Accompaniment: A new model for support?

by John Baxter-Brown
Posted on 1st February 2016

World evangelisation is primarily the responsibility of the local church. It is not the responsibility of denominations, agencies or individual Christians - although, of course, they have a key role to play. It is the local congregation that God has called into being as the primary vehicle for representing him on earth. But how can an (often small) congregation actually do this?
iNet is a small charity that has developed a robust model for doing this: accompaniment.

The concept is simple: within the congregation God calls people to serve him in different situations - one of which is in cross-cultural contexts, usually still overseas (although more frequently within the same country). The church is responsible for recruiting, testing the vocation, training and equipping, and then sending, supporting and appraising the worker. However, usually the local congregation does not have the necessary skills and resources to do this and so there are a very few new mission support agencies which accompany the congregation as they do this. We provide the churches with a specialised and vital service, enabling the local church to fulfil its God-given responsibility for world evangelisation.

I lead such an agency, enabling the local church to fulfil its mandate for world evangelisation, facilitating the recruitment, training, preparation, pastoral oversight and appraisal of cross-cultural workers. It is important to walk alongside the potential workers and their churches. It is they who are to make the decisions, not an external agency. This model requires a deep commitment to building positive relationships with all those involved and relationship building requires love, prayer, passion and trust. Whilst processes and procedures remain important, it is the relationships built over time that often facilitate workers succeeding in their new cross-cultural vocations. It is such relationships that enable the mutual on-going discipleship and pastoral care of the workers, the church leadership and the accompaniers.

But what are the practicalities of making this model work?

The workers are encouraged to prepare thoroughly for their future ministries. This will include sourcing or delivering relevant theological and practical training relevant to their needs; budgeting and fund raising; language study; cultural orientation and research; developing partnerships with agencies or individual projects in-country etc. The intention is to work with them in this preparation phase to ensure (as far as is possible) that they can be effective and fulfilled in their ministries when their church sends them out.

The arrival in a host culture can be a challenging and difficult time. Worker-church communication is often vital in helping the worker(s) find their feet. The internet is such a useful tool for this. Churches can pray in real-time for issues and needs as they arise. There can be an intimacy and immediacy in communication that was not possible or was prohibitively expensive even a few years ago.

Churches are trained in member care and make regular pastoral visits to the workers (iNet recommend once every two years), and this sometimes include taking a small short-term mission team out to help with a specific project. Additionally iNet runs an annual conference for the workers, their children and sending churches. Children and Youth programmes are integral to our conference and we offer support to children and young people travelling to, living in and returning to the UK. iNet children have a strong sense of identity and belonging together. The conference is seen as a key plank in the raft that supports the cross cultural mission, for each supporting church has the opportunity of not only hearing about the work of their own missionaries, but also that of other workers from across the iNet network.

iNet has developed the use of Memorandums of Understanding (between the worker, the church, iNet and any in-country partner involved). MOUs seek to clarify roles and expectations, frequency and responsibility for appraisals, debriefs, pastoral interventions, crisis management etc.

This model differs from the traditional mission agency model. iNet is not a recruiting or sending agency: it is a service agency. Aside from our small staff team, we have no paid workers (but we do have a large number of volunteers). Our overheads are small but, through our member churches, our impact is huge.

iNet: we are a small mission agency with this big idea: world evangelisation is primarily the responsibility of the local church. We currently support people living and working in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America, including in some of the most difficult and dangerous countries on earth. Our cross-cultural workers are involved in a great variety of activities from evangelism and church planting to Bible translation, relief aid, development, business training, medical work, and much more. iNet pools the expertise of our volunteers from across our member churches to offer advice at other key moments in workers lives, including times of crisis and when the decision has made to return to a home culture. We are open to working with churches from all traditions. Our current member churches are drawn from the community church movement. If you are wondering about sending workers overseas and are not sure about how to go about it, get in touch. We would love to help!

John Baxter-Brown was born in India and has lived in Scotland, France and Switzerland as well as England. He has been actively engaged in evangelism, youth work, ecumenism and mission throughout his working life, from local church levels through to globally. Currently he works part-time as Director of Mission for iNet and as Adviser on Evangelism to the Theological Commission of the World Evangelical Alliance. He will be starting a PhD on evangelism this year. John is married with two daughters and two Cavalier King Charles spaniels. He has edited four books and authored numerous articles.