Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 4): Single Male Missionaries

OK, before I start, let me say this. No, single male missionaries are not presented as a major issue of missionary support in the Bible. In fact, this post could just as easily have gone under another heading. However, teams of single male missionaries are evident in the NT. Their benefits to modern field effectiveness (demonstrated in Scripture) and to our current support struggles will be plain, I think.
"For I would that all men were even as I myself (single). . . . I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I (single). . . . I suppose therefore that this (singleness) is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be (single). . . . seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such (the married) shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. . . . But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord; But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. . . . And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction."

- excerpts from Paul's advice in 1 Corinthians 7, emphasis and parentheses mine
It is clear from 'The Beginning' that God wanted most people to be married, to serve one another, to serve Him, to raise a godly seed. Then, why on earth would Paul encourage the Corinthians to remain unmarried? Well, he states that it is due to "the present distress." Paul anticipated the difficult times that would soon come upon them. He doesn't elaborate on the exact nature of this distress, only that there was something that could help many endure it and remain faithful to the Lord: singleness. This was a somewhat unnatural state to remain in, considering The Beginning, yet is was a recommendation that the Lord moved him to make (7:40).

Notice carefully the marriage realities that Paul emphasizes. He does not rebuke the husbands for caring "for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." He doesn't rebuke them for not being able to "attend upon the Lord without distraction." No, he merely states these as natural, accepted realities of married life. These are "distractions" which have been built into the marriage relationship by God. It does not mean that the married man doesn't love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. It does mean that his concerns, time, energy, and efforts will be divided between actively serving the Lord and caring for his wife. If he did not care for his wife in this way he would surely be "worse than an infidel" (1 Tim 5:8). He has a God-given responsibility to do so. So, he is rightly "distracted" in caring for things of the world, i.e. pleasing his wife.

Such difficult times may come, Paul says, that the Corinthians would do better to be wholly undistracted. Can we think of any times like these today? Related to missions?

Let me ask it this way. Why are there so few missionaries in the most hostile Muslim areas? Sure, these are often restricted-access nations. But could reservations on the part of a husband be another reason? Could it be that he has Biblical reservations about putting his family in such a situation? I cannot say for sure, but I believe it is a likely scenerio.

Or, why aren't there more missionaries today doing the work like Paul did? Sure, I could think of several hinderances (often illegitimate). But could the demands of such itinerant travel and the hostility that comes upon the family be one reason?

I am married. I am a father. For this I praise God. However, I sense within myself a hesitation about going into such places and doing such a ministry. Why? Because I have a family that I have a God-given responsibility to provide for and protect. Yes, I do not doubt that some of it is a lack of faith on my part, but some of it consists of a natural, God-ordained "distraction." While I believe that I would yet go wherever the Lord led, I do not doubt that I would have much less reservation about going to some more hostile fields if I were not married. I don't mind dying, but I have an instinct and a responsibility that insists that I avoid putting my wife in such situations.

Here we find one of the factors behind Paul's ability to do ministry the way he did. In the above passage, Paul used himself as the standard of distractionless ministry. One of the reasons he was so free of distraction had to do with his singleness. Just a little bit later Paul again emphasizes how he and his team had died to their right to be married in order to better fulfill their ministry (9:5).

What did their single condition allow them to do that married missionaries might be hindered from doing?
  • They were able to be more "reckless" with their lives, not having to concern themselves with the God-ordained care of a wife and children.

  • They were able to move much more rapidly than a family man. In this regard, notice how very, very few are itinerant/Pauline-type missionaries today, and how many use a mission station approach. This allows them to stay in one place, providing stability for their families (for almost all have families).

  • In the end, they were able to plant more churches in a shorter amount of time.

While singleness was not the only factor that contributed to the above, it was no doubt a significant factor (as any married man would surely affirm). It is my conviction that today we should give the same advice that Paul gave to the Corinthians. Only now, it should be given to those considering the foreign mission field. In many churches and Bible colleges, marriage is presented as the only legitimate option. While this is the option that nearly all should choose, the prohibition on singleness is simply not Biblical. Instead, considering "the present distress" in many mission fields, would it not be wise to encourage some to remain single in order to attend upon the Lord and His Work "without distraction," as Paul also recommended?

As a married man, I don't believe that I can do the same type of work that Paul did. I believe that a single man has a much higher likelihood of fulfilling such a ministry even today. Furthermore, I don't believe we are likely to see some fields reached without the Pauline-style work of single male missionaries. However, in order for this to be realized, we must reverse our prohibition on singleness, and some must die to themselves in order to attend unto the Lord and His Work without distraction.

There are a few objections that need to be considered now:

  1. In many of the remaining unreached fields, only a married man will be taken seriously. True, there would be some cultural obstacles. But tell that to Paul, a single man with a team of single men, who preached the Word in 1st century Jewish synagogues, seeing many people saved and churches planted.

