Eddie and Sue Arthur

The Problem With Children in Need

It is easy to get cynical about Children in Need, the annual event where the nation’s right hands go on national television to declare to their left hands exactly what they have been doing. However, it would be wrong to be too cynical, generosity is a good thing and the amounts that are raised to support various causes are staggering. That being said, there are legitimate questions that can be raised about the whole process and I’d like to focus in on one of them.

Having worked in the charity sector (albeit, in a very specialised area), I am aware of how difficult it is for charities to get their voice heard and to make a case for their need for support. This is particularly difficult when a behemoth like Children in Need dominates the airwaves for weeks at a time. The thing is, there are lots of great organisations out there doing good stuff, from local organisations supporting vulnerable adults to national groups such as the Lifeboats. All of these organisations are worthy of support, but none of them has access to the massive publicity resources of Children in Need.

I want to encourage people to give to charity, but I think that giving should be done in a thought-through, committed manner. People should give because they believe in a cause, not because a well-groomed TV presenter has sung karaoke for 24 hours (well done Rylan!).

Now I am aware, that Children in Need does raise lots of money that probably wouldn’t otherwise go to charities and I don’t want to knock it too much. However, it is indisputable that, in some ways, it completely distorts the charity market.

What has that got to do with Christian mission?

Well, at the risk of upsetting some people, I think that we see something very similar in the mission world. There are a small number of organisations with massive advertising budgets which dominate the Christian scene. These are the ones whose flyers drop on the floor when you open your latest Christian magazine, who sponsor the urinals at Christian conferences (I kid thee not) and who fly Christian celebrities around the world to film dramatic videos in the same way that Children in Need do. These organisations spend huge amounts of money on publicity and as a result, receive lots of donations, which allows them to spend huge amounts of money…

Now, I’m not criticising these large charities, they are doing what charities do. That’s the way the system works (whether it should work that way, is a question for another day). My concern is rather that a narrative has been created where it seems normal that individuals and churches should commit to giving to these organisations, in the same way that Children in Need dominates the scene in the broader charity sector. I don’t think that Churches should feel obliged to support a particular charity just because everyone else does, or because the charity has its own “Sunday”.

Rather than defaulting to supporting the big names, churches should think through their mission and giving strategy from the ground up; prayerfully asking what it is that God wants them to be involved in and then seeking out organisations that can help them work in those areas. If that’s one of the bigger charities, great and if its one of the smaller ones, that’s fine too. One thing that should not be a factor in defining a church’s mission strategy is which mission agencies spend the most money on publicity.

One thing that should not be a factor in defining a church's mission strategy is which mission agencies spend the most money on publicity. Click To Tweet

If you’d like further thoughts on what should shape a church mission strategy, you can find them here.

Once again, in closing, I want to insist that I’m not criticising other charities, including Children in Need, but I am appealing for people to think through how they give, rather than defaulting to one or two very public options.

Throwback: The Cross Is Ridiculous

This post is from 2016.

There is a famous graffito in the Roman catacombs which shows a figure with a donkey’s head hanging from a cross and the inscription Alexamenos worships his God.

The Romans knew all about crosses. They were a sign of the might of the Empire and the helplessness of the condemned criminal. They were places of blood, torture and agony. They sent out one message; “don’t mess with the Roman Empire”.

The idea of the cross being a place of triumph or victory was plainly ludicrous to your average Roman and no self-respecting God would ever allow himself to be nailed to one. And, yet, Christians went on insisting that this is exactly what their God did. No wonder they got laughed at.

The idea of the cross being a place of triumph or victory was plainly ludicrous to your average Roman and no self-respecting God would ever allow himself to be nailed to one. Click To Tweet

Today, the cross has lost much of its power to shock. We don’t have the first hand experience of seeing crucifixions that coloured the Romans’ reaction. We’ve taken the ancient instrument of torture and made it into a piece of jewellery or a religious symbol. Devoid of its original meaning, the cross has lost some of its original offence.

But the message of the cross is still ridiculous in our day and age. When Jesus died on the cross it was not just because the Roman legal system messed up (though it did) or because he wanted to show us how much he loves us (which he does); he died so that people who are in rebellion to God could be forgiven and reconciled to him.

The cross tells us that God holds us to certain moral standards and that we are responsible for our actions and for the consequences when we do not live up to those standards. There are a couple of things that are completely anathema to our society today wrapped up in this. The first is the idea that there are moral absolutes – we don’t like that idea at all. The second is that God would hold us accountable and will judge us for our actions. We like this idea even less.

