Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Best Solution to the Missionary Support Crisis

I know, I know. It has been a LOOOOONG time since I last posted. My new position with my church has tied me up considerably. Hopefully, I will now begin to get into some type of posting routine.

We had left off discussing missionary support issues in the midst of what I consider a crisis. I think it would be good to explore one solution to this crisis further. Increasing missionary support levels had been suggested as a likely solution. There are several potential problems with this solution though.

  1. A one time increase in the support of new missionaries will act only as a temporary bandage to a larger problem. In a few years this support level will be less adequate due to inflation and variations in exchange rates on some fields. So another support decision will have to be made later. If business runs as usual, this future decision is likely not to be made in a timely manner.

  2. Setting the support of all missionaries at the same whole dollar amount, regardless of their field, results in widely differing impacts. For example, let's say that a church supports all new missionaries at $150 per month (a relatively high number today). This will make up nearly 4% of the total support for a missionary needing to raise $4,000/month. However, it makes up just above 2% of the total support for a missionary raising $6,500 to live on a field with a higher cost-of-living. Each missionary is impacted differently by the same amount of support, resulting in one having to gain many more supporting churches than the other, resulting in a longer deputation time and more hectic furlough.

There are at least a couple of ways to ensure that support levels continue to keep up with inflation and exchange rate changes. One of them also provides a support level that impacts all new missionaries similarly.

  1. The church can institute a written policy regarding re-evaluation of new missionary support levels every two years. At those times, missionary support should be evaluated in light of economic changes and the full support levels that missionaries are needing to reach.

  2. The church can begin supporting all new missionaries at a certain percentage of their total support. This should also be in a written missions policy. This solves all of the problems addressed above, as long as the percentage is significant enough.

Imagine now that there is a church that has decided to take this second approach. They decide to begin supporting new missionaries at 8% of their full support goal. This is significantly higher than the 2% or less that they were probably supplying before. However, it is comparable to the average support levels (perhaps slightly less) that churches were supplying in the 1960's. Here's how this would work out:

A missionary family needing to raise $6,000/month in order to live in a country with a high cost-of-living would be supported at $480/month. A missionary to a less expensive country raising $4,000/month would be supported at $320. These numbers may seem extremely high, but they actually begin to have the same impact as the $65/month support that my church supplied in the 1960's. I would suggest that a missionary's sending church should provide at least 25% of his support.

Not all churches will be able to support at these amounts right now. They may begin supporting at 4%. Missionaries raising $6,000 and $4,000 would receive $240 and $160 per month respectively. This would still be a dramatic increase in financial support for most churches today.
The impact of such a plan would be tremendous. There would be no need to re-evaluate the support of new missionaries every two years. The church's support for new missionaries would naturally increase as missionaries need to raise more or less due to changes in dollar value and exchange rates. Further, the church's financial support would have the same impact upon every missionary's total support.

Not every church could make immediate drastic changes in support levels. They can position themselves to make such changes though. They can begin supporting at a lower percentage and gradually increase that percentage yearly. Churches will not be able to support as many missionaries each on such a plan. However, the same amount of money would be available for missionaries among the churches, only it would be given more strategically and beneficially. A decrease in the number of missionaries supported at higher amounts should be attained naturally. Out of the missionaries a church supports, some will leave the field, some will die, some will have to be dropped due to moral or doctrinal issues. Also, the church (hopefully) will be growing, resulting in more income for missions. Instead of replacing all of these missionaries on a 1:1 ratio, the church could replace several lost through attrition with one supported at a higher percentage. In this way, the church will gradually reach its goal of supporting fewer missionaries at more significant amounts.

The benefits to such a plan being instituted by many churches are numerous:

  1. fewer churches needed to attain full support

  2. decreased deputation times

  3. less hectic furloughs

  4. more meaningful supporting church-missionary relationships, as the churches can focus care on fewer missionaries

  5. number 4 should result in increased missions giving and passion, if the church does engage itself more in the lives and ministries of its supported missionaries

  6. more meaningful missionary accountability, as supporting churches get more involved with fewer missionaries

  7. and on and on.

The most significant objection that I anticipate for such a plan is that the missionaries may begin to say they need much more support, in order to get more support from a church that works on such a plan. I do not doubt that some missionaries are liars. But I refuse to believe this about the vast majority. If there is any concern that the missionary may have such poor character, they should not receive 8% support, or even $1!