  2. This would create too much temptation for the single male missionary. Of course there would be such risks involved. Paul mentions this in the above passage as well (v. 9). It is not for everyone (v. 7). Also, much of this risk could be reduced through team and sending church accountability measures.

  3. The man will not function well without his help meet. There is no doubt that a wife does wonders for the life of the man. God meant for it to be this way. But again, "every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner (married), and another after that (single)" (v. 7). God is sufficient for these things as well.

Recognizing all the difficulties, there are also two benefits that I want to emphasize:

  1. As I have already tried to make clear, singleness has tremendous implications for field effectiveness. This is true in nearly any field, but especially in some of the most unreached.

  2. And the benefit you were waiting for me to get at: there are significant implications for the coming missionary support crisis. If some single male missionaries were sent out in teams, costs could be reduced. It would take much less money for a team of men to survive than it would for a team of families to survive.

Again, in order to realize these possibilities, we must overcome our aversion to male singleness in missions. I pray that we will look to the Biblical precedent and begin utilizing this resource. Not only will we see benefits in terms of missionary support, but we will reap benefits in terms of field effectiveness.

In closing, keep in mind that this is not for everyone. I am not suggesting that all, or even most, should take this road. I did not, and that is no shame. I am suggesting that some should, and this is no shame either.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Resource: Mission InfoBank

There are few places on the web (that I've found) where you can get more Mission-related stuff
than at the Mission InfoBank. The InfoBank is coordinated by Global Mapping International, with such contributors as Operation World, Joshua Project,, and Ethnologue. All of
these collaborate here to offer Mission resources to Christian leaders.

For my purposes here, it is made up of basically two parts: the database and the library.
  • Database: Drawing from many different sources, this resource allows you to view, sort, and filter data about countries, people groups, languages, and denominations in a way that you get what you want. On top of this, you can sometimes generate a map that represents the data. For a simple example: Click on the "Database" tab at the top of their page. Select "Countries" under "Geography". Press "Save & Continue". Click on the "Filter" tab at the top of the page. Under "Christianity" it says "Annual Evangelical Growth Rate". In the drop-down list to the right, select the 'greater than' symbol, >. Then type in '10'. Save and Continue. Now you have a list of the 15 countries that are experiencing an increase of over 10% in their evangelical population every year. Now click on the "Map" tab at the top of the page and you will get a map representation of this data. Now tinker with the Database yourself!
  • Library: This is a very helpful feature. Here you can find pictures of people and places, maps that give valuable information, and more. For another simple example, click on the "Library" tab at the top of the page. Now search for "China map". This search reveals 61 maps covering political regions, dialects, population, percent Christian, etc. The great thing is that most of these resources can be used freely for personal and limited non-profit use.
The Mission InfoBank is yet another great online Mission resource. Use it for research, presentations, and more.

While I have many other resources that I will introduce in the future, please let me know of any that you have found valuable in the comments section below.

Other Resource Posts:

Saturday, July 25, 2009

These Weeks in the Mission Blogosphere

It has been a bit since I had time to include one of these end-of-the-week posts. As a result, this one will include good Bogosphere discussions over the past several week. However, I will not comment on them as much as I normally would.
  1. Pragmatism in Missions: Missions Mandate provided a link to a very good article on this subject, worthy to be read. How much of our method is pragmatic? How much truly Scriptural?

  2. Desiring God Posts: the ministry of John Piper, Desiring God, had several good posts. I cannot endorse a lot of what Piper puts out (such as his Calvanism and Christian hedonism), but his missions-related material is often good. I encourage you to read these posts: Bad Times are Good for Missions, 10 Ways to Help Kids Love Missions, and Piper's new book free for download, Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ.

  3. The Best Way to Start a Church is to Start a Church: This is from The M Blog. It is a good post concerning obedience oriented education. Let me suggest that our education must be obedience oriented or it is not Christian. Remember: "Teach them to observe (obey) all things whatsoever I have commanded you."

  4. Sending Church: Blogger, Larry McCrary, spends much time focusing on the role of the local sending church. He is in a series of posts on the subject. This post was particularly good.

The recent series here:

Urgent Need: Solutions for the Coming Missionary Support Crisis

  1. Initial Post: demonstrating the facts behind the crisis

  2. Solutions: an offering of several solutions for the crisis

  3. Paul and Secular Work

  4. Secular Jobs as Partial Solutions

  5. The Missionary Support Model of Jesus

Coming Soon:

  1. Single Male Missionaries, their contribution to the current crisis and to field effectiveness

  2. Supporting Fewer Missionaries at Higher Levels

  3. Resource: Mission InfoBank

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 3): Who is Supposed to Support Them?

Who is supposed to support missionaries? This is an issue that we often presume we have the right answer for. However, we may be surprised with the Bible's answer.

