by Jeannette Windle
We would love to teach at an MK school,” the couple shared. “If it wasn’t for this support-raising thing. Why should we have to beg churches for money? It’s humiliating!”
We would love to teach at an MK school,” the couple shared. “If it wasn’t for this support-raising thing. Why should we have to beg churches for money? It’s humiliating!”
Their comments took my husband and I back eighteen years to our own first deputation tour—fifty-three churches in eight months with a toddler in tow. At that time the process known as support-raising, deputation or today by the more politically correct terms of people-raising or team-building was taken for granted by both missionary candidates and churches. If you were to serve God with an international evangelical faith mission, that was just the way it was done.
So… is “deputation,” “people raising,” “team-building” or whatever term one chooses for the process of going from church to Bible study group to friends and relatives to acquire financial backing for ministry on the mission field biblical—or unbiblical?
Frankly, it is neither. Deputation— the term I will use in this article—is like VBS, youth groups or faith missions—simply a historic development of our Western church evolution—one possible system in which our own church culture chose to bridge the gap between the local church and the needs of international missions.
However, the principles behind support-raising are definitely biblical: that those who preach the gospel have the right to live by the gospel (1 Cor. 9:4-12; 1 Tim. 5:17-18); that the body of Christ has a financial responsibility to those who preach the gospel (Phil. 4:14-16). Unless some more efficient method is developed to link local church giving with individual missionary needs, deputation will continue to be part of the average Western missionary candidate experience.
Nor does it need to be approached with dread or distaste. On the contrary, with planning, hard work and some practical organizational steps, deputation can be one of the most rewarding—and downright fun—aspects of missionary life.
THE RIGHT ATTITUDE
We relocated from Bolivia to our mission headquarters in Miami, Fla., just in time for that never-to-be-forgotten 2000 presidential campaign. Hardly was our phone hooked up when we began to receive calls from various political campaigns. Would we be interested in donating to such-and-such a candidate for such-and-such a cause? Since then we have received solicitations from Save the Children, United Way, World Vision and countless other charitable organizations.
Do these solicitors receive a salary for their hours on the phone? Of course! Yet, interestingly, not one of them has ever given any apology for begging for my money. Why? Because they consider the cause they are espousing worthy of my support. They are offering me the opportunity to join that cause. And they are assuming I understand that part of those donations must go to cover living expenses of their personnel, whether fundraisers or workers in the field.
In faith-based missions, where each missionary is their own fund-raiser, the same principles of attitude apply.
1. Project your ministry, not yourself. You are not begging for a handout so you can slink off to some far corner of the globe to do your own thing for God. You are presenting people who may not have your possibility of leaving home and job with an opportunity to participate in an exciting ministry for God. Focus on the needs and opportunities of your chosen field, not your own financial need. Get your listeners excited about what they can do to serve God through you. Your audience isn’t stupid. They are well aware that a significant part of your missionary budget must go to cover the living costs of the personnel involved—your family unit.
2. You are not alone in this. You are building an outreach team of which you are the spearhead. Eighteen years ago we raised our support in an eight-month blitz and headed blithely out to the mission field. Only with passing years did we fully come to appreciate the value of our support team. Their faithful giving not only made it possible for us to stay on the mission field, but they prayed for us, cheered God’s working in our ministry, mourned with us in loss and grief, welcomed us with open arms on furlough and often have taken far more interest in our family and ministry than blood relations. We who have the awesome privilege of being on the front line of missionary service must never take for granted the support team standing behind us or look on them simply as a conduit for necessary funds. They are the foundation that makes our continued ministry possible and as much a vital part of our ministry team as we are.
3. Ministry begins on deputation, not the mission field. Deputation is not an unpleasant chore to be gotten through as quickly as possible so that we can get to the real ministry of the mission field. A poll of missionary acquaintances shows the majority of them first caught a vision of missions through visiting missionary speakers. As candidates and furloughing missionaries, a vital part of our ministry includes promoting missions—and future missionaries—in the local church. Whether or not it produces new financial pledges, every presentation should be viewed as a ministry opportunity in itself.
