When I was in fifth grade, I had my first chance to play American football on the playground with my classmates. Not too familiar with the game, I spent most of my time standing next to the quarterback and trying to pick up the nuances of play. Suddenly, the quarterback turned to me and put the ball in my hands.

My eyes darted down the field and I saw several large and aggressive-looking kids start running towards me. I looked to my right, and there were no kids over there. Wisdom dictated that I start running that direction. Pretty quick for my age, I glided over the ground swiftly. My heart pounded, my lungs exhaled and inhaled quickly until I heard kids yelling that I was out of bounds. Jogging back to my teammates, one of them explained to me that running for the sidelines did not result in progress no matter how far I ran. I learned a lesson that day that would always stick with me.

The direction in which you run matters.

This seems like an obvious thought. If you have a basic understanding of American football, you can read the story above and understand why, despite my efforts to run a great distance, our team was no closer to achieving its goals. So why is this a struggle for many mission organizations I have witnessed over the years? Why do so many trade productivity for busyness?

Being busy is easy, being productive takes time.

There are two major pitfalls that I see with many missionaries: the first is forgoing the investment. Moving into a new culture requires investments. Cultural acclimation, language acquisition, relationship development and networking, personal development, and taking care of spiritual needs all demand time.

Missionaries are keenly aware of the fact that our ability to do ministry is based on the gifts and donations of other people, and we desperately want to be a good investment. Often we feel pressure to show fruit to our donors. This pressure can lead many missionaries to just run any direction, virtually writing in newsletters, “Look how far we are running.” All the while, we are indeed running hard, but in directions that ultimately aren’t getting us ‘down the field’.

If we aren’t careful, we can find ourselves filling schedules with activities that, while good, aren’t really productive to our own calling or passions. When I sit down with other missionaries and see schedules full of busy, but completely unrelated efforts, it’s usually an indication to me of a larger issue, which sadly is one of the biggest issues I see on the field.

Lack of a clear vision.

Many missionaries don’t seem to have a really good idea of why they do what they do. I don’t mean the Great Commission. I mean why THEY are on the field. Many work in situations where the goal line isn’t defined, the rules are murky at best, and they feel the pressure to show fruit to donors. Perhaps their organization doesn’t have clear vision, competent local leadership, or a strong culture that encourages thriving, not just surviving. Organizations often accept people without checking alignment to calling, culture, and the field, and at the end of the day many missionaries end up frustrated, discouraged, and maybe a bit panicky. The answer, as I determined in fifth grade was, “Run! Just run!”

So how do organizations avoid this? Organizations need three things. These are:

  1. Vision. Proverbs 29:18 states that “Without vision, the people perish.” It is important for missionaries to a have clear and compelling vision. We need to know and understand why we are doing what we are doing. We want to sweat and bleed, if need be, for something that speaks to our hearts. Simon Sinek goes even further when he states that without a clear compelling vision, how will we attract others who share the same ‘Why’? Teams that aren’t growing often don’t do so because their vision is either not articulated, not compelling, or simply doesn’t require anyone else to make it happen. Whether or not you share the same ‘why’ is often a good indicator if you have the right people on your team.
  2. A strong culture. Andy Stanley has famously stated, “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” This is a challenge for many organizations. Often, we prefer to treat dysfunction as a strategic issue and not a people issue. Healthy teams develop healthy cultures that encourage community, accountability, growth, and performance. Weak cultures tolerate silos, poor behaviors, and rogue elements. Your team will only progress as strong as your team’s culture will support it.
  3. Strategy. Just because culture is prime, doesn’t mean that strategy isn’t important. Having a clear vision and a culture that seeks to accomplish vision the right way, allows for specific and effective strategies to be developed. Strategies that can bring about the achievement of goals.

When your vision is clear, your culture is strong, and your strategies are effective, alignment is the outcome.

 Alignment is when every aspect of what you do is aimed along a single trajectory. The end-zone is defined. The team is implementing the right plays in the right way, and you can chart your course. When you don’t have alignment, anything that keeps you busy is seen as a good thing. But when you have alignment, everything you do brings you closer to your goal.

The One Mission Hungary team has dedicated ourselves to a common vision, being disciplined in culture, and strategically achieving the direction that God has asked us to go. We exercise strategic patience and allow good, but misaligned opportunities to pass by, allowing us to be productive, not just busy.

How about you? Are you busy or productive?