A few days ago I was visiting with some fellow CREC ministers, and we were talking about the problems that accompany the funding of missions. A very common model in evangelical circles is for a church to support a hundred missionaries at $25 a month. They have lots of names on the bulletin board, and are clearly very missions minded. The downside of this (to pick one) is that a particular missionary family, in order to make it go, has to be supported by numerous churches. A multitude of missionaries for the church means a multitude of churches for the missionary. That means when the missionaries come home on furlough, they spend their year getting fried in a different way, as they drive all over the North American continent, thanking churches for the $25 a month.
But instead of commenting on how dumb this system is, we should spend at least some time in thinking about the advantages. Those advantages may be sinful, true enough, but people still do things for a reason. What might that reason be?
This is what I think the central advantage of this approach is. This kind of diversified support works in the same way that other diversified monetary exchanges work. The point is to minimize risk. Think of it as a sort of mutual funds for missionary support. In this case, the risk that is being avoided is the risk of spiritual involvement, emotional responsibility, and so forth. Say one of the 25-a-monthers has a spiritual meltdown on the field. Who’s responsible for that? None of the supporting churches are invested that heavily. And if things don’t work out, they have a little extra breathing room in the missions budget next year. It is not that anybody is being particularly cold-hearted, it is just the way we arrange our priorities.
Couple this with the fact that quite a few missionaries are not spiritually qualified to be out on the field in the first place, and you have a clear and obvious need to diversify the risk. I am not trying to be particularly inflammatory or cynical here, but one of the ways you can tell that a young college student is starting to struggle in his Christian walk is that he is starting to think about missions. What better way to quiet the spiritual churn within than by becoming a missionary? Missionaries are spiritual people, right?
With this diversified approach to missions, you don’t have to come off as an inflammatory cynic. You don’t have to pull the bloomer that I just did. You don’t have to say anything. Just make room for that extra 25, and the general mass of folks out there will just absorb the problems. You don’t have to say no to anybody, and you don’t have to tell them why you said no, and you don’t have to deal with the fallout of having said no.
Compare this from the other side. What would happen if your church was supporting just one missionary, and you were providing him with full support? Now suppose that he developed a serious wobble. The most immediate thing that is obvious here is that you have to deal with it. And you have to deal with it on a substantive level. You are supporting one missionary at 5K a month, and his newsletters have been getting increasingly erratic, and sometimes weird. You are starting to get questions about it from parishioners who don’t even read newsletters. And so you have to deal with it. And because “dealing with it” is always messy, when you deal with it you will have a mess. Twenty five a month for everybody is starting to look more attractive than it did.
I think it was Andrew Carnagie who said to put all your eggs in one basket, and then to watch that basket. But watching the basket involves work. We would rather put 25 eggs in 25 different baskets, and then not watch anything.
The mantras of “personal knowledge” and “investment in lives” sound really good, almost hip even. But there is no way to do it without the willingness of the elder board to say to someone that they want him to “stop that.” And it cannot be done without an acknowledgement on the part of those who are sent that they are submitted to personal and real authority.
But because we love our independence, because we are soft in our doctrine of how the Trinity knits us together, we would rather diversify the risk. We love our mutual funds.