4. Attitude does count. Don’t kid yourself otherwise. If you are excited about your ministry and your audience’s opportunity to join with you in it, they will catch your own enthusiasm. If you are embarrassed and humiliated to be there or view your audience only as potential donors, they will be quick to pick up on your attitude.
HOW DO I GET STARTED?
So the proper attitude is tucked into place. Now—where to get started?
1. Building a contact list. The first step is to literally sit down with pen and paper—or computer screen—and make a list. Every family member. Friends. Pastors. Church leaders. Friends of friends. Old Bible college classmates. Teachers. Anyone who might possibly have an interest in your future ministry. Include addresses, phone numbers and e-mail. Like the prayer of Jabez (1 Chron. 4:10)—think large. Many contacts may prove unfruitful, but no contact means no fruit at all. And we have seen support come from the most unexpected sources.
2. The initial prayer letter. Many mission boards will send out an introductory letter to your contact list. This does not replace your own initial prayer letter. Nor does any less formal broadcasting of your plans to family and friends. The initial prayer letter is your official announcement that God has called you to missionary service, that you have been accepted by a reputable mission organization and that you are now ready to begin the deputation process. Take time to make it interesting and well-written. There are a lot of books available on writing missionary prayer letters. If necessary, invest in one. At minimum, this first letter should include: an introduction of self and family, ministry plans, needed financial support, contact information and the fact that you are available to share your ministry.
3. Scheduling speaking opportunities. Once you have made your official announcement, it’s time to begin filling your speaking schedule—something easier said than done as overbooked churches show reluctance to take on new missionaries. But don’t give up easily.
a. Again, think large. Perhaps you only know one or two churches—and your home church is a small one. Don’t stop there. Talk to family and friends about getting into their churches to speak. Make a list of churches of like doctrine and faith within a reasonable radius and contact the pastors about sharing possibilities. Volunteer at area Christian schools as a chapel speaker.
b. Plan ahead. Churches plan their schedules months in advance. Larger churches may be booked for a full year. Plan well ahead in making contacts and filling that calendar. If you have a number of contacts too far for easy travel, let them know you will be in a certain area for a specific month or two and book meetings in that area within a given time frame.
c. Send churches a formal request. An informal query may suffice for a Bible study group or sharing time with friends and family. But business etiquette as well as courtesy dictates a formal request if you wish to speak at a church. This means real paper, personalized, with a handwritten signature and placed in an actual stamped envelope. No e-mails. No photocopied form letters. No out-of-the-blue phone call. That initial prayer letter does not count. Public relations principles apply to churches and missions as well as businesses, and a proper and personal inquiry displays professionalism as well as good manners.
d. Follow up formal request with personal contact. Now for a reality check. They won’t answer back! As adult MKs who had been involved in home missions as well as the pastorate, my husband and I had more church contacts than most candidates. Before heading off to orientation, we sent out some sixty query letters to churches in which we had been involved either personally or as MKs. Perhaps four responded. Rather panicked, as we had already left home and job, I sat down one afternoon with our contact list and began calling. Within a two-day period, fifty-three out of the sixty churches had settled on a date for us to speak.
Numerous furloughs later, we find that most of our churches still don’t respond to our announcement of furlough plans until we get on the phone (or e-mail these days) and nail down a specific date. It isn’t that churches don’t welcome visiting missionaries, it’s just that pastors and missions committees are busy. Even when they plan to respond, they may not get around to it until it is too late for our own tight schedule. Also, churches receive any number of requests from new missionary candidates, and both a form letter and formal request may end up shoved aside. But we have found that nine times out of ten, if we take the initiative to follow up that initial inquiry with a personal contact, pastors are more than willing to take out their calendar and set a date right then and there.
