Last week one of our finest IBMGlobal missionaries lost support from one of their long-time supporting churches. A new pastor took over this missionary's supporting church, decided to downsize and in the matter of a month this fine missionary family lost support. Something is wrong with this! If we are talking about gross moral failure or apostasy by the missionary I can understand such a quick turn-around, but this is not the case. David Hosafluk shares some great challenges in his blog to those considering dropping a missionary.
In my seventeen years as a missionary, we've had some friends and churches make unexpected donations to meet special needs. What a blessing! But few missionaries make budgetary decisions based on those kinds of supporters; instead they need to rely on long-term, monthly or annual support partnerships. Over these many years, some of our regular partners have had to drop or reduce our financial support. Fair enough. We don't have a problem with that, for a few reasons:
1. We're so thankful for all the supporter has done and--sincerely--their dropping us doesn't eliminate our thankfulness, nor reduce our desire to stay connected with them in mutual prayer and friendship.
2. God will provide all our needs, even if He needs to use the mouth of a fish.
3. Our partners have no debt to us -- support isn't contractual, after all.
4. Churches and individuals go through rough times: when there is no money, there is no money! Can't do anything about that.
5. Churches change: new leaders take charge, or old ones bring new missions philosophies, new agendas, new partners. "Out with the old, in with the new." No problem, I can handle that too. That's life. We all rethink things from time to time.
Here's what I do have a problem with: the ethics of how it's done. We've had two churches drop us recently, really big churches who got new leaders. Here's how they dropped us: one month, they just stopped sending money. No forewarning. No explanation. No time-cushion. Just ... gone. Faithfully there for 153 months, then inexplicably gone the next ... and the next ... and the next.
Replies "the devil's advocate" inside me: "Ah, come on, missionary, buck up; people get pink slips every day back home in America." But that's just my point--they at least are given the courtesy of a pink slip. These churches didn't employ the courtesy of even notifying us ... so what do we do? Write them a note the first missed month and risk sounding like a "moochinary" collection agency? Of course not! "Even churches are fallible and can be a tad late," we think. Then pass a few more months, and we continue to avoid the awkward "Where's our money?" email, giving them the benefit of the doubt and thinking, "Surely there are tough times in America, they'll pick up again next month; we'll get an explanation any day now." Six months pass, and the church has put us in an awkward position ... do we ask them, "Uh, er, did you drop us?" Or do we just wait another six months? When do we decide it is time to raise the lost support from somewhere else?
We would've welcomed the pink slip! There are three possible reasons why we didn't get one: the supporters are either cowardly, cruel, or incompetent.
1. Cowardly supporters do not inform the missionary because they feel so awful to break the news--and so they don't break the news at all! Instead they let the missionary hang out in limbo, neither supporting him anymore nor freeing him to seek replacement support by making an official break. To such supporters, I urge you: don't write a letter. Pick up the phone, talk to the missionary personally, explain the reason(s), how bad you feel, etc. Will it be hard? Yes! If you're like the pastors who raised me and my wife--the breed who would take a pay cut themselves before ever cutting the missionaries--then it will be one of the hardest things you'll ever have to do. But be a man and do it anyway. It will truly hurt you more than it hurts them, and you will be surprised at the missionaries' genuine grace and understanding of the situation!
2. Cruel supporters do not inform the missionary because they simply don't care. Maybe the pastor is new and is "consolidating power" and "cleaning house." He's slashing budgets, connecting with "his" people, and knows nothing about the missionaries. Instead of making an effort to learn about the missionaries his church has partnered with, he simply issues a fiat. No phase-out, no severance gift, not even a courtesy call to explain things to the families on the field. This man is not a coward; he's simply a jerk.
3. Incompetent supporters do not inform the missionary because it simply doesn't cross their mind. These people would not knowingly harm a missionary and his family, but they simply don't think about them very much. Their support tends to be sketchy anyway, missing several months per year and never making up for it, and when it comes time to stop support all together, they may reason, "Well, we've been phasing them out anyway." Maybe it's lack of organization--the pastor thinking the missions committee people will inform the missionary, and vice-versa. Whatever the reason for the incompetence, these people demonstrate that they really don't value missions and the work of missionaries, no matter how much they may preach about missions.
If a supporter ever needs to drop or reduce a missionary's support, he should follow some cardinal rules!
1. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Look at your kids. How would you like to be in the vulnerable position of dependency on supporters in the first place, "at their mercy" when it comes to putting food on the table? So follow the Golden Rule when it comes to the way you cut off support.
2. Give as much advance notice as possible so the family can make alternative arrangements.
3. Try to make the final cut off coincide with a time the missionary can be on the homefront raising more support.
4. Explain the reason(s). Was it something doctrinal? Relational? Philosophical? Economical?
5. If you're cutting them because they didn't meet an expectation (i.e., not enough correspondence, etc.), investigate thoroughly with them before pulling the plug. More than once, a church had been missing all our letters due to a faulty address.
6. Tell them if it is temporary or permanent ... PLEASE BE HONEST. Once I had a church drop me without explanation. I dropped by (two hours out of my way) to see the missions guy. He said it was just an office error and they would correct the error at once. Six months later I was informed by form letter that I was being dropped -- bad thing was, I was back on the field! If he had just been honest, I might have been able to recoup the support elsewhere.
7. If you are dropping the missionary because you have no choice (for example, your church lacks funds), ask the missionary if he would be willing to still be considered a partner, and pray for him regularly! Send him an unexpected gift every once in a while, however small, so he can be encouraged to know that the problem really isn't him, but you!Stopping missionary support is sometimes necessary and rarely easy. But it is always possible to handle it in a godly, ethical, caring way by the ex-supporter. On the other hand, every good missionary should respond in a godly way to every trial, including those caused by cowardly, cruel, or incompetent ex-supporters. If resentment taints our hearts and discord is sown by our lips, how can we possibly be the fragrance of Jesus in our fields?
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