Our Independent Baptist answer to this question would be, local churches. This is absolutely right! But which churches? Do any churches have an obligation to provide support? Again, we would say, "Sure, all of the churches that missionaries go to on deputation. The churches back home have that obligation." Then we proceed to the Bible and show how the Macedonian churches and others provided some support for Paul. And we go to 'support passages' and point out that Paul 'raised' support from local churches. However, we are usually committing an error of anachronism. That is, we are forcing our modern methods onto the ancient text. We are assuming that things were the same then. I propose that if we deal with the Biblical Text honestly, we will come to some surprising conclusions (at least for some).

Jesus and Missionary Support

Jesus Himself gave us the first missionary support model. When Jesus sent out the 12 and then the 70 He gave very clear commands concerning their support. He gives the same orders on both occasions.
Carry neither purse, nor scrip, nor shoes: and salute no man by the way. And into whatsoever house ye enter, first say, Peace be to this house, And if the son of peace be there, your peace shall rest upon it: if not, it shall turn to you again. And in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the labourer is worthy of his hire. Go not from house to house. And into whatsoever city ye enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. (Luke 10:4-8, emphasis mine; compare Matt. 10:9-13)
Christ sent these first missionaries out with nothing but the clothes on their backs. They were to rely upon those God provided (sons of peace), whom they would minister to, to provide them their necessities. They were specifically directed not to bring any other preparations in the way of clothes, money, etc.

Jesus gives us at least two reasons why He made such commands.
First, they were based upon an abiding principle: "the labourer is worthy of his hire." As we saw in a previous post, this is an abiding Scriptural principle which was stated in the OT (Deut 25:4, 18:1), affirmed by Christ here, and continued in teaching by Paul (1 Cor 9:9, 13; 1 Tim 5:18). Those who minister spiritual things have a right to receive 'carnal' or physical necessities from those for whom they minister (1 Cor 9:11).
Second, Jesus was trying to teach them a lesson on faith and the faithful provision of God, as we see by His later statements (Luke 22:35).
This is the most strictly Biblical model of missionary support. It is an obligation upon those being ministered to (I know, I know, I'm ending sentences with prepositions!). It is a right of those doing the ministering. Strictly working by this principle (law?), missionaries would not primarily be supported by churches 'back home,' by other outside churches on the field, or by working a secular job, but only by those to whom they are currently ministering! This is a sobering thought, considering that those we usually minister to on the mission field are significantly poorer than we are before coming to the field. But remember the 'deep poverty' of the Macedonian churches who were the most faithful supporters of Paul, even when he wasn't currently ministering to them (2 Cor 8:2, 11:8-9; Phil 4:10)?

Paul on Christ's Model

"But Debtor," you say, "Paul's practice didn't line up with this principle." Again, this was dealt with a bit in an earlier post. But, as already mentioned, Paul did teach it consistently as an abiding principle (See particularly 1 Cor 9:1-19). He taught it as a right he had, and an obligation that they had. Also note that Paul yet practiced the principles laid out by Christ to the 12 and 70. It is obvious to me that he sought and God provided persons of peace in nearly every city that he entered into for ministry (e.g. Lydia, the Philippian jailor, Jason, and other fulfill this role. All of them provided him shelter and certainly some food. Already established Christians provided necessities as well, such as Aquila and Priscilla, the disciples at Tyre, the brethren at Ptolemais, Philip the evangelist, Mnason of Cyprus, the Jerusalem brethren, etc.). He also followed the command to wipe off the dust of the city against those who did not receive him or the Word (Acts 13:51). More significantly, he implies that he did, at times, take upon himself the right of support from those he was ministering to at the time (2 Cor 12:13). (For reasons why Paul died to this right sometimes, see the post that I am continually referencing.) So, we can see that the missionary principles and methods taught by Christ were applicable to the later ministry of the churches. Are they not today?

"Hold on Debtor! Jesus changed His orders in Luke 22:35-37 just before His crucifixion. These rights and obligations are no longer binding! Christ's methods can now be discarded for whatever 'works'." Wrong. As we already saw, Jesus' original commands were continued in teaching and/or practice by Paul and the early churches. Further, this is a difficult text (at least for me), which the disciples themselves seem to have slightly misunderstood when it was spoken (v. 38). Further, He was expanding His original support allowances only in light of specific circumstances that were about to arise (v. 37). He was not overruling the principle that was the foundation for the original command, as Paul makes clear when he references Him (1 Cor 9:14). He also told them to carry swords, but the NT doesn't reveal that they ever defended themselves in this way. I would suggest (not dogmatically) that Jesus wasn't telling them to actually make these changes, but was impressing upon them the difficult times that were coming, though I do believe they often began taking purse and scrip with them, while yet maintaining the original principles.

Which churches have a Scriptural obligation to provide support for the missionary? Those churches who are currently receiving the missionary's ministry, no matter where they are or what condition they are in. They alone have this Scriptural obligation. Other churches, as with Paul, may be moved by the Holy Ghost to send to his necessity, but they have not Scriptural obligation to do so.

