The missions program is dead in the water. There seems to be no excitement and little involvement on the part of church members. The missions committee continues to meet, the women’s auxiliary has its coffee klatches, but little gets done and what is done doesn’t have much impact on the church or, it seems, on the lives of the missionaries it supports.
Most members still don’t know the names of their missionaries. And they could not hope to recognize them if ever they dropped in for tea – because most of the congregation has never laid eyes on most of the missionaries the church has picked up over the years.
A few stalwart souls have put up a missions bulletin board. It is exciting to see what God is doing through missionaries in different parts of the world. But after reading 5-10 letters, one gets confused about just who needed a new typewriter and which one was starting an outreach among the miners.
Oh, well. Their friends will pray for them and help them. The only time our church ever saw them was five years ago when they spoke at the Sunday night service, but the $75 we send them every month makes it worth their while to keep us on the mailing list.
Periodically, the missions committee emerges from its chambers to promote a new work project. Letters ought to be written to encourage these strangers in their labor for God! A gift box should be sent, even though one really does not know if their shirt size is small or extra large. And, of course, it all takes a good bit of time. You begin to wonder if such projects really promote missions – or if they just promote work.
What’s the problem with the missions program? Is the missions committee not doing its job? Just whose responsibility is it to stir up interest in missions? Who is best in a position to do it? The pastor through his sermons? The missions committee with its projects? Or the missionary far away in Africa, Asia, South America or Europe?
We usually think of the local church as supporting the missionary, who in turn supports the church on the field. But the ministry of the missionary is not directed only to the foreign church. He has a vital ministry to his home church as well, for their missionary involvement must be vicarious. They cannot go to the field themselves. God has given them work to do at home. And the only way they can experience the satisfaction, the exhilaration, the thrills, and the difficulties of bringing the gospel to “the remotest part of the earth” is through the missionaries they support.
More than the missions committee, more than the minister, more than the individual church members, it is the missionary himself who can put life and meaning back into the sending church’s missions program by letting its members experience vicariously the ministry they are having through him!
A phone call once every quarter, transmitted live to the congregation at a Sunday service, brings the mission field right into their sanctuary or auditorium on a regular basis. A five-minute recording and slide presentation send from the field every few months makes them aware of ongoing developments even as they happen. And of course, the general letters are a valuable record that can be read and reread as desired.
Why is it so few churches experience this sort of close contact with their missionaries on the field? I would like to suggest three reasons:
First, the typical missionary has 10-20 churches providing his support. His work on the field is time-consuming as it is. To “minister” in any meaningful way to 20 supporting churches is an impossibility! Why even consider it?
Second, the close personal relationship between the missionary and the people at home, so vital in giving them a vested interest in what is happening so far away, has not been developed. How could it be, when the missionary has 20 churches to visit on furlough? AS much as we may wish to deny it, attending one Sunday service every three to four years does not provide enough personal contact to do the job.
Third, as useful as large mission agencies have been in furthering the work of foreign missions, they inevitably weaken the relationship between the local church and the missionary. Who does the missionary send his monthly reports to? To whom does he submit his financial statement? Where does he turn in emergencies or when a need for help or reinforcements arise? To the mission agency! It has been established to serve exactly those purposes! But in the process, the local church becomes less and less a part of missions.
So is it any wonder the missions program of many churches is little more than a page in its bylaws, or an invisible committee, or a yearly conference, or a contrived project carried out every now and then to give a feeling of involvement?
What can be done to remedy this situation? I believe each church should send and support their own missionary. If this is not possible, then share the responsibility with just a few “like-minded” churches. Having just a few churches to visit would give the missionary both the time and the motivation to help them be an integral part of the ministry they support.
The missionary should be from their own congregation, someone whose life and ministry is well-known by them. And whenever possible, he should be sent out by his church, with the church assuming responsibility for even the minor details of his ministry.
“But”, one might object, “where would the money come from for such a project? And what do we do if there is no missionary in our congregation?”
The solution to both these concerns is to pray – and then show God you are serious in your request by setting aside the funds you will need when God raises up that missionary in response to your prayer of faith. For many churches, it would not be unreasonable to budget $1,000 – $2,000 each month for foreign missions. Even though there may be no missionary project to spend it on, the money should still be regularly set aside for use when that day arrives.
The outfitting and transportation expenses for getting started may be as high as $20,000 – $30,000, but in two or three years that much will have accumulated. Meanwhile, the Lord may well take that long to prepare the missionary and support team He intends to provide in answer to your prayers. In this way, when the missionary is ready to go, the start-up expenses will already be available without adding an additional, sudden burden to the church’s budget.
Also, knowing that funds and a support team are already in place might resolve the other problem by encouraging prospective missionaries from your own congregation. The major obstacle keeping many people from the mission field is concern over how to obtain the needed finances. While one might chide such “lack of faith”, it is not hard to understand why the traditional method seems unsatisfactory. Typically missionary “candidates” must visit sixty or more churches promoting themselves and their project, as they compete for a share of the church’s missions budget. “Success” is measured by the ability to convince 10-20 churches to marginally support a person and ministry they hardly know.
Of course, a church that serious about missions might attract all kinds of individuals looking for a “home” church to pay the way as they satisfy their pioneering urge! Certainly the church cannot let just anyone walk off with the money! But God will provide someone who has consistently demonstrated a willingness and desire to do a missionary’s work – at home!
And once that one is on the way, it will be time to begin praying and preparing to send the next missionary. The prospect of sending forth missionaries from the local church may be frightening to many pastors and congregations. Certainly the matter is not a trivial one. But churches seeking a more Biblical approach to missions and one that promotes rather than minimizes the relationship between the people at home and the missionary on the field, one that puts life and meaning back into the missions program, have tried it and found that it really does work. Perhaps your church may be stimulated to follow their example!