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Monday, July 02, 2012 

Six Challenges for the Church in Missions: 3) Maintaining Focus


At one time missions was “foreign missions.” As people from every language and nation came to live among us, missions became “cross-cultural missions.” But culture isn’t limited to nationality. We are increasingly a country with multiple cultures, many of them less affected by the gospel or with greater social needs than others. Even the unchurched people who grew up on your street have a different cultural worldview. There is no longer a clear distinction between missions and other church ministry. For most people missions has come to mean any ministry outside the church.

“Local missions” is part of most missions budgets. It is not uncommon to find more than half of a church’s missions budget designated for ministry within the United States or within the church’s own community. Since churches have a missions budget, parachurch organizations present their ministries as missions. Many people who work for Christian ministries consider themselves missionaries. A good friend who was principal of a local Christian school was indignant that the host church wouldn’t use the missions budget to support the needs of the school. The school primarily serves the children of Christians, however, this did not change the principal’s nor the congregants’ perspectives. Recently a young man wrote this to one of my colleagues: “I am presently leaving a fifteen-year career in corporate finance to become a missionary with ______ Financial Ministries.” One organization that provides legal support for Christian organizations refers to its agents as missionaries. Church leaders often have pet projects and organizations they would like to have funded from the missions budget. One missions pastor smiled when he described his church’s missions budget as “the wastebasket,” named for the fact that it receives all the requests no one else wants to fund.

Increasingly missions money is used for ourselves. A dozen years ago I observed missions budgets listing a maximum of five or ten percent to be used internally for missions promotion and education. Missions committees sometimes declined Advancing Churches in Missions Commitment (ACMC) membership because, “that money could go to the missionaries.” It was very common to see rudimentary, even shoddy, missions promotion in very nice churches. For years I advised missions committees to do higher quality promotion because people judge things as important if they look important.

But missions leadership in many churches has been handed off to a generation that is comfortable spending more money. Missions promotion and education have escalated in quality and cost. The missions budget is also called upon to provide funding for outreach activities undertaken by other departments and ministries. In one church, a Sunday School class hosted an outreach barbecue. When no one showed up, the class asked the missions team to cover their five hundred dollar loss.

Without clear and understood boundaries for missions, a healthy missions budget is a temptation for any church leader with ideas. If a project or program can somehow be tied to outreach, the missions budget becomes a potential source of funding. Youth excursions have been converted to mission trips and are supported by missions budgets. In one church the missions committee budgeted funds for a youth missions trip. When the youth raised all the money they needed for the trip, they asked for (and received) the same funds for a retreat. When church leaders planned a community service project for cell groups, the missions team was asked to cover the cost of the lunches. In one church, children were asked to give money to missions “for children who don’t know Jesus.” The funds were used to purchase playground equipment for the church, presumably to attract those children.

The missions budget is increasingly becoming a “miscellaneous budget.“ One must ask what priority “miscellaneous” will continue to enjoy in the church. Purpose-driven institutions try to focus their resources on their primary purposes and it’s easy to see that “miscellaneous” spending should be small. According to one missions committee chair, “The leadership at our church has been arguing that all the church does is missional. Therefore, it is inappropriate to expect that a given percentage defines a healthy, vibrant church.”

Even while the prosperity of the North American Church grows, the challenge also grows to increase, or at least maintain, outreach ministry focused on the peoples and nations with the greatest needs and least access to the gospel.

Practices for maximum global impact:
—Develop and widely communicate the priority of cross-cultural missions from both a biblical and a “state of the world” position. Demonstrate the clear disparity of gospel “access” and Christian resources between our own culture and other cultures.

—Develop a definition and boundaries for the missions budget, describing what is considered missions and what is not. Negotiate to remove non-missions items from the missions budget.

—Develop and communicate a missions strategy that clearly shows the church’s highest priorities for missions involvement.

—Set up a separate budget for local or same-culture ministries.

—Establish categories and priorities or goals within the missions budget that support the strategy.

—Encourage other ministries and departments to undertake missions education and involvement funded by their own budgets in order to maximize the use of the missions budget for cross-cultural ministry.

- by David Mays

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