by Hans Christian Linnartz
A tongue-in-cheek look at missionary fundraising.
"The Battle for the Missionary Buck," which you no doubt read — Don’t all appointees have to read Evangelical Missions Quarterly ? It was in the July, 1988, issue — aroused my sympathy for many friends of mine who are having a very hard time raising the monumental amounts of money they must have before their boards let them hit the field. I thought it’s time someone came to their rescue and helped them to face the realities of fund-raising. Here’s my effort. If you find it useful, send it on to the editor. They rarely use any humorous material in the EMQ, but tell the editor his readers might enjoy it, even if it lacks publishable quality.
MONEY DOESN’T GROW ON TREES ANYMORE
Once upon a time, it was easy for a missionary candidate to raise his support. William Carey went up to the front door of the First Baptist Church of London and knocked:
"Hello, I’m William Carey, and I want to be a missionary …"
"Congratulations, young man! Here’s two thousand pounds. Write us from Calcutta."
Since then, things have gotten tight.
"Hello, my name is Hudson Judson and I’m a missionary candidate…"
"Please take a number and have a seat with the other missionary candidates in the sanctuary. Since you’re number 32, and it’s already 10 o’clock, I doubt the pastor will be able to see you today."
If getting an audience with the church is difficult, it’s even worse trying to get some money. Used to be you could drive into the parking lot in a beat-up Chevy wearing native clothes, and they’d offer to support you $100 a month right off. Now, before you see anybody, you have to fill out a 20-page form asking difficult questions like:
Describe your life in the space below.
Give names and addresses of all persons you have led to Christ in the past week. Use additional pages if necessary.
Explain the problem of evil.
Give names and addresses of 10 people who have known you for 10 years or more and are not relatives, schoolmates, friends of your parents, or co-workers.
Have you ever used drugs, including aspirin? Give dates and explain.
List every other person, agency, or entity with whom you have communicated about your financial needs and indicate their response.
Those who survive the questionnaire get interviewed by the missions chairman. He is sort of like a bank’s loan officer. Missions chairmen are selected for formidability. Most stand about six feet ten and have several chins. Many served as interrogation officers for military intelligence.
In the interview, the candidate must defend his personal theology, his family, his financial needs, his mission board’s policies and history, his home church, his means of fund-raising, his educational credentials, and the conduct of any pets he may have owned.
If the candidate gets through this interview, he is considered by the whole missions committee. Sometimes the committee interviews him, Spanish Inquisition-style; other times he is tried in absentia.
The candidate himself waits long months before hearing the result of these interviews. Those who are accepted generally receive a cheery letter:
"We are glad to inform you that our missions committee has voted to have you join our missionary family. Beginning in December, we will be sending a monthly check to your mission for $15.50. Please remember that we expect monthly reports from all our missionaries, who are also required to attend all our missions functions during their furloughs."
Many who are rejected receive no notice. This popular practice stems from the maxim, "If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all."
In other cases, candidates receive letters like this:
"We are so pleased by what you are doing, Adoniram, and believe with all our hearts that you will literally shake the world and bring about revival like no one in our generation has seen. Unfortunately, we are so fully committed to others who depend on our funds, and we have just started a building program for sheds to house our lawn tractors."
The solution? Upgrade your image. This growing ecclesiastical parsimony towards missions and missionaries results largely from growth in the number of folks who want to be missionaries. Writers attribute the missionary explosion to mass mid-life crisis, a tight U.S. job market, and occasionally even the movement of God’s Spirit.
Whatever has caused it, we must face the fact that there are more people clamoring for more bucks from not many more churches than ever before. The missionary candidate who aims to get ahead in his work needs to learn the Christian art of competition.
Fortunately, the competition isn’t too hot. Most candidates are amateurs at marketing, and some are hampered by false guilt about using what works. Therefore, with a little care you can present an image that stands out from the crowd (at least in the crowd that hasn’t read this article yet), and gets you into the money soon.
NARROW THE COMPETITION
With so much competition out there, the first thing you can do is eliminate some of it, while making yourself look good. One of the smartest ways to do this without insulting anyone in particular is to cast shadows on other mission organizations. For example, the "pure faith" missions are always a good target:
"Some missions say it’s unspiritual to ask for money, but we like to take a realistic, biblical approach to finances. And it’s funny, isn’t it, even among those missions their candidates are always looking for opportunities to ‘minister.’"
