Missions is more than money:
Criteria for supporting missions in the local church
Rev. Bill Green
Missionary, church planter
(This article is directed to my own denomination, the United Reformed Churches of North America, but I hope is applicable to all mission causes)
Over and over again deacons or council members have shared with me their sense of feeling inundated with requests for mission causes to support. Almost every month letters are received in many churches requesting support – many of these good causes. And support granted to any given mission cause is often based on a sort of vague, haphazard strategy – if someone knows something about a certain mission endeavor and can vouch for it, it might get some money. If no one knows anything – it’s struck from the list.
I believe we can do better than this – I believe that a local congregation can and should think carefully about criteria for their mission support. If our task of missions is one of the important tasks of the Church, it merits more thought than a quick discussion in a council meeting, and an offering or two. If hours, weeks and months can be spent planning a local building project – certainly a bit more energy could be spent on our ETERNAL building project – building Christ’s kingdom! I would like to offer the following suggestions as to how a local church might set a missions strategy, and some guidelines for setting criteria for such a strategy.
1) Missions is more than money. When we see “missions” as taking up a set number of offerings, we have started on the wrong foot. Missions is sending certain people to preach the Gospel to the lost, disciple believers and train leaders, form churches, and build viable Christian communities. Different people have different roles in this as those who send and those who go. All this happens in a variety of ways – one of which is the expenditure of funds. But money is not the goal nor the end of our “mission support”. How many members in our congregations think that they have done their mission duty when they gave their offering? Probably many. But this is not good. We must start by re-evaluating our concept of “missions”. If we think that “missions” is supporting a list of causes, there needs to be a deepening of our appreciation for it’s real character.
Church leaders – pastors, elders, deacons, mission committees – should take the responsibility for leading this change of mentality. Many congregations have probably become entrenched over many years, and believe that the extent of their commitment is an offering. But if we look at the Scriptures, we find that Paul communicated with supporting churches for a variety of reasons. One was to thank them for financial support, or to encourage others to support financially his or other church causes. But another significant thing that Paul mentioned frequently was prayer. He constantly asks for prayer for the advance of the Gospel, and he expected the local churches to read his letters well so that they might pray knowledgeably. We are reminded of 2 Corinthians 1:8ff: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia… On him (God) we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers”.
One of the reasons that missionary letters are not read very thoroughly today is because so many do not take their job to pray very seriously. Missionary letters are often seen only as a function of financial support – “You have to keep the money coming, so you’d better keep them informed”. Both missionaries and congregations have fallen into this trap. When a congregational member feels they are “fulfilling their mission duty” by giving generously, they don’t bother to read the letters very closely. But this is because many are not taking their task of praying seriously.
There are other ways in which sending congregations are involved in missions far beyond financial giving. Missions first and foremost requires the sending of our sons and daughters to the mission field. Where will they be sent, when and how, to do what? These decisions need to be well informed, prayerfully considered and strategically made. A church which has reduced “missions” to giving will be ill prepared to make good, strategic decisions about deploying their sons and daughters. ‘Missions anarchy’ and confusion will rule.
All the New Testament writers point out the need to defend our faith and to give joyful, convincing testimony to Jesus Christ. A good case can be made that the Church will be better equipped to do this when it is nurtured by it’s mission causes. Paul sets himself up as an example to be imitated as he promoted and defended the Gospel (Philip. 4:9). Missions is a two-way communication between the sending congregation and the mission endeavor – and both ‘receive’ edification from the other. It is very frequent today that the sending churches feel that they only send, never receive. But this attitude will weaken their overall witness. There are many things on the mission field that can encourage, stimulate, and even admonish practices or attitudes at home. Many times the patient service of overseas Christians in the midst of poverty, civil war or sickness can be a wonderful example to North Americans, softened by abundant luxuries. Humble hospitality on their part can challenge the individualism and selfishness of our culture also. There have been many, many occasions that I (the missionary) returned home humbled and admonished by the example of those to whom I went to “teach”! When missions becomes a “working together” for a common cause, God will indeed be glorified and His whole Church will be strengthened!
I’ll just mention one more element to “missions” besides financial giving – that of “rejoicing”. When Paul returned from his first missionary journey, the brothers rejoiced greatly at the news of the spread of the Gospel, and Paul in his letters often says he rejoices to hear of faithful obedience in a given church. Would our worship services be different, would our singing and praying be different, if the entire congregation felt one with their supported mission causes? I think so.
All this is to say that missions is much more than ‘just’ money. It involves financial support, of course, but goes far beyond this. I believe that this foundational principle is key for the other criteria that I will offer.
