Recently, an American pastor, Jeremy Wallace, got a lot of attention when he addressed the topic Why Independent Baptist Missions is Failing. I encourage you to read the whole post. An excerpt follows:
Something must change with how we do Independent Baptist Missions. The current process is a colossal failure…
We must be good stewards in the area of missions. Currently, we are not.
The process of deputation is simply too long and too costly. I have heard some say that deputation doesn’t need to be changed because it was the time when God taught them so much and grew their faith. I don’t doubt that at all. But let’s not put God in a box and say that He can’t teach people and grow their faith in a more effective and beneficial deputation process. It’s like a member in a church standing up and giving a testimony as to how God has taught them about finances and grown their faith through their bankruptcy, and then the church designing a program to usher people through bankruptcy. After all, God uses that to strengthen people’s faith and teach them about finances. Just because God uses something that does not mean that it is the most beneficial, logical, and prudent process to reach the goal.
We cannot wait for the problem to get worse; change needs to be made now.
I agree. Jeremy goes on to list three suggestions toward addressing the problem:
- Missionaries should not be invited to a church unless the church intends to support the missionary.
- Support levels should be raised.
- Pastors need to use their relationship networks to get meetings for missionaries.
I want to expand on some of his thoughts with the Australian context in mind.
First, the mentality in Australia is that every church has every missionary visit. Church members even talk about missionaries as “our missionaries” even though they do not send them steady support. I submit that they have no right to do this. With ownership comes obligation, not the least of which is financial.
Second, support levels need to rise dramatically. In Australia, some churches support their missionaries for $50 a month. That is appalling. Let me estimate the costs to the missionary of receiving support:
- Time/equipment to write a monthly update (four hours at $60 p/h, plus $100 monthly accrual toward equipment divided by an average of fifty supporting churches equals $6.80 per month.)
- One reporting visit per four years (I’ll calculate based on a one week visit at the normal annual salary assuming the transport costs are covered by a love offering. A $60,000 p/a salary divided by 52 weeks equals $1,153.80. Divide this by four years [48 months] and you get $24.00 per month.)
Based on these (admittedly rough… very rough!) figures, it costs the missionary $30.80 per month to be supported by your church at $50 a month. That’s assuming they don’t have to pay any tax on it either in Australia or in the country in which they are ministering.
By the way, if you are a “prayer supporter” and you receive updates and regular visits from the missionary, this is how much you are costing your missionary for your prayers per month.
Third, I feel that the new base level giving should be $200. In other words, right now in Australia, I think most churches would be embarrassed to give less than $50. I think churches should be embarrassed to give less than $200. Here’s why. Fifty dollars was the base level fifteen years ago. And while the base level hasn’t moved, inflation has. Fifteen years ago, $50 was worth only $34 in today’s money. In other words, because of inflation, it costs $73.50 in 2012 to buy what the $50 bought in 1997. So unless you’ve increased your support by $23.50 in that time, you’ve actually cut your support in terms of buying power for your missionary. This is to say nothing of fluctuating exchange rates.
So even if we were not going to make any changes to how we support missions, our base giving should still be closer to $100 a month. But assuming that the current system is problematic, I think the normal support should be closer to $300 and base support should be closer to $200. I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect established ministries to support missionaries for $400 or more. This would cut deputation and furlough lengths dramatically and allow for stronger relationships between missionaries and their supporters.
Fourth, I think churches should consider indexing their support to the annual inflation rate. In other words, if we support our missionary at $200 per month and annual inflation is 2.6% this year, then we would automatically increase our support by 2.6% to $205.20 so that the buying power doesn’t change. Note that this needs to be automatic. Votes to increase support are complex and somehow don’t tend to make it to the top of the priority list. Ideally, it would be an automatic, annual event.
Fifth, I think our approach to furlough needs to change. A missionary pastor should never, ever, ever be asked to leave his church for long periods of time. Certainly arguments can be made about whether missionaries should pastor in the first place. But if a missionary is pastoring on the field, it is wrong to rip him out of his church for long periods leaving a young flock in the hands of a “substitute” pastor or without any pastor. There are a lot of ways to avoid these absences. I believe we need to utilise them.
Sixth, I think we need to expand our paradigm to include a broader range of mission models. When someone feels called of God to minister in some way to people in a certain place, spending years on the road asking for money should be the last resort, not the standard practice. Paul’s only recorded supporting church was a church that Paul planted! Hudson Taylor’s China Inland Mission had over a thousand missionaries in China, but missionaries were not allowed to ask for support. Those who volunteer for mission work should be directed to consider a tent-making model, a vocational model, or an informal (“faith”) model and only encouraged to seek formal support as a last resort depending on the nature of the work they propose to do.
How could Jeremy’s or my suggestions be improved? What ideas can you add?
Grace to you.