAKE A BIG GINORMOUS VACATION this year. Blessings on you.

    • Richelle Wright

      we did… take the ginormous vacation, that is! 🙂

  • Dalaina May

    Wow. We have only 1 sending church and an agency that is a big believer in bottom-up leadership (so we are accountable to our team and team leader first and foremost), so I have never encountered this either. I think I would be pretty livid if it landed in my inbox though. If it came from an individual, I suppose I would contact said person and try to have an actual conversation about it. What exactly were to trying to accomplish, what do you want to know? I would want to tell them that so many of those questions cannot be answered in yes, no, or numbers. You need to know WHY I hire outside help and that my language skills are actually up to sharing the gospel yet, and that food is so cheap that it is no more expensive to eat at the hole in the wall down the street than to make it myself. I have no problem sharing my budget with our supporters (we’ve actually offered the numbers, but no one actually cares) so they can see where their money goes, but at the end of the day, if they don’t like the way we are doing ministry or spending our money, they need to stop supporting me. And I am okay with that.
    If the questions came from a church, I would probably insist on adding in all the other information too. I would also try to figure out what they are trying to accomplish with it. I would want to have it be relational and not just feel like I was being analyzed as a robot for how much I was producing. If they wanted to really see if their investment was paying off, they are certainly welcome to, but they would need to know that those questions would not give them an accurate picture of my life and ministry.
    If the questions came from my organization, again I would want to know why. Are they just gathering up anonymous information for statistical purposes? Okay, I can be a part of a survey. Do they think THAT is accountability. Baloney, and they need a WAY better system then that! I would really call an agency out on that. You want to know me and my ministry. There is skype and there are airplanes for that purpose. Save the disconnected, heartless, shallow questions for academic pursuits. We have better things to do with our time.

    • Richelle Wright

      we have about 20 supporting churches – and i think we’ve got decent relationships with all of them. only one has been a newer add. the rest have been with us pretty much since the beginning, so they do know us pretty well. one person commented that in their experience, these questionnaires come when churches are in transition and that does make sense. it might seem like a quick way for new leadership to get a feel.

      i clearly agree there are better ways to handle accountability – hence my bringing up the subject. but i also think that we, as missionaries, need to be careful to be gracious. it is a dialogue that we hope to have with our churches who do this… as we visit our partners this year. so it is really good for me to hear what others are saying in regards to this. thanks for your input!

      • Priscilla

        Yes, in our experience these kinds of questionnaires have come during transitions. Whenever there has been a significant change in church staff or mission commission members we have lost the close relationships that had developed over many years, and often at that point began receiving questionnaires. Another transition time is when a church has decided to change their mission policy or focus and then the questions are a bit different, as they are looking to see if you fit within the new criteria (which you may, or may not, be aware of.) Either way, without the relationships behind the accountability it feels like a lack of trust. Other good comments here also reflect underlying, and conflicting, stewardship values.. Sometimes what we do with funds seems too extravagant, sometimes too frugal. But in each specific context, and trusting the Lord for guidance, we do the best we can to be good stewards of any funds placed in our hands.

        • Richelle Wright

          the new criteria that we aren’t aware of… well, i guess i’d actually not be aware and just be irritated about answering the questions than also dealing with the temptation to color answers to try and fit the new criteria…

          yes… this misso is so very human…

  • Tracey D

    This is so interesting! We’ve had 5 supporting churches, and only one sends us a questionnaire, and it’s pretty basic– what are you ministry goals and challenges for the upcoming year, how can we pray for you, how is your support, any health concerns, are you planning to visit sometime this year, etc. Our other churches only ask for periodic newsletters (we send about 4 a year). Some of our churches have sent groups to us, others (and individuals) follow us on FB or our blog.

    I agree that we need accountability, but I don’t think that it should be about numbers! Problem is that qualitative data is much harder to come by than quantitative.

    PS I wish our other supporting churches would take more interest in what we do!! And, I would love to get periodic encouraging emails with verses or something that shows people (churches) care and are praying for us!

    • Richelle Wright

      accountability vs effectiveness. sometimes i think questionnaires are an attempt to determine effectiveness. and my personal thoughts on that are that God handles the effectiveness… and we need to be accountable.

      i also do the blogging/fb/electronic presence thing. that consumes a lot of time, sometimes…

      i think it is always a wish that our partners would be more partner-ish… and not just send a check and birthday cards throughout the year. we love personal notes… videos… i guess at the same time i do recognize that internet limitations to influence how much we communicate in this day and age.

