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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

To College Students, RE Missions

(Students can skip to the bold text.)

Quick update:
I have been sick this month for about two weeks. I was able to make it to some meetings and a wedding, but I spent a lot of time in bed. This is strange because I rarely get sick enough to stay in bed... ever. The last time that happened I think was the Spring of 2009, when some wonderful dishcrew people brought food up to my Culby 4 dorm room (thanks, Diego!) and my wonderful girlfriend got me a can of soup. Ok, so she wasn't my girlfriend yet--I actually asked her out on our first date on our way back from taking me to the urgent care center (full disclosure here--not my brightest moment). (she said yes, and ended up marrying me, so I must have done something right later on!)

But I digress.

We're full steam back to raising our support now (support raising doesn't get much attention when you have a 102 fever). We've reached the point where might just know enough people to reach our full budget now. We're waiting to hear from 4 churches  and a handful of individuals, but  this MIGHT be it. I don't mean to get your hopes up too high, but mine are right now, so you can come up here with me. (Although half of the churches we've been waiting to hear back from for over a year now, so no guarantees--see the last post for insight on why churches take longer).

This brings me to a shameless plug for missions. Well, more shameless than usual. I wish to inquire of you--what are YOU doing about missions? To reference Piper, one of my favorite Bible teachers, there are 3 options for the believer: Go, Give, or Disobey. So which are you involved in? (as a side note, I would argue that those who go should still give, and those who don't go should give more).

First off, while they can be helpful and stretching, short term trips don't count as "going". You don't get off the hook because you went on a two or three week missions trip last summer. Sorry. Jesus models incarnational ministry, and the way the gospel has spread throughout the world in the last 2000 years has been through long term missionaries. Ask yourself, do you want to be involved in the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ across the world? Or is a cross cultural vacation with a little ministry thrown in enough to fulfill your part in the great commission? This is seriously exciting stuff here. Don't short change yourself. 

I want to write particularly to college students, although I think all of my friends have graduated now (feeling old here). So if you're not a college student, pass it on to one! (facebook works well)

In my experience college students are known for two things: being poor, and being immature. The first is almost always true, the second, only half the time. But I believe students hold the future of global Gospel advancement in their hands. In the going, but especially in the giving. 

There is lacking in students a fear that grips most after graduation. The fear associated with money. When I was a Junior at Moody, a non-traditional student, a close friend, was going into missions. When he approached me about supporting him, my first thought was--you're crazy. I barely make my payments, and beside still I need to have fun. But I let him speak. "Even those in college can give $5 or $10 a month, and after all, we're all called to play a part"

Something clicked inside of me and I started supporting him at $50 a month. And it was the most exciting thing I was doing. I was working an extra 5-7 hours a month to do it, but it really helped put money in it's rightful place: a tool, not a god. We are not to be controlled by money--we can serve God or money, and not both. Jesus made that clear. I'm sure that if every Christ-following college student gave $10/mo to missions, not only would missions be SO much better funded, but incredibly valuable lessons would be learned early on. Lessons of commitment, the infinite importance of the gospel, generosity, and the sheer joy that is found in giving sacrificially. 

If you are a student reading this right now, I challenge you to find an long term missionary, and get involved with your cash. This is where it hits home for so many people, and trust me, it only gets harder to give once you graduate. Giving sacrificially will bring you closer to Christ in a way that you won't know until you try. What do you want your life to be about? Put your money where your mouth is. Put your life where true security is found--in fearless faith of His mighty provision.

How do you start? The easiest way is to find someone you know, or someone your church supports. Write that person, and tell them you'd like to start supporting them. Find a dollar amount that makes you a bit uncomfortable--start with that. You know then that when you give up a venti mocha for a tall, or a tall for a water, you are involved in life, changing gospel advancing, Christ revering work. And it will be credited by God to your account (Phil 4). Realize that this is a commitment and these people are depending on you to follow through. Stay in touch with your missionary, communicate, pray, give. Maybe one day even go to see what The Lord is doing. Ask The Lord how else he can use you. Trust me, He has his ways.

Jonathan and Maggie Hunter are missionaries with ReachGlobal raising support to minister to Middle and High school students in Costa Rica.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Why So Few?

*This Article or Blog does not reflect the opinion of ReachGlobal or the EFCA. This Article is based on personal research, experience, and opinion.*

This last weekend my mother in law had an open house for her art and for our ministry. When asked about the demographics of our sending team many had a common question: Why do only two churches support you? We have over 75 households supporting us--and two churches. The question came not as one of suspicion (if there are only two churches, you must be doing something wrong) but one of disbelief (how could they not want to support you?) While that was flattering, with all modesty it was a good question. We know many missionary candidates and field workers who have similar church statistics. Not only that, but we were advised numerous times to not try and connect with churches because of the low result ratio and the bureaucracy behind the long time spent waiting for churches to make a decision.

I saw my parents finish their support in '93 with 15 or more churches on their team. So I ignored the advice. In fact, I've easily contacted about 100 researched churches in the last year and a half. Why so few joined?

I tried to do some research on the subject and statistics (using the academic database we still have access to from a prior employer) but only found information on a) the philosophy of missions and b) short term missions.

