Contend Earnestly: On the Topic of Missionary Support

Thursday, May 27, 2010

On the Topic of Missionary Support

This is another aspect of the whole missions question that I’ve been working on. I’m thinking specifically of how we expect that once we’ve identified and approved our missionary candidate(s), we then expect them to raise their own support before they go. I get that this is part of the cost of the call, but in the final analysis it seems that we have just placed an additional burden on brothers and sisters who are already making sacrifices we won’t make to go where we won’t go. But their calling is not to raise money, but to go and make disciples. What if those of us who send took on more than just giving money, but also participated in the raising of funds? Or what if, when our missionary candidate is finally approved, the money is already raised and all that is needed is to buy the ticket and go?

If you think that’s how it works presently, then I’ve got some missionaries for you to talk to.

One further point, how do we help missionaries raise funds without making them feel guilty for what they’re asking? If we’ve approved them, shouldn’t we be able to trust that what they’re asking for is not extravagant but rather necessary – even if it’s more than what you or I live on back home? What would a helpful and wise approach look like?


Arthur Sido said...

Is there not a case to made that missionaries should be self-supporting, not in the sense of raising their own support from other Christians but supporting themselves financially either by saving up their own money or working for a living where they are ministering?

I am thinking specifically of places where Paul speaks of his own efforts to work in place to support himself (Acts 28: 30-31; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3: 6-12) and even in 1 Corinthians 9: 1-14 where Paul talks about eschewing financial support in favor of supporting himself so that the Gospel ministry is not hindered. In one place Paul speaks of getting support from another church (2 Cor 11: 7-10) and sees it as robbing the supporting church (verse 8).

Not trying to be snarky, but I do wonder if we need to rethink our model for missionary support from “Pay-Go” (you pay, I’ll go) to one of self-support where practical. It seems that many missionaries spend far too much time raising funds and reporting back to those who support them, time that could be spent working “in country” which in and of itself is a evangelistic opportunity.

Seth McBee said...

Is this not the reason why we shoudl have sending churches and not merely people sending themselves with the aid of a mission agency? Although I think mission agencies have helped in many ways, they have ruined the charge of the local church to take care of their own mission to love the community, love the world.

Imagine if we told our local pastors to raise their own support and we weren't willing to give them anything?

I bet this has to do with how we look at missionaries that was brought out by your first post. Because we really don't see them as our "own" but some other function of the worldwide gospel, and not really part of our local expression, we treat them like an outsider (which is wrong on so many levels).

I also think we try to do too much as a church. We like to support 10 missionaries for $25/month instead of focusing our efforts with those we send and support them fully.

Anyways...good questions.

Unknown said...

Getting people to the mission field is relatively easy - it is a one time expense, so funds need only be raised once. Anyone who is following biblical and fiscally sound money management principles can scrape up a one time gift of some amount, probably just by writing a check. Sustaining their support in the mission field is a different question, as it requires recurring funding, which is harder to raise. A personal example - if called to my spouse and I could write the checks next week to send ten people to the field, but we cannot fully support even one on an ongoing basis.

Even if the recurring funding is fully in place before someone goes, it needs to be maintained. Those who are giving, whether an individual or an organization will drop off in ability to do so over time, whether from death, loss of their own income, turning from the church, or feeling like other things are a priority. As they do, the recurring funds will shrink. So raising recurring funds is an ongoing process.

Christian organizations used to exist to raise funds and send missionaries. Why did that model stop being the primary model? What did the organizations that stopped think they were gaining by having the missionaries raise funds? These are historic questions, but they may point us to benefits of the new existing model. One that comes immediately to mind is a personal connection between the missionary and the support team.

A sending organization that wants to raise funds needs to be able to know the answers that a donor wants to know the answers to. So approach the problem of what the agency needs to know from the perspective of a donor. There are far more appeals, some legitimate and some not, for support than any donor can meet on their own. So they need to confirm legitimacy and prioritize.

Let's look at legitimacy. An organization can confirm that the appeal is not a scam. The organization can confirm that the missionary is qualified - the training and qualification steps discussed in a prior post. The organization can confirm that the missionary is still in the field. All of these are examples of the organization authenticating the legitimacy of the request, thus helping raise funds.

How about prioritization? To prioritize, the donor needs to know more than that person is a legitimate missionary. The donor wants to practice good stewardship. Different donors will consider different things important. The fund-raiser needs to be able to communicate the whys and the whats of what the donor is doing. Specifics matter. "Spreading the gospel" is great, but doesn't indicate why one legitimate missionary appeal should be a priority over another legitimate missionary appeal. For the donor to practice good stewardship, they want to know that their gifts are being used effectively and efficiently. Details matter here also.

So a wise approach requires the fundraiser to know a lot. It may be best explained to the missionary as "In order to raise support for you, I/we need to be able to answer questions that are likely to come up. Based on past experience, the following questions are likely to occur."

The fundraiser also needs to be an active networker. Always making new connections. Always putting the idea out for consideration. This takes time and energy. If someone is to do this well, they need to focus on it on an ongoing basis. Which means they also need to be supported, somehow.

Andy said...

Most Christians like to support things they already perceive as successful. I was a missionary for years in South East Asia among excruciatingly poor people. I lived little better than they did. There was just no honest way to dress up my ministry for fund raising so that people felt like they were involved in some large, successful, world-shaking ministry. I survived (with a wife and 2 kids) on about $400 a month, often less. I know of many missionaries whose plight was little better than mine. We were sent by a church. But when you are living on the promise of other people's help, you aren't exactly in any position to question or complain when they don't send the promised support. Beggars can't be choosers. My family lived in these circumstances for over 7 years. Other missionary friends have lived that way even longer. Others threw in the towel and went home hurt and disillusioned.

Anonymous said...

Artido: You tell one half of the story...Paul also says that Elders should be paid...

Andy: I feel that man. I am the pastor/planter of a Urban Church that is doing amazing things yet is dreadfully under a lot of ways because we are unable to dress it up.


Arthur Sido said...


That is not entirely true, at least not in the sense we think of.

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