Reforming Missions (or at least the money)
No doubt every missionary remembers when God finally made clear His call to the mission field. For some, this came after months of wrestling. For others, this call seemed to fit quite naturally with all that God was then doing. In every case, God did much to prepare for the calling He had in mind. God never calls where He does not equip. Having equipped, God grants clear direction and puts His mark of approval on this missionary venture.
And then, the fun really starts. There are survey trips to be taken, plane tickets to be bought, family pets to be disposed of, immunizations to be injected, oneâ€™s entire life to be packed in crates, lodging to be lined up, passports to be purchased, and (no doubt) a tear or two to be shed. You who make JackHammer a part of your routine could no doubt fill pages with the many, many things that must be done before “final boarding.”
Of the many unpleasant tasks that lie ahead for the future missionary, I canâ€™t imagine that any is more unpleasant than the one where the future missionary picks up the phone for the very first time, and with trembling fingers, dials the number of some pastor in another part of the country, seeking the opportunity to come present his future work. On that day, he begins to display his skill at jumping through hoops while walking tightropes. Pastors everywhere seem to delight in making things as difficult as possible for the missionary seeking support.
“Fill out my questionaire.” says one. “You must send me a picture of you and your family every year.” says another. “I must get a personal letter on the first day of each month.” says yet another. “I only support missionaries with BUMI.” “I only support missionaries who are going to Arcadia.” “I donâ€™t support missionaries unless they have five kids.” “Are you CLOSED?” “Are you over 42?” “Are you a college grad? I donâ€™t support guys who went to college.” “Do you have a position on the Sons of God and daughters of men?”
The list goes on and on and on. Missionaries know better than I do. I will simply say that I have never envied anyone the opportunity of going on deputation. Iâ€™m not much good at schmoozing, and Iâ€™m thinking that I would find myself often faced with a difficult choiceâ€¦ do I tell this guy to fold his money and tuck it neatly up inside his nose, or do I tell him what I really think?
I would love to make this a Scriptural discussion of deputation, but I have a pretty basic problemâ€¦ the Bible says nothing about it. Iâ€™m really not sure how we got to the place where we thought it would be best for a guy to spend two or three years chasing down pastors he doesnâ€™t know and who donâ€™t really want to know him, spending a few days in his city at a place of his choosing, and travelling seven thousand miles, all for the sake of a livable amount of support. Nor am I convinced that this is the best possible way to raise the necessary funds for missions support.
So, consider this my suggestion. Or perhaps, if we could start this whole process over again, how we maybe could do it better.
And my first suggestion would be that sending churches support their missionaries solely. Right now, our church would be capable of supporting two missionaries full time, at a minimum of $30,000 per year. The advantages of this would be countless. While other missionaries spend two or three years using up their car engine, this missionary could work full time under his pastor, really learning the ministry. Then, when he finally goes to the field, he does not need to worry about what this pastor over in Kansas wants from him, and this other pastor in North Carolina, and this other pastor in Montana, and this other pastor in Arizona. He is able to focus on evangelizing the place where God has placed him, and on communicating with his church and his pastor. Meanwhile, his church feels a great weight of responsibility for him, in prayer and provision and meeting needs and communicating and helping and loving and joining in his ministry. The sending church has no problem getting to know him, for they already do. They are very much invested in his ministry.
Nor is that the end of blessing for the missionary. When the time comes for him to take a furlough, he can really rest and be refreshed. He does not need to come back and again wear out the tires on his mini-van, trekking all over the country. He does not need to find out that a third of his supporting churches got new pastors (who might not like him) while he was gone. He does not need to “raise additional support,” as his home church is keeping up with the changing exchange rates and the additional cost of living.
Of course, that is not to say that churches who are in close fellowship could not help or participate in this missionaryâ€™s ministry. There most certainly is room for this. And, when the missionary is already well-known in the sister church, it is only natural that there should be some level of cooperation. But again, this cooperation is an opportunity for blessing, both for the missionary and for his sending church. And this cooperation does not add to the burden of being a missionary in the first place.
As things stand today, the missionary is required to sell churches on his value as a future missionary, often before he has had any opportunity to prove himself in the ministry at all. The missionary must do a sales job on churches, must keep all his supporting churches happy, and is ultimately responsible to raise enough money to provide for his family while he is gone.
Do we really think that this is the better way?