by Keith Bateman
If you were to ask pastors and informed lay persons of most churches if they have a missions program, most would answer in the affirmative.
If you were to ask pastors and informed lay persons of most churches if they have a missions program, most would answer in the affirmative. After all, they send money to missionaries (often indirectly through a budget apportionment), receive an occasional newsletter and, of course, have the required photo out in the foyer. Or in other words, they have what I like to call a “floating” mission program. While certainly it is commendable that there is a mission program at all, it just sort of “floats” along. It makes no waves. It excites no one, and involves even fewer.
Having been on both sides of the missions issue—serving as a missionary for fifteen years and as a pastor for ten—it was my passion to help our church develop a missions program that was not floating, but focused. So not long after coming to the church that I now pastor, together with our mission committee, I began to develop a set of guidelines to help our church focus on what we choose to do, and just as importantly, not to do, in the area of missions. The following is a reflection of our conclusions.
1. GET A GOOD COMMITTEE TOGETHER
A focused missions program begins with a good mission committee. By “good” I am not talking about a “missions circle,” or other type of missions interest group. Such groups are nice, but tend to be on the order of a dripping cream pie—they may make a hit, but rarely impact anything too hard. I’m taking about a functioning body. It begins with an elder-appointed chairperson—someone who not only evidences an interest in missions, but who also has the ability to act as our liaison between the church and its missionaries. To maintain good communication with the church leadership, one elder may also be assigned to this committee. Finally, provision should be made for rotating new people in to avoid becoming static.
2. DEVELOP BIBLICAL POLICIES
It has been my observation that most decisions we make about mission support tend to be more emotional than biblical. While the Bible does not set forth specific missions policies, there is sufficient information in Acts 11-14 to give us some guidelines. Key among these are: A church should seek to support its missionaries as fully as possible. Go to many churches today, even small ones of less than a hundred members, and you are likely to see fifteen to twenty missionaries listed as “our missionaries.” But if a church is only minimally involved in that missionary’s support, how can a church honestly make this claim? How can a missionary possibly visit all of these “supporting churches” when he or she comes home on furlough? The biblical model appears to be that missionaries should be sent by one church, or at most by a small cluster of geographically close churches, rather than by churches scattered from Maine to California. This facilitates accountability and obviates the need for extensive travel during furlough.
Supported missionaries should be well-known to the sending church. In Acts 11:26 we read, “…and when he (Barnabas) had found him (Paul), he brought him to Antioch. And it came about that for an entire year they met with the church, and taught considerable numbers.” Later, in chapter 13, we find this same church sending Paul and Barnabas as missionaries Why? Because they knew them! They had seen their work ethic, experienced their heart for evangelism and their ability to teach and observed their character. Having seen this, they were led by the Holy Spirit to send them as missionaries. We feel so strongly about the importance of this that we will not take on any new support for anyone we do not know. We feel that someone else, who does know them, should support them.
3. SUPPORT YOUR MISSIONARIES
As a result of truly being the sending church, the missionaries we support may expect the following from us:
Financial support. This should be sufficient enough to allow the church to actually claim him/her as “our missionary.”
Prayer. Our missionaries have a right to know that we pray for them. One of the things we do is have a missionary of the week. We put their picture on the video projector prior to the service and ask people to pray right then, while they are waiting for the service to start. We have also asked missionaries to make a brief home video of their work, and feature them in a “Mission Minute” during the service.
Remembrances. Make a point to remember your missionaries on special occasions such as birthdays and on holidays such as Christmas. Our policy is to send substantial money gifts that are designated for their personal use only.
4. HAVE EXPECTATIONS OF YOUR MISSIONARIES
As a result of our increased financial and prayer commitment we, as the sending church, have certain expectations of them, namely:
Information. Expect information principally through regular and meaningful correspondence.
Visits. Unless extenuating circumstances preclude it, the true sending church can and should expect meaningful visits when the missionary is home. In Acts 14:26 we read that at the conclusion of their first missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had accomplished, and when they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.
Not only that, the following verse adds, “And they spent a long time with the disciples.” A church that is only minimally involved in the missionary’s support has no right to expect this (and, of course, if they are supported from all over, it is both physically and financially exhausting to do it). But a true sending church does.
Accountability. No one works well without being accountable to someone. The church should not assume the mission board takes on this role, for often they do not. This would normally take the form of progress reports, but with e-mail, it means the missionary can share immediately his concerns, joys and work.
5. SUPPORT THE BEST MISSIONARIES
Supporting more fully those missionaries whom we know is not the only consideration. In this day of shrinking mission dollars, it is more critical than ever to be good stewards of the funds allotted for missions. When considering a missionary to support, it is important to keep the following issues in focus:
Calling. We make it a point to ascertain the missionary’s sense of calling. For instance, we pay particular attention to the MK who desires to return to the field on which he or she was raised. While such a person has much to offer in terms of skills, including language, is his or her calling from God, or is like that of a homing pigeon? After all, they grew up on the field. It’s their home. We also pay attention to someone who suffered a recent job loss. Is this a calling to missions or a job opportunity?
