I am an independent, Fundamental Baptist missionary of 30 years experience. We are currently on furlough and deputation in Florida. These are some of my observations of the state of Christianity as seen through the eyes of such a ministry.
What I am observing…
As I make contact with new churches, and as I seek contacts through lists of Baptist Churches, and then look up information on them on the Internet, many don’t have websites. Other have websites that look like they are abandoned, and still, others have the domains up for sale, and from this, I go to Google maps to look up the address. Once I see the Google map, a lot of times they have the name of the address, and it is no longer a Baptist Church but usually either a Spanish church or a Portuguese church name. Sometimes they are Pentecostals. So at least here in Central Florida, the number of Baptist Churches is decreasing.
What am I finding?
Among the “Baptist” churches I make contact with or that I am researching, I am finding that a lot of them are falling into patterns.
Large Church Buildings
These Baptist Churches are usually either Southern Baptist Churches or Jack Hyles/Sword of the Lord Baptists. There are some others that don’t fall into either of these two camps, but they are in the minority it seems. What I am not finding are very many churches oriented around the major Christian schools (and those that have shut down in recent years). It would seem that most of the pastors from these Christian universities are not pastoring churches around this area. You run across a Bob Jones pastor or Tennessee Temple pastor every now and then. But they are in the minority.
Missions oriented churches
As an across-the-board rule it seems, all churches are closed to new missionaries. There are some churches that are having missions conferences still, but they seem to be filled up years in advance. Even those churches are saying that they cannot take on new missionaries.
Of the churches that have more than a dozen or so missionaries, there are some. But they seem overworked in the missionary department, and most are struggling to keep missions alive in their church. In general, it would seem that those churches who use faith promise missions are the healthiest. The fact that every year they must promote the faith promise program in order to even keep their missions budget alive, it is a burden, but it is what is keeping missions alive in those churches. I see that as good, and in hindsight, it is extremely wise. As the years wear on, these church members are carrying the burden of missions on.
To me as a church planting pastor-missionary, (my point of view enters strongly here), I am finding things that after meditation, they are abnormalities. First, there seems to be a custom among good size churches (over 200 members) to complete scratch normal missionaries, and they take a group of their own people to the mission field (invariably to work with a regular missionary that they don’t support those kinds of missionaries) and they take them on a glorified vacation “mission trip”. In one case, their group of some 20 regular members has visited 5 different countries in some 7-8 years, and they go for two weeks each time, and they come back with “results” of thousands saved. I don’t know the people personally, but if Americans that usually cannot speak their own language (English) well go overseas and somehow in 2 weeks come back with a report 30,000 people saved, I am suspicious. I am a missionary, and I do mass evangelism all the time, and things don’t work that way. It is “abnormal”. But that is the extent of their missions program.
Another abnormality is big churches that won’t let missionaries present their ministry. They have missionaries they support monthly, but they don’t give the pulpit to them as a rule. Most of these let a new missionary give a 5-10 minute presentation of their ministry (no videos nor slides, as if anybody uses slides anymore in this day and time). But this really makes it very hard to impossible for missionaries trying to present their ministry to new people to ask for support. They do give you a $100 check after that which is something, but that doesn’t cover travel expenses except if the church is local.
Another abnormality is when churches give you monthly support under $50 or $50. The numbers don’t speak well here. Today a normal missionary needs at least $4000 up to $6000 of monthly support for his personal expenses and then maybe another couple of thousand in a work fund. With health insurance alone pushing $1000/month, retirement, vehicle fund, emergency fund, kids education, rising health expenses, I don’t know how missionaries really make it with less than $4000, unless they are having a hard time of it. I can count on the fingers of one hand the months we had more than $3000, but we have always had financial problems. It seems to be part of the territory, part of their job and lifestyle in these modern times.
But at $5000 a month needed support level, and churches giving $50 a month, that means they must handle at least 100 supporting churches, and if you have to call and contact literally 20-50 pastors to get one meeting that yields monthly support, and maybe more (as it is currently), a new missionary is looking at having to contact 5000 pastors to get his support raised. A typical deputation is like 2-3 years now from what I understand, so that would 52 Sundays times 3 years = 156 optimum preaching opportunities, and I doubt even in the most robust of groups there are that many churches in a single group. Maybe the BBF has 5000 churches, but a BBF missionary would need to get most of those churches to take him on. Very doubtful.