How should this be applied today? I believe, it should be applied just as Paul applied it.
  1. Teach It: This obligation should always be taught to new churches, no matter how poor they are. We have no right to withhold this command from them.
  2. Practice It: This right should, in many cases, be taken by the missionary, as he receives support from those new churches he has planted and is ministering to on the field. This will not be popular with many, but it is Scriptural. I don't know of anyone practicing it now, but it should be.
  3. Sometimes Die to It: This missionary right should be died to by some missionaries. Some should receive support from elsewhere (sending and supporting churches, a secular job, other Christians on the field, etc.). Principles that guided Paul in making this decision were discussed in that other post.
Remember, the deputation process is not found in the Bible. While churches would send missionaries on their way to their next destination with certain necessities, missionaries did not go church to church to raise support, and regular support was not usually provided. Instead, missionaries relied upon those they were currently ministering to, their own jobs, and the sporadic support of outside churches.

This does not mean that deputation and State-side support is wrong. It should be seen as one way in which more prosperous churches die to themselves to provide the Gospel freely to others (for these supporting churches aren't under obligation). I don't know that this is how it is usually viewed, but it should be.

Let us seek to apply Scriptural principles and commands before we begin relying upon other methods and models.

Thank you for reading this series. I know that it seems very academic (like a textbook, yuck!), but it is not. It is very practical and important to modern ministry methods if we seek to be guided by Scripture. Please continue to read and comment!

Monday, July 20, 2009

I Believe in Us

I believe in Independent Fundamental Baptist churches. I believe that we have greater potential to significantly impact the remaining world missionary task than any other denomination or movement. I have many reasons to believe this.
  1. We believe in the local church. We believe that it alone is called and is able to fulfill the Mission of God in our generation. We believe in its ability, through its Head, to do a miraculous work in the world. This conviction has, can, and should be used to mobilize a new generation of Baptist churches to change the course of Mission history.
  2. True Baptists have a heritage unlike any other denomination or movement. Its principles and doctrines go all the way back to its Founder. We have been an independent people, cast out and persecuted, for 2,000 years. Nothing has stopped us, though much has slowed us down (especially prosperity and lack of trials). The gates of Hell cannot prevail against us!
  3. I see the hearts of many Baptists and Baptist churches being submitted to, broken and softened by, the Spirit, moving them toward a greater view of and involvement in the Mission. I see passion stirring and mobilization beginning anew.
  4. I see a greater potential and willingness to serve and sacrifice among us than I have seen in any other movement I have been a part of in the past.
  5. I perceive that our current minor economic setbacks will bring a new era of sacrifice that will only do us and the Mission good.
  6. and on and on. . . .
While there are many improvements that I believe need to be made to our approach to the Mission, I am overwhelmingly optimistic. These are just a few reasons why.

Are you optomistic about us? I hope so. What are some of the things that make you optomistic about us fulfilling the Mission? What are some areas of growth that you perceive? What are you willing to do?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 2): Secular Work

The last post may have introduced some Biblical facts that surprised you. Mind you, working in a secular job for a missionary is not a doctrine. However, it is something that should be considered as an option for every Independent Baptist missionary. It should be considered by all and sought by many, seeing that it has such significant Biblical precedent in Paul, our primary missionary model. There is no Biblical or practical reason to maintain our extreme aversion to it.

That being said, just because it was a viable option for Paul doesn't automatically make it a viable option for us today. Having explored its Biblical implementation in the last post, it is still necessary to explore the possible modern implementation.

Like with Paul, there are many reasons why we should consider working on the field:
  • There are some instances where living on full support would hinder the spread of the Gospel. Perhaps it would bring accusations of laziness, covetousness, or mixed motives from the locals (though these accusations would most likely be false, as they were when directed at Paul). This could especially be true in nations where native ministers are already seen as greedy and corrupt. These nations are not few in number. In some of these countries it is said that, "Full-time ministry is not the highest calling, but the last resort." It is only a money-making scheme in the eyes of the natives (sometimes a just accusation!).

  • It provides an opportunity to be an example to new pastors you are mentoring. Without this opportunity new pastors may seek to receive more than to give. How else could Paul have given the exhortation that he did to the Ephesian elders with any legitimacy (Acts 20:32-35)? Could you?

  • It provides an opportunity to model work ethic and a normal Christian life to all new converts. How else could Paul have given the admonition that he did to the Thessalonian believers (2 Thess 3:7-12)? Could you?

  • Having a job or business can provide a legitimate means of remaining in a creative access ('closed') country.

  • Doing so can relieve some of the current missionary crisis by decreasing the amount of money you need to raise.

  • Doing so is a means of dying to ourselves and our rights, which is good for all of us.

