Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. Thanks so much for listening in today. I really appreciate you listening to Missions on Point. We're in the middle of a short series on some of the most common questions that Propempo receives to try to help churches that are in distress over some missions conundrum in their church. I've started every title with help. Help, we have no missions focus. Help, our church is not involved in mission. And today, we're going to talk about help, we need to cut a missionary.

There are a lot of reasons that a church may need to cut a missionary or want to cut a missionary. Many of them are emotional. Some of them are particularly stressful. Besides the usual landmines, church leaders may feel like they're trying to avoid a split in the church over it. So this is no small issue. Let's talk about a few of the easy cases first, and then we'll try to ease into some of the more challenging ones.

The first and most obvious case is the church, for whatever reason, is short on funds for missions. This seems like it's an embarrassment, but sometimes it's just the facts of life and it's a necessity that needs to be dealt with. Unfortunately, the culture of the conservative evangelical church over the past couple of generations has been that once a missionary goes out to the field, that the missionary feels entitled to support for life, and the church feels like it's their obligation to support a missionary for life, even though there's really nothing said or guaranteed about it.

There are many valid causes for an economic downturn in income for a church or in their missions giving. So the best policy is simply to be pretty straightforward and gracious with the missionary, as much as you might be, to say, "Look, we've had an economic downturn for such and such a reason, and it looks like we're going to have to cut your support. We're going to try to be gracious in tapering it down over a period of months if that's possible." And just let them know by direct communication, whether that is a Skype call, a WhatsApp call, a email message, or whatever.

The next case is that the church may have arrived at the conclusion that they need to make a shift in strategy or focus or the number of missionaries they support in order to be more strategic or focused or have fewer missionaries going deeper in relationship with them and their ministry in such a way that you actually need to trim the roles of missionaries that you support. Again, good communication is important, and hopefully the church has even asked the missionary to share in prayer for the process of changing focus or whatever's gone on there so that it's not a brand new idea to them.

Missionaries who live off of faith support know that there are fluctuations all the time from the very beginning, throughout their whole career, and so it should not be a surprise when a particular church, for whatever strategic or policy decision, needs to move away from their support, again, hopefully being gracious and tapering down over a period of time.

Another generalized case is that the missionary has shifted significantly away from their original sending commission, as it were, from the supporting or sending church. What I mean by that is, perhaps the missionary has actually shifted in their doctrine, which doesn't match up with the church's now, and the church discovers this through simple innocent inquiry and finds that the missionary just does not reflect the doctrine of the church anymore.

It could be more subtle in that the missionary is using a methodology or methodologies that are in contrast or contrary to the church's beliefs about simple proclamation of the gospel, teaching of God's Word, and so forth, so that they can't really support the methodology that's being used. There are other cases in which the missionary may change mission boards or significantly change their role and work and focus on the field away from the original focus that does not correspond with the expectations of the church, and therefore, you need to make some changes in their support or cut them.

Hopefully, the church has had such regular and continuous communication with all of your missionaries that those kinds of issues are not a surprise to anyone, and the results of those kinds of issues arising will not be a surprise also. So let me say, we in Propempo believe that every church should have an annual sort of evaluation of some basic things of the missionary so that they're aware of what's going on in their life, what are their goals, what have they accomplished, and in what ways they may have changed from the original commission granted them by support from the local church. We actually have samples of these kinds of things on the Propempo website embedded in the articles for the church's relationship with the missionary.

Now I'll lump together a group of cases that could be just defined by sinful behavior, that is the missionary has a reputation or is caught in a pattern of sinful behavior. That means that they should withdraw from the field and be held accountable to the church and to Christians that have supported them, specifically their sending church, to correct this behavior at the very least before returning to the field, or disqualifying them from field ministry service for the rest of their life.

You may ask, "How can we believe that missionaries would be involved in that? They seemed like such great people with such great love for Christ and the gospel when they went out. How is it possible that they could be involved in sin?" Well, simply put, man is sinful, and left unchecked... And on the mission field, they have little oversight directly in close contact with them. They can be involved in all kinds of sin. The scope and breadth of sin and depth of sin is almost unbelievable.

I've been involved in remediation, rebuke, restoration, or discipline of missionaries in a wide variety of sinful behavior on the field, everything from immorality, including long-term sexual predator behavior, to theft, to compulsive lying, to actually polygamy, if you can believe that, to various abuse of spouse and children and others, gross misrepresentation of their activity on the field, and unchecked addiction to substances or pornography, homosexuality, on another track. There is just a laziness and inability to do the work that they were sent to do.

