Recently I wrote an article on why the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland still needs foreign Christian workers. Thankfully many still labour here and others are on their way. However, almost universally they are facing obstacles. Having corresponded with several Christian workers in the UK they surprised me with the similarities in their responses. I want to deal with a few of those here.
I want to thank each of the men who shared their hearts with me on this matter. Due to the number of responses I received I felt it best to divide them up into two posts. This first part focuses almost entirely on the obstacles raised by pastors and churches. The second post spends most of the time on difficulties that missionaries bring on themselves. And yes, most of those who responded to me recognised the failings of missionaries which make it harder for them to reach the mission field.
DISCLAIMER: I am blessed by and love each one of our supporters and I know the missionaries that corresponded with me feel the same. Neither they nor I are complaining about our supporting churches, but simply trying to highlight the struggles that they have faced. These men and their families love God and love people and long to see sinners saved. Any delay they face in reaching the field breaks their heart. This post is not meant to exonerate missionaries from their failings, as they of course exist. Lastly, the intention of this post is not to complain or encourage self-pity, I hope to encourage an examination of what hinders a missionary reaching the field to which God has called him and to consider what we can do to change some current practices.
So, why do foreign Christian workers struggle to raise support to get here?
1. Because churches/pastors do not see the need
I think all the missionaries I wrote to included this reason in their response. They find that prospective supporters judge Britain on what it used to be, and not on its current, spiritual condition. If you believe this then please refer to my earlier article on this theme: Does Britain Still Need Foreign Christian Workers?
2. Because of the cost of living in the United Kingdom
No one would deny that to live in certain parts of the United Kingdom costs a lot of money. In many population centres you can easily pay £1000/$1700 a month simply renting modest sized home for your family (in some places this can be more or less). When a missionary arrives at a church and makes it known that, due to the cost of living and the exchange rate, how much they need a month they immediately see raised eyebrows.
It has been known for some churches to drop missionaries or put pressure on their missionaries for taking so long to get to the field.
Some would argue the necessity for such a high figure. At times a mission board, in trying to act prudently, sets a very high financial goal for the missionary to reach before approving their departure to the field. When a large part of this goal goes toward private health insurance in the US, that will not be useful in the UK, it can become an obstacle to reaching the mission field. I understand the need for insurance while on deputation and furlough, but is there another way perhaps than the current setup?
Due to the high amounts required the missionary must travel great distances for long periods of time to raise the funds. A great deal of money is involved in travelling, meal and accommodation expenses. Now, most missionaries I know are, out of necessity, very frugal. They act as wise stewards of the funds made available to them. And the generosity of some churches they visit has overwhelmed some missionaries.
But maybe it is time churches considered how much money is required to simply get a missionary to the field? How much faster could a missionary reach the field and invest missions money on the field if so much time and travelling were not required to get to the field?
A last word under this heading is a much more sensitive one. Some missionaries commented that at times the pastor seems to compare what is being raised with their own personal salary in the US and feel like they are on a lower income.
One missionary expressed the concern that some pastors made it feel like a competition as to who had the larger salary. Although this stems from a misunderstanding on the behalf of the prospective supporter, I do understand their feelings. I do not believe that the majority of men in these rare cases are carnal and envious. But if it seems that a missionary will receive tens of thousands of dollars a year when they are on considerably less, then I am sure anyone could understand their perspective.
What pastors and churches need to remember about that seemingly high figure is that it not only goes toward their family’s expenses, but must also serve as the start-up fund and cover the initial running costs for the new church. As well, missionaries do not get an annual salary increase from most supporters (and nor do many supporters it can be argued) despite the ever-increasing costs of living. So the amount they raise has to factor in the costs of living over the next several years.
Obviously not every church should or could support every missionary to the UK that passes through. But the reasons for not supporting any missionary should be carefully and prayerfully considered.
A last note, missionaries are well aware of the sacrifices that others make to get them to their field of ministry, and are very thankful. Genuine missionaries are not looking for a life of ease or a get-rich-quick scheme.
3. Because a church already supports a missionary in the United Kingdom
Some missionaries have essentially been turned away at the door because the church they have approached already support a missionary in the UK. I can partly understand that a church may want to spread their money around by supporting missionaries in as many countries as they can. But that reason alone should not decide a pastors’ or church’s use of missions funds.
This can come down a well-thought out philosophical position, but I believe it is one that requires careful consideration as to its Biblical and logical foundations. Again, is there a better way to support the Great Commission.
4. Because There seems to be little fruit from existing missionaries and other fields of ministry seem more exciting
This was one of the responses that came up most often.
In some circles salvation is nothing more than a shallow prayer repeated by an individual, they have little or no understanding or true conviction. It is “123-repeat-after-me congratulations you’re saved”. When that model is followed then a missionary can report scores of salvation decisions. Those missionaries who do not follow the model look bad when they report that just a few have made professions of salvation.
A missionary must carefully explain the doctrine of salvation, and then they should allow the Holy Spirit, and not a clever formula, bring a sinner to the place of repentance. When a profession is made then we should rejoice with the angels in Heaven! But let us be careful to wait and watch for fruit in their lives. It is no good reporting dozens saved if the church attendance/membership never reaches anywhere near the same levels as those making professions.
The Great Commission is not just about getting people to make decisions, it is about making disciples, investing our lives in the lives of others to see them become life-long followers of Jesus Christ.
When multitudes are not seen being saved then some supporting churches question the missionary’s effectiveness, sometimes it is just pressure and stress put on the missionary, sometimes they are dropped.
A part of the problem comes with the focus on the 10/40 window and Third World countries, which is something I understand. The numbers of people who have never heard in that region is staggering.
I would not say that any Christian ministry is easy. Spiritual warfare is spiritual warfare. But if honesty prevailed which would you chose,
- 7 years of lonely labour without a single convert (such as with William Carey)
- or a ministry where within months there are multiple professions of salvation and shortly after Bible schools, orphanages, schools and other ministries are begun?
Time for some more brutal honesty, what makes more exciting prayer letters?
On some fields you can offer a free dental check-up and other medical helps and literally thousands will come. In the Gospel service that follows it may be hundreds that receive Christ as their personal Saviour. In a very short time, several churches are started and let by national pastors. That is wonderful and I praise the Lord for every saved soul on any field.
But then you may have a missionary in the UK who distributes literally tens of thousands of pieces of literature, they advertise in every way imaginable, they have attractive material and plan a Gospel service and when the day arrives perhaps just a handful of people visit. Of that handful of people, in the long term, only one person or one family continues to attend the church. Sometimes there is more or less of a response, but I do not know of any outreach or church plant in the UK that equals what is seen on some other fields.
Some missionaries feel a pastor sometimes looks at supporting missions in a purely dollar-per-soul formula. When they see that per USD you will see more people saved outside the UK, it feels they make their decision based on that factor.
A lack of sharing the great things that the Lord is doing in the UK could be a contributing factor here. Better communication from the missionaries, as well as an adjustment on supporters expectations, could be helpful for all parties involved.
Part Two to Follow…