Someone asked me recently what our church did to fund missionaries. I started talking about qualifications and strategy when he stopped me and asked for specific help in determining the dollar amounts to give to missionaries.
Allocating church mission funds is one of the main jobs of mission committees in smaller churches. The first step in evaluating this process is to take the names of the missionaries that you are funding off the list and determine the church’s values in allocating these funds. If you were starting over, what types of missionaries would you fund and why? Then add the names back on the list and adjust the amounts given to better reflect your church’s values. Let’s assume that a church decided to regard 20% of a missionaries support of $5000 per month ($1000) as their “full” support goal for each person.
I think it is reasonable to give different amounts to each missionary. In nearly every business, organization, or even church the staff all make different salaries; it is acceptable to give different amounts to each missionary. The problem is that these decision are often made by committees that don’t like conflict so they look for ways to make these decisions as easily as possible. Resist the temptation to make missionary support one-size-fits-all because you don’t like uncomfortable conversations.
Here is what our church does:
Qualifications for training, experience, connection, and other qualifications
For education, we ask for candidates to complete the MA degree that we offer at our church through Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and take the missions track. It is a 45 credit hour degree that can be completed on location at our church. Yep, we’re old-school. We believe in academic education as a requirement for missions service. Accreditation isn’t the issue, but education is. Missionary service is too complicated and too important to just send anyone willing. However, even with this educational requirement, we make exceptions. We allow a spouse to only audit the courses and we lower the requirements to about half the degree for team members who have a team role other than as a team leader or church planter. If someone is a little short on theological training, but otherwise fully qualified, we may deduct $100/month from their support. If someone has little theological training, we will ask them to get it before they get any support.
For experience we look for more than a year of involvement with internationals in student ministry at our church or at least a year of overseas ministry experience. This isn’t just attendance at meetings, we need to know the names of the people who the candidate has discipled. We check with a candidate’s team members to make sure they would recommend him. Because we have discovered that some people unexpectedly don’t adjust well to cross-cultural living, we also ask candidates to get some cross-cultural experience like serving with a team on a short-term missions trip. If someone is a little short on experience, but otherwise fully qualified, we may deduct $100/month from their support. If someone has little ministry or cross-cultural experience, we will ask them to get it before they get any support.
We desire to give more support to candidates from our church that from the outside. If a candidate has been a member of our church for two years or more, has served in some leadership capacity, has a good reputation for involvement and commitment, has given financially (the first financial transaction between us shouldn’t be for the church to give funding to someone who doesn’t have a pattern of giving generously to the church). Missionaries are often independent and resourceful, however, people who are not good team players in the States tend to not be good team members on the field. Because of the need to work together is more important overseas, we will not support people who can’t work on a team. If someone is a little short on connection to our church, but otherwise fully qualified, we may deduct $100/month from their support. If someone has little connection with our church, we will ask them to get it before they get any support.
Each of these requirements ensure that the candidate has been focused on preparing for overseas service for many months, it is not a sudden decision. If a candidate was on another career path a few weeks or even a few months ago, we’d ask them to delay their decision until it was consistent and stable for several months or even a year.
Consider the fit of the organization, assignment, length of term
Generally there is no field assignment of “missionary.” There are assignments as church planters, evangelists, disciplers, administrators, teachers, etc. Some candidates may be considering working as a teacher or starting a company. Others may have a specific assignment in a humanitarian aid organization. I don’t want to be too critical, but I’ve seen too many missionaries planning on an assignment overseas that they haven’t ever done in the States. Starting a church or a business is difficult in the States. It is much more difficult overseas. If a candidate hasn’t done the assignment in the States and done it very well, why would we expect him to be able to do it overseas? If someone is a little short on experience in their exact assignment, but otherwise fully qualified, we may deduct $100/month from their support. If someone has little experience in their assignment, we will ask them to get it before they get any support.
We believe that most of the impact a missionary has is after they learn the language and culture of their context. They will have more influence if they seem less foreign and can communicate in the local language. Because of this we don’t support missionaries who only plan on going for a year or two. This is a reversal for us. We used to think that this year or two would be a gateway for more service or would help determine if a candidate was gifted for overseas service, but now we ask people to go on a short-term team once or twice and then just decide to go long-term or to dig in and develop a ministry where they are. Too many two-year missionaries did one two-year term (not enough time to learn the language and have much impact) and then discontinued. If someone is a little short on long-term commitment, but otherwise fully qualified, we may deduct $100/month from their support. If someone isn’t really planning on long-term service, we will ask them to get it before they get any support.
Finally, we may make an adjustment in the financial support if the strategy, team situation, sending organization, etc. doesn’t seem to fit with the candidate.
We only make financial commitments to missionaries for one term at a time. We reserve the right to adjust our support higher, lower, or end it though we try to only make adjustments at the end of a term. Normally we adjust higher because of proven experience and improved language ability of a missionary each term. We fully disclose the reasons that we make these changes. It is not helpful to a missionary to talk about a church’s financial or budgeting restraints or changes in strategic direction of the church when communicating a change in a missionary’s support when the real reason is that they aren’t making progress on learning the language, can’t get along with people, or not spending enough time on their ministry assignment. It is better for everyone if you just tell them the real reason.
What would you add or clarify?