My name is Michael, and I want your money.I want you to believe that I’m homeless, hungry and looking for a handout. I couldn’t cut it pastoring in the only place that God is blessing, so I figured I’d go hide on the other side of the world, where it’s easier. I’m going to do as little as possible while I’m hiding out, and I expect you to fund the whole endeavor. I’ll be asking for money early and often. By the way, it’s your biblical responsibility to support me. If you don’t, your church won’t grow at all.
While the previous statements are pure hyperbole, when I introduce myself to a new pastor, it’s exactly what I think they hear.
Maybe it’s more like this…My name is Michael and nobody really cares what I do or how I’m doing, as long as I send a letter every 2-3 months that says 500 people got saved, 2000 people were baptized and 3 churches were started…since the last update. If I don’t write that sort of letter, 6 churches will inevitably decide to not to send us the $50 per quarter that they are currently sending. They expect all of my children to be mini-D.L. Moodys with perfect behavior who can all play three instruments while proving Einstein’s theory of relativity. It’s certain that I’ll die in obscurity while on the field and nobody will know or care. Widowed, my wife will be forced to work three jobs until she’s 80, just to make the proverbial ends-meet.
Again, hyperbole. But that’s sometimes how we feel. Reality looks more like this:My name is Michael, and I’m a missionary. I am not homeless, destitute or naked. I am a pastor whose congregation is in one of the least evangelized nations in the world. I am not on a perpetual vacation funded by a conglomerate of churches who have banded together to provide a Christian based welfare system. If your church is not able to support us, I trust that God will raise up another church to continue His work.
I’m probably not the only missionary in the world that feels like this, and you probably don’t attend the only church in the world whose missions’ program has stumbled in importance over the last few years.
Don’t get me wrong, we have some fantastic supporting churches. They go out of their way to minister to us.
They send emails or cards on our kids’ birthdays. They beg us to send a Christmas wish list and then buy everything on that list. They read our prayer letters and then respond with a phone call or email or Facebook message asking about our health issues.
But, they are more the exception that the rule.
Sadly, if the relationship between the church and its missionaries were a marriage, too often, that marriage would be on the rocks. Counseling would be in order.
There’s enough blame to go around for the lack of communication, misunderstandings and unreal expectations that continue to plague so many church-missionary relationships.
One veteran missionary who had also pastored for over thirty years once shared his opinion with me:
I believe every missionary should pastor before going to the foreign field, and I believe that every pastor should have to raise financial support as many missionaries do, before pastoring.
Things would be a whole lot different if that were the case.
So, instead of just complaining, I want to have a dialogue. I want to talk about what we can do to help these relationships, even if on a micro level. I want to talk about what I can do and where I have failed, but I don’t want it to be a one way dialogue. I want it to be a real conversation where issues are dealt with, lines of communication are opened, and misperceptions are clarified.
Would you like to participate in this dialogue? In the comments, let me know what are some issues that you’d like to hear about?
How could churches improve the relationship they have with missionaries? How could missionaries do the same?