Posts Tagged ‘missionary’

All the money for missions is controlled by a very small group of men in churches of Christ.

These are all good, well-intentioned men—elders, deacons, mission committee members—but if churches of Christ have 200-300 congregations that oversee virtually all American missionaries , which typically includes managing the funds that are contributed by individuals and smaller congregations, then my best estimate is that a couple of thousand men control all of the mission work of churches of Christ.

Is this good?

Typically, most congregations have a small mission committee that receives requests, selects which works to support, determines the amount that they want to request, and passes that request on to the elders—an even smaller group, further removed from the request—who make the final decision.  Some churches do use variations on this standard approach.

I know of one large, outstanding congregation which has a long history of generous support for missions, a great track record in every way, where the entire mission program and the dispersal of all the mission funds is completely the decision of one brother.  Another one of our exemplary, mission-minded congregations has a model where small sub-committees funnel all financial requests for missions up to a small group of deacons. In practice, if the chairman of this oversight committee is personally unconvinced of the merits of a request, the likelihood of it being funded is very low. I know of another good congregation where the preaching minister must sign-off on all mission funding.

As I have repeatedly said, God uses us in our frailty and in our ignorance. Much good work has been done, so please don’t misunderstand me when I suggest that there must be a better way!

Here are what I see as the basic weaknesses of our standard model for supporting missionaries:

1)      Mission work becomes the responsibility of a small number of people rather than of the whole body of Christ.

2)      Mission information rarely gets out of committee, so congregations are ill-informed and uninspired about their missionaries.

3)      With decisive power in the hands of a few, any change in personnel creates the potential for radical restructuring of that church’s mission strategy. Every new mission committee chairman brings a new agenda. New preachers and new elders often create the same instability.

4)       Centralized money creates centralized power! And power corrupts! Mission committees are notorious for establishing small fiefdoms. Because missions is central to the agenda of most congregations, those who control the funds for missions—elders, preacher, or committees—control that agenda!  Unfortunately, the more experienced they become and bigger the budget, the more indispensable they consider themselves and their own personal missions agenda—sometimes even to the detriment of the overall health of the congregation.

5)      Decisions about financial support are easier than decisions about spiritual needs, so the financial decisions direct our strategies for world missions.

6)      Financial decisions can be very far removed from relationships with those we are supporting.  Nothing good can come from the missionary becoming primarily an employee of the church.

I talked with a missionary once who reported his own conversation with a local preacher who, completely frustrated in a great church using a standard model, said he would just like to blow up the mission committee at his congregation!  Now why do you think he said that??

Twice during the Pepperdine Bible Lectures this year, I sat with great non-American missionaries who said that they were desperately trying to figure out how to survive if they gave up their American support.  Although both have been supported by some of our largest churches for many years, their experiences with our congregational power structure for funding missions had been bitter!  They talked of how often they were confronted and confounded with personal agendas, pettiness, over-control, micro-management—all power-mongering.  It broke my heart to hear them talk, but I could not offer any rebuttal.

My conclusion is that we need a model that separates power and money!  That is where we will go with the next few posts, so stay with me!


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After making most of the first decisions, the potential missionary still lacks two very essential components before he/she can go to the mission field: financial support and oversight.  Historically, Churches of Christ have opposed missionary societies  and/or sending agencies, primarily because of a belief that the New Testament pattern requires congregational autonomy, especially in the area ultimate accountability for both the mission funds and the missionary.

Just a quick tangential comment:  in spite of a strong belief in congregational oversight, the major decisions about the mission work, such as the place and type of work, team members, training needs, and date of departure, are usually made independent of and prior to acquiring funding or oversight.  This is probably because these first decisions can be made independently, while the potential missionary is totally dependent on others for financial support and oversight. In addition, these first decisions  are part of the mission package that must be created  to sell  to congregations that might assume support and/or oversight. I wonder whether the “promotional” aspect of this package doesn’t have the potential to skew the strategic possibilities of the mission plans??

Current models for securing support and oversight among Churches of Christ

  1. Single congregation model – The potential missionary meets with a larger congregation (500+ members) and convinces either the elders and/or the mission committee that he/she is worthy of their support and that the mission project is worthy. The local congregation then provides all of the personal funding as well as working fund and assumes complete oversight of the work.  This model is usually viewed as the ideal arrangement for missionaries in Churches of Christ.
  2. Multiple congregations model – The potential missionary finds one larger congregation (500+ members) who accepts oversight of the mission project, but only provides partial funding. The potential missionary then solicits funding from other congregations until full personal and working funds are secured. The number of additional churches needed may vary from few (2-5) to many (20+). These contributing churches then funnel their funds through the “overseeing” congregation. They have no oversight responsibilities.  This model dominates Churches of Christ.
  3. Church/individual model – Same as the multiple congregations model except that in the place of multiple congregations, the potential missionary also finds individuals who wish to support them independently.  These individuals may or may not funnel their funds through the overseeing church.  This model has become much more common in recent years.
  4. Individual model – Occasionally, wealthier Christians are bypassing local churches and themselves sponsoring missionaries. The funds may be funneled through a local church for tax purposes only, but the local congregation is otherwise disengaged from the mission work.


Common Assumptions About Oversight and Support

  1. One must usually first find oversight before support is secured. This is because churches and some individuals want assurances that the funds are properly managed and that the potential missionary is accountable to someone before they are willing to make any financial commitment.  The expectation is also that the overseeing church will be a major contributor to the worker. Other potential contributors see themselves as only supplementing the overseeing churches contribution.
  2. The overseeing church must also be a major contributor. .  If the worker happens to have grown up in a larger church or is a relatively long-term member of a larger church, then that is where their hopes lie. However, since only a handful of these churches are actually expanding their mission program in any given year, it is not uncommon that the desire of the potential missionary for funding and oversight and the schedule of the home church for expansion of their mission budget do not coincide.

If the potential missionary’s most familiar congregation cannot or will not accept  oversight, then there remain only two options for obtaining oversight and support:

  1. They can start looking for another large church—all of which are overrun with solicitations–or find a small church who will give them “temporary oversight” so they can solicit funds from other small churches and individuals until such time that they can find a larger church to assume oversight. The assumption is that if enough financial support can be found to reduce the financial demands on a larger church, it will be more willing to assume oversight.
  2. They can accept oversight from a smaller church—probably one that knows them well–and spend weeks, months, and sometimes years visiting other small churches  and individuals, trying to collect enough commitments to realize their mission plans and go.

As you can readily see, neither of these latter options is promising! But many, many potential missionaries find themselves left with only these options.  The most ambitious for God are sometimes even successful, but most potential missionaries are lost to the mission field, giving up on their call   because they

a) have only a small number of congregations who know them personally and none of those is willing or in a position to offer oversight and/or support, or

b) they personally do not have the resources to fund weeks, if not months, of cross-country travel for full-time fund raising, or

c) they simply do not have the skills for fund raising. Their desire and training, perhaps their giftedness, is being a missionary, not a fundraiser.

In the next installment, I will expand on the problems and challenges caused by bundling oversight and support—which is where I see that our current paradigm creates the greatest barriers to mission work.

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