Said with a knowing smile, this short speech tells your listener that this whole set of missions is judgmental, unrealistic, unbiblical, and devious. That ‘s a good start in the right direction.
Missionary gossip always helps to reduce the competition: "I see you support a couple with XYZ Mission. That’s a great organization; I hope they’ve recovered from that terrible scandal involving their president."
Or there’s always that all-time favorite: "They’re doing a great work in Zaire, if they can just get past their split over the charismatic issue."
FLEX YOUR THEOLOGY
As a missionary, you will need to adapt to the culture where you go. So, too, you need to have a doctrinal position that adapts to the cultures of the churches where you raise money. It’s been the downfall of many a missionary to hold tightly to a particular line of theology, when they should have held tightly to another line closer to that of the church where they were speaking.
Paul, after all, said he had learned to be all things to all people. With just a little modification, we could say, ‘To the Arminians I am an Arminian; to the Calvinists, a Calvinist; to the Pentecostals, a Pentecostal; to the fundies, a fundie."
Some may ask, How do you know what to do? The answer is easy: Pay attention to terminology. When someone asks you, "Have you experienced the fullness of the Spirit, brother?" you reply, "Hallelujah, praise God, brother!"
But when another asks, "Where do you stand on the charismatic issue?" you reply immediately that charismatic gifts were signs given to the apostolic church, but you’re very concerned about abuses today by many well-meaning people.
"DIG DEEP, OR DON’T SLEEP"
I know that guilt has a bad name in our day, but it’s really one of the best motivators around, and as often as God uses it, we ought to be able to occasionally, too.
The most effective use of guilt is to make your audience feel bad about their own evangelism. Most of them haven’t led anyone to Christ in years and feel pretty bad about it. Not bad enough to do something themselves, mind you, but they can be made to feel bad enough to pay somebody else to do it for them. So preach for results.
Another great way to use guilt is to use statistics. How often have you heard that 2.7 billion people are going to hell? Well, that’s not too compelling unless you flex your theology to suggest that if we don’t do something about it, their blood is on our hands.
"We are responsible for this generation, you’ll have to answer if you don’t dig deep this evening" is the note you want to sound, even though you can’t say it quite that explicitly.
Be sure to make people feel guilty about their fantastically rich lifestyles. The best way to do this is to bring in some Third World speaker, who can tell how the people in his country live in horrible poverty while we Americans consume two-thirds of the world’s supply of beef cattle, or something. Great stuff. It never gets anyone to change their lifestyle, but it can get you a fistfull of money before you leave the meeting.
For years the big commercial concerns have used mass mailings to get money. Most mission boards have mailing lists they will pass on to their candidates. But better yet is getting a list of members of churches where you are received with anything but the boot.
It’s getting more difficult to get membership lists. Churches have caught on and are limiting them to members only. Of course, all you have to do is find one defector to get the whole list, but it’s still more difficult. A few smart churches in California have made their membership lists classified information, but I understand you can still get them from the FBI under the Freedom of Information Act.
What do you write in your mass mailings? Break down your needs into discreet units. Suppose you need $36,000 a year. With a mailing list of 400 you write a letter and say that if everybody who gets this letter pledges just $30 a month (a dollar a day), you’ll be fully supported. Then send the letter to a quarter of your mailing list.
So if your first 100 folks all respond as you ask, you will be fully supported. But just in case, you write another similar letter to the next 100 folks on the list. And so on. When you have finished, in each case you’ve told the truth, and you have the potential of full support from four different groups.
MAGNIFY YOUR MINISTRY
With all the competition going on for missionary dollars, you need to make people think that what you’re going to be doing is THE BIG DEAL in missions today. There are many avenues for doing this:
1. Make a strategy statement: "Never send a missionary to do what a national can do better and cheaper. That’s why I want you to send me to train nationals."
2. Give live examples: "The Snicklefritz family was doing a great work among the Podang Indians when their pet poodle got sick. They had to leave their important missionary labor to return to the U.S. for treatment. Think how the work would have prospered if they had had a missionary pet vet on the field."
3. Arouse the pioneer spirit: "Do you realize that there is not a single evangelical missionary in Antarctica today?"
You get the idea. The important thing is to set yourself apart from the old, boring, hum-dram, regular ministry.
There are many more exciting ways to set yourself apart from the other folks competing for the missionary dollar, but you get the idea. I. may write about the other, better ideas, but only once I’ve raised my support and am on the field.
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