jonathan stone's blog

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our approach to missions has to change

This topic is a little sticky for several reasons. One of those is the fact that I am a missionary with COGWM. It’s not that I fear reprisal. I have never seen anything there that has led me to believe that that would happen. It’s just that the whole department has been a little on edge ever since the last General Assembly, and understandably so. Thus, suggestions at this point are probably a little hard to swallow. I understand that. Nonetheless, the whole point of this blog is to encourage CoG ministers and members to be able to talk openly and honestly about our future, and so far I have heard little (in the open anyway) from the missionaries themselves on the topic of the future of COGWM.

It is also a bit of a complex topic. It involves a variety of issues including the internationalization of the church, our centralized form of church government, the appointment of church officials (and the politics that it fosters), to name a few. So, I think this will be a topic that I will hit on in bits and pieces. For now I want to only raise one fundamental point about the defense of our system in its current form.

I am feeling bearish on the current structure of COGWM. I don’t know if we will enter a full blown depression, but a recession has definitely begun. The primary defense of our current structure that I have heard is that it has increased the number of missionaries that we are able to put on the field today compared to the number of missionaries we were able to put on the field under the previous structure (see comments for explanation of the two structures). The problem is this, bigger is not always better.

If a person does not assume that more missionaries means a better missions program then there seems to be little defense of the current system. Could it be that we could actually have more global impact by focusing our energy and resources on our most effective missions projects and missionaries? My pastor is constantly bombarded with requests for donations to missions work and other non-profit organizations. Many churches are involved in supporting a lot of great ministries that are not affiliated with their particular denomination or association. Is it possible that we have “over taxed” the church with requests for their time and money? And how is the current structure taxing the missionaries themselves. A wise administrator once told me this very good bit of wisdom: “We have 3 times the number of missionaries that we had before. But does it really matter if they are only on the field 1/3 of the time?”

14 comments on “our approach to missions has to change

  1. Tom Rosson
    March 19, 2008

    Jon, I appreciate you taking on this task. Your post addresses several issues that perhaps need separate postings/threads. I’ll try not to write a dissertation, but won’t promise.

    Let me focus on the sending of missionaries. First of all, I’m not sure than all of your readers will know what you mean with new and old structures.

    Old structure – refers to the appointment of career missionaries and their salaries came out of the 2.5% that local churches send to HQ/COGWM.

    New structure – which went into effect around 1988, refers to career missionaries having to raise their own budgets (including salaries, travel allotments, other business expenses, etc.)

    The line of logic, as you pointed out, was that more missionaries could be sent out. The 2.5% could be used for other projects or national workers who cannot raise their own funds.

    I have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, I lead a Bible school in Moscow which is heavily dependent on COGWM funds. If the amount from COGWM were reduced (either from reduced income at WM via recession or reduction from 15%->10% of the tithe of tithes), it would have serious repercussions on the school’s ability to function – at least in the short-term.

    Yet I am a missionary who has the privilege of raising his own budget who is acutely aware that ability to stay on the field is truly by the grace of God. Our budget is very weak. (In fact, we’re borderline or just in the red. And WM has helped us to receive some new donors, too.) And I’ve seen many of my colleagues forced to return to the States due to budget woes. I have already agreed to a reduced salary (i.e., lower than the scale allows for us) to help reduce our monthly expenditures.

    And with the recent downturn of the dollar…. In 2003 (when we raised our budget), the exchange rate was $1.00 = €1.00. Today the Euro costs me $1.57. Thankfully, my wife was able to get a part-time job that somehow fits with my travel schedule.

    Let me also be clear – I am not knocking the folks at World Missions. They are not responsible for the downturn in the economy and our budgetary woes. And when it’s all said and done, my wife and I have chosen to be here and to live on what we have. Just what this means for the future is one of our main prayer concerns.

    What is the solution? This is a bit like opening pandora’s box. A couple of thoughts.

