Random Thoughts: Churches, Missions, and Missionary Support

The state of local churches in their practice of supporting and promoting missionaries and missions.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) will be completed. Only it won’t be completed by American churches. The Holy Spirit is passing the baton on to others. Countries that were formerly missionary-receiving countries have become missionary-senders. Which is why I stay in Malawi, training the leaders of this new movement of God.    

 

Today’s missionary candidate, following his appointment, must go on “deputation.” Basically this means he and his family live in a car for eighteen months and drive from church to church, essentially begging for money. Imagine driving down the highway and you hear little Billy in the back seat say, “Dad, Suzy just barfed all over the seat.” About the same time, the “Check Engine” light comes on the dashboard of your car. Deputation is not fun.

You get to the church and sit with the missions committee. At the end of your presentation, they [graciously] say, “We only support members of our church.” Let’s think about this. If your only criterion is be a member of your church, are you confident that the people you’re supporting are the most qualified? Many have worked at a job where the boss‘s nephew was an idiot, but his job was secure because he was the boss’s nephew. That could well be the case with the missionary who is supported by his church because he met the only criterion.

Another thing about “We only support members of our church” is that it reduces the pool of people that could potentially become missionaries. Under this policy only members of megachurches have a shot at becoming missionaries. If you’re a member of the First Church of Mugwump with 82 members, you can forget about missions; Mugwump doesn’t have the resources to support you.

Another thing we hear is, “Our committee will not consider supporting a missionary business manager.” On the mission field, someone has to pay the bills. Someone has to keep the books. Someone has to generate the financial reports to be sent to the home office. If you don’t support a business manager, the missionaries you support have to stop and do those things, and then they’re frustrated because then they’re doing work for which they’re not trained. Additionally, the missionary business manager doesn’t just sit behind a desk; he’ll join his colleagues in gospel proclamation when the books are done.

Another popular trend is “partnering.” That’s where a church says its mission program consists of supporting an overseas “partner.” This is misleading; what those partnerships usually are is patron/client relationships. The American church gives, the overseas “partner” receives. Here in Africa, there are many churches, and most of them don’t have an American “partner.” It seems to me that the ones that don’t, do as well as if not better than the ones that do. Maybe it’s because the ones that don’t have an American “partner” have a sense of ownership that the ones that do lack.

Mission trips. These mission trip groups are getting bigger. We used to receive groups with ten or twelve people; this year we got one with 84 people. Our record is a group with 148 laypeople. They had to come in on separate flights. The Malawians told us they felt invaded. I suspect that many of those trippers have never signed up to bring doughnuts to the Sunday school class. They signed up for the trip because it was an opportunity to visit an exotic foreign country, and the cost of the trip was subsidized through fund raisers like bake sales, car washes, and spaghetti suppers.

The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) will be completed. Only it won’t be completed by American churches. The Holy Spirit is passing the baton on to others. Countries that were formerly missionary-receiving countries have become missionary-senders. Which is why I stay in Malawi, training the leaders of this new movement of God.

Larry Brown is a minister in the Evangelical Presbyterian Church and serves as Professor of church history, world history, hermeneutics and missions at the African Bible College in Lilongwe, Malawi, where he has served for 26 years..