Monday, September 28, 2009

Short Term Missions and Support

Let’s talk about support. Not the easy type that includes stuff like prayer and encouragement. We’re talking financial. Money. Bucks. Greenbacks. Are you getting the picture?

What I want to open up is this whole discussion of support and short-term missions.

There are three areas to think about:
  • Direct regular support of national churches and pastors.
  • STM leadership and host receiver support.
  • Goer-guest, short-term [STM] participant support.
Today, we will deal with in country national churches and pastors, their needs, and our ability to offer financial support.

As a person who leads numerous short-term mission experiences every year, I am involved with many pastors and leaders on the field. Often these pastors have only one goal in life, to serve God with all of the heart, mind, body, and soul.

The decision to become a pastor in Mexico where I serve, and many other emerging countries around the world, is a decision to struggle financially, often to leave behind family and friends, and lead a life constantly under examination by others.

Let’s look at the financial side of this and the impact of short-term mission.

Here’s a picture of what that might look like. You decide whether it rings true to you or not.

A perspective pastor begins by sharing the Gospel to his family, friends, and people who live nearby. Soon he has a small group of 10 – 15 people gathering weekly for a time of worship and bible study. As the weeks go by, this newly organized group continues to grow and quickly multiplies to between 20 – 30 adults.

Soon after, a US church gets connected through short-term ministry and together they dream about future ministries. At some point during the relationship, the US church expresses a desire to help support this fledgling ministry.

When the US group returns home, their leadership makes the case to the home church that there is a vital Kingdom interest in helping this new church and their pastor financially.

Up to this point, every thing is good. However, this is where many US churches, all with good intentions, get off track. Because with big hearts, we respond without any guidelines. Guidelines that can make the difference between just throwing money at a problem, and being part of the solution to a very real issue.

Here are some guidelines that I believe can make a difference for you, your church or mission board, and that national church, or pastor you want to support.

Be generous. Give enough to make a difference. If your objective is to support a pastor or a church, make sure what you give can do the job. Often a US church decides on a gift of $100.00 a month, without regard to whether this amount will actually be a help, or a hindrance.

Let me explain. Oftentimes a gift that only does part of the job leaves the church in a place of always needing more. With scant resources, she is barely able to keep her head above water, never really having an ability to move ahead.

Perhaps a gift of $500.00 a month is a more realistic amount in light of local living expenses and church expectations. Think about that for a moment.

Would you spend $500.00 a month on a ministry in your own church if you knew that ministry would be serving between 20 – 30 people each week? If the answer is yes, why not a Kingdom ministry elsewhere that also is making a difference?

Whatever amount you can give, you will feel better about it if…

You only give money to an established church. By established, I mean a church with a leadership team that makes the decisions. This ensures that there is accountability within the local body and that the local church you are supporting is aware of all outside support of the local ministry.

A corollary within this, to protect both the pastor and his family from charges of abusing his position for financial gain, is that the treasurer of the church should not be related to the pastor or his family.

Do not designate your funds. This is hard for US churches, but I believe it is vitally important. Let the local church leadership make the decision on where to spend the money. As people who are there 365 days a year, they, better than us, know where the needs are greatest.

If we trust them enough to serve along side their ministries, we should trust them enough to make good decisions with the resources God has provided.

You will be amazed at what this simple step will do for your ministry partnership.

Have a clearly agreed upon exit plan. Years ago I was involved in a new church plant here is Las Vegas. As a small group there was no way we could support a pastor. So our denomination agreed to support us for a period of five years, with that support declining by 20% each year.

That was such a blessing for us. Their support told us they believed in what we were trying to do, but it also told us that at some point, we had to be self supporting.

Open ended outside support of national churches is the kind of support that encourages dependence. It does not lead to stronger church bodies and in fact tells the local members that they themselves do not have to sacrificially support their ongoing ministries.

A clear, agreed upon exit plan, will help you avoid hard feelings in the future, and give the local church the time it needs to build a strong financial base.

Let me give a final note on your exit plan. There will be times when circumstances change. Our current economic situation here in the US is a perfect example. That will demand that everyone involved be somewhat flexible.

But please understand this. Those working on the field, and receiving outside support, have few, if any options to replace a sudden withdrawal of support.

If your church finds it necessary to eliminate, or substantially altar an agreed upon support amount, or plan, I believe you need to give that church at least one year notice to avoid a potential catastrophic situation.

So there you have it. Four guidelines that can help you become a better steward of the resources God has given you or your church when it comes to direct regular support of national churches and pastors.

Be generous, give to an established church, do not designate your funds, and have an exit plan.

What are your thoughts?