Sunday, August 23, 2009

Higher Support, Fewer Missionaries

THE PROBLEM

What is the primary problem within the current model of missionary support among Independent Fundamental Baptists (deputation with off-site church support)? I have tried to deal with various complimentary sulutions to the current missionary support crisis in previous posts, but most of them work outside of the support structure itself. The central crisis, as I see it, is the continued lengthening of the deputation process. This is the primary support problem that needs solved.

THE STORY
  1. Dollar loses value

  2. Total missionary support needed increases

  3. Average local church support remains relatively unmoved

  4. Churches needed for support increase

  5. Deputation lengths increase, delaying the sending of missionaries to their fields

  6. Side-effects multiply

  7. Furlough productivity decreases

(Read the first post of this series where I elaborated on the current situation.)

SOLUTION?

The vicious process above is continuing today relatively unabated. Some are willing to suggest the best logical change, while others either remain ignorant to this process or choose to ignore it. Some who have choosen to make the suggestion include Paul Chappel & Dwight Tomlison. In "Sending Forth Laborers" (p. 71-72) they suggest that local churches raise their current levels of support to $200 per missionary, supporting fewer missionaries per church. In light of the current support situation, I think this to be a good idea.

So, here is my recommendation:

RECCOMENDATION: Churches should pray about an immediate increase to $200-300 for all new missionaries they decide to support. This should be followed by a continual gradual increase in the amount for future missionaries as the dollar devalues. The support of missionaries currently on the field who lose support due to inflation should be supplemented through planned gradual increases, so that they don't have to continually return from the field just to raise more support. This is the only way to combat perpetual inflation and keep deputation lengths 'reasonable' within our current system.

BENEFITS:

  • It would take only 16-25 churches to support the average missionary instead of 60-75.

  • Deputation lengths, I believe, would decrease from 2-3 years to 1 year or less.

  • Churches, with fewer missionaries being supported, would be able to make greater personal investments in those they do support, resulting (I believe) in greater local church Mission mobilization and better missionary care.

  • Furlough times would be more productive as the missionary is able to invest more significantly into supporting churches, especially his sending church.

OBJECTIONS:

  • Narrower Support Base: "If missionaries have fewer churches giving higher levels of support, then it would devastate them more to lose a supporting church." True, churches cease to exist, they split, they suffer economic hardships, etc. True, it 'hurts' more to lose $200 than it does $65, but something is being forgotten with this objection. The $50 average missionary support of 1965 is the $350 of today (a level we are not likely to reach soon). Our objection doesn't hold water when given in light of our history.
  • Fewer Available Supporting Churches: "If churches supported fewer missionaries at higher support levels, wouldn't that mean missionaries would have a harder time finding supporting churches?" It wouldn't be as bad as you think. The same amount of support money would be available among the same churches. It would only be distributed differently. While there may be a little more difficulty finding meetings (though I doubt this), it would yet take many fewer meetings to gain full support. In the end, this would still result in much shorter deputation lengths.
DIFFICULTIES: There is no doubt in my mind that this is all do-able. This doesn't mean that it will be easy for all though. For some churches, especially small or new ones, the transition could be more difficult. Churches may have to take on fewer missionaries at a time in order to give at the higher levels. (Remember, the same amount of missions money is still available in the same churches, just distributed differently.) It may be best for smaller churches to work their way into it, though they still ought to be aggressive in their approach to the problem.

PHILOSOPY ALTERATION: This change in support would require a change in philosophy. No longer could the local church be concerned about supporting as many missionaries as possible. Rather, the church must concern itself with giving the best support to the missionaries it does support. It becomes an issue of quality over quantity, bringing them forward on their journey "after a godly sort" (3 John 6). This gives the church an opportunity to get more personally and practically involved in the work of the foreign missionaries. Surely increased practical and personal Mission involvement would lead to increased Mission passion and increased Mission giving, solving some of the aforementioned difficulties.

Just a few churches applying this solution and philosophy would affect deputation lengths. However, for the problem to be solved, it must be applied on a much larger scale. This is only likely to happen as more pastors with more influence than I have begin to openly encourage such an approach in light of the current crisis facts. I pray these men will be raised up soon.

How serious are we about the sending and supporting of missionaries? Are we concerned about what is best for the Mission and for missionaries? If so, are we willing to take the necessary steps to stem the tide of the coming missionary support crisis?


8 comments:

Rocky said...

Good post. I was thinking...what it comes down to is reproduction. If churches are starting new churches and adding to them regularly (and, of course, teaching the converts how to reproduce as well [soul-winning and mission giving]), then the money should be there for the missionaries when they are called (TRULY called).

Dan said...

Logistics question: Who will organize this vast change? There is no central governing body, correct? Or have I forgotten something that I used to know?

Wouldn't it require something or someone to push that?

Debtor Paul said...

Dan,

That is one of the primary hurdles in solving this problem. I believe our autonomy is Biblical, and so is our cooperation. Our support model itself, I believe, is good. However, how do changes get made to this type of cooperative system of support when there is no central governing body?

First, there are 'fellowships' of sorts among Fundamentals in my 'circles' (I hate this term, but for the sake of brevity we'll use it). Even if they aren't 'official' cooperative efforts, they are yet there, often centered around schools. The leaders of these could use their influence to bring large numbers on board.

Second, related to the first, how have any changes ever been made in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movements? Changes have been made on large scales as certain key pastors have stood up, identified problems, and spoken openly about them. If the approach he is advocating is both Biblical and practical, it is often taken up in other churches. This allows us to maintain a total governing autonomy for each local church as well as a healthy voluntary cooperation.