Even ripping through this list like this is sickening, disheartening to know that missionaries can be involved in this, but they are from time to time, and they need to be confronted. And ultimately, it means that you're going to have to cut their support and maybe cut them out of the missionary role altogether. The sending church often ends up holding the bag for remediation, discipline ,and potential restoration, if that's even possible.

When this kind of thing happens, it's not a short-term deal. It can often take years for the process to be counseled and managed in such a way as to bring the person back into restoration with the Lord Jesus Christ and with his church, and ultimately with a mission if that's their direction, though, most often, it's in a completely different setting and a completely different team. Let me tell you, it's not just okay for those missionaries to be cut from missionary support.

It is incumbent upon us as believers to make sure that that person is confronted and that their sin is dealt with, and that requires you to back off the support thing so that they can address it in other ways, which most likely is going to mean they come home and they have serious biblical counseling and shepherding in order to restore them to some sense of fellowship, and potentially they'll rarely back into meaningful service for the Lord.

So there's two weaknesses here in the church's heart. One is the emotional attachment to someone so that you don't feel like you should cut them even though the behavior is such that if they were on your staff doing these things, you for sure would fire them. The second part is that however long it's been going on, the church probably should have been a responsible agent enough that they communicated with the missionary and oversaw their work and knew their friends, their team, their ministry in such a way that it didn't go on very long before it was caught.

And unfortunately, I've seen too many cases where it went on for years or decades before it was caught, and even then, some Christians were trying to be kinder than God and refused to issue the discipline that was biblically mandated for them to correct the sinful behavior in that person. Solution? Again, good communication. Loving, godly, gracious, but firm and clear communication. And it may mean that someone from the church goes to visit the missionary on the field to bring the message to them that their behavior is unacceptable and they must retire or come off of the field so that these sinful problems can be dealt with.

Unfortunately, these situations are not hypothetical and they're not optional to deal with them in an appropriate fashion. There is another case of missionaries that are found to be off target or simply not doing what they have been instructed to do by the church and/or the mission, and that may require some mediation between the three parties, that is the missionary and/or the missionary's team, and the mission itself and their administration and leadership, and the church, specifically the sending church. The sending church does have the right, we say biblically, to pull the plug if that's necessary.

If the missionary is just not doing what they agreed to do, not doing what they were commissioned to do by the sending church, and/or not doing what the mission agency expects them to do, then they need to at least take a break from the field, recalibrate, and reprioritize before they're allowed to go back. And if they're unable or unwilling to do so, they need to just stay home.

There is another case that is sort of the general case of missionaries retiring, and this is an important issue on our day. We have a lot of missionaries from, I'll say, the previous generation that have served faithfully for many years on the field. Now they're coming back home, and the cost of living is much higher than they expected. It's certainly way higher than when they first went out to the field. Many missionaries in that older age bracket did not prepare appropriately for retirement, and then they must fall upon the good graces of the church and their family and the government if that's possible, perhaps their mission agency if there has been provision made for that, in order to live out their life in some meaningful way with their basic needs being taken care of.

That is a harder case. And again, communication is the key. If the church, specifically the sending church, but any supporting church relating to the sending church, can find out, what has this missionary prepared or done or provided for them for the retirement time toward the end of their life? Do they have Social Security? Maybe they don't. Do they have family that can take care of them that they can live with or at least care for them nearby? Does the mission agency have some outlet for retirement homes for missionaries that are cheaper than the standard economy? Are there other provisions for health insurance and so forth?

So those kind of questions need to be addressed, and you just have, hopefully, a loving living room, coffee table discussion going over some of the main highlights with someone that is financially savvy in your congregation to figure out what their needs are as you taper down their support. It should not be a given that because you've supported them for even decades that, therefore, the church must support them until they die. However, it is only right and gracious that you find out what their situation is and try to assist if you can, even while tapering down from whatever their support was down to nothing eventually.

There you have it. It's painful to cut a missionary. It feels like it's worse than it really is, but it needs to be accompanied by prayerful, godly, gracious communication with them directly, facing the issues and dealing with them in an appropriate, biblical way so that you can then separate your financial commitment from them and move on.

Hey, these are hard things, but they're real things. I want you to know that we would appreciate your input, your comments, your reviews for Missions on Point. Just email them to Thanks for joining us today on Missions on Point, the Propempo perspective on church and missions. I trust that you'll find more help and resources on the website, Please prayerfully consider supporting this ministry. Now to God, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus forever and ever. Amen.

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