As Christians on mission, we are faced with a choice. We can either play down the message of the cross and make it less offensive. We can stop talking about judgement, punishment and the need for forgiveness. It’s much more comfortable to do this; it won’t offend people and it won’t get us laughed at. The other option is to be countercultural, to continue to teach the uncomfortable, edgy message that Jesus died and rose again because we have broken God’s law and need to be forgiven. That’s not so easy, but it puts us in good company.

I know nothing about Alexamenos, other than he was so open about his worship of a crucified saviour, that people scratched abusive cartoons into cave walls about him. That’s not a bad way to go down in history!

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

Questions 10: Are We All Missionaries?

I answered this question in a blog post many moons ago, but the answer that I would give today is slightly different, so I thought it worth revisiting.

Firstly, although the question is one that recurs fairly regularly, I’m not sure that it is entirely helpful. In this series, I’ve shown that mission is a somewhat nebulous concept. Well, the term missionary is even harder to pin down: you can find my thoughts on that here.

However, if we accept that the term missionary describes, however vaguely, some category of Christian worker, it is clear that we aren’t all missionaries. Some people, most people, have normal jobs.

However, if we turn to one of my favourite passages in the New Testament, John 20:21, we read:

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

Jesus sends his followers out into the world – all of them. Jesus does not discriminate between professional sendees and non-professional sendees. We are all sent. In this sense, every Christian is to go out into the wider world, bearing witness to Jesus, being his ambassadors (to use a Pauline term). In a broad use of the term, we are all missionaries.

I said a moment ago that some people have normal jobs. Well, the apostle Paul had a normal job, he made tents, but no one doubts that he was a missionary. Today, we use the term tent-maker to describe someone who deliberately takes up a job in order to support themselves in mission work in another part of the world. This could involve, say, working in the oil industry, while seeking to support a small church plant in a country where it is difficult to be a Christian. I’d like to suggest that all of us, whatever job we do, need to consider ourselves as tent-makers. Both in our jobs and in the wider society, we have a missionary role and our jobs are a vehicle to provide us with the finance we need and to provide us with a forum for our missionary endeavours.

When I say things like this, I often receive a response that I am devaluing world mission. If we say that everyone is a missionary, then it takes a focus off the needs in other parts of the world. I recognise that this is a danger; however, I think that there is a bigger danger lurking that we tend to ignore. In the UK, there are areas where there are virtually no evangelical Christians (or Christians of any other stripe, for that matter). We are living in a missionary situation and we need to recover our missionary vocation. To perpetually insist that mission and missionaries are something that only exist “out there”, allows us to ignore the problems staring us in the face.

We are living in a missionary situation and we need to recover our missionary vocation. Click To Tweet

Whether we all call ourselves missionaries or not, doesn’t really matter. However, whether we like it or not, we are living in a missionary situation and we have to respond appropriately. I think that if/when we grasp this, it will have a profound effect on the way that churches operate and the way that we envisage our role in the world as congregations and as individuals.

I realise that some elements of this post might seem to contradict the post on “What is a Missionary“. I think that this is inevitable when you are dealing with such nebulous concepts and I apologise to those who like to have things tied up nice and neatly.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy
  6. What on Earth is a Missionary?
  7. Why Is Missionary Support So Expensive?
  8. Indigenous Missions
  9. Mission In the Bible

Questions 9: Where is Mission In The Bible?

This has to be one of the most fundamental questions that we can ask about mission. The answer that we give is likely to depend on how exactly we define mission. Those who describe the mission in different ways will look to different biblical passages to justify their definitions, and herein lies a problem. The thing is, mission is everywhere and nowhere in the Bible. Let me start with the latter.

Mission is nowhere in the Bible because mission as a separate category simply doesn’t exist in Scripture. This isn’t to say that it is unbiblical, far from it. However, as Michael Stroope demonstrates in his excellent book Transcending Mission, the term mission an anglicisation of a Latin term that describes at least two Greek words and our use of it owes more to modern tradition than any careful biblical exegesis. A lot of the differences in understanding of mission are derived from this problem.

So mission is nowhere in the Bible, how come it is also everywhere?

Well, let’s start at the point that many people use as the stepping off point for their definition of mission; the end of Matthew’s Gospel.

Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

This is the so-called Great Commission passage from Matthew 28. Jesus commands his followers to make disciples, baptizing them and “teaching them to obey everything to obey everything I have commanded you”. In other words, this command to make disciples is predicated on everything else that Jesus taught. In other words, the Great Commission must be read in the context of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel (and the other three canonical Gospels, come to that). This is where attempts to use this passage to justify the idea that mission involves nothing more than evangelism run into problems. If we are to teach people to obey everything Jesus taught, then we simply cannot ignore Jesus calls to feed and clothe the stranger from Matthew 25. Social action is woven into the fabric of the Gospels and despite the efforts of some preachers and commentators, we cannot remove it.

So, if we start by saying that mission is found in the Great Commission, we cannot avoid extending our source to cover the whole of Matthew (Mark, Luke and John). However, even a cursory glance at Matthew’s Gospel shows that it is imbued with allusions to the Old Testament, you cannot read and understand Matthew without getting to grips with its Old Testament background. If we have to read the Great Commission in the context of the whole of Matthew’s Gospel, then we have to read the Gospel in its Old Testament context, too. You cannot simply extract a couple of verses from one of the Gospels and build a whole edifice on them, those verses have to be read in their full context and ultimately this will lead us to the whole Bible.

If we start by saying that mission is found in the Great Commission, we cannot avoid extending our source to cover the whole of Matthew. However, even a cursory glance at Matthew shows that it is imbued with allusions to the Old Testament, Click To Tweet

The international dimension of mission first appears in Genesis 12 (arguably earlier than that), not in Matthew 28 and the Old Testament provides a clear and distinct moral and ethical framework by which the people of God are to live and to demonstrate his character to the surrounding nations. God’s people “to act justly, love mercy and to walk humbly with their God”. These are essential characteristics of Christian mission.

It is a feature of modern western church life that we have compartmentalised things that naturally belong together. For historical reasons, we have separated church and mission (and divided mission into home missions and foreign missions, for good measure). Based more on Englightenment views than Scripture, we distinguish between sacred (evangelism) and secular (social action) rather than seeing the Church’s calling in a holistic (and biblical) light. A whole-Bible reading of mission will help us to draw together these things which man has put asunder.

In a whole-Bible view, mission is never less than making disciples by bearing witness to Jesus, but it is often far more than this.

The Future of Mission?

This week I spent 24 hours at a Global Connections‘ conference on the future of mission. The keynote speaker was Michael Stroope author of Transcending Mission one of the most important books on mission to emerge in the past decade (read my review here). It was a stimulating couple of days and it’s always good to catch up with old friends and to talk about important things. That being said, I’m not sure that I heard anything new or surprising, apart from a couple of very challenging personal stories. There is an ongoing problem with these sorts of meetings in that the people who are essential to push for change; church leaders and agency board members rarely attend them. Meanwhile, the “mission nerds”, as someone described those attending the meeting, talk about the importance of change and new models of mission, but little actually changes in the Western mission movement.

The highpoint of the meeting for me was Michael Stroope’s closing summary. What follows are my notes and they may not exactly reflect what he said, but here goes anyway.

In a commercialised world, religion and mission have become products to be bought and sold on the market.

Ecclesiology is key: the effective separation of church and mission is wrong. There were good historical reasons for Carey suggesting new structures for mission over 200 years ago, but we should not assume that these hold good today.

We need a better biblical understanding of the nature of power.

We need to rethink how we define and measure success. What is transformation? What is fruitfulness?

We need a ministry of introduction and hospitality. We have to set up tables and invite others to share with us and we need to turn up at tables set by others.

We need to pray. We must pray as if we are desperate to know God. We have to pray as if we are convinced that God hears us and intervenes in time and history. We have to acknowledge that this is difficult for activist cultures.

We have to address the mission narrative. Are we telling the whole story? Are we spinning it? Are we focussing on others or on ourselves?

The future will involve new paradigms and new models of mission. There is no one answer to the questions that are being posed today and no one solution. We need to be okay with ambiguity. We need to be for each other, spurring one another on, not pushing our solutions on others.

We need to focus on ends, realising that means change. Missions is not an end, it is simply a vehicle. The end is the glory of God and my own transformation.

We need to stop thinking about scale. Church growth is not the goal, smaller but deeper may be the answer. The parables of the kingdom are key to how we envision mission.

If sacrificial love is the means to the end, we may need to rethink our theology of suffering and loss. We need a much better critique of the prosperity gospel (I would add, we need a better critique of Western, secularised materialism, which is an equal danger to the church).