  • Linda Watt

    In our 20+ years as missionaries we have only received that type of questionnaire and it never got personal about money spent on vacation–once. We do have one church that wants accountability, but it isn’t unreasonable and we have a great relationship with them so we understand completely. It sounds like a lot of control issues to me. We have a great support team and this just doesn’t enter their heads to ask those kinds of personal questions–I guess if I was in a face-to-face interview and was asked questions like that I would be tempted to ask in return!

    • Richelle Wright

      linda, i’d love to be a fly on the wall when you asked back. 🙂

      but i do think that accountability isn’t something to dread. it can be a beautiful gift. i’m just trying to picture a “best practice” type of idea as to how mutual accountability can be accomplished.

      • Linda Watt

        We have accountability built in but it is more of the business model. The church needs some finance figures from our home office and they will sometimes send us a list of questions that we are happy to answer–goals for the coming year, what the outcomes have been. It is something we are happy to supply. We have worked with a project so long that we anticipate those kinds of questions and don’t mind giving them. Usually our supporting churches are more interested in how we are doing and how we are handling our stress levels, etc. They want to know if we are taking our vacations, etc. because they know the levels of stress we carry. Having had these churches support us for near on 20 years they know us pretty well!

        • Richelle Wright

          sounds like you’ve got a good thing going… which is encouraging. maybe in a few more years???

          • Linda Watt

            It has taken brokenness and humility and building relationships. We have wonderful caring friends and supporters who have been great over the years! It has taken time to invest in pastors and missions committees, but we genuinely care for one another. We also only have 5 supporting churches and the rest are individuals. Just the way it has worked out over the years. We’ve not been able to add more churches, but these have proven over the years to be a solid foundation of support for us. We have one or two churches that have been involved in the ministry but not personal support. They have been a real blessing and encouragement to us over the past few years.

  • Levi

    A similar experience I struggle with is people asking me, “What have you been doing?”

    At the moment I am preparing and support raising to head out to Japan. Since I’ll be going out for 4 years I’m keen to invest in friends, family and prayer supporters. I’m also visiting churches, prayer meetings and the like, and doing some studying. I feel like I’m doing the sort of stuff my pastor friends are doing.

    However, it sometimes feels like people think I shouldn’t be spending my time this way because I’m not a pastor. Like I should be earning money by working a ‘proper’ job. Some people follow up, “What have you been doing?” with the semi-rhetorical, “You have a job?” question.

    But I say feel, because, like you Rachel, I don’t trust my own perceptions on these things. I don’t like being put on the spot. I’m all too aware that my motives are often mixed and I don’t like having that exposed.

    But at the same time I am convinced that the best way to spend my time here is by visiting people, studying, writing, speaking at prayer meetings, etc.

    So I’ve never received the questionnaires you mention, but I do experience that same struggle of desiring helpful, balanced, bi-directional accountability.

    I wonder if one way we can help with this is to give our supporters (or better yet, sit down with them and together come up with) a list of the questions we want to be held accountable to.

    We could invite our supporters to ask more questions about the heart-level issues we deal with as missionaries. E.g. Do you still have enthusiasm for the tasks you’re doing? Do you feel you’re growing in your love for Christ?

    A friend of mine always asks me, “How is your joy?” I love that question. Maybe if questionnaires began with a question like that we’d feel happier answering the money/time/results questions?

    • Richelle Wright

      Really, really good idea, Levi… coming up with our own questions… but maybe taking it a step further? Yes we have specific questions but the church also adds a few that we may or may not know are coming… and the same thing – we ask our partners what we can do to help hold them accountable.

      Sounds really good – I wonder what the practical outworking would actually look like – and how real people “out there” would respond, you know? Outside of a dialogue like this?

      • Levi

        Yeah, definitely. I think working together with our supporters to have more of an organic accountability system, where we both feed in to sharpen each other, would be great.

        I’m sending out a prayer update tomorrow, so I’ll drop in a question about this stuff and see what responses I get. Wish me luck. I mean, pray me luck. I mean…

        • Richelle Wright

          will do – and please let us know what sort of a response you get. 🙂

    • Levi, your ideas are GREAT. I’m going to use these questions! Been feeling a little stuck recently, and wanting more accountability…

      • Richelle Wright

        would love to hear what sort of a response you get, if you don’t mind sharing. they ARE excellent questions! Dave Lewis also posted below a link with some really good questions for churches/organizations to ask. You can find those at http://paracletos.org/blog/article/12-questions-you-can-ask-a-missionary-that-will-help-them-stay-on-the-field/ .

