I had a wonderful conversation with an equally wonderful woman a couple of weeks ago. She has done a great deal of mission work in the last several decades, some here in the U.S. and much of it internationally. The conversation wound around to accountability in the missions field.
Accountability is a big word in nonprofits these days, and rightfully so. But deciding what to hold missions teams accountable for is difficult.
Take, for instance, a group that wants to build a handicap ramp on a home. You contribute $200 to help them do this. At the end of the day, what are your expectations? On the surface, accountability can mean showing you a receipt from Home Depot that shows your $200 was spent on wood and nails. This allows them to check the “We’ve been accountable” box on the form and move on.
But have they really been?
Whether or not they actually spent the money, or even if a ramp was actually built is just the beginning of accountability.
How was this particular home chosen to receive a ramp? Was there a real need, both financial and physical? How was this person more deserving than others who had applied? Is the construction acceptable, or will it fall down with the first big gust of wind?
And most importantly, was the task accomplished with a sense of Christian mission? Was the group a blessing to the homeowner or was the group blessed by the interaction? Was the individual and community treated with dignity and respect?
In this example the ramp isn’t really the mission. It is a means to an end. The real mission is the person at the top of the ramp who feels the love of Christ and the connection of a church through a bunch of wood and nails put up by the volunteers. And if it’s done well, the volunteers have had an opportunity to take a step out and engage with a member of the community, to visit their home, have a conversation, get to know a person and begin to see the world through his or her eyes.
This is the true work of missions. The problem is that totalling receipts is a much easier way to measure accountability.