What responsibilities do the “goers” have to the “senders?”
The letter arrived yesterday from missionaries that I help to support. They serve in a country where the cost of living is high and getting higher as the dollar grows weaker. Their letter said that they needed a substantial increase in monthly support.
As they outlined the expenses that constantly confront them, it was clear that they were not squandering their money in luxurious living. Yet the cost of keeping them and their children fed, clothed, insured, and educated is growing at an astounding rate.
These missionaries are known to me as solid, reliable, hard-working, spiritually mature, and possessing good leadership potential. In short, they are good missionaries.
Why, then, did deeply buried feelings of frustration and near resentment boil to the surface as I read their letter? Am I simply selfish, wanting to keep my money for my own use? Am I jealous that they basically are their own bosses, with the fredom to travel and see a world that I would like to experience? Should I try harder to believe that my giving is simply to the Lord and trust him to credit my account in heaven and not be concerned about how the dollars I give to him are spent?
I know my own heart well enough to know that Yes answers to these questions could be at least partially true. But my instincts are insistent that this would not be the whole truth, and that all the problem does not lie with my own selfishness or materialistic attitudes.
Heart-searching and careful analysis boil the issue down to one key question for me: Do the goers have any responsibilities to their senders? If so, what are they? What should we senders expect from the mission agencies and the missionaries through whom we channel the money we give to God?
REDEFINE SELECTION CRITERIA
I believe that stewardship is the issue. Stewardship on my part demands that I pay attention to how the funds that I give are spent. How else can I determine to which of the myriad appeals I am to respond? And stewardship on the part of mission agencies and missionaries would be greatly enhanced by redefining selection criteria.
Send only those people who are not only carefully trained, but who also have proven track records of service and who have demonstrated emotional and spiritual maturity, good judgment, and the ability to sustain good interpersonal relationships under duress. Send fewer who have only recently graduated from Bible school or seminary and who have much, if not everything, to learn about life and themselves.
It is distressing to see tens of thousands of dollars spent on many who, early on (sometimes soon after completing language school), are home again — often with the barest of explanations to their senders about why they have returned.
No doubt such a redefinition of the selection criteria would greatly curtail the numbers of people who go. But I, for one, believe it would also greatly increase the overall effectiveness of mission agencies and preserve funds for those with assured qualifications and potential.
DEVELOP EVALUATION CRITERIA
Second, the stewardship of mission agencies and missionaries would be greatly enhanced by developing evaluation criteria for missionaries and then applying them rigorously. Bring home people who are not doing the job, who hinder those who are by creating time-consuming and debilitating interpersonal problems.
Does it not happen too often that missionaries who prove to be inadequate do not understand the magnitude of their accountability, and the mission agency— having appealed for volunteers— is reluctant to tamper with their "call"? Should mission agencies allow ineffective missionaries to remain in place, or shift them from assignment to assignment?
When missionares are not serving responsibly and their personal problems are limiting others’ effectiveness, should not their senders know about this? We are not a partnership until we do.
REEVALUATE ATTITUDES TOWARDS SENDERS
Third, missionaries and mission agencies need to reevaluate their attitudes toward their senders’ financial potential. It may be true that many of us North American Christians are materialistic, and that missions giving would skyrocket if we all got our priorities straight. But it is also true that many of us — who I suspect are the source of the majority of mission funds — are struggling to keep our heads above the water financially. We toil daily in environments where stress levels are high, benefits shrinking, job security fading, and costs of living rising.
How would the missionaries we are supporting fare in such an environment? Would they be willing to live at the level they expect us to live so that we can underwrite them? Are they aware of the sacrifices that are often made to send them? To provide the extras such as vacations (to places many senders could never hope to visit), trips home for family occasions, or extra gifts? Are they cognizant of the fact that many of their senders’ standards of living are barely comparable — and sometimes lower — than what they enjoy on the field?
I do not mean to diminish the many — sometimes extreme — sacrifices that are made by those who carry the gospel and provide ministries cross-culturally. But they do not often recognize that they also enjoy special privileges, and that theirs are not the only sacrifices.
Missions and missionaries would do well to keep these things in mind when they make decisions about the selection of personnel and the solicitation of funds.
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