Monday, September 7, 2009

Is There a Missionary Support Crisis?

In my mind (and in the minds of many others) there is a coming missionary support crisis. Is it really a crisis though?
Cri-sis : an unstable or crucial time or state of affairs in which a decisive change is impending; especially: one with the distinct possibility of a highly undesirable outcome.
I wish I had the time to do the research necessary to bring even more clarity to what is happening with missionary support among Independent Fundamental Baptists. But alas, I do not have that time. If you just think with me a little bit though, I think we will come close to being on the same page.

Is the situation unstable? Absolutely. Because deputation lengths seem to largely follow economic realities, I feel comfortable saying that this is an increasingly unstable time for missionary support. People lose jobs, less support is available. The dollar loses value, current support is worth less. And so on.

Is it a crucial time? This is harder to say without significant research, but I think it could prove to be. With decisive economic changes potentially coming with increasing frequency, now may be the best time to decisively change the way we approach missionary support. A change now could change the way the economy affects missionary support in the future.

In the end, whether this is viewed as a crisis or not will depend upon what one views as acceptable. Is it acceptable to you for missionaries to spend up to 3 years on deputation (today's reality)? Is it acceptable that the length of deputation is continuing to increase without anything serious being done about it by most? Will 4 year deputation lengths be acceptable? 5? If so, no changes are necessary.

If deputation is supposed to be a time of testing or training, perhaps one would view these numbers as acceptable. But is there anything being tested that will ensure better field viability? Is training being received that will reduce attrition and result in increased fruitfulness? Are there not far better ways to test and train that would be much more field related?

If deputation is supposed to be a time to raise support and build lasting mutually beneficial relationships, then perhaps we should rethink our approach. Don't get me wrong. I am 100% behind our current method of raising support when it accomplishes these goals in the best possible ways. But the fact is that, unless changes are made, it will become a totally inefficient means of raising support, taking longer and longer to accomplish. Further, with churches supporting so many missionaries at such low levels of support, lasting mutually beneficial relationships are hardly possible (at least I've never seen it accomplished in a way that would satisfy me).

So, what should be done about it? Several complementary solutions have already been discussed on this blog. If you want to browse those, just click on the label "Missionary Support and Deputation". I believe that a comprehensive local church plan could be formulated which would meet current missionary support needs. In fact, I believe that many more needs could be met at the same time. However, before a plan is formulated, we need to know what we want to accomplish. What is our goal? Simply put (and without much thought) I believe this would be a good broad goal (without measurable milestones) which covers two areas of need and benefits many others:
Decrease deputation lengths while promoting increased mutually beneficial missionary-supporting church relationships.
Everything done must accomplish both of these to some degree. These are do-able. In comment discussion related to other posts it has been admitted that large scale (multiple local church) changes in this area would be very difficult to accomplish with such independent churches, without threatening autonomy. That being the case, it is nevertheless possible for each local church to impact deputation lengths for some missionaries while enriching the relationship they maintain with them. As more local churches take steps toward accomplishing this broad goal, the overall deputation picture will begin to change for the better. Crisis largely solved.

What part can you and your local church play in relieving this crisis? Perhaps more than you think. Be creative. Think outside of the box.

PS - you may notice that I haven't posted much recently. This is due to a position I just took in my church that constitutes a final stage in my pre-field preparation. I do plan on initiating a new writing schedule though. It will be less rigorous than when I began, but it will be regular (hopefully). Thanks for following and interacting.

3 comments:

Dan said...

I am not an Independent Fundamentalist, but I can see how this funding problem is going to hit all denominations. I think it's a good idea to hit it head on, and I appreciate your work.

Preeti said...

I agree with Dan, that funding problem is going to hit all denominations But to solve this funding problem, there are several better alternatives than the proposed funding plan. debtor

Debtor Paul said...

Preeti, thank you for the comment. While I am no longer able to maintain this blog with fresh posts, I do still follow the comments.

There are no doubt plans that would be more appropriate to the denominations. The plans I have proposed on this blog have been specifically in the context of independent Baptist churches, who are not, will not, and should not be joined into a denominational structure.

I would be interested in any better alternatives you may have though! I am very interested in seeing the best ideas implemented!

As for my church and me, I have had the opportunity to see good alternatives implemented already. Because of these changes, my deputation will likely only be 1.5 years, some of that part time. My church planting model is more simple than most, requiring less money. My sending church is supporting me at a high percentage of my total support, and may even implement a plan to support at an even higher level! Concerning other foreign missionaries that my church is taking on for financial support, we are now supporting at a percentage of their total support need. This has increased the whole dollar amount that we are giving, and it will naturally keep pace with increasing support needs . . . forever! While it takes more than one church to make an impact on deputation lengths, my church is a "flagship" church among a large number of independent Baptist churches, making it more likely to spread! I see these as very positive developments.

As I said, please give me any other alternatives. We are interested in implementing what is best. I don't mind discussing them.