February 20, 2006

What About “Supporting Our Own?”

David Mays


In most churches the congregation assumes that the church should support from its missions budget any member or participant (“one of our own”) who is required to raise support. 


By contrast, church leaders also have an obligation to be task-focused and result-oriented.  Church leaders often have definitions, policies, priorities, and qualifications for selecting missionaries and mission projects for support.  They are stewarding the church’s resources to accomplish Kingdom work.  God may have impressed them with priority for some critical or strategic mission work.


The biggest factors in support decisions are

1)     The relationship – friend, church member, church attender, etc.

2)     The individual – call, competence, and character.   

3)     The work – the ministry task, the recipient group, the location, etc. 


At one end of the spectrum, a church member may be obviously called of God to do a strategic ministry task that meets all the church’s definitions of missions, but is not in their particular narrow area of focus.  The individual meets almost all the criteria.


At the other end of the spectrum, the individual meets only the criteria of relationship.  Perhaps the child of long-time church members applies to work with a Christian organization in the same community and culture ministering to gambling addicts.  The applicant has a spotty church record, little training, poor relationships skills, no ministry experience, and has been recovered only a short time from a gambling addiction.


These are obvious extremes.  Real situations are usually much less clear.


Church people are often aware of the relationship.  We naturally expect the church to support people we know.  And we may be indignant when it doesn’t happen.  Interestingly, we don’t expect to select a pastor on the same basis.


Perhaps the congregation tends to see missions funds more like "benevolence funds" (for our own who need it) than like "salaries" (for accomplishing a task).  On the other hand, what would it be like if we selected our missionaries like we select our pastors: finding the best person for the task, whether from our church or not?


Following is how some churches handle this issue?


Examples from Several Churches

  1. Qualifications for those we support:
    1. We only support people going into a cross-cultural context. 
    2. They have to go through the same interview process that anyone else does.  We need to feel assured that they are qualified or we simply don't endorse them. 
    3. They have to have been actively involved in our fellowship, serving in some significant capacity for three years or more. 
  2. Some guidelines:

·        They must meet with the missions department prior to applying for approval by an agency? 

·        I try to work with them regarding their areas of passion and gifting. Are they open to considering one of Wooddale's priorities? Are they open to our suggestions? These are not make/break decisions-but make a lot of difference.

·        If we--both the candidate and our office--believe a non-priority ministry calling is God's call we will support them--though not necessarily at the level we would support if they were going to a priority ministry.

·        We have budget guidelines. In our case we budget 15% to ministries of compassion, 15% to ministry to immigrants and ethnic minorities, 15% to "North America" missions-read not cross-cultural, e.g., campus ministry, 30% to international ministries and 25% to "Kingdom Initiatives"-read Wooddale priority projects. The 15% NA limit helps control requests that aren't cross-cultural.

·        Is the "child" still active in the church or returned for support? In the latter case, we're more likely to do a "one time" gift.

  1. If God is calling them we support them.  But if it is not to a 'strategic' area then the support is less.  We have a grid with recommended ranges for support.  Not everyone will fit into the strategic gird we have created and God will no doubt be calling some to other fields. 
  2. If these people are genuinely being directed by God in a different direction from the church's policy/strategy, then there should be a certain level of support that has been predetermined for such situations.  
  3. We have a ‘qualification’ grid to decide what is appropriate partnership with built-in limiters on length of partnership and expectations.
  4. We set up a special limited fund to support such people and link them to a support group such as their parents’ Sunday School Class.