    First, I suspect that COGWM has already decided that less is more. My perception is that fewer missionary candidates are being accepted and sent forth. And some of the those returning from the field have not been sent back out – for various reasons. Deciding which missionaries will return, which missionaries will not return without replacement is an unpleasant task, but may already a silent consideration in their deliberations.

    Second, some missionaries are more gifted in fundraising than others. But the gift of fundraising should not be confused with effectiveness on the field.

    Furthermore, any missionary will tell you that it’s much easier to raise money for a project than to raise money for their own budget.

    Third, the typical American donor is more prone to support orphans in third-world countries, but less inclined to support leadership development (education) in more developed lands.

    Fourth, using a hybrid system in which part of the missionary funds comes from the 2.5% (if those funds are not cut by the General Assembly) would be a relief to the missionary, but would come at the expense of other viable projects. Again, this would cause yet another round of difficult decisions.

  2. Jonathan Stone
    March 19, 2008

    Tom…and I appreciate your willingness to discuss this. Your post is very, very helpful!

    I have mixed feelings as well. If the 2.5% cut would have passed last G.A. it would have had some severe consequences, some of which I do not believe we were fully prepared. Like you mentioned, a good portion of those monies support projects and institutions on the field. I do not know what the impact would have been to the ETSM, but some schools would have likely faced having to shut down, unless churches and/or individuals stepped in to support in a very big way.

    Some people think that a lot of the 2.5% goes to a bunch of inflated salaries in Cleveland. That’s not really true. There is a significant chunk that goes to administration (12%), but that is still modest and salaries represent only a portion of that. I’m sure that COGWM, like any organization of that size, could improve on its efficiency, but that does not seem to be the major problem here.

    Back to the consequences of a one-time cut in the 2.5%. This reminds me of the downsizing that took place during the ’70’s and ’80’s. I do not know the exact years and figures, so perhaps someone will chime in with those. Over the course of several years (was it 20 years?), the CoG reduced the tithe of tithes (was it from 20%) to the current 10% + 2.5%. This was done in a measured way, which showed a lot of wisdom on the part of the ministers and members who put that downsizing in motion. Still, at the end of that downsizing we experienced the loss of several valuable things (including West Coast Christian College, Northwest Bible College, East Coast Bible College, and a significant list of state campgrounds and properties). I am not saying it was a bad decision. However, we should look at those consequences and “count the cost” before making a big cut.

    I think that you are right about the pruning of missionaries as well. I know of at least one missionary candidate that was recently turned away, and I’m sure there have been more. I think that this, from a “system” perspective may have a little bit of short term relief, but it does little, if anything, in terms of a long term solution. But it does highlight, as you mentioned, an apparent awareness on the part of COGWM administration that “less may be more.”

    You mentioned the type of projects that American’s tend to gravitate towards. That is definitely an important dynamic. I would also add that churches and individuals want to be more “closely connected” to the missions work that they support than ever before. American churches and individuals have the ability to travel the world, to communicate with anyone, anywhere, at any time. They want to invest in something that they can feel connected to, and something that can be a true extension of their vision and church. Some churches still run the old “missions program” (i.e. highlight the projects once a year, set an annual budget, pick your projects, divide the money among those projects, and reevaluate again next year). But increasingly churches want to be more connected than that. This raises questions about the role of missionaries and a denominational sending agency in the 21st century.

    Well, I better stop there. There is much more to talk about. As you said, a possible dissertation. But this is a great start!

  3. m.d. mcmullin
    March 19, 2008

    I am not a “missionary” in the sense that I have a project number or raise a budget. I do not have a lot of insider knowledge of COGWM. So my thoughts are just from some COG member.

    I think perhaps some in World Missions see themselves as separate from the COG. I think they assume that the rest of the COG sees them as a separate department and not the same as ‘Cleveland’.

    But many local pastors and churches simply see 15% of the money goes to the COG. They know 10% goes to Cleveland, 2.5% goes to the state office and then 2.5% goes to Cleveland again.

    There is a general lack of trust toward Cleveland and many times the state office. Many see extravagant expenditures by State committees and national committees at events, campmeetings and general assembly.