What is the role of the missionary? Our role is changing, we are no longer driving the bus. It is no longer our bus!

Social change will decimate the modern missionary enterprise. We have to change our language and our attitudes if we are to play a role in the future.

Throwback: How to Be A Successful Church Planter

This is only a year old, but I thought it was worth recycling:

With all due respect to the various people who write about church planting in the UK, I thought that it was time that I did everyone a favour by writing a short guide on how to be a successful church planter.

What Is Success?

The first thing to do is to define what we mean by success. Now some people measure church success by the number of people who attend the various meetings – bums on seats. Obviously, that is not a good criterion by which to measure success in Christian ministry. No, a successful church planter is someone who has been commissioned to write a book, a series of articles in a prestigious magazine or who has been asked to speak at a big conference. Don’t settle for anything less, be ambitious for your ministry.

Where to Plant

Recently, there has been a fair bit written about planting churches in the North of England. Frankly, this doesn’t make sense – there are hardly any Christians up there. No, you should aim for somewhere in the South East, where there are enough Christians to attract to your new work. I would recommend, basing yourself in a university city if at all possible. If you can get a bunch of students to attend your church (and they do like to drift from church to church) it can give the appearance of growth in a very short time and nothing breeds success like success.

Demographic

Statistically, there are more Christians among the middle classes than any other group, so that is where you should aim your efforts. A nice, sophisticated, slightly intellectual vibe should do it. Middle-class people also tend to have more money and so you can look to build your ministry as resources are liberated into it. Some people have been talking about planting churches among the working class – personally, I would advise against it. You have to think long term and do you seriously want your teenage children attending a youth group with children from a housing estate? Of course not.

Church Style

The important thing here is not what you believe, but that you are distinctive. You need to have something that makes you stand out from the crowd, something to make people come to your church and not the other one down the road. You need a USP; a unique selling point. As I say, it doesn’t actually matter what it is. If your vibe is Reformed, you can be more Reformed or less Reformed than the competition; it doesn’t matter which, just be different. Likewise if you are Charismatic; be more or less Charismatic than the guys down the road. Make sure that people know you are different to other churches in the area. Personally, I always aim to be a Reformed Charismatic Complementarian who believes in female leadership in the church – that is distinctive and doesn’t offend anyone.

Mission Agencies And Social Media

I’m just starting a short research project looking at the use of social media by mission agencies. My aim is to discover what agencies are putting in their social media feeds and to see what their impact is. The initial step in the research was to look across the agency sector as a whole and to see which agencies were using which social media channels.

I took a sample of 148 mission agencies from the Global Connections web page (it’s the same sample I’ve used for other work). The first step was to examine the front page of the agencies’ websites and to see which agencies linked to social media channels. This was a convenient measure as it meant that I had only to look at 148 different web pages, rather than search each of the social media channels 148 times (think about it). However, it wasn’t entirely successful as some agencies which I know to have extensive social media presence listed nothing on their front page. I’m not sure why this is, but it does mean that I will have to search all of the individual social media channels at some point in the future.

The next stage will be to take a much smaller sample of agencies and to analyse what actually goes into their social media feeds and what the response is.

Taking the whole sample of 148 agencies:

  • 69% linked to a Facebook page from their home page,
  • 57% linked to a Twitter account
  • 33% linked to a YouTube channel
  • 32% linked to Instagram

102 of the agencies had links to social media pages on their website home page, of these:

  • 99% linked to Facebook
  • 83% linked to Twitter
  • 48% linked to YouTube
  • 46% linked to Instagram

At the moment this doesn’t tell us a great deal, other than that lots of agencies use Facebook but far fewer use Instagram. However, an initial glance at a number of agencies shows that the impact of these social media channels is limited. It is rare for the number of people following an agency on any particular channel to exceed the low thousands, and in some cases, it falls to the hundreds or even tens. While a few agency YouTube videos have been viewed 10,000 times, there are others that have less than 20 views, with a rough median lying in the low hundreds.

Clearly, there is a lot more counting and number crunching to be done before any firm conclusions can be drawn, but these initial figures are interesting.

 

A Biblical Example of Mission for Today?

If I were to ask you to dig into the Bible and to come up with the person who best illustrates mission today, who would you suggest?

Just to make things a little more difficult, I’m going to rule Jesus out. Yes, obviously he is the best example, but as the incarnate Son of God, he has a position that elevates him to a different level.

