by D. Kurt Nelson
Case studies examine three successful support models.
Deputation is stressful, time-consuming, expensive, and exhausting. Consequently, many missionaries and mission boards are beginning to re-evaluate the high cost of traditional deputation.
Missionary appointees often spend up to two years raising their financial support, criss-crossing the United States more than once before they reach their goal. Others give up their plans to enter mission work altogether. This is perhaps the most grievous consequence of the current method of deputation. (Eternity, p. 19.)
Mission Aviation Fellowship summarizes the current dilemma: "Many missionaries have had to turn to individuals and churches scattered all across the country for support. To personally relate to such a widely-scattered support team, missionaries exhaust themselves and fragment their family life during initial deputation and on subsequent furloughs. While on the field, hours of time which should be applied to their primary tasks are consumed in correspondence with an ever-enlarging support constitutency." (MAF, "The Sending Church.")
Nevertheless, some argue that the advantages of the traditional system far outweigh its drawbacks. Arguments in favor of deputation include: (1) It results in a broader prayer base than other alternatives. (2) It stretches the faith of missionary candidates as they depend upon God, over a lengthy period, to provide for their needed support. (3) It broadens the base of financial support and protects the missionary against losing significant support should one church fail to maintain their support. (4) It is an effective means of stimulating and encouraging the missionary vision of many smaller churches through increasing their exposure to many different missionaries and mission fields.
Those who would like to revamp the present deputation system rebut: (1) While it may result in a broader support base geographically, it often generates only a superficial depth of prayer support. (2) It has no biblical basis. Missionaries who are mature enough to be approved for support should be sent out without delay. (3) A strong relationship between a missionary and a few significant supporting churches would offer a strong base of financial backing. (4) While seeking to instill a vision for missions in local churches is indeed a biblical goal, such a goal may be attained more effectively apart from the current deputation system.
Because Scripture does not designate a detailed approach to deputation (see preceding article), local churches have much discretion in the development and implementation of alternatives to the current deputation system. The following case studies will examine three successful support models: majority support, the consortium approach to support, and the sending church concept. All three of these models exemplify good stewardship principles and foster deep personal relationships with missionaries.
LOS GATOS CHRISTIAN CHURCH: A MAJOR SUPPORT MODEL
The Los Gatos Christian Church in California has strongly criticized the current system of missionary deputation. Consequently, the church focuses upon significant support from one or more "sending churches." The church aims to develop and maintain deep, "significant relationships" with its missionaries, rather than be content with superficial support and communication.
A minimum support level of 33 percent has been established for non-members. This covers both personal support as well as ministry needs. However, the church may decide to take a larger portion of a non-member’s support.
Members of the Los Gatos Christian Church are given special consideration in the commitment of financial support. The church’s goal is "to provide the majority of their support needs but without preventing their other friends and supporters from participating." The minimum support level for member missionaries is 66 percent of their total needs.
Generally, the Los Gatos Church has found that it cannot provide more than 70 to 80 percent of a missionary’s support. This allows missionaries to spread their remaining support, along with a vision for their work, among other friends and churches.
Although this approach limits the number of missionaries the church can support, it also accomplishes the church’s goal of developing and maintaining "deep, significant relationships" with them. (Los Gatos Church, "Policy on Personal Support by Missionaries," pp. 1-3.)
THE SUBURBAN DETROIT MISSIONS CONSORTIUM
A more innovative approach is taken by a loosely-knit group of five churches surrounding Detroit: Calvary Baptist of Hazel Park, Covenant Community of Redford, Highland Park Baptist of Southfield, Redeemer Baptist of Warren, and Troy Baptist of Troy. They were dissatisfied with the high cost and ineffectiveness of the traditional deputation system. Consequently, they established a consortium to create an alternative plan. The consortium is composed of two representatives from each member church. Their goal is "to send out fully supported missionaries under recognized mission boards."
A missionary candidate must claim one of the five churches as his home church to qualify for support. The candidate’s home church must provide at least 50 percent of his or her support. The other churches assume an equitable share of the remaining support needs. As a result, each candidate is fully supported by these five churches. The missionary’s home church coordinates and provides for special needs (projects, medical emergencies, etc.) and furlough expenses.
Each missionary supported by the consortium must spend a year in ministry among these five churches before going to the field. During furlough, missionaries are expected to have some type of ministry primarily, though not exclusively, in their home church.
This approach virtually eliminates travel during furlough and enables missionaries to minister more effectively. The home church also has a greater opportunity to have a ministry in the life of the missionary during furlough. Raising support through traditional deputation is eliminated. The missionary develops a stronger identity with his home church, and his family life is strengthened.
The consortium produces geographically-centered support and fosters healthy interrelations among several churches and their missionaries. Missionaries from these five churches share a vision for their work among the entire group of supporting churches. Broad-based prayer and financial support are generated, and missionaries are sent forth with full support without a lengthy, exhausting deputation ministry. (Highland Park Baptist Church, "A Proposed Solution to a Missions Dilemma," pp. 2-5.)
