Woe to the Man with Many Masters
The Bible is silent about deputation. That certainly does not mean that deputation is unlawful. Nor does it mean that we couldnâ€™t be Scriptural and still do deputation. It is just to point out that deputation is an invention of man.
And Iâ€™m not persuaded that deputation is the best way to finance missionaries.
Of course, someone is sure, about this time, to parade out the “if it ainâ€™t broke, donâ€™t fix it” argument. But Iâ€™m not so sure that will work on this issue. Who says it ainâ€™t broke? And what is that gray tape I see wrapped around its underside? Is it possible that we have been using this system so long, and this system is so ingrained in our way of thinking, that we no longer consider the problems inherent to the system?
Many of those who actively read and comment on this blog are Independent Baptists. Many believe that God works through the local church, that the only lawful authority for ministry is the local church. Those who hold this idea as doctrine (as I do) also believe that a missionary should be sent by his local church, and that his local church should be his authority while on the field.
And this brings up the first problem. Because, when a missionary has fifty supporting churches, he has fifty bosses. Granted, he can tell a supporting church to drop him at any time. He is not required to do what his supporting churches say. He can say, “this is what I am, and this is what I do, and you can take it or leave it.” He is not required to answer questions about his ministry, unless the questions come from his sending pastor. But the fact that he is not “required” to do any of these things does not mean he feels no pressure to do them. And who can blame him? After all, some if not all of his supporting churches have godly pastors and godly people. No doubt these supporting churches have good reasons for their expectations. It is only natural that a missionary would want his supporting churches to be happy with the job he is doing.
A missionary who has multiple supporting churches has many masters. Period. Some demand very little, and some demand a lot. Some send encouragement and follow him with their prayers. Others act as squeaky wheels, always in need of a little oil.
A related problem, I think, comes from the fact that the missionary has one purpose on deputationâ€¦ he needs to raise money. Because he needs to raise money, he is desperate to get into churches and present his work. Sometimes, that means getting into a church that he maybe shouldnâ€™t have gotten into. He finds himself looking the other way, trying to look past what he is seeing. He knows that if he lived in the same town as that church, he wouldnâ€™t join it. And, of course, that church ends up taking him on for support. Now what?
When our church supports a missionary, we do so because we believe that we can be in good fellowship with the missionaryâ€™s sending church. We partner with that church, striving together to help in what way we can to see the gospel preached, and a church established.
There have been times when we have been surprised, later, to find that the fellowship we thought we had was very one-sided. We discovered this quite by accident. We sent a man out on deputation, and he of course contacted the sending churches of missionaries we support. One might think that those would be the easy churches to get meetings in. But no! They heard he was from our church, and they refused to allow him to present his ministry. In other words, they would take support from us, but would not return it. That is a problem.
Most of these cases have come from those who are “closed” in their communion. For some reason, they have no problem accepting support from a church like oursÂ that is “close” in their communion. But they will not support a missionary from such a church. As far as that goes, they can decide to separate over that issue if they want to. But it is dishonest to take support from a church that you separate from. It is wrong for a missionary to pretend that our churches can be in good fellowship, but only when it comes to receiving. I have yet to meet a missionary who is honest enough to say, “my sending church would never accept a missionary from your church, but we wondered if you would support me.”
If I ever did meet one honest enough to say so, I might consider it. In the mean time, I intend to find out if the fellowship is mutual, and I intend to find it out before I allow a missionary to come present his work.
The two problems do relate. If the sending church would bear the burden of carrying all the essential support for the missionary, then the missionary would not be put in the awkward position of deciding whether he should be taking support from the church where he just preached. After the sending church takes on the essential support, then those churches that are in good (and mutual) fellowship with the sending church could jump in and partner with that sending church. The missionary would be well cared for, and would have one master. And he wouldnâ€™t be stuck in such compromising positions.