Supermarket Sweep and Missionaries

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I once worked in a supermarket where I used to put yoghurts, cheese, butter and milk on shelves. The uniform was black trousers, white shirt, green waistcoat and a green bow tie. I had to wear a badge saying 'Hello my name is Paul'. To top it off I had a fake cow on the aisle where I worked which would moo when you pressed its nose. As you can imagine my mates loved to come in and visit.

Each week we had a team meeting where we were told we are an integral part of the team. We were shown videos on how important we were to this vast global corporation. People were paid vast amounts of money to come and do team building exercises so I would trust the person more who put the yoghurts in the chiller. One of the exercises involved being blindfolded and guided over an obstacle course. It was all very, very ridiculous.

The job was great fun in lots of ways. Each day there was the competition to see who could stay longest in the deep freeze chiller. We would try to think of ridiculous things for the PA man to announce and ludicrous changes in job titles would take place nearly every week. I remember telling my boss I was leaving. He gave me promotion to be manager of the dairy aisle. The job involved no extra duties, no pay increase, just a change of title and a different badge to wear.I still had to do the same job, wear the ridiculous uniform, attend useless meetings and put up with a plastic moo-ing cow for 8 hours a day. For about 2 weeks I was thrilled with my promotion until I realised I'd been totally duped.

It's now 15 years since I left the retail industry but I've noticed exactly the same traits in mission agencies. There is the endless moving of chairs in an organisation. One reformed mission group has had at least 6 leadership reorganisations during my time at IPC, each one being strategic. People who were doing a job are still doing exactly the same job but now have a different title. Team leaders are appointed when there is no team. Buzz words are bandied about like facilitation and partnership with no noticeable difference. A good friend of mine says we have sent out a generation of missiocrats.

There are many brilliant missionaries in the UK, some of them in my own congregation, for whom I am very grateful indeed but in the longer term mission organisations have got to begin to think how they can be more accountable to sending churches and churches they are working alongside. Surely one rule of thumb in the sending out of missionaries has got to be that if you wouldn't employ them in your own church why send them to work in someone else's. In the whole selection process more ministers need to be involved (but ministers also need to big enough and honest enough to say to candidates in their congregation that they are not suitable). There needs to be a greater accountability to churches in the way mission agencies are governed. It needs a wiser man than me to work out how this can happen. On the good side I suspect, with the financial belt tightening, some of these issues will resolve themselves.

Posted April 3, 2012 @ 6:39 AM by Paul Levy

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