Last week, I began to offer some advice to help churches become more missions-minded. My first counsel was that the pastor must himself take the lead on missions in the assembly. He should read missionary letters regularly so that he may pray privately and publicly for the missionaries more deliberately. He should answer missionary correspondence and phone calls promptly and directly. He can visit missionaries on the field either personally or via the internet. These things will go a long way toward raising his church’s overall missions-mindedness.
This week, I want to offer a second set of recommendations: how to lead the church to expand its financial support of missions. One real gauge of a church’s missions-mindedness is its missionary support structure; how many missionaries a church supports, how much it gives them and how often, and whom it supports all say something of its commitment to missions.
Money is one of the principle needs of the modern missionary. Workers will tell you they need prayer for God’s guidance and protection on their lives and families, and this is certainly true. Nonetheless, we are kidding ourselves if we don’t acknowledge that the funding of their ministries is a major concern for virtually all missionaries. I’ve seen missionary support needs that range from five to fifteen thousand dollars monthly. There are many reasons for this wide difference. Freshman missionaries typically require less, while veteran missionaries with expanded ministries often require more. The country of service, the size of the missionary’s family, the age of his children, the nature of the ministry, and the fluctuating economy on the field all contribute to differing support levels. Let me offer several suggestions for improving the current missionary support structure in your church.
Consider supporting fewer missionaries for larger amounts of money. I recently spoke with a missionary who told me his support now averages about $140 per church per month, not counting his sending church (which is committed to supplying 20-25% of his monthly needs). While this amount is certainly better than the $25-$50 per month that I received in the early 1980s, churches really ought to consider support levels of $200-$300 monthly whenever possible. A sending church should ordinarily commit even more. If a missionary requires $5,000 per month, his support would require twenty churches to give $250 per month, fifty churches to give $100, or one hundred churches to give $50. If all churches would strive to give more money to fewer missionaries, the missionary’s furlough time would be reduced, making furloughs more restful and productive. A missionary could realistically visit twenty churches in six months, while it would be challenging to visit fifty churches in a yearlong furlough.
When I first went to the field in 1980, I had a supporting church that had only seven missionaries. They took the monthly income of the church and gave 35% of the total to their missionaries. Every month, I received 1/7 of 35% of the church’s income! This is not a supporting church you forget. The lowest support I ever received from this church was a check for $76 (my first check), and the most we ever received in one month was $644! I never averaged their annual commitment, but if I had, it likely would have been $125-150 per month, and this back in the early 1980s. Here was a church that was committed to supporting missions—35% of their budget every month. It was an enormous blessing and encouragement to know that we were one of seven families that this church cared about and prayed over.
On the other hand, the lowest monthly support check I received was $1! That was pretty amazing. However, we had many churches who supported us for $25-$50 per month; we would be one of the thirty or forty missionary families of the church. Sadly, these churches often had so many missionaries that their church folks could hardly be expected to keep track of them all. My family was back in one of these churches for a funeral some years after we had left missionary service. Someone asked us about our previous ministry—they thought we were still on the field. This was likely an indication that this person didn’t really pray for us, since they had no idea where we currently served. I didn’t blame them. Their church just didn’t really have a good strategy to promote missions, so consequently, this family likely didn’t know us and likely didn’t pray for us regularly.
Churches mistakenly think they are doing more to reach the world by giving less money to more missionaries. However, churches that support fewer missionaries with greater support levels do more for the missionaries as a whole. They show a real commitment to individual families and can subsequently ask more of them in return. A family who receives $3,000-$4,000 per annum from a single church ought to consider spending at least a week at the church when coming home on furlough. A missionary who has twenty churches or fewer could easily manage this kind of presence, even in a brief furlough. However, missionaries who are compelled to run coast to coast and north to south to raise small amounts of support from dozens of churches can never have much presence in any particular church, and the congregations can never really get to know the people they support.
But what if a church just cannot support missionaries at that amount, not even one? My suggestion is to occasionally have a missionary family into your church to keep missions before your congregation, and treat them royally while they are there. Give them a generous love offering to help them with their ministry. When I pastored, I took very few love offerings in our church so that we could take good love offerings for our missionary guests. Pastors who fund their churches through frequent love offerings will find that congregations get weary of the constant appeal for more money. I never feared asking my church to give extra to evangelize the world.
These love gifts can go to a specific project. Ask the guest missionary if he has a special need and challenge the church to meet that need. Maybe missionaries need money for their travel fund or some special need for their children. Often missionaries take several years of home school curriculum with them when they go to the field. This can be a big expense. Many churches give a missionary a token honorarium when the missionary is passing through; often, this will not even meet their travel expenses. I once had a pastor from a well-to-do church ask me if I had other churches in his area in which I was presenting my ministry. When he found out that I didn’t, he nervously declared, “You lost money on this trip!”
Finally, try to minister to your missionaries at special times of the year. Anticipate their needs. Read between the lines in their prayer letters or ask them in your next Skype conversation. Send a Christmas or birthday gift. These can be real blessings to your missionaries.
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
Men of God, Go Take Your Stations
Thomas Kelly (1769–1855)
Men of God, go take your stations;
Darkness reigns throughout the earth:
Go proclaim among the nations,
Joyful news of heavenly birth;
Bear the tidings
Of the Savior’s matchless worth.
Of His Gospel not ashamèd,
As the power of God to save,
Go, where Christ was never namèd,
Publish freedom to the slave;
Such as Zion’s children have!
What though earth and hell united
Should oppose the Savior’s plan?
Plead His cause, nor be affrighted,
Fear ye not the face of man;
Vain their tumult,
Hurt His work they never can.
When exposed to fearful dangers,
Jesus will His own defend;
Borne afar, midst foes and strangers,
Jesus will appear your Friend;
And His presence
Shall be with you to the end.