Home > Mallinak, Missions > Woe to the Man with Many Masters

Woe to the Man with Many Masters

February 1, 2008

The Bible is silent about deputation. That certainly does not mean that deputation is unlawful. Nor does it mean that we couldn’t be Scriptural and still do deputation. It is just to point out that deputation is an invention of man.

And I’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 ain’t broke, don’t fix it” argument. But I’m not so sure that will work on this issue. Who says it ain’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 deputation… 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 shouldn’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 wouldn’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 missionary’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 ours 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 wouldn’t be stuck in such compromising positions.

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  1. February 2, 2008 at 4:26 pm

    Kent,

    I for one agree that local churches should definitely support their men for the majority of their support, and usually they can if they would drop the support of missionaries who are not out of their church directly. This can happen real easily too. One church has to decide to just do it. Then another and another. Finally, we will be back closer to the biblical model and principles. Hopefully, many pastors read this and get the idea. I for one know that my own church could easily support its own men on the budget they have right now, if they were only supporting the men directly out of the same church. I would think there is a direct relationship between the missions budget and the number of men out of a local church. That is, usually when a church has a certain number of truly qualified laborers sponsored by their church, their missions budget reflects the capacity to support those men, if they were not supporting other men from other churches. Then making the decision to cut the outside men and support those who are part of that church really doesn’t change much of anything as far as expense goes, but there are tons of advantages for the missionary and church to supporting almost exclusively their own men.

    The other option, would be to make the change on a percentage basis slowly. For instance, if a church has it’s own men supported at 25% of their support and 10% of others, they can begin to lower the support of the outside men slowly and raise their own guys slowly. I don’t think that would be very logical though, if we think this is a biblical issue.

    I’m just spouting on half a brain now, so I’ll close with this biblical principle. “Where your treasure is, there will you heart be also.” A missionary’s allegiance often times is affected by the money trail whether he intends it to be that way or not. This is as unavoidable reality reaping what we sow.

  2. February 2, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Don,

    I was here when you posted, but Dave wrote this post. He’s the older looking one. I appreciate your commenting, however.

    Dave,

    I would like to hear an explanation from those who have no problem receiving support from a church, but will not support missionaries from that church.

  3. Gary Johnson
    February 2, 2008 at 5:19 pm

    When questioning the missionary, I ask him how much his home church is supporting him. If they don’t financially back him very strongly, what is the case for us to?

    Also if you would not allow a church’s pastor to preach in your pulpit, why should you take their money to support your missionary?

    Just some thoughts to kick around

  4. February 2, 2008 at 7:31 pm

    Yep, I just figured out my goof-up. Sorry, Dave. I told you I was operating on half a brain.

    Just an aside, I had to travel 800 miles and spend $300 to renew my son’s passport from Wednesday night to Friday night! Fun, Fun.

  5. February 2, 2008 at 8:06 pm

    The two pat answers to Gary’s questions.

    First, you should support our missionary that we don’t support for a majority of what he needs because we are already tied up supporting the fifty missionaries we took on before the Lord called our guy out.

    Second, you should take their money because you are better than they are. They are not doctrinally sound, and you are, so you can better use the money.

    To be clear, I’m not saying that’s what I say. You asked what the other guy may say.

  6. February 3, 2008 at 9:52 am

    A question I have is, where and when did deputation begin? It been around for a hundred years it seems. Does it have it’s roots in the mission board movement started by Carey in 1792? Ruth Tucker in “From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya” states that Carey and John Thomas were sent to the field after “months of deputation.” I suppose that is where modern the deputation system got its start with the human creation of missions societies. Has anyone seen any other information on this?

  7. February 20, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Thank you so much for your insights into the deputation issue. I agree that it is most definitely “broken,” but I think you need to probe deeper: for example, why would receiving support from many churches put a missionary in the position of having “many masters” if not because the pastors mistakenly view themselves – and not Jesus Christ – as the “master”?

  8. February 20, 2008 at 10:41 am

    Is that you Ken? Are you in Tremonton now?

    You are correct that pastors sometimes view themselves more highly than they ought. Nevertheless, when a man takes financial support from a church, financial support that he solicited at that, he has an obligation to that church. And whether they should or not, every church that supports a missionary not from their church has an obligation to communicate their expectations and even to enforce those expectations. I don’t think that we can say that this is wrong. But it does place a missionary under obligation to any church that supports him.

    This, I think, is another way of saying, “He who takes the king’s coin becomes the king’s man.”

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