With that in mind, I suspect that a lot of people would default to suggesting Paul fits the bill. After all, when you talk about the Bible and missionaries, the answer is almost always Paul. However, I’m not convinced that Paul provides the best illustration of where mission is going today.

The cynic in me suggests that if you really want to understand mission today, you should look at Luke. After all, we don’t actually have records of Luke doing a great deal, but he did tell people what Paul and the others got up to. In the age of Twitter, Instagram and blogging (I know), Luke seems a perfect example of some strands of modern mission. Although to be honest, the care with which Luke did his research and dug out original sources would make him rather unusual in the social media world. I told you I was being cynical (and undoubtedly unfair on Luke).

Being serious again, I think there is one clear candidate for a biblical model of mission today: Apollos.

Look at this introduction from Luke 18:24-28

24 Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. 25 He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. 26 When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.

27 Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed. 28 He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah.

Apollos was a Jew from Alexandria – in other words, he was African. He met Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus and studied the Bible with them there and then he went on to Achaia, or Greece, if you prefer.

In other words, Apollos was a converted African Jew, who did further Bible training in Asia and who ministered in Europe. His background and formation were not just international, they were inter-continental. Not only that but Apollos came from outside of the centre of the contemporary mission movement of the time – he wasn’t one of Paul’s companions from Ephesus, he came from the margins.

If you want to know what mission looks like across the world today, think about Apollos; someone from outside of the traditional “sending centres”, who has a wide range of experience and who is probably flying more or less below the radar.

At this point, the more biblically astute will probably be saying that this is all very well, but Apollos didn’t really have a good grasp of the faith and needed Priscilla and Aquilla to put him on the right track. Something similar may well be true of much of the rising mission movement across the world today – though I’m not sure that it’s our place to say so. However, there is a clear need for Priscillas and Aquillas in the mission movement who can encourage, disciple and teach the next generation of Apolloses (Apolloi?).

In other words, Apollos was a converted African Jew, who did further Bible training in Asia and who ministered in Europe. His background and formation were not just international, they were inter-continental. Click To Tweet

Questions 8: Indigenous Missions

In view of my last post in this series about the cost of supporting British missionaries, some might be inclined to ask whether or not we should focus on supporting indigenous missionaries (sorry, I can’t think of a better term, this early on a Monday morning) in their own country rather than sending Brits.

As always, there is no easy answer to this question, but here goes anyway.

Firstly, as a principle, I believe that the church – locally and worldwide – should be interdependent; we have a duty to help one another. Churches in the west should help those in other parts of the world and vice-versa. This help could be given in the form of support for indigenous missionaries working in their own or neighbouring countries. Essentially, the concept is a good one. Obviously, the circumstances will vary from congregation to congregation, but some churches in the UK should undoubtedly support indigenous missionaries.

That being said, I there are a few issues that I’d want to raise:

Financial support is a blunt tool: you need to be careful that your provision of finance doesn’t drift into a situation where you are controlling or micro-managing the missionary at a distance. This needs to be carefully thought through and there probably needs to be some strong relationships or good administrative processes in place to stop the person playing the piper calling the tune.

Don’t get taken for a ride: this is the other side of the coin. There are lots of stories of missionaries (from all backgrounds) making dramatic claims about the success of their ministry, which independent observers could simply not back up. Unfortunately, there are people out there, claiming to be missionaries, who know how to tug the purse-strings of Western Christians and you need to avoid them. Of course, we have people in the West who are experts at extorting money from Christians, too – this is a universal problem. But when people are at one degree of remove, it can be harder to know what is going on.

Check your motivations: a number of organisations build their profile on the idea that we should support indigenous missionaries because they are more cost-effective than Western missionaries. Now, this is certainly true and it is important to show proper stewardship of our money, but I’m still very uneasy about this concept. Let me rephrase it and you might see why I’m not entirely happy. We should employ brown people because we don’t have to pay them as much as white ones. Get my point? I am very uneasy about the concept of validating mission work and mission workers on financial terms alone.

Check your attitudes: would you allow the missionary that you are supporting to preach in your own church? If not, why are you supporting them? Let’s face it if they are equipped to preach and teach in places where the church is vibrant and growing or where it is suffering and struggling, they probably have something to contribute to our situation where the church is comfortable and sleepy. Unless our attitudes are wrong that is.