These and other factors make it desirable to consider secular work on the field. However, there are several unique characteristics of Paul's trade that should be considered when making a decision about working on the field.

Think of Paul. Paul was very mobile. He had no family to care for. His trade (tentmaking) was mobile and laws did not restrict him from practicing it. He could set up shop about anywhere he went. Not only that, but his product was surely always in demand. Further, it was something that he could stop and start without much difficulty. Not only did it provide a large portion of his income, but it allowed him to avoid criticism and to be an example to the believer, all while allowing him enough mobility and flexibility to continue ministering as he needed to.

This brief picture of Paul's work reveals some good guidlines to use when deciding whether or not to work on the field.
  1. Is it legal for a foreigner to work for income in the country/state?
  2. Would being an employee make your schedule so unflexible that your ability to care for new believers and churches is rendered nearly impossible?
  3. If so, would having your own income-producing business be a better way to go, giving you more control over your schedule?
  4. Would the job significantly detract from or contribute to your overall purposes?
  5. Would the type of employment or business make your position in the country more or less fragile, socially and legally?
These questions should help you to weigh your options when considering working.

Now, I have heard plenty of objections to working on the field. Here are some of the more significant objections:

Objection 1: The missionary's time must be totally dedicated to the work at hand. If he is working, his effectiveness in the ministry will be significantly diminished.
  • Answer: Paul worked nearly everywhere he went, yet he was perhaps the most effective church planter the world has ever known. In fact, his willingness to work while planting probably increased his overall effectiveness. The new believers, leaders, and churches not only heard his teaching concerning the totality of the Christian life, but they saw his teaching as he lived out his doctrine before them in ways they could relate to. However, in order to maintain Pauline effectiveness while working, the missionary must have a job or business which is both mobile and flexible. High mobility is often less of a concern today though, since most missionaries (due to having families) move around much less on the field than Paul did. Fortunately, the modern world market along with communication and internet technologies allow the creative missionary many options that are both mobile and flexible.
Objection 2: The missionary working on a foreign field may be 'stealing' a job from the often impoverished locals, making for a bad testimony.
  • Answer: This doesn't have to be the case. In fact, his business may provide jobs for the locals, or it may do nothing to change local unemployment one way or the other. Again, the internet and modern communications could allow creative modern missionaries business opportunities that have little to no affect upon the local economy. However, it may be best if his job/business contributed to the local economy and workforce.
Objection 3: If the missionary lost his job or business it would devastate his income, whereas he could tolerate losing the support of one or two churches.
  • This is a risk that every employee and businessman takes, no matter where he is or what he does. While there needs to be extra care taken when a foreign missionary enters into the marketplace, I believe many stable options could be found. In the end, he could always trust God to be faithful!
Let's review: In light of the multiple benefits and significant Biblical precedent every missionary and prospective missionary should consider working on the field to provide for his own needs and the needs of his team. He should do this:
  1. To teach native pastors to work with their own hands in order to be in a position to give to those in need, rather than just receive, and to avoid the appearance of covetousness.
  2. To be an example to the believers.
  3. To not be burdensome to the new believers who are yet obligated to support you.
  4. To be able to provide the Gospel 'free of charge' in a way that the natives can see (rather than providing it free merely through the agency of 'unseen' churches).
  5. To avoid the appearance of greed or mixed motives which often comes upon workers in underdeveloped foreign fields.
  6. When it is feasible to do so in the location you are in (considering geo-political-cultural factors).
  7. When doing so will not endanger your ministry legally, hinder your ability to minister to the needs of new believers in terms of flexibility, or hinder the spread and reception of the Gospel in the long term (it may seem to in the short-term, but the long-term results may prove the wisdom of working).
This has just been a brief and scattered look at an important issue in missionary support. Sadly, it has yet to receive serious consideration by Independent Baptists. May this discussion prompt more thinking concerning the benefits and viability of missionaries working secular jobs on the field.

Leave your comments below.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 1): Secular Jobs

A short time ago I posted a "This Week" article that included some blogosphere discussion about missionaries working secular jobs for at least part of their support as a solution to the current crisis. I promised to talk more about it at a later time. Having established that there is in fact a coming missionary support crisis among Independent Fundamental Baptists (as well as others), and having hinted at some possible solutions, I think it is now time to delve deeper into some of the solutions. Let's begin with one of the more controversial suggestions.

There is no doubt that we (Independent Baptists) have an aversion to the thought of pastors or church planters working secular jobs to (at least) supplement their income. This aversion turns to horror when we think of missionaries sent to foreign fields doing this. Oh, it is true that we somewhat accept the need for pastors and 'home' church planters to work in this way when the churches they are caring for cannot fully support them. But this is expected to be very temporary. We grow very uncomfortable when this extends itself too long. We also accept that missionaries on foreign fields may work in this way. However, this is only well accepted if it is absolutely necessary for the missionary to work in order to remain in a creative access country. And it is not expected or accepted that this should be done to actually supplement his income.