    You may say but not from COGWM! But it is not separated by a lot of people. It’s “Look how ‘Cleveland’ spends our money”. A cut to one part of the budget is assumed to be made up for by another. I think many assume the cut will go to the fat of the budget and people see lots of fat. They don’t realize the stiff divisions and vigorous competitions that go on between budgets at HQ.

    I remember several years ago a missions rep came to my parents church. I don’t know who it was but he made a nice appeal and showed videos of kids who needed help. So my Dad gave some money in the offering. He found out later that the offering went to the missions rep and not the missionary and kids. He was not given a project number but assumed the rep would get the money to the right people. He felt tricked and would have never given the money to this rep who was a “retired preachers who need a new cadillac”.

    I’m not saying retired ministers shouldn’t have anything nice, but it’s confusing and is one more thing that creates a lack of trust about how the money is spent.

    I think local churches waste more money than they realize but some are in a real pinch and are tempted to feel selfish when they feel taken advantage of by ‘Cleveland’.

    just my humble opinion.

  4. Steve
    March 19, 2008

    Jon,
    You are the man! Way to wade out into the cold muddy water. Yes!!!!!!!!!!!

    I have a question for you and then maybe I can make a comment about it once I understand the facts.

    Who are our national evangelist reps for the COG? And I think I know what we pay them to do this as part of their jobs.

  5. Tom Rosson
    March 19, 2008

    Steve, do you mean “national evangelists”? If so, they are with the Department of Home Missions.

    Or did you mean the “missions representatives” who work as fundraisers for World Missions?

  6. Jonathan Stone
    March 19, 2008

    Steve, who needs the facts? Ha!

    I’m with Tom in not knowing if you mean national evangelists or missions reps. Or perhaps it’s a rhetorical question to set up your point (you tricky devil you). Either way, post away. I’m looking forward to your comment.

  7. Jonathan Stone
    March 19, 2008

    Mike, I hate that stories like the one you shared about your dad exist. Unfortunately, it is too common. I have experienced missions representatives work this way. It feels manipulative and dishonest. I understand that a missions rep needs to use videos and talk about specific projects, even if he (currently no female missions reps) is raising money for the general fund. However, I believe that the rep should make it absolutely clear that he is not raising money for any one particular project, but monies for the general fund.

    Now, perhaps missions rep make too much money. However, even the worst performing (raising the least amount of money) missions rep raises much more than it costs to have him. So, missions reps are not costing anything in that sense.

    However, my problem is that missions reps have the inside track to the best fundraising resources (including state administrators, state meetings, the largest churches, etc.). This creates a strange “competition” dynamic between mission reps and missionaries. When missionaries and missions reps speak there’s usually a big pink elephant in the room that nobody is talking about. That is obviously ironic! Since missions reps were supposedly put in place in order to assist missionaries and missions projects.

    And I think you hit on a super big issue with the trust thing. And the reality is that it goes both ways. Too often administrators in Cleveland don’t trust their overseers, overseers don’t trust their pastors, and pastors don’t trust their people. Certain policies and the way that certain things get communicated or “spun” make that clear. So, now the mistrust is going up and down the ladder. That will never correct itself. Either we will start talking about it (unfortunately some people get VERY defensive when it’s suggested that there is this level of mistrust), and we give ourselves a chance to earn each others trust back. Or we ignore it, which will not only ultimately lead to some sort of ugly split, but will worsen the spiritual health of the organization in the meantime.

  8. travis johnson
    March 19, 2008

    Jon,

    You touched on an issue regarding being unprepared for the cut at the last General Assembly. I believe the Ordained Bishops were also unprepared and felt tricked and manipulated.

    They were promised a cut on the TOT and received motion to cut World Missions. I wanted to see the cut badly and voted for it. But, I was angry in doing so because I was forced into attacking missions when I wanted to downsize the corporate waste.

    It pitted OBs against our laity and created division, a lack of harmony, and distrust. It will take years and hard work to correct that.