Length of expected service. Full-term candidates will generally receive preference over shorter term. We love and support short-term missionaries. But the longer term missionary more than likely has a sense of call and we consider that.
Type of ministry. Direct “Great Commission” ministry will generally receive preference over support ministry. Again, we appreciate support missionaries. They are needed. But given the choice, we will likely choose a “front line” soldier to a “behind-the-lines” soldier. This does not necessarily mean the missionary must be a church planter or evangelist. It’s not about job description as much as job performance. We seek to support the individual who has a heart to lead people to Christ no matter what his or her “job description” may be.
Location, location, location. Ministry in unreached areas will receive preference over reached areas. Over ninety percent of missionaries go to already reached areas. While there are sometimes good reasons for that, our preference will be in sending missionaries to unreached areas. After all, missionaries are supposed to have inherited the mantle of Paul and Silas, and that’s what they did.
To know you is to love you. Those from within our church body will be preferred over those who are not. This is simply a knowledge thing. We know them better.
Experience counts.Those with a proven “track record” in ministry (not necessarily as a missionary) will receive preference. For example, we prefer veterans in ministry to “rookies,” given the choice.
Supervision. Those working under an established board will generally receive preference over those who are non-affiliated. This is a matter of day-to-day supervision, and the fact that the boards have certain doctrinal and behavioral requirements.
Hands on. Trainers will generally receive preference over teachers. We prefer those who teach by doing over those who teach by standing in front of a class.
A family or a tribe? Family size may be a consideration. I realize this is a sensitive issue, but it is both a matter of effectiveness and economics. Raising children takes time—a lot of it. Once children get older, just transporting them requires a larger vehicle, more seats on an airplane, just to name a few. These added needs mean more support. If a couple decides to have a large family, that is a great ambition. But perhaps at a certain point someone needs to sugguest, “Perhaps you might be better off staying at home, and raising your kids to be missionaries.” We would raise this issue.
Faith vs. sight.The missionary’s proposed methods of raising support may be a consideration. While every missionary is free, according to his or her own conscience (and generally the mission board) to raise support any way he or she can, we look more closely at true “faith” missionaries, who depend upon God alone to supply, rather than by appeals (veiled, or otherwise).
How much stuff? We pay attention to the amount of stuff our missionaries plan to take. Do they really need a shipping container-full? Should they try to live on less? After all, the more stuff we have, the more time it requires to take care of it. Then, too, even though more expensive, might it make a better impression upon the local merchants in their country of service if they bought through them? My experience as a missionary suggests local people resent the fact that missionaries can bring stuff in duty-free when they have to pay top dollar.
6. RAISE MISSIONS AWARENESS
We do this through several means, including a yearly missions conference.
Short term missions projects. We send teams every summer to work with inner-city youth, and have sent a team to Spain to distribute literature to Muslims. We also have sent work teams to help ministries “do their thing” better.
Staying involved in their lives, both professionally and personally.
Visiting the field. There is nothing that opens a Christian’s eyes to missions better than seeing it first-hand. Those who do, generally become “hooked on missions.”
7. "HOME GROW" YOUR OWN
The goal of every church should be to act as a seed bed for new missionaries. It is infinitely more exciting, and easier to claim “ownership” of a missionary from your own church (not to mention a testimony to the “aliveness” of that church and its ministry). In this, my fifth year at our church, we are beginning to see this vision become a reality. A lot of this comes about due to those short-term experiences we have made a point of giving our youth every summer.
8. DEVELOP A PASSION FOR THE UNREACHED
Over ninety percent of missionaries go to already reached areas. This is not only a questionable use of manpower, but it tends to be dull. The excitement generated by hearing about unreached peoples coming to know Jesus Christ trumps adding a column of figures in a mission office any day. While the latter is necessary, every effort needs to be made to change the percentages. And this will only change as the sending churches insist upon it. The mission boards usually will not, their goals being more toward quantity, than quality.
While I realize that at least some of these may sound harsh, or like “laws,” the fact remains that “if you aim at nothing, you generally hit it.” We tend to be flexible with these guidelines. We don’t go down them point by point every time a decision has to be made. But at the same time, they give us something to fall back on, other than raw emotion, when the many requests come from all over the country (and now the world, too) for assistance. In a word, they help us focus, not float, in missions.
Keith Bateman served as a missionary to Africa from 1978-1993, originally as a dentist/orthodontist in Kenya and southern Sudan, and later as a lecturer and academic dean at Scott Theological College in Kenya. He currently pastors a church in York, Nebraska.
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 3, pp. 368-372. Copyright © 2003 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.