Keeping mission vision alive and growing A quarterly publication of Mission Data International

Interview with John McVay: Mentoring for Missions

by Paul Nielsen

M-DAT has been good friends with mission mobilizer John McVay for ten years now. His projects have included mission conferences and websites along with his service with In His Image, which trains medical professionals for Christian service. In this interview he talks specifically about mentoring the next generation of missionaries.

Propel: When and how did you become involved and interested in missions as a mobilizer?

John McVay: I read an illustration by Ralph Winter who said, “If you see a roaring fire you can grab your bucket, run to the stream, then run to the fire and pour water on it—and you can do that repeatedly. Or you could wake 100 sleeping firemen.” Missions mobilization is waking the 100 sleeping firemen. In my current season of life God is guiding me to wake the 100 sleeping firemen.

Propel: What is the importance of mentoring in the context of missions?

John McVay: Most aspiring missionaries struggle with feelings of inadequacy. They need mentors to encourage them to abide in Christ and trust in His strength.

Encouragement and moral support is critical because of the frequency of friendly fire, so to speak, from friends and family. In his book Serving as Senders Neal Pirolo describes the need for moral support in the face of discouraging input. Often close, loving friends counsel that:

  • You’re needed here; you have so much to offer in our church and local area.
  • Waste your education out in the middle of nowhere? What will your dad say?
  • Why don’t you get a real job? Make money now; after you’re financially secure you can think about going into missions.
  • How can you offend your mother and take her grandkids away?
  • You expect to get married out there? You’ll never meet anybody.

The prospective missionary is left alone unless a mentor is there to provide moral support during the difficult times and doubts.

Propel: What roles should churches play in lining mentors up with aspiring missionaries?

John McVay: Church leaders should encourage aspiring missionaries to have a meal or coffee with missionaries on furlough. A one-time coaching session is always helpful. And it is even better if this turns into a mentoring relationship.

Propel: What should an aspiring missionary expect from a mentor?

John McVay: In his book Mentoring

John McVay speaking to a group of mobilizers in Tulsa. Bobb Biehl suggests that the protégé should look for a mentor to be:

  • Honest with you
  • A model for you
  • One who believes in your potential
  • One who can help you define your dream and plan to turn your dream into a reality
  • Willing to stay primarily on your agenda and not his/her agenda

One specific area that a missions mentor can provide is helping the protégé find a missions agency that is a fit. Together they can discuss various agencies and important questions like those provided by Urbana’s Jack Voelkel and in the book Ask a Missionary. Some of those questions are:

  • What is their passion? Do they have a unifying focus to their work?
  • How does the agency work with the local church in sending and caring for missionaries?
  • Who makes the decisions? Are the leaders open to new ideas?
  • How does the agency work with other denominations, ministries, etc?
  • What are their philosophies on and approach to member care and crisis management?
  • What provision is made for missionaries’ children? How and where are they educated?
  • What provision is made for missionaries’ continuing education?
  • What does the organization say are its weaknesses?

Propel: What should a mentor expect from an aspiring missionary?

John McVay: The protégé should appreciate the mentor’s investment of time and love. Also, make it as convenient as possible for your mentor to help you. For example, “I’ll drive over to your place. I’ll meet at a time that works best for you.”

Most of all, be serious about growing into all God is leading you to become.

Propel: Have you personally mentored someone who was planning to become a missionary? If so, can you briefly describe the relationship?

John McVay: For a year Tim and I met every few weeks over lunch to talk and pray about issues related to becoming a missionary. Before each meeting we each read a chapter of a book and then used questions in that book as a starting point for our discussions.

Tim and I already had a positive natural chemistry, and he initiated our first meeting. (With other protégés sometimes my wife and I have initiated missions mentoring. The first meeting can be suggested by the mentor or the protégé.)

Our times together were focused on Tim’s agenda, priorities, questions, needs — not on the mentor’s preset program. Within that trust relationship, Tim was able to ask questions he may not have felt comfortable asking most people. The single most teachable moment is the few seconds immediately following a sincere question. No curriculum or checklist or theory can replace sharing life experience and vision in such a teachable moment.

Tim came to the meeting prepared to discuss:

  • Pressing decisions about which the mentor can give perspective
  • Problems in reaching the priorities that the mentor can help with if possible
  • Progress points as an update so the mentor can give well-deserved praise and prayer requests

Books that are great for this include:
* “My thoughts so far” sections in the book Ask a Missionary edited by John McVay
* “Journal worksheets” in the Global Mission Handbook by Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor

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