MISSION AVIATION FELLOWSHIP: THE SENDING CHURCH CONCEPT
Growing support requirements, inflation, the waste of time and money in widespread deputation, and the superficial relationships which deputation fosters are some of the many reasons that led Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) to seek an alternative to the traditional deputation system on which they had relied for years. The mission was also deeply concerned about physical and mental exhaustion which deputation produced, and the fragmentation of missionary family life during initial deputation and subsequent furloughs.
As a result, MAF developed a program which it calls "The Sending Church Concept." It defines a "sending church" as a "body of believers who desire an in-depth, two-way relationship with the missionaries they support." In order to achieve this quality of commitment and relationship, MAF believes the missionary’s support cannot be widely scattered and fragmented.
Each "sending church" must make a commitment to provide regular prayer support and to seek personal involvement with the missionaries it supports. MAF hopes that two or three churches will agree to take on 80 to 90 percent of total support, while the remaining 10 to 20 percent will be given by individuals.
This plan seeks to localize significant support in relatively few churches. A significant portion of furlough time can be spent with each "sending church," which enables missionaries to enter actively into the life and ministry of these churches.
In addition, travel expenses encountered in normal deputation will be drastically reduced. The frantic scurrying around the country, relating to a large number of supporting churches, will be virtually eliminated. (MAF, "A Dynamic Missionary Support Concept.")
Admitting that it will take time to educate churches toward this concept, Mrs. Catherine Olson, MAF’s manager of partnership development, says the mission strongly encourages candidates to work toward the goal. MAF conducts a 35-hour support-raising seminar during the last week of candidate school. The idea is catching on little by little, but because of previous pledges many churches cannot commit large amounts to any one missionary. "We can encourage, but we can’t enforce this," Mrs. Olson says. "Much depends on the pastor and the missions committee."
In addition to these models of successful alternatives to the deputation dilemma, there are other principles that can help to solve some of the problems growing out of traditional deputation.
Geographically-centered support is one way to implement good stewardship principles. It reduces furlough expenses and maintains healthy family and church relationships.
By building a support base around a single metropolitan area, state, or region, the missionary can reduce travel time and expenses. Even focusing support in two cities or states keeps travel to a manageable level for most missionaries.
PERCENTAGE OF SUPPORT VS. DOLLARS PER MONTH
Churches naturally think of dollars. While this is necessary for the budget, worldwide inflation and economic differences have made "dollars per month" an obsolete measure of a missionary’s needs. Therefore, there has been a shift away from dollars per month to a pecentage of a missionary’s needs. In an article entitled "On Bigger Slices of Pie," Donald Hamilton comments upon this concept:
I am often asked "What part should a church have in the support of its missionaries?" By this, it is usually meant, "Should we support many missionaries with a small amount of money, or fewer missionaries with a larger amount?"
When we ask "What part?" we acknowledge that there is a whole. Thus, the concept of percentage of total support needs to be considered, which forces us to think more broadly than "so many dollars per month." Because it is easiest, many churches support their missionaries on the basis of dollars per month, without relating to the total needs of a missionary and the other churches involved in the support of that missionary. This method of missions’ support permits a relatively indiscriminate slicing of the missions budget pie. ("On Bigger Slices of Pie," p. 7.)
When churches think in terms of percentages of support, they can roughly assess the number of other churches that will be required to provide the remainder. This also allows them to more accurately anticipate how much time the missionary will be able to give them while on furlough.
For example, if they provide 10 percent of the support, the missionary must relate to at least nine other churches giving 10 percent. But if they provide 25, 50 percent, or more, the number of supporting churches that the missionary must relate to is drastically reduced. The percentage of support provided directly reflects the quantity of time and quality of relationship that a church can enjoy with its missionaries.
MINIMUM SUPPORT LEVELS
Churches should also set minimum support levels in terms of the percentage of total needs. To protect missionaries from having to relate to many small, widelys-scattered groups, churches should, whenever possible, set minimum support figures at no less than 10 percent of the total. Ideally, a church should provide anywhere from 20 to 80 percent, in order to promote better stewardship in the deputation process and to foster more intimate and supportive fellowship with its missionaries.
While the development of simpler lifestyles is not an alternative, per se, to the deputation system, it can reduce the total amount of money a missionary must secure during deputation. The need for simpler lifestyles applies equally to the missionary, the mission board, and to those giving financial support. The aim is not to pursue a simpler lifestyle as an end in itself, but as a means of assuring that the resources available for spreading the gospel are as great as possible and that they are used wisely and efficiently.
The alternatives proposed in this article are designed to modify the current deputation system, not to replace it. Despite the cricitisms, it would be unwise to stop missionary deputation. There are positive values which a proper method of deputation can accomplish. Deputation can provide churches with a broad vision for world missions, challenge people to pray for the lost, educate and stimulate greater involvement in missions, challenge and inspire people’s faith, and allow churches to participate in God’s work overseas. ("Deputation—What it is and is Not," p. 2.)
An examination of alternative approaches could incite churches to implement more efficient, more effective, and more fruitful approaches to missionary support. Such approaches will be more rewarding both to the missionary and to the sending churches, and thus beneficial to the cause of world missions.
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