Wednesday, December 07, 2016

4 Steps to Effective Support of Non US Based Churches and Pastors

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?

With many people contemplating year end giving, I wanted to open up 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.

Rarely it seems 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.  

But we before we go too far, we need to be honest about something... short-term mission [STM] 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. 

In my almost 30 years leading and hosting short term teams in Mexico I have been involved with many pastors and leaders across that country. 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. It can also be a decision to leave behind family and friends, and lead a life under constant 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 being a church leader or pastor that might look like in another country. 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.

Through various means, a US church connects 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 family 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, go 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.

1. 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 token gift of $100.00 a month, without regard to whether this amount will actually be a help, or a hindrance.

Let me explain. 

A gift that only does part of the job leaves the church, and the pastor, in a place of constant need. With scant resources, it is nearly impossible to stay afloat. This leaves the pastor, or ministry without a real 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, many of them new believers? If the answer is yes, why not a Kingdom ministry elsewhere that also is making that kind of difference? The bottom line for me is this... if your desire is to support a local church, ministry or pastor, give enough to do the job.

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

2. 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 are 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.

3. Do not designate your funds. Or, to put it another way, trust local leadership. This can be 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 know, better than us, 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 that floor 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, through us.

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

4. 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 global economic downturn of 2008 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 mission 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 post I wrote last year. It was well read and I thought I would update both this post and the original series... dave]

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