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!

10 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bro. (The original writer included Debtor's real name here). Been reading your blog with interest and you raise some excellent points. There's something else that should be considered here and that is OVER-supported missionaries. I know of one "veteran" missionary that tells other missionaries "there is no such thing as too much support." This is a man living on a field with a high cost of living in an executive rented home on a golf course with all the mod-cons and who has not been doing the full time work of a missionary on his field for some years. I also know of many missionaries who are working jobs on the field and I'm unsure of how forthcoming they are to their supporting churches. Like you, I have no problem with them having a secular job - but if they are pulling anything like full support while working full-time, there's a problem. I find this frustrating when I know there are so many UNDER-supported missionaries out there, and those who have been on the deputation trail for a few years now but still have not raised what they need to go. I have heard similar stories from missionaries on other fields around the world, regarding the over-supported missionary. They are also back and forth between their field and the US constantly for no good reason - another waste of mission dollars. Where we live there has been a lot of going back for furlough long before the work they've started is established enough to withstand with a new or under-trained pastor and the work folds, people are hurt, and Baptists get a bad name, making it difficult for other church-planters coming into the area, and defeating the purpose of their coming to this field in the first place. This type of missionary is often locally referred to as the "American tourist." There is a lot wrong with the current model - not necessarily doctrinally - but in application and efficacy. There needs to be more checks and balances but I'm unsure as to how this can be done. I hope you don't mind if I don't give my name - call me a coward, but I know we Baptists are not averse to shooting our own! Just wanted to add another dimension to your fleshing out of the current crisis.

Debtor Paul said...

Great points. There is definitely some problem with over-support. While I would not interfere with a local church's and missionary's decision regarding the amount of support needed, I would definitely make some suggestions (like my suggestion #5). Some of the high support problem would be solved by using a more simple, more strictly Biblical approach to church planting. This would reduce the amount of support needed for ministry. It would do good to move toward a more strictly Pauline method, which was simple and spiritual. It would make for good stewardship, and (I believe) would be more effective.

Regarding the secular job issue: I will be delving into this much deeper very soon, but I will say that integrity would be needed in this regard. It defeats the purpose (as far as the current crisis goes) to have "full-support" and a secular job.

This all being said, I would like to insert that I believe that the vast majority of missionaries are honest and sacrificial. Even so, we all must constantly re-evaluate our lives and methods in light of Scriptural principles. That is what I seek to do.

Thanks for the comment. I would love to know who you are, but I understand your concerns. If you would like to talk more you can email me at debtorpaul@gmail.com or at my other account if you know it.

Anonymous said...

Deputation is not a biblical term but the doctrine is there in Romans 15 (that is Paul's home church so it could be argued).

As for America we find that churches are not where they should be with their spiritual walk. We see this with the government having to step in and provide for the people. My understanding is that the government is there for protection and the church is there for support. Most churches have failed in many of their duties and their failure is directly impacting the support of the missionary.

The working missionary is a good idea, but in many countries it is frowned upon because we are taking away work from the nationals. According to them, all westerners are rich so they shouldn’t be taking jobs from the nationals.

In conclusion we could talk about the support issue that we face for missionaries, but the support issue is a direct result of the Americanized Christian. America has left their first love. For a solution to the problem I pose the following questions:
-How far on faith is the missionary willing to go?
-What can we learn from Great Britain?
-Are churches ready to base decisions upon morals rather than finances? This is a difficult question because of the debt that has been so standard these past few years. Debt has bound the church.

Debtor Paul said...

Thank you for your comment. While I wouldn't put deputation anywhere near the level of doctrine, as I said in the post, it is somewhat based on several biblical principles. The church at Rome wasn't Paul's home/sending church, for he had yet to be there at the writing of the letter. They were most likely to help him on his way to Spain, but this was not very comparable to modern deputation. This will be discussed in a later post in more depth.

You are right that this problem, at its root, is a spiritual problem. If all would practice the key to good discipleship (dying to self for the sake of others) this would likely be a non-issue.

As for the jobs being taken from nationals, this doesn't need to be the case. In fact, it is possible either to not disturb national jobs or to provide more national jobs in the process of a missionary working. Again, this will be discussed more soon.

Your list of questions is excellent and very applicable. While I probably won't deal extensively with the debt problem yet, it no doubt significantly affects the missionary support problem (on both sides).

I believe with all my heart that God raised up America in prosperity to hasten the spread of the Gospel. We still have this ability (at least for a little while). Will we use it? Will we die to our wants and needs for the sake of the Gospel in the nations?

Rocky said...

Just a thought, though I would not attempt to speak for the Holy Spirit. This addresses the idea of income producing missionaries:

My dad is pastoring a small church in Kansas. Most of his income comes from his military pension. Before long he will be 62 and bringing in more income than ever (after 20 years in the military, I believe he deserves it). So I have been thinking...scratch retirement! Many military men are retired by 40. These seem to be ideal missionaries. Imagine using the U.S. tax-paid pension dollars for mission work!

Anonymous said...

How about, as missionaries commit to live simpler lifestyles, the givers taking on that same charge?

I hold strongly to the conviction that every Christian household should support a missionary. It's an endeavor that shows support to the fulfillment of the Great Commission and it shows support to the body of Christ.

If families would commit to living at an income level similar to or matching the missionary families they support, it's likely that they would be able to GIVE more to support the missionaries.

Debtor Paul said...

Thank you all for your good comments! Keep following, it will get even more interesting!

Rocky,

I think that should be at least considered by every retiree. Imagine the fruit they could have later in life!

Anonymous,

You are exactly right. We should all have a wartime mindset. Much has been written about the wartime lifestyle by missionary writers such as Ralph Winter and other. It is different than a mere Simple Lifestyle. Among so many other things, I hope to post about that here sometime.

Norman said...

Wow. $200 support from a church? Is that month or a year? No wonder independent missionaries must wear themselves out in deputation. Thank God for the cooperative nature of Southern Baptist churches that combine effort to send missionaries to unreached peoples without their having to do deputation.

Debtor Paul said...

Norman,

Thank you for your comment. While I will not delve into the matter deeply here, there are both Biblical and practical reasons why we send and support missionaries the way we do. Independent Baptists do not send missionaries through a 'Convention' because we believe that this is totally outside of the plan of God. While there are some practical advantages to the CP, we believe that even the PRACTICAL disadvantages outweigh the advantages. In the end, whatever the pragmatics, we are to be led by Scripture and not what SEEMS to 'work'.

This doesn't mean that we can learn nothing from the CP (which is struggling significantly this year, in a way that Independents are not!). I have heard remotely of some Independent Baptist churches cooperating more closely in regions to make the process easier, yet still Biblical. However, it seems that even these are a far cry from the CP model.

Again, thank you for your comment. Please keep following the blog. I know that the above may have sounded 'harsh', but I didn't mean it to. (It is hard for me to communicate my TONE in writing.)

Dan said...

I would like to comment on something Rocky said. As a US Navy career sailor, my wife and I are hoping to be in some sort of missionary endeavor once I retire and start drawing that retirement. It really is perfect. I know guys who retire from the military living in places like Thailand, the Philippines, etc, practically on their pensions alone!

So start recruiting us!