These types of things have happened before. The key is for the right pastors to catch a vision for it and speak openly about it. It is probably already happening among some churches and 'circles'. It just needs the right leadership stepping up.

No, I don't think any kind of central governing body is necessary for this. In the long run, I believe all such bodies are detrimental.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Debtor Paul

Justin Long said...

Another approach might be to try to help missionaries change their fundraising habits rather than to change church habits. Ask what a good distribution of missionary support is - how much should an individual missionary get for their budget from one church? 10%? 25%? 50%? 5%? Then the question becomes, how much does that % represent... and what does a church need in terms of relationship? donor materials? what? to be willing to give that much to an individual missionary? Just a thought...

Debtor Paul said...

Justin,

I think that is an excellent point. In that respect (if I'm understanding you correctly) I perceive this problem in our support system: both churches and missionaries expect and seek a very low level of relationship and two-way ministry involvement when it comes to supported missionaries. It ends with a check, a little prayer (sometimes), and an occasional prayer letter. Really, if we would all undergo a radical change of philosophy concerning missionary-supporting church relationships, the current support/deputation problem would solve itself more naturally.

What if missionaries communicated to potential supporting churches their desire to have fewer churches supporting them in order to be able to maintain a closer, more personal, more practically involved relationship? What if they did lay out a plan (in terms of communication, resources, and practical two-way ministry involvement)before potential supporting churches for a closer relationship than they are used to? Would pastors in my 'circles' respond well? I think some might. I think many wouldn't yet.

Those that wouldn't right now, WOULD if the suggestions started coming from other pastors.

If such a philosophy change occurred in any local church (I know I'm talking from the church's perspective again), it would lead to increased passion, giving, and sending from that local church. Exciting possibilities.

Debtor Paul

dizi izle said...

thank you

Nate Adams said...

I struggle with this issue. I'm undecided, but I see another side and challenges to giving more to fewer. I'm a former missionary and currently a missions pastor. I struggle with a couple more "Objections" to the idea.
1. (As you mentioned) the dependency. You feel it more if a church gets a new pastor and withdraws their 25% of your support.
2. Beholding to. If a church is giving, say 25% of your support, you aren't just accountable, you feel a certain degree of obligation to follow their direction. (How would a pastor like having two outspoken congregants who each give 25% of the church budget?) I think there is a loss of freedom to follow God's leading and pressure to follow the direction of the well-meaning church who is out of touch with the reality in the field.
3. If all churches restricted their mission funds to just a few heavily supported missionaries, most would find themselves supporting only people who came from their congregation or have a strong tie to it. Where does that leave missionaries from a small church? Our church has about 1,500 in attendance on a weekend, we could easily pool all our missions giving into the handful of missionaries who came out of our congregation or local ministries that actually worship with us. But there are many local ministries we help support to a lesser degree and missionaries we help support at a small level who are not directly related to our church. If not for the many smaller contributions, how would local ministries survive? They don't have a "home church" to pick up a significant percent of their ministry.
4. IF a smaller church pooled their resources into a few missionaries, say for example 3 instead of 12, assuming they have an annual missions conference, how do they get missionaries at their conference each year? Would they have one missionary at the conference and rotate among the three? Or would they invest considerable funds to bring the 3 missionaries home once every year?
There are definitely advantages to supporting deeper with fewer, but I also see disadvantages. - I'm still undecided.

Debtor Paul said...

Nate,

Thanks for the comment! I don't think that you would have to worry about 25% from most churches, even if they accept this philosophy. In light of that, your concerns may be a little exaggerated. That being said, I have actually begun to encourage churches to move to a percentage support system. I would encourage a sending church to consider supporting their sent missionaries at 25%. This shouldn't be too much of a problem, as you really should be quite "beholden" to them. If they have a history of not allowing a missionary sufficient autonomy on the field, you should probably look for a different church. Your concern about pastoral changes in the sending church would be largely solved if churches would move to a much more biblical multiple elder model of leadership (something for a different post, and not likely to be practiced in IFB churches). As for supporting churches, I encourage them to take on 5% of a missionary's full support goal (after the rationale for their goal has been accepted by the church, obviously requiring more disclosure than usual). Perhaps churches just beginning to improve their support model could begin at a slightly lower percentage. This way each missionary's support is impacted equally.

Your third point is a bit more difficult. The fact is that churches should prefer to support works that they are more attached to. The missionaries that you are most concerned about here will have to work harder to get meetings and support. It will be that way no matter what model is chosen. Before deputation begins, they need to be building contacts, and their churches and pastors ought to be doing the same. They need to attend fellowship meetings, Bible college meetings, and many others. A small church does not, and should not, be so disconnected. Many are quite connected. Additionally, they need to form a good initial contact strategy for deputation, with good materials (video, brochure, whatever it takes). If they struggle to get support, it should not (but often--not always--is) be because they and their church/pastors didn't put in the effort.

As for number 4, I see no reason why the annual missions conference cannot be totally reworked. A little more creativity would be quite healthy. Missionaries are forced to be creative; their sending and supporting churches can be as well. With more support and care invested into fewer missionaries, I can imagine conferences being even more meaningful.

As a side note, I have been involved in one larger church switching to a percentage model. I believe it is working quite well. Nevertheless, another practice that I would recommend for many (if not most) missionaries is being bivocational. That is also for a different post. It is Pauline (which doesn't make it prescriptive) and, I believe, immensely beneficial, even if very difficult.