Published On: 27 March, 2012|By |

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:

  1. Missionaries should not be invited to a church unless the church intends to support the missionary.
  2. Support levels should be raised.
  3. 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.

About the Author: Jason Harris

Jason loves to communicate God's word both in the local church and at conferences and retreats. Jason has been involved with Worship Music since 1996 and InFocus since 2005. Jason has degrees in theology, music, accounting, and research and is currently a PhD candidate and lecturer in the College of Business, Law, and Governance at James Cook University, Cairns. Jason is also a pastor at CrossPoint Church. You can contact Jason at jason@jasonharris.com.au.

9 Comments

  1. Jeremy crooks 27 March, 2012 at 5:51 am - Reply

    Some great points which ihave been pondering for a while too.

    The systemic problems of this structure are determined by our independent baptist model. The deputation/furlough model is no where near as onerous in the CMS (Anglican system)

    I have friends who studied missions at Bible college. With all due respect, I think that is a wasted degree. The best advice I would give a person with a missions heart, it to study ‘international business’. They should then move to their field and start a business. This would
    1 give them an income which makes them semi-self sufficient financially
    2 give them the opportunity to employ and witness to locals
    3 reduce the need for furlough at the whim of missions boards
    4 insulate missionaries from the volatility of currency changes
    5 give them a street cred with locals

    I still believe missionaries need an accountably structure, but the current one is regulated to death.

  2. PJ 27 March, 2012 at 12:16 pm - Reply

    I agree with almost all of the points, though the reality is that many independent churches in Australia can barely afford to pay their own pastors a decent wage! And so given those circumstances the little that churches can give to missionaries is a blessing.

    I disagree with point 6. As much as is possible missionaries need to be able to devote their time and energy to the Gospel ministry, particularly in a church planting setting. Without sufficient time to prepare for the teaching of God’s Word, and without time to shepherd the saved, the mission will always be hamstrung.

  3. Jason Harris 27 March, 2012 at 1:11 pm - Reply

    @PJ, Yeah, that is a difficulty. I think the inevitable outcome of this idea would be for a church who supports five missionaries at $50 to drop four of them and support one for $250. While I’m sure that might be a difficult transition both for the church and for the missionaries, I think mathematically, it works out to be wise stewardship.

    On point six, I see three stages in church planting. Stage 1 is where there is no church to pastor. Here, a pastor could reasonably earn at least some of a living on his own. This seems to have been Paul’s pattern at least some of the time. In stage 2, there is a church to pastor, but they are not mature enough to pay their own bills. In stage 3, the church is mature enough to pay their own bills. I think perhaps one of the weaknesses of the current model is that stage 2 tends to be drawn out over years and even decades. I don’t see this as legitimate. Certainly there is a time to focus on the basics. But growing believers always have a heart to meet their financial obligations to those who minister to them. It is implied in the gospel.

    I think there are two dynamics in why churches take so long to become self-supporting. One is that they do give, but it all goes to advertising/building/mission/etc. instead of to meeting their own obligations to their pastor. The second is that it seems some pastors do not want to receive their salary from their own congregation because that entails an inherent accountability to the local congregation that they do not want to have.

    What do you reckon?

  4. PJ 28 March, 2012 at 8:15 am - Reply

    @Jason – “What do you reckon?”

    I don’t really know! You’ve raised some interesting points about church planting that probably defy a simple explanation – and I’d need quite a bit of time to think them through.

    All I know for sure now is that giving is a very difficult subject to teach on. It would be very difficult for a church planter in a small work to tell the people that they need to give in order to pay his wage.

  5. Jason Harris 28 March, 2012 at 12:19 pm - Reply

    @PJ, This is true.

  6. Steve 29 March, 2012 at 9:20 pm - Reply

    This is an excellent post and has some very good points that really need to be considered. Some churches that I know of here in NSW have already realised that the old fashioned missions system doesn’t work any more. Furlough is damaging to the ministry and deputation is largely a waste of time.
    Giving a larger amount of support to fewer missionaries per church is a much better way to go about it, since it gives stability to the missionary, and prevents time wasted in deputation, which should be used for the ministry.