It should be noted that this plan only considers changes in support levels for missionaries that the church will take on in the future. Missionaries that are currently supported by the church could receive increases according to another plan the church decides upon. Such a plan will not be discussed here.

I believe that a plan like the one above, adopted by many Independent Baptist churches, would have an incredibly positive impact upon missionaries, churches, and the Mission in general.

What do you think?

Related Posts:

Urgent Need: Solutions for the Coming Missionary Support Crisis

Solutions for the Coming Missionary Support Crisis

Support in the Bible: Secular Work (Part 1) (Part 2)

Support in the Bible: Who is Supposed to Support Them?

Support in the Bible: Single Male Missionaries

Support in the Bible: Off-Site Support

Higher Support, Fewer Missionaries

Is There a Support Crisis?

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.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Higher Support, Fewer Missionaries


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.

  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.)


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.


  • 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.


  • 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?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

These Weeks in the Mission Blogosphere

From Mission resources, to the missionary spirit of Independent Baptists, to Swarming, over the last few week I have read many good Mission posts. Here are a few of my highlights from the last several weeks in the Mission Blogosphere:
  • MissionaryHelp.com - This is a site I ran across recently. He has recently pointed out several new resources that could benefit the Mission. Two resources deal with the reaching of oral peoples. They include a powerpoint and a book. While we may not adopt all of the approaches suggested, there is definitely some work to be done in this area. He also introduced Google Voice. I do not believe it will replace Skype any time soon, but I do plan to begin utilizing it soon for call management. It shows some promise even for missionaries.
  • The Missionary Spirit - Way of Life posted a wonderful charge to Independent Fundamental Baptists concerning their missionary fervor. It is a reprint of a 1997 article in The Fundamentalist Digest. After recapping the happenings among 100 seminary students at the Andover Seminary in the 19th century, the writer asks "Could a group of 100 students be found in any fundamental Baptist seminary in the USA today who have banded themselves together solely for seeking God's will concerning missionary service?" I pray that this exists, but I'm afraid to look.
  • This Generation in Mission - Missions Mandate posted some comments made by Southern Baptist Al Mohler concerning the future of missions in the hands of the next generation. They are worthy thoughts to be considered by Independent Baptists as well. What will the Mission look like in our hands? Is there really coming a "tidal wave of participatory missions unlike anything seen by the Christian church since the first century"? I pray so. How can we ensure it?
  • What Kind of Pastors Do We Look For? - Desiring God included a great post about qualifications for church leadership. While Independent Fundamental Baptists do not generally look for "the creative type," we do perhaps place a lot of emphasis in areas that God does not.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Resource: Books on Paul the Missionary

I think that sometimes we forget who Paul was. Oh, we always remember certain things about him. For example, he was an apostle - and not just any apostle. He was an apostle of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, upon whom special revelation was showered, who acted with a special authority. This is the Paul we know. Is that the whole picture though?

Perhaps it would be convenient for us if that was the whole picture. It would allow us to remain satisfied with our faith, our methods, our results. We could continue to justify, "We are not apostles as he was, therefore we cannot expect his results, nor can we bind ourselves to his methods. Rather, we must work to develop our own methods, that will work in our time, in our contexts." However, if Paul is much more than the above, then we have serious grounds for self-examination.

Yes, Paul was more than that. Let's not forget that, though he was an Apostle of Christ, he was also an apostle of a church in Antioch. Always remember that he was Paul the apostle of Christ, but let us also remember that he Paul the missionary. He was fulfilling the same commands that bind us still. Not only that, but the principles that guided his missionary methods should be those that guide ours. I am convinced that, if we follow the same principles, we will use much the same methods, and get in many places much the same results.

That is where these resources come into play. I suppose there have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of books written about Paul. However, it seems that relatively few have been written about Paul the missionary. I would now like to point to a couple that have been beneficial to my thinking.

Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? by Roland Allen

This book shook my world when I had to read it for a class (I'm not sure my fellow classmates were nearly as enthralled). So often we hear people claim to use Pauline methods. But Roland Allen dared to suggest that we aren't really Pauline in our approach at all. As a result, we have long since lost hope of Pauline results. Perhaps the aspect of Allen's work that struck me most was the deliberate movement away from dependency upon the missionary toward dependency upon the Holy Ghost in our methods. Also significant was his suggestion that there are very few, if any, conditions present on any mission field today that would rule out doing the work the way Paul did, expecting the results that Paul obtained.