2) Support our troops first! It seems self evident to me, but I think it needs to be said. If a nation has a choice to support it’s own troops or to abandon it’s own troops to support the troops of another country, which would it choose? It’s own troops, of course. There are many worthy mission causes in this world, and naturally we would love to support them all. However, we have a responsibility for our own troops first. I can’t think of any reasons why this point would need defending among our churches, and yet it does not appear to function in all cases. In fact, there are URC causes which are limping while hundreds of non-URC causes are supported. For URC missionaries on the field this must be puzzling – is their work no more of a priority than other non-URC causes, even non-Reformed causes?
A good criterion for local councils to apply would be to thoroughly investigate first of all the available URC causes to ensure that all are well supported before looking around at other things. I have a suspicion that we will find plenty to do!
3) Say “no” to Leap Frog Missions. Today educators complain that children can’t concentrate for very long in class. Preachers complain that if they go beyond the hour watches start to go off. More and more churches have to entertain crowds for them to keep coming. Unfortunately mission support can fall into the same syndrome. Long-term commitments are out today – short term ‘projects’ are in. No one stops to ask himself whether short term things will get anything significant accomplished for Christ’s kingdom. We just seem to get bored with the same old thing after awhile and look around for something else. As a missionary and having served for 21 years overseas I know what I am talking about. We have felt the pressure of trying to keep people and churches “interested” in our work – when it should be just the opposite way around! Who is sending whom? Leap frog missions stems from an Attention Deficit Disorder that Ridlin won’t cure, and one which should be resisted by our congregations. The popular evangelical world is run by short term, quick fix, emotional appeals. But our mission strategy must not succumb to this modern malaise. A council’s decision should never depend on: “well, we’ve been supporting that cause for awhile, let’s look for something else”. An important criterion for missions must be perseverance and a “stick to it” mentality. This is why we should “look before we leap” – we should think over the cause we wish to support, and then jump in wholeheartedly.
4) Say “no” to tear jerker missions. We are all familiar with the TV adds of starving children, and the full color pamphlets sent through the mail. I do not want to minimize the gravity of the conditions of the people photographed, but I do want to call into question the tactics used. First of all, they often play on a sense of guilt – “We have so much and they have so little”, so we send some money to assuage our guilt. This is a wrong motivation. Secondly, not all ‘aid’ given by these organizations helps advance Christ’s kingdom. There have been many, many questionable efforts, not just of corruption, but regarding real, long-term help to individuals. A solid, reformed, church planting effort will be the best long-range investment in changing lives. Thirdly, we should separate the concepts of ‘philanthropy’ from ‘missions’. We may and should help the starving if we have the opportunity, or the hurricane victims, or whomever. But these things should be separated from our concept of missions. I refer the reader to our point #1 – missions is a much more wholistic concept that includes building up the Church. For most of us, the priority would include Reformed churches.
It would be interesting to know how many church members send their “mission” money to such causes – causes they find out about on TV or through mailings. I suggest that since many local congregations have not developed a healthy idea of missions, many individuals are easy prey to emotional appeals. This makes for a poor record when perseverance is needed, and simply sends us into the “Leap Frog” missions approach.
Conclusion: Allow me to summarize. Churches should develop serious, mission support which includes not only financial giving, but real, personal knowledge and commitment by the congregation. This commitment ought to include a willingness to send their own children to help, it ought to include a commitment to pray knowledgeably, and the desire to rejoice over successes, and to share the burden of setbacks. It could include the willingness to personally visit, to volunteer time in building projects, to see things first hand. This sort of relationship will help the local congregation truly share the vision and burden of the work. A mission vision should be something that is set for the long term – most of the successful mission endeavors I know have taken decades to bear good fruit. It is thus the duty of the church leaders to lead a congregation against the “boredom” syndrome, and to develop a healthy, biblical sense of mission. Lastly, we have a responsibility for missionaries from our own denomination first – that’s what belonging to a denomination is about. If we are not committed to one another at the level of missions, what is our mutual commitment?
I offer these criteria for your reflection.
Simply put: How to determine a good mission cause
1. Is this a cause we are willing to dedicate MORE THAN money to? Would we be willing to send our sons and daughters to this cause? Are we willing to get involved in this ministry?
2. Is this cause part of our denomination’s missions program? If the cause is other than our church’s mission cause, are there other mission efforts that need our support before supporting this one?
3. Is long term support expected or needed for this cause, or are we likely to play Leap Frog with this one?
4. Are we supporting this cause for an emotional reason rather than a well planned, strategic reason?
Rev. Bill Green has worked in missions for 27 years
and presently serves as church planter in Costa Rica
and Executive Secretary for the Latin American
Fellowship of Reformed Churches (CLIR). To contact, write: