Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Mission Support... funding effective Great Commission work with Short-Term Mission

This is Part II of a three part series on effective cross cultural mission giving.  Part I focused on direct regular support of national pastors and non US based churches. Today we will deal with short-term mission leadership and long-term missionary support.  Part III will delve into ways we can leverage short-term mission to fund long-term work.


Perhaps no area of funding Great Commission work is as fraught with peril as when we talk about short-term leadership and host receivers, or long-term missionaries.  But before we begin, it is necessary to define the terms so we are all on the same page.

When I use the term Host-Receiver, originally coined by Roger Peterson and Wayne Sneed in their book, “Maximum Impact Short-Term Mission, I am talking about those cross cultural missionaries living in other countries who serve as hosts and receive short-term teams.  You probably know them as long-term missionaries.

Short-term mission [STM] leadership on the other hand are the professionals whose job it is to facilitate effective short-term work around the globe.  In my position as Executive Director of Adventures in Life Ministry, not only do I handle the day to day operation of AIL Ministry, I also spend significant time in the field each year.

Others, at organizations like DELTA Ministries in Vancouver, WA, where my friend Asher Sarjent works, spend significant time recruiting, training and preparing short-term teams for their various types of mission work around the globe.

All of these positions need to filled with quality people who are following God’s call on their lives if we are to have consistently effective cross cultural missions work.  And anyone who fills these valuable positions, just like a pastor at a local church, deserves a fair salary.

And therein, for many, lies part of the problem.

Many of us on the field, and yes I include myself in that group because I spend significant time each year in Mexico, even if I do not have a residence there, would serve for free.  Few of us see what we do as a job, because deep down inside, we believe God has called us to where we are.  We cannot stop what we do anymore than a pastor can just walk away from the pulpit.  

But that presents us with some problems as it relates to funding.  Let me give you an example.

Friends of mine serve as denominational missionaries in South America.  They are asked, actually expected, to function as host receivers for anyone the denomination decides to send their way on short-term mission.  Skipping past how they must alter their existing ministry schedule, let’s just deal with the finances related to this.

They are not allowed to ask for additional financial resources from the team apart from what the denomination has predetermined are reasonable expenses.  They are expected to work longer hours, because they must also maintain their current ministries, provide additional materials and do it all with scant additional financial help.  Sadly, their case is not the exception to the rule.  Even if they are short on raising their financial support, many long-term host receivers, like this couple, are not allowed to appeal directly to the teams the “home office” sends to help.  

Is it any wonder long-term host receivers who deal with short-term teams, teams that often raise an amount equivalent to 50% of the long-term missionaries annual salary, are frustrated?

Long-term missionaries are expected to raise enough money not only to cover their salary and benefits, but their ministry as well and a chunk of change for the office back home.  All without asking the very people serving alongside them for additional help!  this is no small feat for many who have lived a significant portion of their lives in another culture.

We need to change this equation now.  I believe failure to do so and to recognize the financial reality of cross cultural Great Commission work will have a long lasting negative effect not only on current work around the globe, but on our ability to recruit and keep future generations of missionaries deployed on the field.

So what should we do?

First, let’s accept reality.  Short-term mission is here to stay!  As much as many long-term missionaries might wish it away, that is not going to happen.  So instead of complaining that STM siphons off valuable funds from effective long-term work, in country host receivers need to reframe their ministries.

Long-term missionaries need to look for ways short-term teams can empower the people they serve to accomplish their goals.  Almost every leader I encounter wants to be effective when they serve short-term.  In fact, they are begging to know what to do.  Tell them!  As they are beginning the process of planning their time with you, an effective host receiver needs be honest and let them know how they can support your ministry.

Now for some, this is going to be extremely difficult, because many have never thought of, or have never wanted to work alongside short-term teams.  But folks, if short-term mission is not going away, and it isn’t, wouldn’t it be a better strategy to figure out how to use this resource in a way that improves your ministry?

Let me give you an example. 

My ministry, Adventures in Life is currently working in Oaxaca, Mexico.  Our partners in this area had a desire years ago to provide a Christian camp experience to kids from some of the poorest areas in the state.  The hope was that by giving children an opportunity to have a great week in the presence of people living out a joyful faith in Jesus, they would begin to have a positive impression of Jesus and Christianity.  This positive experience would then open doors for local pastors and leaders to sit and share the Gospel with families and adults in this vastly underreached area.   

There was one problem.  There were no resources to make this happen, so the dream went unfulfilled.  Until we came alongside these leaders, these host receivers, and helped make their dream a reality.

Now we have regular teams from the US that come as support staff for this camp.  They don’t teach at all, as we prefer that to be done by trusted local leadership.  But we can wash dishes, sweep floors, clean dorms and play with and love kids.  We can also bring the financial resources necessary for a successful camping experience.

AIL Ministry had no plan for this.  We never went to our partners and said we’ll do this for you.  We simply asked what ministry dreams they had, and we tried to help make them happen, under their leadership.

If you are a long-term missionary serving in some far off land, don't you have ministry projects that your ministry needs help with?  What ministry dreams do you have that are sitting on a shelf because of a lack of resources, both people and financial?  Think about this, hard.  Because the answer contains the key to continuing to fund your ministry and that of future generations.

The second thing we must understand, and this relates directly to my friends in South America, is that cross cultural, ends of the earth ministry is expensive.  Sadly, many church leaders, especially when they think about short-term mission, don’t like to hear that.  So instead of really thinking about what they are doing, they want to design ministry on the cheap.

Apart from the travel required to get somewhere, there are a myriad of expenses related to hosting a group.  Things like lodging, utilities, offerings, transportation and insurance are all part of this.  But these are the easy expenses.  Every church or group expects to pay these and generally does not struggle with them.

Problems arise however when we get to leadership.  Churches and groups that want to design ministry on the cheap do not believe they should have to pay for professional leadership.

I’ve been told by group leaders many times that they believe paying for on site field leadership is bad stewardship.  I’ve also been told that those of us on the field have been gifted specifically by God to live with less.  The implication being that while we might deserve more, we should be content with whatever we get.

I believe the future of long-term Great Commission work hinges on this.  Unless we can insure that on-field host receivers will be fairly compensated and their families adequately cared for, I am afraid that we will see a steady downward trend in people following a call to serve overseas.

So, what should we do?  That will be the topic of the third and final part of this series.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mission Support... 4 essential guidelines for effective cross cultural mission giving

Let’s talk about missionary support. 

Not the easy type that includes stuff like prayer and encouragement. We’re talking financial. Money. Dough. Greenbacks. Benjamins.  Are you getting the picture?

What I want to open up is the whole discussion of support of both long-term and short-term missions.  With more and more churches and groups opting to send people directly to the field, as opposed to through denominational systems, the time has come for some frank talk on how we can better fund our Great Commission work.

As I have heard many times, rarely does a day go by without some sort of financial appeal making its way into our mailboxes, be they electronic or that old standby in front of the house or on a post.  

We should also be honest about something... short-term mission is here to stay.  Any discussion of funding ongoing mission work around the globe that does not deal with this reality cannot seriously address the issues.  As such, it forms a central part of my thinking and suggestions.

Here are three areas I believe we need to consider:

  • Direct regular support of national pastors and non US based churches.
  • STM leadership and host receiver support.
  • Goer-guest, short-term [STM] participant support.

Today, we will deal with in country national pastors their churches, 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 their 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.

Maybe, through various means, a US church gets connected through short-term ministry and the two leadership teams dream about future ministry. 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. 

Often a gift that only does part of the job leaves the church, and the pastor, in a place of always needing more. With scant resources, it is nearly impossible to stay afloat, never really having an ability to move ahead. This leads to the frequent letters or e-mails sharing about a new urgent need.  When you don’t make enough money to care for your family, or pay your bills, there are always new urgent needs.

Support and all its synonyms, words like undergird, bear, carry and hold up suggest something much more.  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 that kind of 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, a level even a small mission church can reach. This ensures that there is accountability within the local body and that the members of the local church body 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.  Now this can be a big hurdle in small churches, but you should hold firm on this, as it helps ensure accountability.

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. 

Years ago I was helping a church in Ensenada build their worship center.  A church that was not serving through Adventures in Life came to do some work.  They had explained to their home congregation that they were going to pour a floor, even though at that point in the construction, we did not need a floor.

I tried as hard as I could to explain to them that it would be better to not pour the floor and allow us to use the funds as local leadership saw fit on another part of the project.  They politely explained that their church had given money for a floor, not some other part of the church we were building and it would be dishonest and deceitful to their people to not use the money for a floor, even if it was not in the best interest of the local church.

On their last day the leader apologized to me explaining that he needed pictures of his group working on a floor.

If we trust a local church, and her leaders 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. in the late 1980’s 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. The recent economic downturn 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.

Next up... STM Leadership and Host-Receiver Support

[this is a reworking of a previous piece and the first of a three part series]