We are thankful to God for the growth in recent years of the establishment of new churches, and the reformation of current churches, based on an ecclesiology that reflects the whole counsel of God. However, one area that has tended to lag behind is an extension of this ecclesiology into the formation of a healthy missiology. The relationship between orthodoxy and orthopraxy tends to be weak. There is a tendency for a church’s missionary outreach to look “more like a hodgepodge of personal preferences and compromises than an intentional plan reflecting a shared philosophy of ministry and theological commitments” (Caleb Morrell). While a number of areas can be focused on to strengthen our orthopraxy, the two most critical areas are:
- Who is qualified to serve as a missionary?
- How should these missionaries be financed?
Throughout church history both churches and individuals have come together to express collective agreement in response to a specific need or issue (Nicene Creed, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, etc.). We believe the time has come for churches to adopt a similar statement on the formation and implementation of a missionary outreach program in the local church. We also fully recognize that not every need or concern can be addressed in a collective statement, but by focusing on the two most critical areas, much of the disconnect between our orthodoxy and orthopraxy in missions can be dealt with.
Therefore, in light of Scripture, and in light of the current situation in many of our churches, we, the undersigned, agree to modify our missionary outreach as described below:
Who is qualified to serve as a missionary? What issues are being addressed here?
- A healthy missions program is built upon the foundation of a healthy ecclesiology. The two must not be divorced from each other. Some of the key points are:
- Whether home or abroad, the objective of the church should be planting other healthy churches for the glory of God. A helpful starting point defining the nature of a healthy church are the 9 Marks of a Healthy Church.
- The qualifications of a pastor / elder are the baseline qualifications for a missionary. The two roles must not be viewed as having two different sets of qualifications.
- Before a missionary is sent abroad they should have the knowledge and ministry experience in each of the areas of church planting. Learning how to plant healthy churches abroad begins by learning how to plant churches at home. A helpful analogy is to view biblical eldership as an “umbrella truth.” In other words, a qualified elder / missionary will have the 9 Marks under their “umbrella” before they are sent overseas.
- Learning how to plant healthy churches often takes years – sometimes decades – of preparation. It is vital to keep two biblical truths in proper balance:
- The urgency to move quickly to bring the gospel to unreached people groups and plant healthy churches in their midst.
- The length of time involved in training a qualified elder / missionary. Decades of training may be necessary.
- Balancing these two truths: God-glorifying churches can not be planted with greater speed by rushing unqualified and untrained missionaries to the foreign field. The extensive amount of time needed to identify and train a biblically qualified elder / missionary is never at cross purposes with the urgency of the Great Commission. These two truths are not in competition with each other, but are designed by God to work in harmony with each other culminating in the establishment of a new, biblically faithful church in a region of the world “where Christ was not known…” (Romans 15:20).
- What issue is being addressed here? Today, the popular perception is that literally anyone is qualified to serve as a missionary. With more than 900 mission sending organizations many are under massive financial pressure to accept new missionaries to keep new money flowing in and thus keep their doors open. Rarely, if ever, are the biblical qualifications of an elder used to pre-screen missionary candidates.
How should qualified missionaries be financed? What issues are being addressed here?
- The sending church – the church where the missionary is a member and who commissioned them as such – should view its relationship with their missionary like a “marriage covenant” (very similar to the way a church member should view its relationship to a local church or a pastor to its church). As in an actual marriage, the local church commits to care for the missionary regardless of the fluctuating circumstances. Being “married” to your missionary has a number of important implications:
- The sending church assumes ultimate responsibility to provide a living wage to the missionary. Other churches and individuals can partner with the sending church, but when financial support fluctuates (church split, death of a supporter) then the sending church is responsible to ensure that their support remains constant. The financial support of a missionary should be no different from the way a church supports their pastor. What issue is being addressed here? Unfortunately, for many missionaries they are ultimately responsible for their own salary. If their support wanes, then they are completely on their own to make up the difference. In reality, they are doing freelance work – with no financial commitment from the sending church.
- If a church or an individual supports a missionary who is not sent by your church, then only support them if their sending church is willing to take ultimate responsibility to support them. So, if for some reason you must discontinue your support, you can be assured that their home church will back them up. What issue is being addressed here? Freelance missionaries – with no church taking ultimate responsibility to care for them – only perpetuates a very unhealthy climate.
- The sending church should take ultimate responsibility to provide a living wage to the missionary. Each church in every culture will need to determine exactly what a “living wage” is. Although Scripture does not give a specific amount, it does give some very important principles:
- 1 Corinthians 9:3-14 – God has commanded (v. 14) the church to support its pastors, elders and missionaries in a way that they can support a family (“bring a believing wife along” v. 5). In many churches there are vast differences in pay; a senior pastor may make $6,000 to $12,000 per month, while missionaries sent from the same church may only receive $100 to $200 per month. It is impossible to support a family on $100 per month. George Mueller is NOT a helpful model for how to support a missionary.
- Titus 3:13 – When sending out Zenas and Apollos, the Apostle Paul said that they should be sent in such a way “that they will lack nothing” (HCSB). Can churches truthfully say they are doing this when they only give $100 or $200 per month?
- Proverbs 30:7-9 – Churches should support missionaries in a way that leads to neither poverty nor riches.
- Acts 6:1-4 – The key takeaway from this verse is that we should seek to remove as many distractions as possible. Missionaries who are forced to seek support from 25 to 50 churches are being needlessly distracted from their God given calling.
- A church’s financial support should not create an environment that is conducive to sin (marital friction, divorce, playing the lottery / gambling, depression), nor should it encourage a missionary to neglect their God given calling (forced to leave the foreign field due to insufficient funds, forced to be bi-vocational when they do not wish to be so).
- The number of missionaries a church supports should not exceed its ability to provide pastoral oversight of the missionary. What issue is being addressed here? Churches often take on too many missionaries with the result that the elders have little idea of the spiritual health of the missionary. How can an elder team provide effective pastoral oversight to 25 to 50 missionaries? From a spiritual standpoint, many missionaries have a freelance relationship with their sending church.
- Only support a new missionary if all of your current missionaries are supported between 50% and 100% of their monthly support. Whenever possible, aim for 100%. Obviously, there is no “biblical” amount at which to support a missionary. However, several key themes in Scripture encourage supporting fewer missionaries at a larger amount per month: 1) Far fewer distractions so the missionary can focus completely on gospel work. 2) Much deeper relationships and accountability between the sending church and their missionaries. What issue is being addressed here? Churches who support 50 missionaries at $200 per month perpetuate this unhealthy climate that forces missionaries to seek support from 25 to 50 churches. This is a huge distraction that unnecessarily draws the time of the missionary away from the foreign field. Equally important is that when a church has too many missionaries it is difficult to impossible to develop deep relationships: church members don’t know their missionaries and missionaries don’t know their sending churches.
- What about churches with limited financial means who can only provide a small fraction each month? God certainly does bless the widow’s mite (Luke 21:2)!! If this is the case then only support one missionary until you reach the 50% minimum.
Copyright © 2021 by Phil Remmers