Imagine yourself in the Exhibit Hall at Urbana. You’ve got limited time and over 250 exhibitors to visit. Well, okay, you won’t have time to get to all of the exhibitors. But what will you ask the exhibitors you do visit? Meeting face to face with organization representatives at Urbana can be an indispensable help in finding an organization that matches your vision, dreams, skills and calling.
What do you want to or need to know from an exhibitor? In the context of the Urbana conference, you’re not going to be able to ask all the questions you have, but it is a great way to begin a longer conversation or to clearly determine what might not be a fit for you. Start thinking now about what you’ll need to know and what questions could help you find it out.
Of course, doing what you can to come to some clarity about your own goals is a great first step. Read How to Make the Most of Urbana for direction on doing some self-reflection ahead of time so you can focus on your interactions in the Exhibit Hall during Urbana.
Values and Theology of Mission
The purpose, goals and objective of the organization will define the substance and direction of the service that you will do with them. Many of these big-picture items are things that you can find out by looking at an organizations website. However, nothing compares to hearing representatives share their own experiences of service with the organization for helping you understand how these goals and objectives are embodied.
If you come from a particular community, or church background, and are seeking to be sent out from that community/church, you may want to see if the agency shares that community’s values and theology.
For example, you may want to ask how spiritual gifts are used in the context of their work. If you are a woman, you may want to ask about their views of women in ministry or specifically how women serve with their organization.
What is the vision your organization seeks to accomplish in the world?
Where is your organization headed? What does your organization want to accomplish in the next 10 years?
What are two or three of your strongest values and how are they embodied in your missionary activity?
Where do your missionaries come from: which churches, denominations, states or regions?
Practice of Mission
Perhaps you are not so concerned with the “Why” but with the “How” of missions. For example, if you know you want to plant churches in South America and an organization says they are involved in that, you might want to find out what their church planting work looks like. Who is involved? What is their strategy? How are they working with other organizations or churches in the country or cities where they are based?
If you know that you want to spend just two years with a missions agency, find out what those two years might look like, how much time you would be given to learn a language, and what projects you would be involved in. This is a good way to fill in the “how” for you.
Are you an entrepreneur or a team player? Depending on the kind of work the organization does, you may or may not be a good fit. These characteristics will inform the way work is done and the expectations the organization has of their workers.
If you are an entrepreneur, you may want to know who makes the decisions that affect the day to day work of the ministry and where are they based. You will certainly want to know how much freedom there is to develop ministry within the organization. If you are a team player, you will be interested in the characteristics of the team. Is it multi-cultural? How often does it change? How many people are onsite? How are roles determined? Etc.
How does your organization practice partnership with the Body of Christ in the countries where it works?
What sets the agenda for the activities your field personnel engage in?
What supervision structure do your missionaries work under?
What resources do field staff have for ministry support or conflict resolution within the team or within the local community?
Member Care and Support Issues
You might want to look in to how the organization screens, trains, and cares for its missionaries. What kind of training and field supervision will be available to you? Who will you be connected to—will there be a team, a local leader, and/or a supervisor with which you have long distance contact? Do they offer conferences or seminars to continue their missionaries’ training and provide times of rest and Sabbath?
How does your mission facilitate the continuing vocational and professional development of its missionaries on the field?
What structures are in place to help me stay spiritually and emotionally strong on the field?
What part of these structures will be located in the same geographical region where I will work, and what part will be located at a distance?
Are there any challenges to serving as a single/family on the field with your organization?
Getting to the Field
What is it going to take for you to get where you want to go? If you find a good fit in values, practice and care, you may want to ask about the process of getting there. Some organizations have very specific prerequisites for service, be it education, work experience, church membership, or denominational affiliation. A one-on-one conversation with an exhibitor can be a great place to explore some of these issues.
Requirements around finances can also play a role. Find out if you are required to raise all of your support and what resources the organization provides to help you reach full funding. If you have student loans, you will want to find out what expectations the organization has regarding personal finances. Will you need to be debt free before you go, or is there a process to pay off student loans while on the field?
What is the process of getting myself from here to the mission field with your organization?
Where will the money to cover my living and ministry expenses come from?
If I must raise the money myself, what training and support will I receive from your organization and how long does it typically take your missionaries to be ready to go to the field?
What training will your organization provide to prepare me for my eventual ministry?
One Size Fits One
There is no one-size-fits-all list of questions to ask in the process of choosing a sending agency. Personal reflection and a sense of what your goals are—for Urbana and beyond—will serve you well as you consider what questions to ask.
The task can be daunting, so start small and simply write down all the questions you have. Then, trim your list down to just a few critical questions that reflect key values in life, missions and ministry. These questions will set you up for really productive conversations.
Finally, before you talk to exhibitors, take full advantage of the Ministry Match. If you can be specific in indicating what you are interested in you will have a better idea who you visit in the first place. If your trajectory changes during the conference, Ministry Match is available to you to refine your search. Exhibitor Profiles and agency websites can be a great way to check out Urbana exhibitors before you come to the conference or once you have returned home.
Keep in mind that these conversations are not meant to be exhaustive, but to be a part of your process. By God’s grace they will be a starting point for conversations that will lead you to find your place in serving God for his glory.