Graciously Letting Underfunded Staff Go

By on September 18, 2018   /   Leave a comment


My friend Melissa has been homeschooling her ten-year-old son Ethan since he was five. This past school year was a rough one. Ethan is strong-willed, and he fought his mom at every turn about doing his schoolwork. Melissa, normally a calm, laid-back woman, found herself yelling at Ethan multiple times a day. The fighting wore her out, and she knew she wasn’t honoring God. She prayed, did some research, and came up with a new plan. If Ethan didn’t have all of his schoolwork done by 5pm on Friday, he would lose his screen time for the weekend. Brilliant!

Children, adults, people in secular work and full-time missionaries, all need clear expectations. We need to know what the parameters are, and we need to know the consequences if we don’t do what is expected of us. This is also true in the world of Ministry Partner Development (MPD). Missionaries need to know what is expected of them as they raise support and what will happen if they don’t meet the requirements.

As leaders in MPD, we need to set fair and specific parameters. Both new and veteran missionaries need to have weekly and monthly goals as they raise support. Benchmarks must be established as well. For example, they need to know that they must reach a certain support level by the two-month mark, the six-month mark, etc. And they need to know well in advance what will happen if they don’t reach those goals.

After expectations are established, the key to success is consistent enforcement. If my friend Melissa didn’t enforce the loss of screen time, then Ethan would learn that the expectations aren’t real; he could continue to avoid his work and fight with his mom when she pushes him. In MPD, enforcement is also critical. And it must be consistent.

Several years ago, we in Cru were failing in the area of consistent enforcement of our standards. This lack of consistency led to morale problems all around. Coaches were frustrated, new missionaries were discouraged, and senior missionaries were disappointed as people were taking too long to report to their assignments.

Thankfully we are doing better now, and the emotional element has improved. Just as Ethan isn’t surprised when he loses his screen time, an underfunded missionary isn’t surprised when consequences are enforced. And just as Melissa does a lot less yelling, the MPD coach doesn’t have to fret about hurting the feelings of the coachee, or gear up for a fight when they must enforce policies. The emotions can be set aside—for the most part—because it’s simply what the ministry requires.

But how do you know when it’s time to let a missionary go? In our ministry, after a missionary fails to meet the standards and benchmarks, a three-stage MPD evaluation process determines this. Each stage has specific requirements. If he reaches the third stage and hasn’t met the extremely low financial goal we set at that stage, the missionary usually realizes himself that it isn’t reasonable to remain in the ministry.

If you reach the point when you must let a person go, in most cases the coach should deliver the news. The coach is usually the person who has the closest relationship to the staff member, so it makes sense for the coach to walk with her to the end. If it’s not possible to have the conversation in person, schedule it by video chat as soon as possible after the evaluation process ends. By that point the person is often ready to resign of her own accord, so it usually doesn’t feel like a termination. Regardless, pray before you have the conversation, and write out ahead of time much of what you plan to say. Once the conversation is over, ask the person how she feels. Give her the gift of listening to her heart.

The good news is the evaluation process doesn’t always end with a termination. Often the missionary “wakes up” and gets moving in MPD. Many a missionary has thanked me for holding him accountable. The result is often a fully-funded missionary with good MPD habits.

You may wonder how Melissa’s experiment with Ethan turned out. I spoke to her a few days ago, and her efforts have produced a long-standing change in Ethan’s work habits. May we all see similar results as we implement clear standards and accountability for our support raising staff.


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