        • Scardoza

          Can I email you Richelle Wright? I would love to share our missionary journey with you.

          • Richelle Wright

            sure. if you go to our ministry web page – Wright’s Broadcasting Truth to Niger – (the link is at the end of this blog post, above) and once there click on contact, you should be able to email. that’s one of the better ways to get in touch with us.

  • Tim

    I never heard of those kinds of questionnaires, in my own missionary experience or my parents’ or anyone else’s.
    Results are hard to measure, and are often not commensurate with effort. I knew missionaries who worked hard for 30 years in a Middle Eastern country with very few people getting saved, and others who led revivals in their first term of service.
    There is a place for accountability, but it ought to be through the chain of leadership, and the supervisor ought to be someone close who knows the circumstances and challenges.

    • Richelle Wright

      i think the struggle is – at least in our circles – that sending organizations and sending churches have traditionally been more separate. now sending organizations are trying to encourage more involvement from sending churches because it is, after all, the church that “commissions and sends” missionaries.

      so… one point that i neglected to mention – i guess i’d rather work through my baggage and this being offended and discouraged rather than not have the church/partnering organization involved at all. at the same time, i like having this discussion as far as ways to encourage our partners to do this differently… better…

  • Matthew Wright

    totally with you on this Richelle! I have to admit that I resented the questions from folks who take their families to Disney 3 times a year (not living in Florida) making me feel guilty for taking my family to a beach a few hours’ drive from where we minister. >sigh< thankfully we don't seem to get those "surveys" any more.

    • Richelle Wright

      yes… for me the really irritating question was house help and then being requested to give it a go without. we did… we survived… it was hard… but God also worked through that and taught me much in the process. we went through a difficult time with the legal dissolution of our sending organization last term, while we were on the field. it was easy to get angry, but my husband and i kept trying to come back to the fact that we knew the men on the board and while they did make mistakes, they weren’t out to get us… need to try and hang on to that same mindset with these questionnaires as well.

  • Tammy Ogden

    Personally we have never received on of these questionnaires. I totally agree with you, it is both degrading and legit. From living on the field I have personal observed what I felt was abuse from missionaries taking money and living without accountability. Dangerous situation! But at the same time, to be guilted for buy a good cup of coffee once in a while or seeing a movie with a friend is just insane. Missionaries need to stay healthy and to do it we have to have some R&R. So where is the balance? I don’t know.

    • Richelle Wright

      appreciated how concisely you put it – degrading and legit. churches/partnering organizations have every reason to hold missionaries accountable and without accountability, we can easily step out into a minefield. balance is such an important word in so many aspects of ministry. Thanks for your comment!

  • Nancy Hall DeValve

    When I started reading the list of questions, my automatic response was, “How often do THEY do these things?” Yes, I think you’ve nailed it. Accountability should be voluntary and a two-way relationship or it feels like control and judgment. Some of these questions also feel like they really don’t understand what it’s like to minister in a M*sl*m location. And yes, we’ve had a few of these questionnaires, but not too many.

    • Nancy Hall DeValve

      I don’t mean it to sound like I’m against accountability, but I think it can be done in a way that doesn’t feel confrontational and that puts you automatically on the defensive.

      • Richelle Wright

        totally understand, nancy. and at least for me, i know that my immediate defensive reaction is probably more from the Holy Spirit nudging me to recall times i’ve not redeemed the time, opportunities i’ve been handed and chosen to miss for all the wrong reasons and instead of dealing with the Lord in that moment… and thanking Him for the conviction and the opportunity to set things right, i want to “shoot the messenger…” so, i definitely believe there is a place for accountability. i like how you put it as voluntary and two-way. did you read levi’s comment? i really appreciated what he had to say.

  • sherylobryan

    It’s such a conundrum! You’ve stated it well. Accountability is a wonderful thing–when it’s done well. I think in order for it to be done well it must be rooted in relationship.

