Audio Transcript:

Welcome to Missions on Point, the Propempo Perspective on Church and Missions.

Thanks for joining us on episode 120 of Missions on Point. We are in the middle of a special series called Special Church Missions Issues, and I'm dealing with issues that are rarely talked about. Today's issue is the fifth in the series, why and how to reduce or stop supporting a missionary. Why and how to reduce or stop supporting a missionary.

It occurred to me today that many of you listening may not have joined us from the very beginning of Missions on Point, and to even understand the biblical foundation for the Propempo Perspective on Church and Missions, you really need to go back and listen to the very first four episodes and that'll give you a fantastic fresh perspective on the church and missions. And in fact, I'll say as a Christian interested in missions, it'll change your life.

Today's topic is actually very difficult and often emotional. Somehow, many of us grew up thinking that once a church starts supporting a missionary, and as long as that missionary is doing whatever they're doing overseas, then we have to continue supporting them until death.

Then when it becomes infeasible or incompatible to continue supporting that missionary, we feel terrible about it. And we probably should feel terrible about it. It's emotional, it's financial, it's spiritual, it's physical in terms of actual dollars invested. There was probably a good reason to start supporting this missionary, and now it hurts to reduce it or to actually cut it off. It feels like they're part of the family and we're disowning them in some way.

These are challenging waters to navigate in relationship with the missionary, because you want to continue to affirm them at least in their Christian standing and perhaps in their ministry, but you also need to be good stewards and you need to take practical realism into account.

First, let's address the why. Why would you reduce or stop supporting a missionary that's been on the roster, so to speak, of your mission's support budget for the church for a long time? Let's talk about 10 possible reasons for reducing or stopping support for a missionary.

The first one is a change in relationship. So many times we find that missionaries are invited to the church or welcomed into the church because of a special relationship with someone in leadership in the church. Sometimes we've called this the FOP person, the friends of the pastor, someone who went to seminary with the pastor or had previous ministry with the pastor, and the pastor especially favors them because he has a friendship with them and he brings them in and expects the church to support them.

And unless there is some policy framework that otherwise stops it, it's pretty hard to stop that momentum towards supporting that missionary, whether or not their ministry and their focus is actually on target with what the church wants to do.

When that key person changes in the church, often then the relationship changes with the missionary, and that is a legitimate time to reexamine and see, is this someone that we want to continue to support or support at the same level that we have been in the past? Just because Joe Missionary is the nephew of Miss Sally who is a matriarch and cornerstone worker in the church doesn't mean that Joe Missionary should be supported.

So when there is a change in the foundational relationship of the missionary and how they got started being supported by the church, it's a good time to reexamine that relationship and see if it needs to continue.

The second and also maybe the second most common thing is that there is a change in doctrine of the missionary, or at least a refinement of understanding doctrine by the church in such a way that the missionary's doctrine is not in alignment with the doctrine of the church.

Unfortunately, most churches don't even know whether that's the case. They assume because the missionary came from a mission agency that is respected by the church in general, they never really examine the personal doctrine of the missionary involved.

And there are many cases in which the missionary changes their doctrine after having left for the field, and they get to the field and things change, influences change, and their doctrine changes in such a way that make it incompatible with the doctrine of the local church that's supporting them.

So part of the precaution is, "Hey, local church, let's know what your missionary's doctrine is, and if there's any significant change over time, you need to ask them that question."

A third potential reason is a change of assignment, that is the missionary actually is assigned to do something quite different than what they were originally sent out to do.

A fourth reason is a change of target ministry or focus. That is their change from, say, being in a church planting team to being in very much an office support role. That may be an opportunity to reevaluate whether to continue to support them at the same level.

Reason number five is they change mission sending agencies altogether. For whatever reason, they make a shift and they're with a different agency that has a different kind of reputation and a different kind of ministry that may or may not be compatible with what the sending or supporting church really wants for them.

A sixth reason is a change in the church's financial capacity. And this unfortunately is quite common, particularly in our day. The local church's financial capability may change because of a split in the church or because of a realignment or because of church planting commitments, or because of some other refocusing kind of commitment that takes finances away from their mission's budget and makes it impractical or even unwise to continue to support missionaries at the same level they have over the years.

We've certainly had this happen to us in almost all of those cases. A church split or the church diminished, or the church became elderly and was unable to continue at the same level, a church direction moved and changed its focus and leadership and there was not the same relationship any longer. All of those things have happened to us over the years.

Missionaries that our faith supported understand that this kind of things happen, their trust is in God, not in a specific church's support, even though that may work some temporal hardship on them as they try to make up support and communicate with their supporters in such a way to restore lost support.

Number seven reason is a change in the church's ministry focus. Now, this is something that I've been involved in in Propempo a lot. Helping churches refine and focus their ministry so that it is more strategic and efficient, effective at accomplishing what they want to see happen on the field in relationship to their local church, which means that often they have to reduce or in some cases actually cut missionary support from those that are just not doing anywhere near that range of the focus and target of what the church's missions ministry is.