    At the risk of offending some, I would like to suggest that missionaries also need to be prepared to lower their standard of living when they minister in third world countries, thereby reducing the amount of support they need and also reducing the perception with the locals that missionaries are rich westerners that have come to live in a poor country. I have seen this over and over again and it is very damaging to the ministry of the missionary.

    Perhaps missionaries need to realise that to be able to have an effective ministry to those people requires a greater level of sacrifice on their behalf, and they need to make themselves of “no reputation”, thereby demonstrating what Christ did to accomplish our redemption.

    • Jeremy Crooks 30 March, 2012 at 8:32 am

      Steve. Good point regarding the living expectations of missionaries on the field. I have found that it is often the missions agencies that dictate support and living standards. I do wonder if much of the problem stems from these agency rules and structures.

  7. Elizabeth 31 March, 2012 at 4:05 pm - Reply

    Why are mission agencies needed? Is it really necessary for missionaries to be sent out by a church? If someone feels called to go and tell, why not simply do just that. It all seems like we complicate the process. Are there any verses which indicate that mission agencies are necessary and that missionaries must be sent from a church?

  8. Jason Harris 3 April, 2012 at 3:50 pm - Reply

    @Steve,

    You’ve raised a very difficult issue there. One we need to be very cautious about. I have two sisters who live in third world countries as missionaries. Having been to some of these places, it is difficult to do what you suggest. For instance, in many countries, the only way to avoid armed robberies and sexual assaults on your wife and children is to have a walled property with dogs and armed guards on duty 24/7. This is the norm for missionaries in many parts of the world. A man who carelessly exposes his wife and children to the dangers that are guaranteed (not possible, but guaranteed) in these places is, as Scripture teaches, worse than an unbeliever (1 Timothy 5:8).

    And then there are other issues… for instance, keeping a home relatively clean and sanitary is a massive task in some of these places. As is cooking. You either own a refrigerator (which implies a safe location to keep it, power to run it, money to stock it, etc.) or you go to the markets every day and spend all day every day making sure your family has food to eat and a clean place to live.

    Then there are questions of schooling. Is it wise to allow your kids to grow up un- or poorly educated and virtually unaware of their original culture? Do I try to protect the opportunity for them to move back to the original country to pursue university and their own life when they grow up? Saved or not, I wouldn’t want my kids to be seriously disadvantaged by having grown up on the mission field (though under the best circumstances, they will be). And if you are going to provide a good education, are you willing to send them off to boarding school? Or do you school them at home? If so, how do you find time unless someone is helping with cooking/cleaning. And you then need a safe, healthy environment for learning. All of this implies staff in a third world country: guards, cleaners, cooks, etc. And since you can hire all of this staff for a negligible amount of money, is it not good stewardship to do so?

    Of course these are difficult issues to work through. Ultimately, I think there’s something to be said for getting more single guys into these sorts of places. Or funding indigenous pastors. But if we are going to transplant whole families to third world countries, we have to be willing to fund what is necessary for their proper care.

    @Elizabeth,

    Good questions. Acts 13 gives a clear example of the sending of the first missionaries where it was the Holy Spirit who called these people for their task and instructed the church to send them.

    As far as mission agencies, there is no direct biblical support for their existence. Of course that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t. It just means they don’t have to. They tend to fill an important administrative hole in helping missionaries with managing their finances, communication, etc. But they can also be a huge help in giving specialised advise, helping missionaries in medical emergencies, helping in legal and visa issues, etc. Many national governments will not allow missionaries in unless they are backed by a mission agency that is registered in that country and willing to guarantee the missionaries’ salary. Additionally, a mission agency can vet missionaries for doctrinal and moral fidelity. So they definitely serve some important functions, but they can also be a source of problems.

Leave A Comment

Share This Article!