Recently I was asked to evaluate why I have invested my entire career in structures other than traditional mission agencies. Good question!

First, it has been more by accident than by design. My first “assignment” was actually with two agencies, North Africa Mission, the part that became Frontiers, and Campus Crusade for Christ, now Cru. This creative arrangement helped both organizations deal with the hot-potato issue of four untrained, recent college grads in L-bya. Both organizations were excited by the vision of entering the country “most antagonistic towards Christianity.” However, neither organization was ready to be fully responsible. The risk was too great. So, our team received resources from both organizations and sufficient autonomy to attempt something that older and wiser leaders generally considered fool-hearty.

So, the second reason is autonomy. Caleb Project, where I invested nearly three decades, sought to mobilize Christians to become strategically engaged in completing Christ’s Great Commission. We worked to promote the cause and to link people with roles appropriate for them, often with traditional agencies. Early on we decided that our organizational agenda required a structure that was clearly distinct from the agencies we hoped to serve.

A third reason is flexibility. Two years ago my daughter, Laura, and I discussed how we could best invest our experience, contacts, and vision to glorify God. We concluded that equipping emerging market entrepreneurs was the way for us to best leverage our personal resources to build Christ’s Kingdom. When we considered how we could effectively do that we concluded that aligning with a traditional agency could be awkward for the agency and for us. Our approach does not fit the traditional agency model. So, even if an agency accepted us, we would have to address a certain amount of dissonance. We concluded it would be better to strike out on our own than to attempt to conform to even the most flexible organizational bureaucracy.

Let me be clear, I am a fan and active supporter of traditional sending agencies. I served on the board of OMF-US for nine years, the maximum allowed, and I was part of the Frontiers board during their early days. I have invested most of my career serving agencies as a friendly outsider. However, at least so far, my career has been outside these structures.