How do these feelings line up with what we see practiced and encouraged in Scripture? While there are good, and even Biblical, reasons for some to seek full support from churches, there is no Biblical justification for our aversion toward working to support oneself. Let's examine what we see taught and practiced by Paul (a missionary and trainer of pastors).

There is no doubt that one of Paul's primary sources of income while on the field was working a secular job. In fact, this may have been the source of most of his income (Note: henceforth when I mention that Paul 'worked' a 'job' I am referring his practice of working a secular job. We all know that fully supported missionaries work a job in its own right. So I am not trying to diminish what they are doing, but am only making the language simpler here.). Here's the proof:
  • Paul worked in Corinth: Acts 18:3
  • Paul worked in Thessalonica: 1 Thess 2:9-10; 2 Thess 3:7-10
  • Paul worked in Ephesus: Acts 20:33-35
  • Paul made it his general practice to work: 1 Cor 4:11-12
The interesting thing about Paul working was that he didn't have to. Jesus had already made command and set precedent when He sent out the 12 and the 70 (Matt 10:9-13; Luke 10:4-9). While He seems to have made some alteration to this later (Luke 22:35-36), Paul taught that ministers like himself had a right to receive support from those they were ministering to at the time. Likewise, these churches had an obligation to provide them support (1 Cor 9:1-19). Paul even references the teaching of Christ to defend his teaching (1 Cor 9:14 with Matt 10:10, Luke 10:7). With his frequent reference to a principle stated in the OT, he makes it clear that he is applying an abiding Scriptural principle to the issue of minister support (1 Cor 9:9, 13; 1 Tim 5:18; Deut 25:4, 18:1).

If Paul had the "power" or right to receive his support from those he was immediately ministering to, why did he rarely use it? Why did he "work with his own hands" when he didn't have to, Biblically? There are several reasons he gave for his unusual practice:
  • Sometimes using his right would have hindered the spread of the gospel of Christ. (1 Cor 9:12)
  • He did not want to make his "glorying void" by seeming to "abuse his power in the gospel" by receiving support from those he was ministering to. Instead he "made the gospel of Christ without charge." (1 Cor 9:15, 18; 2 Cor 11:7; 1 Thess 2:6-10)
  • He suppressed his rights that he "might gain" or "save" more souls. (1 Cor 9:19, 22)
  • He worked and received support from outside churches to "cut off occasion from them which desire occasion" to accuse him of mixed motives. (2 Cor 11:12)
Not only did he verbalize these justifications, but he also had other reasons for working with his own hands to supplement his support:
  • It was a means of teaching up-and-coming pastors how they ought to work with their own hands to support the weak, to be in a position to give always, and to avoid the appearance of covetousness. Doubtless it also gave him a right to request such a thing from them, having done the same himself. (Acts 20:32-35)
  • It allowed him to be a full example to the believers who were to follow him. He was able to show the believers how they were also to work with their own hands, and not to be lazy or busybodies. (2 Thess 3:7-12; 1 Cor 4:12a, 15-16)
Do missionaries and pastors have a Scriptural right to receive support from those they are immediately ministering to (Note that I am not referring to support received from 'supporting churches' as in our current model of support, but to the churches planted on the field)? Absolutely. Is it always right or wise for a missionary or pastor to use this right? Not always. Paul continually died to himself, to his rights, that the Gospel and his ministry might be unshackled, that he might always be the giver rather than the receiver (1 Cor 9:19-23).

Are there perhaps many cases where we also ought to die in the same manner as Paul? Yes, in our current model of missionary support we don't burden those that a missionary ministers to. We provide the Gospel "free of charge." In fact, this is a primary Scriptural motive behind our model. It is a good and noble motive. However, could we actually be hindering the ministry of our foreign missionaries by refusing them the ability to work on the field? In light of Paul's ministry, I think so.

Well, this has been a long post already. I will save the modern application of all the above for the next major post. What are the pro's and con's to working on the field today? How might this affect the current missionary support crisis? What are some of the practical considerations, especially in light of Paul's ministry? In what situations could this be used, and when could it not?

These are all things we will get into soon, before exploring other methods of missionary support found in the Bible. Please feel free to comment below.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Solutions for the Coming Missionary Support Crisis

In the last post we attempted to communicate some of the details of the coming missionary support crisis.

The trends are not positive. Deputation lengths are increasing. The dollar is losing value much faster than monthly support levels are increasing. There is an urgent need for solutions to the impending missionary support crisis. The good news is that some are already suggesting solutions, and there are even more that aren't being suggested yet. Note that there are various related problems that solutions can be applied to. Some will deal with deputation lengths, others with monthly support levels, still other with the support needed by missionaries, etc. Some solutions will attack several problems at once.

