Churches can be overwhelmed with supporting missionaries. At times it can feel random and be very un-organized. Have you ever asked the question, ‘why do we support this person versus that person’ or ‘why do we support this missionary agency and not that agency?’ Perhaps it doesn’t make sense why some missionaries receive more support than others. You are not alone. As a Pastor, I have thought the same things. I hope this article provides a Biblical view of supporting missionaries and some practical steps to help solve these questions.
1, Know the Mission (External Leads to Internal)
In general, know the internal and external mission of the Church which is explained in Mt. 28:18-20. Missions can be explained as the primary task assigned by Jesus as the Churches responsibility to the world, making disciples through missions. Missions comes as a direct result of the primary task assigned by Jesus. The Churches primary responsibility is to elevate God in worship and true doctrine and to equip the saints through care, encouragement, exhortation, comfort, and love. This is the internal mission of the Church and can be seen in the ministries of discipleship (baptizing, teaching, observing). External missions feed the Churches internal mission to ‘make disciples’. We gather internally for discipleship when followers accumulate as a result of the proclamation of the Gospel. Once the Church gathers followers from external missions, they gather in the Church through internal activities. This is why missions is Church based, both internal and external.
The mission becomes clear as you look at the original language of Mt. 28:19-20 and see that ‘make disciples’ is the main command. By studying and knowing a little Greek grammar, and a little work on a block diagram, it doesn’t take long to realize that the only imperative is ‘Make Disciples.’ In fact, the other three verbs are what we call instrumental participles (the tools or instruments to carry out discipleship: going, baptizing, and teaching). Make disciples (the only Imperative), matheteuo, means to make followers who are committed and devoted students of Jesus. The external mission of Church is what I call evangelism, the outward facing mission, which seeks to bring true followers into the internal ministries of Church life. The internal ministries are what we call the ‘in-gathering.’ Missions should be the first step in discipleship. We see this exact mission (external to internal) done by Peter in Acts 2:14-36. Peter does missions beginning externally through proclaiming the Gospel in the World (evangelism) and then bringing those who “were pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37) into the Church. The immediate introduction to the Church is baptism, membership (Acts 2:41, ‘added’), teaching, and Church life (Acts 2:37-47). We see that all forms of evangelism should result in purposeful Church life. So why do so many missionaries and mission’s agencies work outside of the Church? Why do so many missions and ‘conversions’ never come into Church life? Why do so many prayers, at retreats and camps, never result in local Church life? Why are so many people misled to think that evangelism is separate from discipleship? So how do we prevent a lack of discipleship in our local Churches missions?
2, Develop a Missions Policy
Get together with your Church and create a policy. The policy will hold the future and current decisions for missionaries accountable to Biblical standards. I suggest using a template, like the Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment (ACMC) Church Missions Policy Handbook. A template will have many questions that you can go through together and also some optional answers that your Church may desire for your policy. The policy should cover your goals, theology, financial commitment, standards, and accountability. A policy may be developed based on your standards for supporting global, local, and institutional missions. Here is an example of what those standards may look like:
- Global / International – all at $$$ (highest level of support)- Global missionaries are defined as serving abroad the US (sent as a part of an organization or by a church) involved either in active church planting, discipleship, and/or seminary training for local pastors. Must be a member of a Church in their Country of service. Must align with our mission’s policy. Must wish to integrate our Church into their accountability and service.
- Local / National – all at $$ (middle level of support) – Local missionaries are defined as serving in the US and are involved either in active church planting, discipleship, and/or seminary training of local pastors. Must be a member of a Church in their area of service. Must align with our mission’s policy. Must wish to integrate our Church into their accountability and service.