    It’s hard enough to answer some of those questions with people you know well and trust when information flows in only one direction. I think the harder thing is that most of the people reading those answers don’t understand context. How often did I go out to eat? Much more often in Cote d’Ivoire than Colorado, that’s for sure. There are two main reasons for that–I had more friends around and it was significantly cheaper. Vacations? I could get away to a luxury hotel for a weekend–and treat a few of the students I was discipling and have separate rooms and two meals a day plus the gas to get there for less than it would cost me to take those three students to dinner and a movie here in the States.

    And what of it when your ministry isn’t primarily about preaching, evangelizing, or VBS? I always hated those questions; they made me feel like I was somehow less worthy of partnership because my role was (and is) different.

    I’ve learned ministry partners need to enter into my world as much as I need to enter into theirs. I don’t have a ministry that necessarily lends itself to work teams or groups, however the individuals who have joined me on trips, or cooked for an event I led, or just helped thread kids’ needles as we sewed and debriefed are now some of my biggest cheerleaders. They ask good questions and they promote the ministry they’ve come to love in new ways.

    Thanks for delving into such an important topic, Richelle!

    • Richelle Wright

      “Accountability is a wonderful thing–when it’s done well. I think in order for it to be done well it must be rooted in relationship.”

      Yep! That certainly seems to be the consensus. Seems like, in some ways, this conversation also ties into the topic of short term trips, too…

      Did have to smile at that you eat out more on the field than off. For us, with kids in high school sports and traveling to visit all of our partners, seems like the dinner at home is the rare occasion. 🙂

      Really appreciate your contribution to this conversation!

  • Dave Lewis

    Richelle, I totally resonate with your post. After 25 years of living on support, my tolerance for one-sided accountability has grown pretty thin. We just completed (for the umpteenth time!) one of those questionnaires for our sending church. They have not even acknowledged receiving it, though it was sent 2 months ago. Accountability will only be mutual when we begin to see ourselves truly as a team (goers and senders). And what about accountability in the spiritual realm? Where are the questions about how we are doing in our walk with the Lord? That is what really determines how “productive” we are on the field.

    • Richelle Wright

      thanks, Dave, for sharing. curious ~ what sorts of questions do you see on these questionnaires? and what would you like to see?

      do you not say anything about it because it is your sending church?

      • Dave Lewis

        Types of questions: Please explain how your ministry achieves our (church’s) objectives. What outcomes do you expect this next year? Do you have a written plan? How much time would you say you spend, on average, doing the following: Bible study, prayer, evangelism, teaching, recreation…

        Questions I’d prefer: see my blog post http://paracletos.org/blog/article/12-questions-you-can-ask-a-missionary-that-will-help-them-stay-on-the-field/

        Our sending church has been the least in touch with us from their side of the equation. They require monthly communication from us, but we rarely hear from them. At our last face-to-face meeting with them we expressed our desire for more two-way communication. We’d love to be considered partners rather than employees.

        • Richelle Wright

          great questions – thanks for the link to your blog post.

          i know we’ve been surprised by which churches have really invested and gotten involved compared to the ones we thought would.

          really appreciate your response to my question.

  • I absolutely believe we need accountability in missions. BUT the person sending the questions needs to understand foreign missions. For example, we can literally go days with just eating beans and rice with the locals. So then say we do drive into town and go out to week once a week. Big deal. Or perhaps we are working with abused children, never have a moment to ourselves, and are constantly tense. So we go out to eat more than average, but we are actually going out to eat at that stand where meals are only $1 a meal. There are so many variables that they may not understand. It would be better to ask you to submit a general budget, and they should PAY the workers to go on vacation. It can get so crazy that if you don’t take a break, you will go insane.

    • Richelle Wright

      good points, lana.

      and maybe that’s where we need to be more authentic/communicative… but without coming across as complaining or as martyrs, if that makes sense. those people sending the questionnaires can’t be knowledgeable if we don’t help them learn… or if they aren’t willing to be teachable.

      we have run into problems with a submitted budget as well – simply because priorities become clear when you look at another’s budget… and just because they differ doesn’t mean they aren’t both good and workable. but some tend to get stuck in the my way or no way mentality.

  • Richelle– you consistently nail real issues missionaries face. THANK YOU for being real and thoughtful and honest. We are better here with your voice. Absolutely.

    • Richelle Wright

      thanks for consistent kindness and encouragement. i love being a part of this. 🙂

  • And yes, I agree– RELATIONSHIP is KEY to any accountability.