The eighth reason why you might want to reduce or stop supporting missionary is that there is a change of status in the missionary themselves, whether that's retirement or they're moving back home to the home side versus the field, or their need has changed. Maybe they have such great support that they just don't even need your support any longer.

The ninth reason is because of a change caused by crisis or conflict or political crisis or feasibility all on the field side. There are crises that are experienced, even this most recent COVID crisis, cause all kinds of change on field status and what's going on in ministry on the field over the past years.

But there may be internal conflict in the mission, in the missionary team of which they're a part. There may be politically closed doors. We've seen this in some major countries around the world in recent years where America and missionaries particularly are just not welcome, invited and find it impossible to get a visa.

In war-torn areas, there may be lack of feasibility. Or even major natural disasters make it impossible for them to stay on site. Those kinds of things, whether short-term or long-term, need to be evaluated as a possibility of reducing or halting support for a particular missionary. I must say that some of these reasons may actually be reasons to increase their support if everything else is in alignment.

Number 10, the last possible reason for reducing or stopping support of a missionary is because of a change of communication or accountability or relationship with them on the field. There are several cases in which I have counseled churches and mission agencies to withhold support or reduce support from a missionary because of a total failure of communication and relationship on the missionary's part.

When the missionary is acting as an independent agent, they don't really understand the fact that it is the local church that sends them, and they have an accountability to the local church in the same way as if they were staff locally with the church at home.

In fact, in some ways, it is incumbent on the missionary to communicate even more than if they were on staff at the church at home, because they need the prayer of the saints to sustain them in an arena of spiritual warfare on the field. Being responsible for good accountability and communication and that kind of relationship with the sending church in particular and supporting churches in general is imperative for the missionary.

Now, we've spent a lot of time on the reasons why, the possibilities why you might reduce or stop supporting a missionary, and now I'm going to spend a little bit of time on the how.

First of all, it should be done prayerfully. It should be done in unity, in council with all those in leadership in the church that need to be aware of the considerations involved. It also needs to be done in good communication with the missionary.

It is not improper at all to ask the missionary to pray about the decision that is impending with regard to their support, to let them know, "Hey, the church is in financial straits. Hey, we haven't really heard from you communication-wise. Hey, your change of assignment makes a difference in how we think about your ministry. Hey, the pastor that you were connected with has moved on and we want to reevaluate our relationship."

Whatever it is, you need to be pretty much upfront and put all your cards on the table about what the possible reasons are or the vectors of rationale that may frame a decision that could reduce or cut off their support.

Second major thing is to be gracious about it. Not only communicate with a missionary, give them a heads-up that this may be coming, but also if you do decide to reduce or to stop supporting a missionary, it needs to be done graciously. You need to commend them for their call, commend them for their sacrifice to go to the field, honor them as servants of the Lord, and yet be firm about what the decision is and taper it off over time.

I highly recommend, unless there is a real crisis in which you must stop for some reason, that you taper it off over three months or six months or 12 months. Give them plenty of time to communicate with their other supporters to try to make up that support.

If it's possible, you might retain them on a downward tapering basis over time until such time as their on-home assignment, which for most missionaries is every two or three or about maximum four years' time. So if you made a decision about halfway through their term, they would have one or two years at least to think about it, to prepare, and you're slowly declining their support through that time until the time they get home.

Another very tricky aspect to this is to communicate properly with your congregation. There may be people in your congregation that have special heart ties of relationship with those missionaries. Maybe they visited them on the field, maybe they went on a short-term missions trip to that missionary in their field. Maybe they've been supporting them personally and kind of take offense that you're not supporting their guy or their gal anymore.

So you need to be thoughtful and accurate in communicating with those people that may have that kind of heart tie to their missionary so that they understand the rationale for the church reducing or completely stopping support.

There is another case actually in which you find that the relationship is just not able to be broken because of however that relationship was established, and you may just want to freeze their support and agree to not raise it anymore, but not lower it anymore until such time as they make a major move from the field or retire or whatever the case may be.

In every case, on both sides of the equation, prayer and good communication are essential to navigate these rough waters and to make it through to the other side. And in almost every case in which I have counseled churches in this process, including my own church and including for my own support, I've found that really good communication and prayer paves the way for an ongoing good relationship, not the same relationship, but a good understanding and relationship.

There is one other bonus reason that might be behind you needing to reduce or stop supporting a particular missionary, and that is because your church has raised up a missionary and needs to give very significant financial support to them because they are part of your church family and you're sending them out and have a larger financial obligation and relationship with them than a lot of missionaries that you may support that are only getting token amounts, we'll say, and you need to reduce those in order to support the sent missionary better.

If you've been listening to Propempo Missions on Point very long, you know that this is a biblical key to understanding the Great Commission. Every local church should strive to be a sending Church, and every sent missionary should strive to be involved in the process of establishing indigenous local churches in the fields to which they go.

So when the opportunity happens for a local church to send someone, that becomes a priority in their funding as well as their prayers, accountability and relationships.

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 preferably consider supporting this ministry. Now to God be glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus, forever and ever. Amen.

Comments (0)

Please login to comment.

Register for an account