Allen was an Anglican. Therefore, as an Independent Fundamental Baptist, you will have to spit out the bones. In places, he is heavy on the "sacraments," and he would promote an ecclesiology that is foreign to us and Scripture (though he is closer than most other Anglicans). So read discerningly, but in the many places where he is Scriptural, learn and heed.

Paul the Missionary: Realities, Strategies and Methods by Eckhard Schnabel

Not all of Allen's suggestions are in line with Scripture and history. In many of the places where Allen lacked, Schnabel adequately supplements. Paul the Missionary is a much larger book, but it is well worth the time. His recollection of Paul's work is challenging to us today. You would do well to pick up this book and take the time to read it thoroughly.

I want to include here a few quotes from the Preface and Intro to Missionary Methods. They will give you a taste of what's coming:

"The fact remains that, where St. Paul conspicuously succeeded, we have conspicuously failed. May it not be because we have worked upon widely different principles?" (Henry Whitehead, in the Intro to the 1st ed.)

"We can more easily believe in His work in us and through us, than we can believe in His work in and through our converts: we cannot trust our converts to Him. But that is one of the most obvious lessons which the study of St Paul's work teaches us."

"Like the rest of the Holy Scriptures it (the record of Paul's church planting ministry) was 'written for our learning'. It was certainly meant to be something more than the romantic history of an exceptional man, doing exceptional things under exceptional circumstances - a story from which ordinary people of a later age can get no more instruction for practical missionary work than they receive from the history of the Cid, or from the exploits of King Arthur."

"Either we must drag down St Paul from his pedestal as the great missionary, or else we must acknowledge that there is in his work that quality of universality."

Are you willing to have your minds and methods challenged by Paul the missionary? Do you want to find the secret of his success as a missionary? Do you want to truly work from the same principles?

These books are a good place to begin that challenge. Read them, and tell me what you think.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible: Off-Site Supporting Churches

No. No. Deputation is not in the Bible. Why do we use this model of missionary support then? Is there any Biblical support for it? Can it be altered?

There are several principles and practices in the New Testament that are applicable to modern Independent Baptist missionary support. There is the primary principle concerning support being received from those being ministered to on the field - not a principle often practiced today (or then). There are also principles that would lead us to refuse such a means of support. New Testament practices that are applicable to modern missionary support include practices such as working a secular job on the field and sending single male missionary teams.

But where in all of this do we find our typical means of modern missionary support, i.e. deputation and off-site church support? The short answer is, deputation is not found, but off-site church support is.

Let me clarify some things before continuing. Deputation is the process of going from church to church by request and invitation in order to seek financial support for your off-site ministry. By off-site I mean a ministry that is not taking place within the supporting church. Rather, it is taking place outside of that church, often in another country.

We know that the church the missionary is currently ministering to is the only church with an expressed biblical responsibility to support the missionary. But it is clear that off-site churches (especially the Macedonians) often sent financial and other assistance to Paul (Phil 4:10-19; 1 Cor 16:17; 2 Cor 11:8-12). They had no apparent obligation to do so. Neither does it seem that Paul demanded it of them. In fact, he considered himself to be 'robbing' the off-site churches (2 Cor 11:8). There are at least a couple reasons why he was willing to receive such off-site support, instead of rightly requiring the on-site church to provide his needs.
  1. Freeing the Gospel - It allowed him to preach the Gospel of God free of charge. (2 Cor 11:7)

  2. Cutting Off Criticism - It cut off occasion from them which desired an occasion to accuse him of mixed motives. (2 Cor 11:12)

  3. Lifting Burdens - It allowed him to remove a financial burden from the church among whom he was currently ministering. (2 Cor 11:9)

While these churches had no expressed obligation to supply such support, Paul yet said that they had "well done" (Phil 4:14), that it would result in fruit abounding to their account (4:17), that their gift was a sacrifice pleasing to God (4:18). Further, they could be assured that all their needs would be met abundantly by this pleased God (4:19).

Did they have a law that bound them to support an off-site missionary? No. However, their display of Christian love for the missionary and the unreached was right and rewarded.