The key is to take the initiative. Allow a reasonable interval for your letter to be read and considered. Then get on the phone to that pastor, explain who you are and that you have already been in contact, and ask flat out when you might come and share your ministry with his congregation.
e. Be flexible and realistic. You may not be offered the Sunday morning pulpit—especially on a first visit. Volunteer to speak in a Sunday school class, Bible study, cell group meeting, kid’s club, women’s meeting, youth group. Ask if they need a missionary speaker for VBS or camp. If possible, do all of the above. A variety of small-group meetings within a church congregation may actually offer more personal contact with potential supporters than filling the pulpit for a regular church service.
f. Be creative. Don’t limit yourself to a church schedule. If there are no openings to speak, talk to the pastor about throwing a missionary barbecue. Offer to plan something special for their church that will allow you to share your ministry. Volunteer an ethnic dinner/presentation in your own home. Use your imagination!
g. Pursue speaking engagements aggressively. During deputation, a candidate’s primary ministry is to present missions in the local church and raise the necessary backing needed to leave for the mission field. It is your job as much as that future ministry on the field will ever be. As with any fundraising effort, the more speaking engagements you schedule the faster you will raise your support. So work at it with the same professionalism and commitment you plan to invest in your field ministry. An added plus, more speaking means more offerings to cover those deputation expenses.
SO I’VE MADE IT ONTO THE CALENDAR, WHAT DO I NEED?
1. Be prepared. You have one chance for a first impression; don’t wing it! Successful job applicants do not ad lib their business interviews. Resumé, interview notes, clothing are all carefully prepared. In presenting yourself to a local church as a missionary candidate, you are in effect applying to be that church’s missions representative—and the competition these days for a church’s outreach budget is every bit as fierce as in the corporate world. Churches have the right—and responsibility—to choose carefully in allocating their missions giving. If you don’t display professionalism in presenting your ministry, why should they assume you will demonstrate professionalism on the mission field? So put as much effort into your presentation as though interviewing for an executive slot in a Fortune 500 corporation. Later on, when you and your ministry are known and loved, you might squeeze by with sloppy preparation (not that I would recommend it), but that first impression does count!
2. Have ready a variety of presentations. Thorough preparation is a great stress-reliever. A major advantage of having everything ready in advance is that you can sit back and really enjoy all the places and people you are visiting. Fresh preparation is not necessary for each new speaking engagement. A few well-prepared elements can be combined or subtracted to fit any situation from a five-minute slot on Sunday morning to a small-group potluck to a full day of speaking in every service. My husband and I prepare the following check-list before we ever leave on furlough:
a. Three to five minute testimony/ministry overview
b. Seven to ten minute video: most missions will have a professionally-done ministry overview for use, if not, use a video on your specific ministry
c. Two to three ministry-related messages (my husband): can be adapted for a Sunday pulpit or adult class or expanded to a full missions conference
d. A youth presentation (myself): for Sunday school, kids clubs, VBS, or youth groups
e. Women’s message (myself): for luncheons
3. The display table. Many jokes have been made about the missionary display table. But, hey, they are still standard for any business convention. At the least they allow a focal point for visiting with contacts and handing out information on your ministry. Along with your mission’s logo and some type of ministry display (artifacts from the field are still a nice touch), the following should be on your table:
a. Information on your mission/ministry—most missions have literature available
b. Prayer cards with picture—to go on those refrigerators
c. A sign-up sheet for prayer letter and e-mail updates
d. Pledge cards. Few listeners will sign up to support you on the spur of the moment. A pledge card with the appropriate information to fill out and mail in is the easiest way for a potential donor to get in touch once they’ve had time to think and pray.
4. How to ask for money, have your policy formulated. For all the ministry opportunities, we cannot ignore the bottom line—deputation is about raising financial backing. So how do you ask for money? This is an extremely delicate issue and as individual as missionaries themselves. Some manage to be very aggressive in fund-raising without being offensive. Others would starve before soliciting funds.
Our own policy is to focus on ministry rather than fund raising in our missions presentations. However, as stated earlier, churches are not ignorant of why we are there. When they ask how our finances stand, we tell them. Pastors will usually follow a presentation with their own encouragement for church members to get involved in our support (“There are pledge cards on the Windle’s display”). Our prayer letters during furlough will include a simple statement of how our support stands for returning to the field. And God has always provided. But this is one decision that must be between the candidate and God.
