How Much Is Too Much?

Indigenous missions – the ultimate goal of the church-planting missionary.  Every missionary-in-training has learned to describe an indigenous church as self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting.  The question is not so much, “What is our goal?”  The question is, “How do we reach it?”  There are about as many answers to that question as there are missionaries.  In fact, how we answer that question will describe our philosophy of ministry.

If one of our primary goals is to establish a church that is self-supporting, how much resources should the foreign missionary provide?  There are missionaries who advocate no financial involvement whatsoever – the nationals should do it all.  The idea is that the nationals should learn to support the work and carry the full responsibility from the very beginning.  On the opposite end of the spectrum are missionaries who build an enormous enterprise of churches and/or national pastors, which relies almost exclusively on foreign funds (primarily from the United States).

Surely the answer lies, as in all areas of life and ministry, in a balance of both extremes.  Missionaries at times have misspent valuable years of ministry waiting for nationals to “learn” something they have been taught in principle (generosity, sacrifice, giving, faith), but have never seen or witnessed in their “pastor.”  At the same time, there have been large ministries that crumble when the foreign missionary and his funds are no longer present.

There are definitely no “pat answers” or rules that apply to every ministry, culture or circumstance regarding this issue.  So what do we do?  How should we approach our ministry?  When should we “pay the bill” and when should we abstain?  Here are some questions to consider as you seek to answer these questions in your ministry context:

  • What example am I setting to my church members (I Peter 5:3)?  King David sacrificed greatly and personally to build the Temple before asking the Israelites to take part and follow his example (I Chronicles 29:2-5).

  • What example am I setting to future national pastors?  The missionary is often the only example they have of personal sacrifice and commitment.

  • Does my involvement lead my church members to look to me or to God when they face a financial challenge (I Corinthians 2:3-5; II Corinthians 4:7)?

  • Am I just teaching about faith or am I demonstrating it (I Corinthians 11:1)?  Our greatest influence will be through what we model, not what we teach.

  • What would the long-term repercussions be if my financial support were no longer available?  The adjustment will always be difficult, but it should not cripple the work.

Only the LORD can help us answer these questions in our particular circumstance and ministry.  May He give each of His servants wisdom and discernment.  The indigenous work depends on it.

How have you faced these challenges?  What have you found to be a healthy balance?  Take a moment and share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Help! I Need A Furlough

There is no feeling like feeling helpless. You are in a situation that must change, but you are powerless to do anything about it. If the situation becomes prolonged, the feeling of helplessness can turn into stress, desperation, and even resentment. Something must be done.

Missionaries around the world have approached their time for furlough, after spending three or four years on their present term, but they cannot leave the field. Their families need furlough. Their emotional strength is draining. Their supporting churches need visiting, but there is no one to take the work while they are gone. The work is not ready to become indigenous. Some missionaries have left their work for a year, only to return to a work that has fallen apart. They must begin all over again. To avoid this, some missionaries have gone six or seven years (or more) without a furlough.  What can be done?  What are some options that missionaries can consider?

  • Turn the work over to a national pastor – This is what every missionary wants to do before he leaves for furlough, but this is often not possible, because there is no one qualified or reliable.

  • Turn the work over to a fellow missionary – This is a great option, but is only possible if there are other missionaries, and if they are available to leave their present work or carry the load of both works.

  • Request assistance from a retired pastor – We have seen this work in fields that are English-speaking. However, with a qualified translator on hand, perhaps it could be an option in other countries as well.

  • Arrange monthly visits from another missionary or national pastor – If the work is far enough along that a lay leader can conduct Bible studies or even preach, this can be a workable alternative. The church can carry on temporarily and still receive spiritual guidance on a regular basis from a more mature and experienced pastor.

  • Take shorter terms and shorter furloughs – This is an option that has becoming more and more popular in recent years. For example, instead of four-year terms and one-year furloughs, some are taking two-year terms and four- to six-month furloughs. It has many advantages: the work is not left for such long time, the missionary family can see relatives on a more frequent basis, furloughs are not so draining on the family, and other missionaries can commit to helping for a shorter time.

There are no “pat answers” or perfect ways to take a furlough. Every term is different; every mission field is different. However, if one can plan ahead, there are often more options than one realizes. But that is key: plan ahead.

There are no convenient times to take a furlough. There will always be things to be done. There will often be a price that is paid in the work. However, we must remember that it is the Lord’s work and He will care for His people – even in our absence. We must be diligent in preparing ahead for when furlough time comes, then trust the work to His care. Whatever your situation, the Lord will work it out in His time.

What furlough options have you found to be helpful? Share them in the comments below.