Last month I spelled out how independent churches do missions. This month I’d like to explain some problems that we’ve encountered in doing missions.

    Every month I get several missionaries requesting permission to come to MVC to seek support. Most of them I don’t know at all; they found our church on the mailing or phone list of some other organization. When I tell them that we are not presently taking on new missionaries, they   always respond cheerfully and prettily: “That’s okay, I’m not looking for financial support; prayer support is so much more important!”  I’m always tempted to respond:  “Okay, I’ll put you on our prayer chain; no need to take up an entire Sunday service for your presentation if all you want is prayer.”  Deputation is about raising money; it takes money to go to the field.  The missionary knows that; I know that.  Why do we have to try to sound so pretty and spiritual?

    I always imagined that the bulk of a missionary’s support came from churches and was filled out by the regular gifts of a few individuals.  I was shocked to find the opposite to be true: most support comes from individual donors. Should I just accept this as a fact of life and adjust our missionary strategy to it?  Instead of the entire congregation sending a large monthly amount to a few missionaries, why not just open the door to every missionary who requests access, and let each person in the congregation decide which missionaries they want to send their monthly checks to?

    Here’s why we aren’t going in that direction.  The biblical picture is that a missionary is an extension of the local church.  Our missionaries are an arm of Mountain View Chapel reaching out into the world.  As such, I believe we should shoot for giving them as much support as possible.  If one church can provide 60 percent (or better) of a missionary’s monthly support, the missionary doesn’t have to be on deputation as long and   doesn’t have to worry so much about fund-raising; he can get on with the job he’s called to do.  Furthermore, the missionary doesn’t have to be accountable to 100 different individuals in 50 different churches spread over three or four states, nor does he need to send out 100 different mailings or visit 100 different people while home on furlough.  Instead, he can work primarily in and through and with the church that provides the bulk of his support.  He can get to know us, and we him, and this keeps the church as a whole more involved in the missionary and his mission.

    So this is the type of missions program that we’re trying to develop here at MVC.  But if this is the governing philosophy (achieving a high-percentage of support for each missionary) then inviting missionaries that we are not going to support as a congregation just so that they may randomly “beg” for funding from individuals diverts those funds from the main objective, and seems counter-productive.

    Along the same lines, this is one of the reasons we have reconsidered giving “church support” for short term missions trips.  While we were doing the trips, I received a number of questions about short term trips to China from those who had contributed to those trips.  Are these missions really worth all the money that is being poured into them?  Do the two-week missions really accomplish anything that contributes to long-term success, or are the trips primarily benefiting the “missionary?”  After all, if you’re in a place for a mere two weeks, unless you’re accomplishing a very particular task (e.g. building a building, teaching a class), you’re not really much more than a tourist.  And how much effect can tourists really have?  Our folks may have a great experience, but are we trying to give experiences, or are we trying to accomplish a deadly serious task in a foreign country?  And if it’s “the task,” isn’t that task done more effectively by long-term missionaries who are on the field and “in” the culture?

    The same goes for trips to South or Central America to build churches or schools.  Isn’t it a more effective use of funds to send the money to the on-field long-term committed  missionaries and allow those native to South America to build their own buildings?  Is it good stewardship to send ten guys at $3000 a pop to work for ten days among people with whom they can’t communicate to build a building which becomes, in the eyes of the natives, the “Americans’” church – which means that when something goes wrong with the Americans’ building, the Americans will have to send another team down to fix it?  Aren’t there workers in South America who can build their own buildings and maintain them for a lot less than $3000 a week?

    These aren’t the whinings of tight-fisted stingy people, but thoughtful questions about wise stewardship from real committed givers.  I know that our decision to not pursue short-term mission trips at this time  doesn’t sit well with a few, but such trips are not contributing to the overall direction in which we’d like to head with our missions program.  Nor does the idea of inviting in missionaries at random to skim off funds that we’d like to go to the support of those      missionaries we choose…

And I’ll spell out some thoughts about choosing missionaries to support in the next installment of the Scrip…