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Strategy coordinator role set off missions revolution

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–More than a decade ago, a band of mission strategists primarily related to the Southern Baptist Foreign (now International) Mission Board proposed a new missionary role.
New, they claimed, as in never before attempted — or even fully conceptualized.
The modern world may be a global village, the strategists acknowledged, but too many of its peoples still languish unknown, unloved, unreached by the gospel. They need God-appointed “advocates” to stand up in the court of Christendom and demand their right to hear the gospel.
The “nonresidential missionary” would be exclusively assigned to an unreached people group in a restricted area. From an outside location (to ensure free communication and movement), he or she would use modern computer technology to research the people group’s culture and access — or lack of it — to the gospel, then develop a comprehensive strategy for evangelizing them.
Most important, this missionary would become an advocate to the Christian world — informing, mobilizing, networking, harnessing every resource available for the task of evangelizing “his” people.
“It’s the missing link,” mission researcher David Garrison said in 1988. “It pulls all the other approaches together and makes them work.” Garrison later wrote a book championing the concept: “The Nonresidential Missionary” (MARC/New Hope, 1990).
Plenty of eyebrows — and hackles — in the missions world were raised. “Nonresidential missionary” seemed a contradiction in terms. What about incarnational presence and witness, the heart of the missionary task? Besides, how could any one person engineer a grand strategy to reach a people that might number in the millions? It sounded unrealistic, even arrogant — a job designed for computer nerds who didn’t want to get their hands dirty in the work of real missions.
Fast forward to 1999. Not everyone has been won over, but many former skeptics have become believers in — and practitioners of — this revolutionary role. It’s evolved into the “strategy coordinator” assignment at the International Mission Board.
Hundreds of IMB strategy coordinators now operate worldwide. Many more are in the appointment “pipeline.” Twenty-four of the 46 most urgent requests for new IMB missionaries in mid-1999 called for strategy coordinators. Missionaries from many other denominations and agencies flock to intensive strategy coordinator training sessions around the world to learn the method.
Why? Because it works.
Aspects of the approach have changed, to be sure, particularly the “nonresidential” moniker.
“We quickly realized that residence isn’t the issue,” explains Scott Holste, one of the early pioneers in the program and now IMB research director. “If we can reside among our people to get the job done, that’s what we’ll do. In other cases it’s more productive and effective to live outside for easier networking and partnering.”
Mission leaders also have discovered that strategy coordinators can be just as effective in “open” areas as in “closed” regions. “They’re popping up all over the place in the Americas,” observes Garrison, who’s returned from his own experience as a strategy coordinator to direct IMB strategy and mobilization.
What hasn’t changed: comprehensive strategizing, advocacy, mobilizing, building multiple mission teams to reach a people.
“A strategy coordinator is the person who assumes responsibility for reaching a people for Christ, doing whatever it takes to advocate the needs of that people to the greater body of Christ and to involve Christians in massive, comprehensive ways to impact that people and start multiple reproducing churches,” Holste says.
It’s an idea that has come at the right time. It would have been impossible before the advent of computer-age networks and communications. But now those capabilities exist, at just the moment Great Commission Christians are focusing more and more on reaching people groups, cooperation, teams, mobilization — and encouraging church-planting movements.
At a missions conference in Asia involving Christians from many countries, a participant shook his head and said, “Every time I try to track down what’s going on in one of these church-planting movements, I find at the end of the string there’s a strategy coordinator.”
It’s by no means an assignment for every missionary. Some are highly gifted in one or two roles. The strategy coordinator must be a passionate generalist. Whatever works — church planting, Scripture translation, broadcasting — the strategist is willing to try.
“Anything God sends our way and blesses we’ll use,” Garrison says. “It’s a learning posture, an open-ended strategy. In 10 years, there will be a whole new set of possibilities.”
Interested in the possibility of serving as a strategy coordinator? Call the IMB initial contacts coordinator at 1-888-422-6461. Also, visit the IMB’s Internet site (www.imb.org) and click on “You on mission,” then “Personnel needs” to sample urgent requests.

    About the Author

  • Erich Bridges