  9. Steve
    March 19, 2008

    Tom and Jon,
    Who are our “national evangelists”?
    That is the question. Sorry for the mess up.
    Waiting on the names. LOL

    Jon, I loved the tricking little devil comment. LOL

  10. m.d. mcmullin
    March 19, 2008

    I hope I didn’t insinuate that mission reps are deceptive. I’m sure they are not. But it does create the competition you mentioned. People who give to that rep may not have money to give to the missionary who comes separately and later.

    Our church does not allow missionaries to make appeals for money directly to the congregation. They make them talk to our missions board who decides which mission projects get the money. Again, it goes back to not trusting the people to to “pick the right” missionary project.

    I did not have a vote in the last assembly (I will not in this one). I want the money churches are taxed to be lowered but I do not want the money given to missions cut. Having spent some time out of the country, I see how desperately many of our brothers and sisters around the world need it.

    Some churches teach their congregations to note their giving as “general fund” so they won’t have to pay on it. It is teaching mistrust. It says we don’t trust or respect those over us and ultimately you don’t have to trust or respect us. I think many of these churches are planting seeds of selfishness.

    We have a financial mess in the COG. How many half-full buildings and under-utilized properties do struggling churches have that could be liquidated and provide financial relief? Maybe that’s a whole different post….

  11. Jonathan Stone
    March 20, 2008

    Mike, I did not understand you to be saying that mission reps were deceptive. However, I think that deception has degrees, and the issue we were talking about is a degree of deception. It may be “innocent” to some degree. But it’s still deceptive. I do not know if that practice is common. I have only been in a handful of fundraising services with missions rep. Moreover, I confess that I have been deceptive in this way before. I excused it in my mind at the time. But I don’t think it was right. For example, when I was serving as the YCE Director for Western Europe I would talk about youth work that I neither started nor had much to do with at the time, along with other things that I was very involved with. In my mind I was trying to “cast vision” for youth work in Europe from a broad perspective. However, I know that I left people with the impression that my ministry was more “vitally important” to overall youth work of Europe than it actually was. I understand this to be “part of the disease.” The tendency to throw around statistics and talk about visions and projects in a way that “inflates” the value of the person and/or ministry who is doing the presenting. Missionaries have to go through a process to get to a place where they are talking about their ministry in a way that “makes” people want to give. In the process we all too often become numb to the “white lies” we use to spin our ministry. It’s kind of crazy when you think about it. And from a spiritual perspective it seems logical that there are a number of missionaries out there who have “spun” their way onto the field by exaggerating their role and/or impact, and in the process received more authority from the institution than they have been given from the heavenlies. Having said that, I don’t know of any missionaries that I would accuse of that, save myself.

  12. Jonathan Stone
    March 20, 2008

    Travis, I agree that the ministers felt duped. And I would also say that I am not convinced that cutting the 2.5% is such a bad idea. However, I think that cutting it with no plan, and doing it all at once would have been a great mistake. But the whole thing was a bad deal all the way around. That’s for sure. I also think that some of the current drop in tithes has at least in some part to do with some “withholding” on the part of pastors and churches who felt they had been dealt with poorly. I think someone else pointed that out as well.

  13. Tom Rosson
    March 20, 2008

    Steve,
    I wish I could tell you who the “national evangelists” are. But even the departments website doesn’t list the names. See http://www.cogevangelism.org

    Travis,
    One cannot simply look at the proposed cut at the General Assembly in a vacuum. There were other proposals that were designed to restructure the denomination and in such a way that World Missions would hardly be recognizable. Some pastors saw this; others simply thought it was a creative idea from the Executive Council. The restructuring matter was turned down by the Gen. Council; but the reduction of ToT that was connected to the restructuring was only rejected by the entire GA.

  14. Steve
    March 20, 2008

    Tom,
    Thanks for trying to find the names. I think I know who they are but until I know for sure I will hold my thoughts.
    Steve

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This entry was posted on March 19, 2008 by in globalization, missional, sustainability.
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