Let's slow down now and settle something right up front. We must affirm that the deputation process is not a Bible doctrine, and therefore can be changed if needed. There are some who would assert that the process is unbiblical, and should be discarded wholly. I disagree, partly. (First, an argument from silence is weak. Second, the New Testament offers more description of support models than it offers prescription.) Are deputation and our current support structure
found in the Bible? No. However, they are loosely based upon some Biblical principles (such as providing the Gospel free of charge). Mostly, they are based upon pragmatic concerns, not Biblical teaching. I neither see cause to discard them totally nor to hold them as if they were doctrine. Instead, deputation is merely one practical way (not the only way) in which local churches can cooperate to get missionaries to the field.

Unless we see missionary support in this way, we will never be flexible enough to fix its problems. Further, we will not free ourselves to apply clearly biblical precidents and principles to our current problem. It is OK to make changes as needed. That being said, we will constrain ourselves to dealing primarily within the confines of our current deputation and support model.

So, what are some possible solutions? Here's one that we cannot consider: Decrease the number of missionaries sent and supported, in order to increase the amount given to those who do go.

Since this solution is off the table (thankfully), what is left? Plenty.
  1. Give More: This is an obvious one. No pastor or dedicated church member would doubt that we could and should be giving and sacrificing more for the Mission. There are many ways that I believe this could be realized, as a church is educated and mobilized for the Mission, but that is a discussion for another day. For now know that even if giving increased in the churches, this still wouldn't necessarily fix the support problem. The issue of how the money is distributed is the more basic concern.
  2. Support Fewer Missionaries at Larger Amounts: If we are to continue the deputation model of support, this is indispensable. Paul Chappel & Dwight Tomlison have made this suggestion in the book "Sending Forth Laborers" (p. 71-72). Noting the current problem, they suggest that local churches raise their current levels of support to $200 per missionary. This would mean a local church would support fewer missionaries, but those missionaries would not need nearly as many churches for their support (thus reducing deputation lengths). I suggest that an immediate increase in support levels (to $200-300 per missionary), followed by a continual gradual increase in the average for new missionaries, is the only way to combat never ending loss of dollar value and keep deputation lengths 'reasonable'. There are many objections that some have raised to this solution, but I perceive a multitude of potential benefits. They will be dealt with in greater depth in a subsequent post.
  3. Only Invite Missionaries You Will Support: I hadn't thought about this solution until it was suggested to me by the director of an Independent Fundamental Baptist Mission agency. He was concerned that missionaries must visit 2-3 times the number of churches than they actually need for their support. This is the result of over half of the churches they visit not supporting them financially (an issue that Tomlison and Chappell also allude to en passing, p. 72). If we could convince all of our churches to only invite those missionaries whom they will support, it would cut deputation lengths in half (or more). A great solution, I believe. However, by itself, it doesn't decrease the number of churches needed for support (a number that is constantly increasing), and so it doesn't solve the more basic problem on its own.
  4. Income-Producing Missionaries: This solution is perhaps both one of the best, and one of the most controversial. Nobody likes to talk about this option, and it is strongly discouraged by most. However, it has a tremendous amount of biblical precedent in Paul. It also has much practical value. It wouldn't be possible for missionaries in every situation to work in a secular job to produce supplamental income, but it may be possible for more than you might think.
  5. Changing Ministry and Lifestyle Approach: A willingness to live a simpler life than many do on the field, and a simpler (more strictly biblical) approach to church planting can drastically decrease the amount of money a missionary must raise (thus decreasing deputation lengths).
  6. Send More Single Men: This is another taboo subject. It is highly discouraged by many, for reasons of moral accountability. Some churches and agencies will have nothing to do with single male missionaries. They have their reasons for this (which are legitimate cautions). On the other hand, the Bible again provides an enormous amount of precedent to support the practice. It is a fact that a single male missionary can live cheaper and do a more Pauline-type ministry than a married man can. Sending teams of single men should still be cheaper, more effective than current models, more accountable, and very biblical.
These are just a few of the possible solutions to the coming missionary support crisis among Independent Baptist churches. We may bring up more later. I would suggest than many, or all, of them be applied together. In the end, it is up to each local church to discern the Lord's will for it and to decide what constitutes the best stewardship of its resources. Over the next few weeks I will dive in to some of these solutions more deeply, hopefully providing all with the information they need to make informed, prayerful decisions. Together, the problem can be solved and God's worldwide Mission can move forward as never before!

Please comment. What do you think of these solutions? Do you have other suggestions? We want to hear from you!

Friday, July 10, 2009

Urgent Need: Solutions for the Coming Missionary Support Crisis

It is 1965. An Independent Baptist missionary family has just been commissioned by a local church and they are heading out on the deputation trail. It's going to be a hard road. In fact, it is not meant to be easy. They say that this pre-field process is meant to 'weed out' bad missionaries, to encourage living by faith, etc. But . . . it's do-able.