  • WOW. I’m kind of speechless! I’ve been thinking about accountability recently, and wondering how both parties can do better in the sender/worker relationship. But it would never cross my mind that this kind of questionnaire is “accountability!” I suppose as those sent by our church and work where we are, this is really off our radar.

    I appreciate your graciousness in the comments below. Accountability *is* good, you’re right. I would have said something about relationship here: ____ but several people have already chimed in helpfully. 🙂 I think I’m going to log off and go Skype a friend from my sending church… you’ve motivated me to action!

    • Richelle Wright

      accountability is something that is so important… so if we can be tempted or provoked into messing it up – then it breaks up any spirit of unity. and we can make mistakes from either side…

      hope you have a great skype convo! thanks for chiming in and for your encouraging words.

      • Chris Brunot

        this is my brother and my two sisters

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  • Gary Rickard

    Richelle,

    I appreciate your thoughtful post (fwded to me by a colleague). We also get questionnaires from churches, but thankfully none are this detailed. I would also be bothered by this kind of questionnaire. Your point about not having mutual accountability is a good one; I wouldn’t have thought of it.

    I think I would be bothered by THIS kind of questionnaire for another reason: There is no context for the answers.

    E.g., the ones asking for #s, like “How many…” Well, the answer is going to be very different from a person in field ministry vs. someone working in an office — and unfortunately many people think only people on the field are “real missionaries.” Or a question like “Do you hire local help?” Why are they asking this? If the answer is Yes, does that reflect an extravagant lifestyle, or is it simply being a good steward of time and money, and perhaps providing a job for someone who needs it? How can someone in the US evaluate an answer to that Q w/o knowing the local context?

    It seems to me there is a fine line between genuine accountability vs. being intrusive or, dare I say, nosy. I don’t know exactly where that line is, but this kind of questionnaire clearly goes over the line, in my view.

    Thanks,
    Gary
    Missionary in Hungary

    • Richelle Wright

      Thanks, Gary, for your response. You make a good point. I think I’ve worked on trying not to be defensive and offended by the questionnaires – but when questions are asked out of context and then churches make decisions based on answers – perhaps there are reasons to feel uncomfortable and to seek more authentic accountability with the church.

      Really appreciate your contribution to this conversation.

  • Mozzie

    I posted a picture of our daughter enjoying a swimming pool at a local restaurant a few years ago… A family member responded by saying ” well isnt that nice that you have time and money to spend at nice pools while the locals …….” i was so upset. Nevermind that a meal AND swimming for our entire family day out cost less than 25 dollars. nevermind that we serve and we live in a place where summertime highs hit FIFTY degrees celsius, combined with 95 percent humidity. Never mind that it was a saturday. Never mind all those things. Being a missionary is not only my calling. It also happens to be my job. I have days “off” ( thouh i often end up driving someone to the hospital or dealing with a crisis then too) . I recieve a salary…and as long as how i choose to spend it is not ilegal or immoral…to be honest..its NO ONE ELSES BUSINESS ! Its no wonder missionaries burn out, are ill with stress caused problems, struggle to adapt to life back home… We re so scared of being judged! Someone once asked my husband ” how dare you sit and eat steak while you know people at the end of your driveway havent had meat in months?” ( we are blessed to be able to hunt our own meat for cheaper than it costs to buy from the butcher, so we have a good supply of meat) My husbands reply was… ” how DARE YOU?!?” just because we live closer to them doesnt excuse you! If you have a moral problem with it, i should think YOU would be giving up meat and luxuries and donated to help those less fortunate…right? ( and for the record, we give a large portion of every animal hunted to our staff and their families)
    While i firmly beleive we should be held accountale for every single penny we spend from our ministry fund, keeping to a set budget as much as possible and making sure we spend wisely, I dont expect any of my donors to justify their holiday vacations, meals out, investments, or christmas present for their kids to me, so i certainly wont be doing that for them! What comes to us as salary is ours to do with as we please…. So long as its legal and moral.
    There ya go, just my two cents worth!

    • Richelle Wright

      I had to laugh as I was reading your first paragraph and your husband’s reply. Seriously… sometimes you do have to wonder how people arrive at conclusions like: It is worse to eat meat if the starving people live on your street than if they live on the other side of town…

      Thanks for sharing your input into this conversation. My hubby would LOVE to be somewhere where we could hunt our own meat (as I smell the venison cooking in the kitchen right now) – other than when on home assignment!

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