I was watching the President’s Cup Golf Tournament when a commercial grabbed my attention. The ad explained how a professional basketball court is always 94 X 50 feet; an Olympic swimming pool is always 50 X 25 meters; a tennis court is always 78 X 36 feet, but a golf course is different. No two are exactly alike. In other words, no matter the city in which LeBron James plays, he can count on the court being the same as all of the other courts he plays. Whether Serena Williams is at the US Open, Wimbledon, or any other venue, the tennis court size will be constant. However, if you are Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, or Lexi Thompson, every golf course you play will be different. Not only that, but
the course will change every day as tee boxes and pin locations are moved.
Mission fields are like golf courses. They are all different, and they are always changing. Consider Europe and the change that has occurred just in the past few months with the influx of large numbers of refugees. A recent report from one of our cross-cultural workers
in Europe indicates some 7,000 refugees are arriving in Greece daily to begin an uncertain trek across the eastern continent on their way to Germany. As for issues closer to home, I heard this week of a growing community of Haitians in a rural part of northwest Georgia
known more for its poultry farms and fine granite than as a haven for refugees. All over the world, the face of doing mission is changing. In your own community, situations, needs, and even people have changed, creating the need for new and different outreach
This can present a challenge to a local church as it identifies and pursues its mission. Methodologies of old will not be adequate to address current situations. And cookie-cutter approaches to missions will not be as effective as ones that take into account the distinct
characteristics, context, and culture of the people and places in which you minister. Additionally, finding and pursuing your mission (as a church and as an individual) will not be a simple, speedy undertaking. Given that, delving a bit deeper into this golf metaphor may be helpful.
1 Do you have a plan?
If you have watched any golf at all, you have seen the professionals frequently refer to a book they carry in their back pocket. This is the yardage book, and it contains a great deal of data collected in preparation for the match. The golfer and caddy have walked and
played the course and made copious notes as to sand traps, hazards, sprinkler heads, slope of fairways, and distance to green from any point on each hole. Additionally, the book contains pin sheets that provide information on each green including pin placement, ridges, slope, and more. In other words, before the match begins, every golfer will have
extensive data on the characteristics of the course he will play. Using this data, he will determine a game plan for the match. In like manner, a local church needs to diligently prepare for engaging in cross-cultural missions. Such preparation is even more critical
given the eternal significance of the church’s efforts.
2 Are you properly aligned?
Professional golfers know the importance of lining up each shot. You have probably watched them stand behind the ball, viewing their target in light of all the surrounding area. This helps them aim the ball exactly where they want it to go. This simple act can teach us much about doing missions well. First, we need to know and see our target. Blind
golf shots lead to wasted strokes. Blind mission shots can lead to wasted personnel,
material, and financial resources. Granted, accurately assessing the felt needs of a
community can sometimes be impossible. But by getting a broad perspective on all that surrounds the community, we can often avoid obstacles that may get in the way of ministry. We also can seize opportunities that will enhance our effectiveness. For example, in golf, we may realize that using the slope of a bank near the green, though not in
line with the green, would guide the ball nearer the hole. In mission, we may realize that engaging non-believers as partners would allow ministry to those partners as well as to the group we hope to reach. Proper alignment provides the broader perspective from which more effective ministry can come.
3 Are you using the right club?
Most amateur golfers use the rule: the shorter the distance to the pin, the shorter the club selected. Professionals know there is more to picking the right club than that. Many
factors come into play when deciding which club to use. In mission, we do not use golf clubs, but we do use tools. And selecting the right tools is important. This reminds me of the story of a missionary who used an airplane to reach a remote island tribe in the South Pacific to drop gospel leaflets on the villages. The airplane was probably a good choice of a tool; leaflets printed in English and scattered to the winds was not.
Remember, mission fields are like golf courses. A “golf course approach” to finding a church’s mission will require the church to get specific in its overall planning, align to its mission goals, and choose the right tools for outreach. Doing otherwise will risk having the
church fly in circles and scatter the precious and powerful good news of Jesus in a manner that is not accessible or understandable.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2015 issue of Unfinished magazine.