They minister in many churches during this arduous process. With each church promising $25-$50 of monthly support, it took 15 churches. But finally, 6 months later, it's over and they're off to the field God has called them to.

Fast-forward to 2006.

Things haven't changed much. The process of support raising is practically identical. In fact, average support levels haven't changed too much either. But there have been several things that have changed . . . drastically. The value of the dollar that each church promises has plummeted. As a result, the amount of money that each missionary family must raise has risen exponentially. As a result, the number of churches needed for support has risen dramatically, resulting in a drastic lengthening of the process, resulting in a more draining (and less productive) furlough time. You can see how this is going.

I am certainly no economist or mathematician. Nor have I done extensive research to get 'solid' numbers ('solid' numbers are difficult to come by among such independent churches). However, if you are involved in the missions program of a local Independent Baptist church, I believe you will see truth in what I am about to report. The numbers below come from several sources: an article on a website called Missions Mandate, Measuring Worth, the US Census Bureau, email conversations with several missionaries and a missions professor, and two Independent Fundamental Baptist mission agencies.

Here are the numbers:
In 1965:
  • average household income = $7,000 (missionaries generally have to raise more than the US average, but we are going to use these census numbers because they are 'solid' and the percentage change between years should be about the same for the average income and the amount of support raised.)
  • local church missionary support level = $25-$50 per missionary per month
  • % of total support provided by each church = 4-9%
  • # of churches needed to get a missionary to the field = 12-20 (This doesn't take into account the sending church's higher level of support. I imagine that very few would have needed 20 churches)
  • length of deputation = 6-9 months (rough numbers from several anecdotal reports)

In 2006:

  • average household income = $58,500 (The average missionary family must raise significantly more than this, averaging by one agency's record over $70,000, but again we'll work with the census number.)
  • local church support level = $65 (This is a 'solid', though surprising, number from a mission agency in 'my circles.' This number can be expected to fluctuate among the various 'circles' of Independent Baptist churches and in various regions.)
  • % of support provided by each church = 1%
  • # of churches needed = up to 75 or more
  • length of deputation = 2-3 years (A missionary often must visit 2-3 times the number churches needed to raise full support, due to many of the visited churches not financially supporting them.)

Percentage change between 1965 and 2006:

  • average household income = 735% increase

  • local church support level = 30% increase

Here's another way to look at it: $320 in 2006 has the same 'purchasing power' as $50 in 1965. So, if we merely want to support at a comparable level with churches in 1965 we would have to give $320 per month per missionary!

Are these numbers surprising? They were to me.

Here are the hard truths: local church missionary support levels have not kept up with inflation at all; the situation is only going to get worse (perhaps rapidly); these changes are going to have severe detrimental effects upon our missionary efforts in the near future (In fact, they already are). Some (not all) predict impending hyperinflation (loss of Dollar value). With support levels already not keeping up with inflation, we can perhaps expect the % of support provided by each church to drop to .5%. Just this small of a drop could mean that 100-200 churches would be needed to send a single missionary family to the field. This would mean drastically longer deputation times (perhaps 4-6 years?), with the increased burden on the churches increasing the time even more. The result would be fewer missionaries getting to the field (a choice the Southern Baptist Convention is now having to make) and a diminished ability to reach the unreached in our generation (which is our responsibility).

Imagine this scenario happening in the near future: our missionary family has been commissioned by a local church to reach the unreached on the other side of the globe. They are now heading out on the deputation trail. It's going to be a hard road and they pray that their faith is strong enough to survive it. Two years into full-time deputation has only put them at around half of their support. They hope now to be done in 2 or 3 more years. It looks like they'll need 120 churches supporting them.

7 years later: They weren't sure they were going to make it, but they did. Now, after 4 years on the field, they are back home on furlough. It should be a time of restoration to their homeland, family and friends, and a time of profitable ministry. However, they have 120 supporting churches to report to, leaving little time for these things. Instead, they spend their time traveling around the country more furiously than missionaries in the past had to do.

1.5 years later: Exhausted, they arrive back on the field for another term. They are the fortunate ones though. Missionary attrition rates are much higher now. So many don't make it through the grueling deputation process. Even more don't make it back to the field for a second term.

The above scenario (or even worse) is likely to be reality soon if nothing is done to correct the trend. But what can be done? It seems so hopeless. God is faithful though. It is still His will that all peoples become His disciples, through the work of His churches. There are answers. What are they? That is a question for next week.

Please comment below! What are your suggestions? Do you have more 'solid' numbers? I will post revisions, clarifications, etc. as needed.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Coming Missionary Support Crisis: Coming Very Soon!

I've been advertising this one for quite some time now. I just got some numbers in from an Independent Fundamental Baptist mission agency. They are more shocking than I initially suspected they would be! I am hoping to get numbers from a second agency soon to be able to verify these, but I will post the findings next week no matter what.

Stay Tuned!