Church leaders always have to decide how to best use limited resources for Kingdom benefit. Which takes priority, investing in promising and productive missions strategies or supporting and caring for current long-term missionaries?
Historically congregations have been connected to missions through their missionaries who are their primary concern. Some churches idolize missionaries, the people who gave up everything to live for Jesus in far away places in the world. The support and welfare of their missionaries is their number one priority. One pastor told me, “We have never missed a check for our missionaries, and as long as I’m the pastor we never will.” They may have little idea what the missionaries are trying to accomplish, but their prayers are on behalf of the missionary and rarely the people they serve. They would not think of asking whether a missionary is effective or their ministry is strategic but whether he is safe and healthy.
Many churches do not have specific missions goals and priorities. Until recently the most common church goal was to raise as much money as possible for missions. Less attention was given to what was accomplished or attempted with the funds raised. Local church lay leaders are often unaware of various parts of the world and know little about cultures and mission strategies. They support and trust missionaries and mission organizations that have their own goals. The church missions strategy is a collection of the strategies of supported missionaries and organizations.
Many churches have lost touch with a number of the missionaries they support. Few people know them and they have little idea of what or how they are doing. New missions leaders may want to evaluate their missionaries but they may have unreasonable expectations. Is a church entitled to evaluate the ministry of someone with whom they haven't communicated and of whom they have only perhaps 5% of their support? Further, what standards apply? Could you use the same standards to evaluate your church? Others are highly critical of missionaries whose results aren't dramatic. They seem to assume church growth in a difficult environment should be rapid and dramatic like it happens to be in their church. One young missions pastor in a large suburban church told me their elders were considering disengaging with their missionaries in the 10/40 Window. They wanted to take a “high impact” approach like their ministry in the Canada. It seemed to be a new idea to him that “high impact” might look different in the 10/40 Window.
Becoming more strategic while taking care of our missionaries is a major challenge."
Occasionally a new missions committee takes their responsibility to become better stewards of missions resources seriously and they develop a good strategy. Wise leaders will consider the input of, and the consequences to, their far away and dependent missionaries. Alternatively, missionaries who may have pioneered the missions ministry in the church or been long time workers from the church may be unceremoniously dumped because they don’t fit into the new strategy.
Increasingly church leaders recognize that the congregation has become disconnected from missions and they work to get more people connected and involved. With fewer and time-limited services, there is little opportunity to help the congregation to learn to know all the missionaries on their roster. Even the missions team can't keep up. This leads to a desire to reduce the number of supported missionaries so that the church can focus more heavily on the ministry of a few. The same reasoning makes it difficult for new missionaries to obtain support unless they are highly regarded members of the congregation.
In reaction to the criticism that "churches only want your money," raising money has become an almost taboo topic in churches. In days past churches enthusiastically raised funds for missions. When people in the congregation were approached by individual missionaries for support, it was understood. As one fundraising missionary told me last week, "Young people don't have supported missionary models visiting and having dinner and being touted at church anymore. Support-raising, except for mission trips is foreign and odd."
The most natural forms of congregational involvement are mission trips and projects in the community. These require a great deal of planning and management. Many missions leaders are so busy with organizing these complex involvements along with their other church responsibilities, that they have little time to think about how or whether these high-involvement projects contribute to the larger goal of world evangelization. Becoming more strategic while taking care of our missionaries is a major challenge.