With the above now understood, let's consider a few of the differences between the support provided by the first century off-site churches and that which is provided by them today.

  • No Regularity - There is no indication that their support came or was promised on a regular basis (e.g. monthly) while ours is.

  • No Continuity - Their support came to meet the acute needs of the missionary on the field (Phil 4:14b) while ours is the expected means of the missionary's continual support.

  • No Solicitation - I do not find that Paul ever requested support from off-site churches as we do, though he did praise them for their assistance.

  • No System - We provide support within a system of deputation and monthly support while their giving was sporadic (perhaps led only by their love for the missionary, reports that reached them concerning his acute need, and prompting from the Holy Ghost).

Note that the principle that requires the church to provide for the needs of the on-site minister did apply to the missionary in his travels through some of these 'supporting churches.' But, again, this was only a factor as long as the missionary was among them. Churches were (and are) expected to bring them along to their next destination (Rom 15:23-24, 3 Jn 5-8). This in no way took the form of continual monthly support though. It merely applied to the acts of providing necessities while he was among them and helping him along to his next destination.

Where does our current system of deputation and support fit in then?

  • Bringing them along - We do bring our missionaries along as the first century churches did. When our missionaries are on the 'deputation trail,' our churches generally care for the them generously as they are present among them and often help them to their next destination.

  • The System - While it does not seem that there was a 'system' of off-site support in the first century, it isn't a totally unbiblical way to approach modern missionary support. It is a way in which off-site churches with a passion for the Mission can ensure that the Gospel is provided free of charge, lifting a financial burden off the newly planted churches. In this way it is a system that has very Biblical motives underlying it.

I have heard some claim that deputation is not only absent from the Biblical record, but it is in fact unbiblical, or wrong. However, arguments from silence rarely hold water. As we approach the modern system of deputation and support we ought to keep several things in mind though.

  • It Is Not Doctrine - There is nothing in the Scriptures which would hinder us from changing the system, as long as we remain within Biblical principles. It can be changed.

  • It Has Its Rewards - Like the giving of the Philippians to Paul, sacrificial supporting churches can expect fruit abounding to their account and their needs being met by a great God.

  • It Is Right - It is not doctrine, yet it is right for churches to support missionaries within the modern system. They have "well done." If it is right for churches to send support sporadically in the NT, surely it is just as well for them to do it on a regular basis today.

  • It Benefits the Mission - It is a way that we can provide the Gospel free of charge, lift the burden of support off of new churches, and cut short some possible accusations.

  • It Is a Good Use of Resources - The abundant resources of the West, combined with the modern ability to wire money instantly make our system wise and practical.

  • Don't Remove Vulnerability and Faith - This is an issue that cannot be fully explained here, but it is Biblical for a missionary to rely upon God and those he is ministering to for support. This was Christ's way. Any system which totally removes these, has no Biblical foundation.

  • It Needs Tweaking - As we will see in future posts there are some changes that need to be made, though I don't think it should at all be totally scrapped. For example, in general churches need to increase their monthly support levels to keep up with inflation. Also, it would be wise for churches to try only invite those missionaries whom they will definitely support, cutting down deputation lengths. It can be changed.

Let us use the system wisely. Let us improve it. Let us sacrifice more to allow missionaries to provide the Gospel free of charge. While deputation is not found in the Bible, it is an appropriate application of some Biblical principles to modern resources and realities. I pray that this has not been too 'technical,' but helpful.

What do you think about our system?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Resource: Etnopedia

For those who have been waiting for a next post, sorry. I've been out of town for a bit, but I'm back now - crazy summer! I'll start back with this short post concerning another Mission-related resource online.

Etnopedia is primarily a Wiki translation project, aiming to provide multiple language groups with unreached people group information. It remains a helpful tool for English-speakers though. Of course, it is not as complete as English information that you could get elsewhere, at Joshua Project or Peoplegroups.org. Nevertheless, it can prove useful in coordination with other tools.

As with many people group-oriented sites, you can browse for people groups by name and nation. Being yet at the early stages of Wiki-development, perhaps some in this audience would be able to contribute to the community. This could be done by providing more people group information or translating existing profiles.

Posting Soon:
Solution to the Missionary Support Crisis: Supporting Fewer with More

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, Peoplegroups.org, 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!