The Southern Baptist Convention settles this with giving their missionaries upwards of $10,000 monthly support (from what I have heard), and just being a member of the Convention as a missionary gets you that money, very little accountability to actual churches, just the convention hacks. But you have to sign on to the Convention and their doctrinal and separation position to go with them, and that is not going to work for anybody that is a Fundamentalist.
On the bright side, in some churches are giving a lot more money that in times past. Getting $500 or $1000 love offerings is not unheard of (don’t write asking for a list of those churches, I don’t give that out). But I started deputation back in 1983, and typical offerings back then was like $50 to $100. Monthly support back then was commonly under $50. I went to this website and calculated what $100 in 1983 was today and they say it is $243.81 dollars today. That means that a love offering of $1000 today is like somewhere around $400 back then, which was exceptional. But my point here is that some churches are giving greater amounts of money, and many are stuck back 20-30 years ago, and their giving is not keeping up with inflation. That causes missionaries to take time, energy, and effort off of their mission to gain back the buying power of what they had years ago.
$5000 monthly income today has the same buying power as $2050 back then. Back then that was a good income level (at least from what I remember).
Another abnormality in all of this are individual supporters. Really, I don’t understand things in churches today. How can a church pushback that they cannot give more than $50 a month to their missionaries, yet individuals in churches can give $150, $300, or $500? A single person can give that much. So one individual with a burden for missions can give the same as 10 churches? Unbelievable. But this is the reality out there. My take on that is that these people were taught somewhere that missions in a biblical responsibility, and they moved into a new church or their church position changed, and where they are now, that church has no real burden for missions, and so they give outside of the church financial structure. As a pastor, I can argue that that is not good, but it is becoming more and more common in dealing with churches and Christians in the United States.
The concept of ambassador in the New Testament is that the sending authority gives the missionary/ambassador/representative the authority and the wherewithal to accomplish the mission they call him to. That is not happening today. Pastors wash their hands of real missions, and they throw the burden on the mission boards (which have no way of making income except by draining off missions funds for their own expenses and trying to get some scraps for their missionaries).
Advice for New Missionaries
First of all, I think new missionaries are in for a rough ride. There are ways of getting to the field, but it is very difficult no matter what road you travel. There are a lot of “pitfalls and bumps”. First of all, a new missionary has to make a lot of choices way before they start deputation. They need to come from a large group of closely knit churches. Pastors that have a lot of pastor friends can reduce a missionary’s deputation time drastically. I have asked pastors that support me for names of other pastors in their friendship that I could contact, and many of them tell me they don’t have anybody like that. No help there. Both being a member and growing up in a vibrant missions-minded church, and getting other pastors and people to know you seems to be essential to getting your support raised(period). We are not really talking about “quickly”, but raised “at all.” I hear of a number of young missionaries starting out, and after 2 years of deputation, they have 10-12%. Not good. Basically raising 10% per year will make you take 10 years. If you go with half of your support, that will take 5, but usually, before the end of the fifth year comes around, you are hemorrhaging support from churches that want to see you on the field, and get impatient with you and drop your support.
To pastors of churches, I think the rule of thumb should be you give to your missionaries with full disclosure of what their finances are. How much they want and have, and you do some calculations on your part. If you think a missionary should take 2-3 years to raise their support, with 1 church of every 7-8 churches they present their ministry in giving support, then that would 1 new supporting church per 2 months. So a total of maybe (12/2=6) six new supporters per year, for 3 years is 18 supporting churches. So if every pastor takes on their missionaries for 1/18th of their support, that will work more reasonably. That would be $5000/18=$277/month as a minimum support level for their missionaries. Understanding the missions environment of America, they should really be giving more. I would think $400 to $500 per missionary is more reasonable. There is also the point of interest of the missionary. When a church gives you $12.50 a month, you really don’t listen to them if they ask you for things. You don’t want to lose even that, but consider the difference when a church that gives you $500 asks you for something versus $12.50 a month.