- Institutional – all at $ (lowest level of support)- Institutional missionaries are defined as broader in their evangelistic, mission, and purpose (i.e. they are purposely not Church affiliated). Their doctrinal statement must be reviewed and align with our missionary policy. These are amazing ministries that we want to support (i.e. Care Net, Gideon’s), but we know that they do not intend to operate as a Church in mission, or directly alongside our Church in mission. They are not ‘Church sent’ missionaries. As a Church, we come alongside their mission to serve and not the other way around. Therefore, we give to them knowing that our financial support is going to a ‘good Christian cause’, but not necessarily ‘directly to sending missions’ or ‘direct Church discipleship’. As a result of this knowledge, we purposely limit the amount lower than our partners who we ‘send’ into missions with the purpose of directing followers to Church based discipleship.
3, Implement the Policy through a Questionnaire
The policy should then be turned into a questionnaire that is sent out to existing missionaries and future considerations. The questionnaire should address the policies stance on the missionaries calling and faith, goals, theology, finances, and accountability. This questionnaire prevents ‘preferential treatment’ to friends, family, or favorites. Many missionaries are financially supported because they are ‘friends, family, or favored’ by members of the Church, but the Church has little knowledge of what exactly happens ‘week by week’ or perhaps you hardly hear from them. The policy and questionnaire also limits largely humanitarian services that do little discipleship and evangelism. The policy also prevents un-organized giving where certain missionaries receive far more support than others for no reason. The questionnaire process also holds missionaries accountable to local Church leaders (elders) and not to missionary organizations, which is the Biblical model of sending. The questionnaire process is important and creates a clear process that the entire Church respects. Here is an example of what that process may look like:
- First, with new considerations and existing missionaries, have them submit a questionnaire to the mission’s committee. Anyone can submit a questionnaire as money is available.
- Second, the committee will review, and then send forward to the elders for approval.
- Third, the elders will review and determine whether they qualify for funding based on the answers to the questionnaire.
- Fourth, if approved by the elders (depending on their missionary standard), they will fall into the categories (i.e. global, local, institutional) at the same support level.
An Exhortation to Missionaries & Agencies – It is my personal conviction that far too many missionaries are un-qualified. They are not equipped theologically and many think that theology gets in the way of evangelism. They don’t sit under the authority of local Church elders. Sadly, missions have become something that is best described as the ‘wild, wild, west’ of evangelicalism. Many missionaries are rogue without accountability and communication to local Churches. Their philosophy is to do many ‘good works’ and ‘gospel calls’ but they don’t point conversions to local Church life (the internal mission). Many missionary agencies (Para-Church ministries) try to take the place of Churches. Many missionaries are not even measured on the spiritual growth of their discipleship, and are rather measured on ‘numerical conversions’, without question or accountability. This is a fundamental error that seems to weaken the effects of God’s initial command. When missionaries are responsible to Churches, God is with the missionary. Missions can be somewhat of the ‘wild, wild, west’ of evangelism.
An Exhortation to Churches – Many Churches are willing to give money and never ask questions. Churches want to feel a part of the mission without the work of fully being involved in the mission. Churches need to give more support to qualified missionaries by examining their qualifications, by giving substantial financial support, and by working with them on an on-going basis through discipleship and service. I have always wondered how missionaries visit all those Churches that support them so little. The answer is that they can’t. Churches should support less missionaries with more. Churches should be known for sending missionaries far more than agencies (Para-Church ministries). Churches need to get away from the philosophy of a ‘$10,000 budget for 10 missionaries’. When Churches support so little, the Church is basically asking the missionary to not invest that much into their Church because the Church doesn’t invest that much into the missionary. Churches need to do far more for qualified missionaries.
No matter your Churches current missionary situation, you can work towards a better philosophy of missions. If you seek to know the mission, develop a policy, and implement a missionary questionnaire; you will avoid the mistakes of the past in pursuit of Biblical missions.
Soli Deo Gloria
David J. Lupinetti is the Associate Pastor at San Tan Bible Church in Arizona. He has a passion for Expository Preaching, Biblical Counseling, Discipleship, and Evangelism.