It's the stage of life we're in. It's not a stage I ever particularly wanted to go through or one that I feel gifted for.
There is a precedent set for one church using their resources and sending their people around the world, and not just by the evangelical over-glorification of cross-cultural missionaries. I believe in the big "C" Church as a universal body, and I believe each part of the body should be supporting the others in whatever way it can. It's in the writings of Paul, and it's in the early church writings I've been reading. It makes sense to me now, too, that the church of West, awash in money, education, and resources, reach out to partner with the third-world. It always makes sense for the church to go to the unreached.
But how? How does the church of the West "go"? The model that I grew up with is that nearly all missions, from orphan ministry to church planting to Bible translation, was done by missionaries who were funded by churches in the West. There were some variances. Denominations sent missionaries through their own denominational missions boards rather than para church organizations, some of those Boards raised funds from the denominations themselves so that the missionaries didn't have to. Some missionaries traveled from tiny church to tiny church, raising small amounts per month or year from each of them. Others were funded by just a few churches who committed large amounts per year.
Here we are, familiar with the model we saw in the missions world we grew up in, and finding it entirely changed.
- Missions giving, on the whole, is dropping. International missions giving is now approximately 2% of our giving as a whole.
- A very appropriate refocusing has happened on local ministry. How can we "go" to love the nations if we don't love and "go" to the community we are in every day? This is good, so long as we don't forget that we are part of a world-wide body as well.
- The idea of a church "missions committee" is fading slightly. It's not often clear who is responsible for the international outreach of the church.
- Churches, especially large churches, are shifting the way they work overseas. They like hands on, long-term, sustained interaction with an area as a church, not just long-term interaction with individual missionaries. The benefit here is that there is less chance of an inneffective or unhealthy missionary being sustained indefinitely by churches who don't have any idea what their life on the ground looks like.
- Because of the previous point, the focus is changing to an area rather than missionaries that a church partners with. We find churches telling us that they are doing work in a certain area of Africa, or Haiti, or the Philippines, or Ecuador. They are interested in all levels of ministry to all levels of society in that place, but less interested if you are going to work outside of their target area. They will fund the partner ministries in their target areas, so perhaps there is a shift to para church ministry employees rather than support-raised missionaries? We are asking ourselves if a new method would be to find (through Internet search?) churches already committed to the area we are going, joining together our mutual commitment to the place, despite not having any previous connection to each other?
- Churches increasingly are uninterested in funding anyone that isn't coming out of their own congregation. They want to really know and be invested in people they support. This makes it difficult for those who haven't been able to fully raise support from their home church, but it does enable a close accountability between church and missionary.
- Churches increasingly do not want to support missionaries from the corporate budget. They will encourage you to you to raise support from individuals within the congregation and are excited when you do so. However, for most churches this is a fairly new change from the accepted model of previous generations, and they are new to thinking through how they can help the people they are "sending" network with the individual members of the church. It takes a lot of individuals and a lot more meetings to match the amount that last generation might have received in one block from a "sending" church mission committee.
- Having a "platform" that enables you to work overseas as an employed business person of some kind, thus enabling you to do your ministry on the side, is increasingly popular. That is fantastic, but also means half or more of your time will be dedicated to business. I ponder this often.
- I think perhaps the change from churches supporting missionaries to individuals supporting missionaries just makes sense in a culture where individuals shift from church to church and city to city. We are increasingly individualistic, and our giving reflects this cultural change.
Like I said, the church of the West sending its people and resources to the church in the rest of the world still makes sense ot me. We're a body. We serve each other. HOW we do this my change based on the time and place. We're in the middle of a change, and it's a little bumpy trying to determine how we navigate the current status of things.