I am finding that it is next to impossible to deal with pastors over the phone. Yes some are cordial and polite, and you can do things with them, but for the most part, calling is working less and less. Emailing is about the same. Back in 1983, calling got me meetings at least. But nowadays, that doesn’t work so well. The only alternative I have found is to go around to churches and camp out on their doorstep during the week or attend a service. Amazingly, we have gotten 10-15 minute opportunities to tell of our ministry and burden from an unannounced “drop in”. There are horror stories also, as you cannot discern what kind of church you are “dropping into” many times, but none-the-less, it works sometimes.
Prayer is a necessary essential also. But understand that prayer isn’t going to work so much in this like it does in other things. You need to be wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. The idea I take on this is that you must know what specifically to pray for, and praying “give us our support” isn’t what we should be praying for, but “teach us through this experience” and “enable us to do the ministry you called us to” and “which churches should we be trying for (specifically)”. The reason why I say prayer doesn’t work here, is that there are burdens a man can carry alone, and there are burdens that two joined together can carry, just them, but this is a burden that needs a couple of hundred people praying to make it work.
So as you raise financial support, that is not going to work unless you have a lot of good Christian folk praying for you also. This is how we do the work of missions, spiritually, through prayer power. If you don’t learn this, you won’t make it in missions. Yes, strive for a critical mass of financial supporters, but don’t think you can do anything with just the money coming in. You need a lot of people (spiritual and obedient people) praying constantly for specific things in your ministry.
For pastors, I liked one church that I contacted. They were saturated as far as what they could do economically for missions, but they had a lady in that church that was in charge of a prayer band. These were interested members that met during Sunday School and before Sunday night I believe. They just prayed for missions and missionaries. She wrote me every month, and sometimes twice a month, and they prayed for the requests that these missionaries sent her. Every missionary that asked the pastor for a meeting, he would direct them to her, whether he gave them a meeting or not. I sent her requests for several years until she left that church. She still prayed personally for those who would write her for about a year after that, and finally, her email address went bad, and I lost contact with her.
The prayer band idea is a great idea, and it is a way for churches that cannot financially help all the missionaries that contact them, well, to help them in prayer. Imagine if some 2000-10000 churches made this a practice, and instead of 10 or so, 50 to 100 members in each of these churches were participating. Some observations, no this is not going to happen. Why? Because it asks for sacrifice on people’s part. She dropped missionaries because her policy was that if she sent a request to a missionary for 2 months and got nothing back, that missionary was dropped off her list. Missionaries become lazy too. She didn’t want prayer letters. Just requests. That takes time.
Another issue is that people won’t sacrifice. Even in that lady’s church, the pastor wasn’t part of the prayer band as best as I could tell. He just used it as a way to shove the missionary and his needs off of the church financially and him directly. Okay. Maybe he was busy. God knows. But why isn’t this kind of thing led by pastors? The answer is that in Christianity today, we believe in (as the miracle working real dynamo behind every) programs, not prayer. If it were not so, pastors would be praying more and leading their people in prayer more. That doesn’t happen? Why not? See our mouth is not in sync with our actions. We talk about the importance of prayer, but our actions do not reflect those words as really our belief.
As a veteran missionary of 30 years, I have prayed about my needs and my ministry. God works in different ways. Let’s review them.
You need a new car.
- God moves people to give you money to buy a new or newer car.
- God moves some person to donate a car to you.
- God moves some person to loan you a car.
- God takes the car need away, and you have to get around by public transportation.
- Somebody else can help you by driving you where you need to go, or #3 above.
- God physically cripples you someway, and you don’t need to and cannot physically get around.
We could go on, but you get the idea. The point is that God can fill the need with money, but he can also take the need away, or meet it some other way. I am diabetic and have high blood pressure so I need 1) a physician every 3 months at least. 2) Blood work. 3) medicine. God provided a Catholic doctor that didn’t charge us anything. A daughter of a church member in my church in Mexico City that owned a lab that did the lab work for free, and a family member of my wife that owned a pharmacy that gave us literally hundreds of dollars of free medicine for me and my wife. That has happened regularly for us. One church pastor donated me his car. These things happen. But the trick here is to realize that they didn’t happen because I was good or spiritual, or such a great prayer warrior, but because there were a lot of people that didn’t have the wherewithal to give money that was praying instead.