Just a few further thoughts in closing. Firstly, I don’t believe that the growth in missionaries around the world means that there is no place for missionaries from the UK. It is not simply an either/or, it is a both/and. Christians in the UK have something to contribute to the church around the world and (more importantly?) the church in the UK has things to learn through its involvement in sending and supporting missionaries. Secondly, can I suggest that if a church wants to support missionaries from another part of the world, they might help them to come to the UK? It’s not likely to be cheap (see above), but an influx of evangelists from other parts of the world would do the UK and the British church a lot of good. A final thought, the Global Connections document on church to church partnerships has a lot of good stuff to say on this issue.

In passing, I’ve not put an appropriate header image on this post because when I Googled “African missionaries”, all I got was pictures of white people! Search engines help to maintain stereotypes that are neither accurate nor helpful. /rantover

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy
  6. What on Earth is a Missionary?
  7. Why Is Missionary Support So Expensive?

Questions 7: Why Is Missionary Support So Expensive?

In the popular imagination, missionaries (whatever they are) are people who give up everything to go and serve God in faraway places. However, in the real world, when missionaries come to raise funds for their work, they often have budgets which dwarf the salaries of the people they are trying to get to support them. So, why does it cost so much to keep missionaries on the field?

Well, as in many of these questions, there isn’t a simple answer. Different mission agencies do things in different ways and expect different things from their missionaries. What I’ll try to do in this post is set out the essential costs of keeping a missionary on the “field”. Some agencies will expect their staff to raise all of this themselves, others will pool support or find another way to meet the overall costs. However it is done, this gives an idea of what needs to be covered. In no particular order:

Salary: Missionaries need an income to pay for the same stuff that anyone at home needs. In some places, food and rent are relatively cheap, but in others, they are far more expensive than they would be in the UK.  Most mission agencies calculate the income according to what people actually need, rather than on the basis of a universal salary plan that applies to all of the workers.

Holidays: Some missionaries live in places where they can visit amazing and cheap holiday destinations for next to nothing – we had that privilege. However, others are in immensely stressful situations and may have to travel long distances to expensive destinations in order to get some well deserved R&R.  When you live in a tough, dangerous situation, a good holiday can literally be a lifesaver – but to the observer (or donor) in the UK, it can look like a luxury.

Medical Treatment: Most missionaries need to have medical insurance and this doesn’t always come cheap. Let’s face it, people who go skiing for a week tend to take out good medical cover, so why would people who are living permanently in other countries not do the same?

Travel:  Missionaries have to get to and fro from the place they work. They may only make the journey once every four years or so, but if you are flying a family out to a lesser-known destination this can be a substantial cost, even if it is spread over a number of years.

Set-Up Costs: When you arrive in a new country for the first time, you have two options; either ship your belongings from home or buy new furniture, a car and everything else that you need when you arrive. Neither option comes cheap. Cars, in particular, can be a real problem; in some countries, governments whack something like 100% import duty on vehicles. Even buying a second-hand reject shipped in from Europe can be a very costly business.

Ministry Costs: some agencies cover the actual costs involved in “doing mission”, others don’t and expect the missionary to raise those funds, too. In either case, the money has to come from somewhere. We had to find money to pay our co-workers and to cover the costs of printing books locally as well as buying computers for work and so on.

Retirement: In the UK, unless you are self-employed, your pension payments are deducted from your salary. These include payments for the state pension and for any private pension that you might have access too. Not only that, but your employer has to pay a cut towards your pension, too. Typically, missionaries have to make all of these payments (including for state pension in the UK) themselves. Some well-meaning people say that missionaries shouldn’t pay pension contributions, they should rely on God to provide for them when they retire. However, what this means in practice is that they should rely on churches and others to support them in retirement, using up funds which could go to supporting younger missionaries still on the field.

Education: Very often, missionaries will need to pay to send their kids to school; either boarding school or day school. They may be able to use local schools which are free or cheap, but these schools will not always prepare children for life back in the UK and the quirks of the British education system.

The list could go on. Sometimes missionary support quotes look outrageous, but when you break them down, the missionaries may well only be receiving a very modest salary. All of the other costs are things which are necessary to keep them on the field, but which don’t amount to a life of luxury. It is very instructive to compare the way that missionary support is calculated compared to the salary and benefits received by many expat workers in industry or government service in similar locations. Chalk and cheese springs to mind.

Other Posts in This Series:

  1. What Is Mission?
  2. Why Bother With World Mission When the Needs in the UK are So Great?
  3. So You Want To Be A Missionary?
  4. What About Short Term Mission Trips?
  5. Mission Strategy
  6. What on Earth is a Missionary?
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