5. Follow up those contacts. Every contact on deputation should be followed up with a personal communication—every church, pastor, missions committee, ministry leader, host family, dinner invitation. Buy thank you notes in bulk. Besides simple courtesy, keep in mind you are not just soliciting funds, but developing relationships. Personal contacts are the best pool you have for potential support team members. Your communication establishes an ongoing relationship. It also conveys an interest in and appreciation for them beyond what you hope to receive.
HOW DO I MAINTAIN MY SUPPORT TEAM ONCE I FINISH DEPUTATION?
“Should we continue supporting them?” a church asked us of another missionary couple. They hadn’t heard from the couple in three years and assumed they were still on the mission field only because their checks were being cashed. The church ended up dropping their support.
Your task isn’t finished once your support is raised. A support team must be maintained.
1. Communication is crucial. Remember that your supporters are part of your ministry team. They deserve to know what is going on. Good communication doesn’t have to involve a huge investment of ministry hours. We use the following schedule:
a. Prayer letters four to five times a year—a missionary prayer letter service makes this both cost and time-effective
b. E-mail ministry updates every two to three weeks
c. A personal reply to letters and e-mails as we receive them
d. A personal letter to every supporter at least once a year—at Christmas if records show they haven’t written during the year
2. Keep records. Track both communication and giving. And if your support drops drastically, don’t hesitate to let your team know. Our personal policy is to be careful in asking for additional funds—for one, because we know the sacrifices many of our supporters are making on our behalf. But when there is a serious financial need (perhaps three times in our own eighteen years), your support team should be informed. That is why God has put them there, and they cannot meet your needs if they are not aware of them.
3. Be persistent. When we left for the field, only four of those fifty-three churches had included us in their missions budget. It was not that others weren’t interested. But mission dollars were stretched to the limit. We maintained communication and continued to visit on furloughs (though we’ve since whittled the list to about forty). Over the years as our family grew and funds became available, one church after another added us to their budget. Today twenty-seven of those original churches include us in their missions budget, and we have many personal supporters in the others.
Don’t ever drop a contact or church because they have not yet contributed financially. Develop that on-going relationship. These contacts are not only valuable prayer partners, but will continue to be your best potential pool for future donors.
HOW DO I KEEP MY SANITY ON DEPUTATION?
We can do all the right things in support-raising—and we certainly have a responsibility to do the job well. But in the end it is God who will move people’s hearts and raise up the team that will stand behind us in our ministry. So bathe the process with much prayer, and ask your ministry partners to do the same.
When things go wrong—and they will—keep in mind that three-letter acronym: GMT. Good Missionary Training. It won’t get any easier on the mission field. Count this as preparation.
It’s been two years now since we moved from Bolivia to Miami for my husband to take a vice president position with Latin America Mission. Our one concern, aggravated by warnings from fellow missionaries, was whether our support team would stand behind our ministry move. “Churches will drop you if you move stateside,” we were told repeatedly. Envy of salaried Christian workers surged through me. How would we feed our family if this happened to us?
Then in packing I came across our file of donor charts. Spreading them out, I studied the lists of names and numbers marching across the pages. Churches. Individuals. I was astounded to recognize that the vast majority of those names stretched back for years. Many back to that first deputation tour. Through the ups and downs of our lives and theirs—job losses, family crises, death, divorce, church splits, hurts and trials we often did not hear about until furlough—their giving had not faltered. The sheer, overwhelming faithfulness represented on those computer printouts brought tears to my eyes—and renewed trust in God and our team.
Our support team did stand behind our move. As for us, we no longer look on deputation as a necessary chore. It is a privilege and joy to visit the very special people who make our ministry possible. After eighteen years together they have become far more than ministry partners. They are family.
Jeanette Windle serves as consulting editor for two magazines and works with developing indigenous writers in six different countries. She lives in Miami with her husband Marty, vice president of general services for LAM, and their four children.
EMQ, Vol. 39, No. 4, pp. 452-459. 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.