The Pastor and Missions, Part 3

In The Nick of Time
Read Part 1 and Part 2.

by Daniel R. Brown

Church missions budgets rarely get much thought, planning, or intentional design. They often combine some element of habit with various present opportunities. The resulting collage of old and new projects can be confusing to observers. Consequently, the church missions budget often takes on a life of its own. Attempts to bring objectivity to a missions budget can be like trying to make sense out of a bureaucratic budget.

Every church has a philosophy behind its missions budget, even if it is unstated. If you don’t believe me, try to change something about how your church does missions, and you will find out quickly that you are stepping on someone’s sacred ground. Trying to change the way your church does a missions budget can be nearly impossible.

Nevertheless, change is often needed. Begin by formulating a missions philosophy that states specific objectives and the means to achieve those goals. Each church will be unique in its thinking about missions because no two churches share the same stage of ministry, size, and interests of members. Some churches are aggressively growing and adding facilities. This growth limits the church’s involvement in missions. Other churches have not grown in years and struggle just to stay where they are. Here are some basic questions a missions philosophy could answer:

  • Should we look at our local outreach ministries as missions?
  • How do the necessities of our building affect our vision for missions? How do building funds and debt repayment fit into the picture?
  • Should a church whose pastor cannot be supported full-time have an aggressive missions budget? Should a missionary pastor begin a missions program when the church is unable to support a pastor?
  • How much should a church give to each missionary? What is an acceptable minimum? What should be a target maximum?
  • What types of missionaries should receive priority in our budget? Church planters? Teachers? Support personnel?
  • Do we have or need a global strategy (besides Acts 1:8)? Do we want to focus specifically upon a single continent or country?
  • How will we respond financially when a missionary retires?
  • Which mission boards are acceptable? Which boards have changed in position?
  • How do we remove a missionary from our budget when there is cause?
  • Is it appropriate to set a minimum standard for mission giving, such as 10 percent of the overall budget?

Let me address one of these areas, namely the amount a church should support a missionary. I hope the days of supporting a missionary at the ludicrous level of $25 per month (or less) have long since passed. I recently heard of a mid-sized church that supports over 300 missionaries. I believe some churches still hang onto token amounts, thinking that something is better than nothing, and perhaps that is true. The cost and time involved in communicating regularly with a church, however, barely justifies this amount. Let me suggest a better way.

A useful method for determining support is to calculate the amount from a different direction. The process usually begins and ends by asking what the missions budget allows. On the other hand, it is sometimes like impulse buying—the church sees a missionary it likes and just has to support him.

The following process was developed by the last church I pastored. Most churches ask, “How much should this church give to support any particular missionary?” We chose to ask, “How many churches should a missionary reasonably expect to have support him?” Many issues affect the answer, but the length of deputation and the ability to visit supporting churches during furloughs are important considerations. How can a missionary be reasonably expected to report to 50-plus churches while on furlough? We concluded that 15 to 20 churches are as many as a typical missionary can handle. Those figures indicate that the average church needs to supply 5 to 7 percent of the missionary’s total support level. This translates to $240 per month (6 percent) for a missionary with a support need of $4,000 per month. Even fewer churches may be required if the sending church can provide at least 10 percent of the missionary’s support.

By the way, one of the greatest blessings that a church can experience is to send out one of its own members into the mission field. Perhaps this describes what makes for a truly great church. I suggest that the typical sending church ought to set a minimum support level of 10 percent for its own missionary’s support needs with a goal of exceeding that wherever possible. Some churches set a goal of as much as 50 percent support when the missionary comes from its own congregation.

I do believe that a new church’s first obligation is to support its pastor, even prior to preparing a missions budget. You can’t get to Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world without a strong Jerusalem. Too many pastors of new or struggling churches languish with little support, often needing to work outside jobs, while a missions budget flourishes—all because the church did not learn to properly support its pastor from the start. A stronger church will ultimately multiply the money that is available for missions.

One of my greatest concerns is the nature of missions itself. Too many believers and churches think that real missions happens somewhere else, usually in another country. A proper understanding of the Great Commission indicates that missions always begins at home.

My next article will present a sample missions philosophy statement that will do two things. First, it will promote change in your church’s missions program. Second, it will actually promote the work of missions itself. This is important: every church should help to accomplish the task of witnessing to the world, discipling believers, and organizing self-perpetuating churches.

Hymn 102. A Happy Resurrection.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748)

NO, I’ll repine at death no more,
But with a cheerful gasp resign
To the cold dungeon of the grave
These dying, with’ring limbs of mine.

Let worms devour my wasting flesh,
And crumble all my bones to dust,
My God shall raise my frame anew
At the revival of the just.

Break, sacred morning, through the skies,
Bring that delightful, dreadful day;
Cut short the hours, dear Lord, and come;
Thy ling’ring wheels, how long they stay!

[Our weary spirits faint to see
The light of thy returning face,
And hear the language of those lips,
Where God has shed his richest grace.]

[Haste, then, upon the wings of love,
Rouse all the pious sleeping clay,
That we may join in heav’nly joys,
And sing the triumph of the day.]

brown.jpgDr. Daniel R. Brown is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology at Central Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He has a B.S. degree from Faith Baptist Bible College, M.Div. and Th.M. degrees from Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, and a D.Min. degree from Westminster Theological Seminary. He served as senior pastor at Kendall Park Baptist Church (Kendall Park, NJ). He also served at churches in Michigan and Texas and at camps in Texas and New Jersey. He and his wife, Mary Jo, have four daughters.
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