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.
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.
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.
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