Who do I support? (A Guide for Missions-Minded Churches)

Recently I was asked by a leader at another church, “How does your church decide which missionaries to support?”

If you have ever worked at a church, you have probably encountered this question. There are thousands of missionaries, needing thousands of prayers and thousands of dollars in support, and your church cannot support them all! So how do you select those you do support?

Here are five questions to ask when considering whether to financially support a missionary:

1. Does your church have a missions strategy? (If you don’t, stop here! Read this article first. This will be the foundation for the following questions, so it’s important to have this established.) Your missions strategy narrows down your focus to a particular region, demographic, or cause and it will help you create your posture toward specific issues. Keeping your missions strategy in mind when considering a missionary partner will help you determine whether you have shared vision.

2. Does your church have a missions budget? If not, it should! For example, our church sets our missions budget as a “tithe” of our general income. We also have a standard monthly partnership amount for each missionary we support and we try to be consistent with that amount. Also consider budgeting a certain amount per region, limiting your budget to only support missionaries from your district, or other stipulations to create parameters for your budget. Although this may sound tightfisted, it will keep you committed to your missions strategy and allow you to explore creative ways to be generous. Finally, consider annual financial commitments. Our church re-evaluates new missionary partnerships at the end of each year to determine if we are a good fit. If you have additional questions about creating a missions budget, I’ll be glad to discuss your specific situation with you.

3. Do you have a missionary care strategy? (I’ll have an article on this topic coming soon.) Clearly communicated expectations are beneficial for everybody, so let potential missionary partners know what to expect from you in terms of communication, speaking engagements, etc. How do you anticipate you’ll be able to serve them when they visit? (Certainly don’t over-promise here, but if you have an established missionary care team that can offer housing, meals, etc, let your missionaries know. Trust me, that would be a huge burden lifted!) In addition to communicating what they can expect from you, let them know what you expect as well. Ask how often they communicate and in what format (snail-mail newsletters are on their way out, and even e-newsletters are quickly being replaced with social media groups and video updates). Ask if their ministry allows opportunities for further involvement from your church (not every missionary can or should facilitate short term teams, but if that’s important to you, then be sure to ask). Ask how they send out end-of-the-year project highlights, etc. Not all of these questions will be deal-breakers, but their answers may help you further develop your missions strategy; and honestly, your questions may help them further develop their ministry!

4. Is the missionary personable? Do they show sincere interest in you, your family, your ministry, your church? Do they talk willingly about their experiences and what they’ve learned? Do they talk about their faith journey openly? A huge red flag is a missionary who only wants to talk about a speaking engagement. On the flip side, nothing blesses my heart more than when a missionary is visiting and tells me, “Hey, we’ve got a little bit of down time this week! We would love to come talk about missions to your students!” or “Do you need people to serve for (event)?”

5. Finally, and most importantly, how is the Holy Spirit leading you? I believe that if you are prayerful when you create your missions strategy and budget, that you’ll be able to consistently use those parameters when considering a partnership. However, God may choose to lead you to someone that doesn’t meet your exact strategy. Pray before going into meetings/phone calls with potential missionary partners, and keep your heart open to the Holy Spirit.

Obviously, your church will not be able to support every missionary that asks. Be sure you let them know as soon as you can whether you’ll be able to support them financially. If the answer is no, be gracious. Pray over them, offer to connect them with your network, and check in with them from time to time just to let them know that you are thinking of them and praying for them. You are still kingdom partners even if you are not financial partners- you’re on the same team. Don’t leave any room for bitterness, ill will, or slandering of any kind. “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:18)

I’ll be following this article with a guide for missionaries selecting church partnerships soon, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you have questions or if you would like to add any considerations, please post them below in the comments!

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