Some of it helped, as these two factor are why churches aren't involved in sending foreign missionaries on such a large scale anymore. But in simple brainstorming I found several other factors.

Money. Money is getting allotted in other places, like...

Technology. Churches feel the pressure to keep up with technology and to stay culturally relevant. 10 years ago very few churches had a lighting display for worship, or used ipads in place of paper music sheets.

Buildings. Some might say that this is not a new problem, and they might be right. We have visited and have friends at many churches who are in over their head with building debt. But many churches are faced with a real spacial problem. Something has to give...

Advertising/Attracting. Websites cost to maintain, decorations in the building become more elaborate, etc.

All of these things (and more) cost money--and there is less to go into the missions budget

Missions now means anything from raking someone's yard, to painting, to running a VBS, to a building project to... anything we want it to mean. Anglican Theologian Stephen Neil notes, "If everything is mission, nothing is mission" (1). Missions has ceased to refer to Evangelism and Discipleship and now can mean almost anything we want it to mean. Miguel Ángel Palomino notes that "Ever since churches borrowed the term 'mission statement' from the business world, the word 'mission' no longer has much to do with the biblical concept of missions but instead has to do with the purposes and objectives of an institution" (2). Today it seems that all it takes to be a missionary is to be a part of a religious 501c3 or simply to serve others.

Short Term Missions. 
STM, for short, have been a cause for much debate. All and all it has put an international ministry experience in the hands of, well, everyone. There is a philosophy that says: to be involved with missions we must send our members... short term. But in reality, in financially supporting a long term missionary the church is involved in missions in one of the deepest, oldest, and certainly most effective ways possible. But this biblical philosophy (Phil 4) that  long term foreign missionary is a direct extension of the church is hard to find in churches today. Furthermore the church has spent billions on STM-- for what studies are showing have been vastly ineffective in the big picture (3).

Missions Philosophy.
This directly relates to the last point. We have found many philosophies behind how a church is involved in missions, and each has a weak point:

  • some only support organizations (like some Southern Baptist churches, etc). After all, people are messy, and it's so much easier to just write checks--so where is the connection with and care for the missionary?
  • some only support national pastors--but this causes dependency and often ostracizes them within their own people (4)
  • some only come alongside national churches (5)--but where is the person who goes to live among them and learn their culture and language? So much cultural misunderstanding happens here between the churches
  • some only work with temporary immigrants so when the immigrants return they'll bring the gospel back to their countries--but this is negating the great commission, saying that it is not for us anymore, but for them! (and that is the biggest objection the the last few)
  • some only support a handful of key areas, but then a missionary raising support might search far and wide just for one church to support him... and what portion of the budget? Certainly not all, probably not even 50% or 25%--how is this effective in support raising?
  • some do the 'old fashioned' way of supporting missionaries--keep taking them on until you have too many to keep up with and the finances are spread way too thin; 
  • some, the one I criticize openly--we only do STM... 'nough said. 
  • Oh yes, I can't forget the "Our church isn't called to missions" philosophy. Hmmm...

So few churches are on the same page with supporting missions that it makes it incredibly difficult to approach a church and be talking about the same thing, even though we share a common vocabulary.

Frankly, churches are flooded with requests for money. STM, local charities, various para-church organizations, etc. In talking to a lawyer, I found out it was only a one time $5,000 comprehensive fee to file and start a non-profit 501c3. So many people and ministries have started their own nonprofit that they have, for lack of better terms, flooded the market. Under-appreciated church leaders and secretaries field phone calls and emails from so many people asking for money, that the unfortunate often happens: legitimate long term foreign missionaries often get grouped in with masses, and promptly written off--or as frequently happens to me, hung up on or ignored.

What I want to make clear is that this is not a shot at criticizing the church. This is not a low blow, or an upset missionary writing to get rid of my frustrations. I love the church--Christ loves the church. The leaders in our congregations are there because God has them there. I write to unveil issues common to the churches I've come across.

The lack of importance of missions in the church is staggering and tragic. Missiologist and veteran missionary Zane Pratt says, "The most common misconception about the place of missions in Scripture is the idea that mission is somehow optional, or simply one among many items on the church's agenda. But mission is actually one of the glues holding together the grand narrative of Scripture, and it's central to the agenda of the church"(6). There is something tragically wrong with missionaries being advised not to spend time contacting churches. It is a tragedy that, as a generalization, the church in the US has dropped the ball with foreign missions.

But hope is not lost. Never has the failing of a human element ceased the purposes of a living God. Missionaries are still being sent. We're already at 74% of our monthly support. The people of God, with the heart of God, take the word of God seriously and are readily giving the money God entrusts to them to the advancement of evangelism and discipleship across borders and barriers, even to "the ends of the Earth"

1. Neil, Stephen. 1959. Creative Tension. Edinburgh: House Press, p89
2. "'If everything is mission, nothing is mission': reflections on short-term missions." Journal of Latin American Theology 2(2): 2007. p 208-226.
3Are Short-Term Missions Good Stewardship? A conversation between Robert Priest and Kurt Ver Beek, Christianity Today, Posted 7/5/2005
4. Craig Ott, Let the Buyer Beware
5. See above article
6. The Non-Negotiable Center of Missions by Matt Smethurst, interview with Zane Pratt