Friday, August 18, 2006

Mission Funding—A Different Paradigm All Over Again

Sheldon Jackson was a man, small in stature but large in vision. He had a vision of taking the Gospel to Alaska. The Russian Orthodox Church was established in a few areas (mainly where Russian fur companies were based). Other denominations were also looking longingly at Alaska. Jackson went to the Presbyterian Church national leadership to get funding for Alaskan mission. They wouldn’t fund the mission. Was he defeated? No! He started contacting women’s groups within Presbyterian churches. Women across the denomination responded with their dollars from fundraisers and from their own pocketbooks. Alaskan mission was born. Alaskan mission was formed and funded outside of the denominational structure.

It has been said that “you reap what you sow.” Somewhere along the line the Presbyterian Church changed its idea of mission. Somewhere along the line the people in the pew grew to distrust denominational leadership. Somewhere along the line people decided that they wanted to make sure that the $$$ they gave to their church, denomination and mission were spent in a way that they approved of. Part of this decision to designate giving is because of the denomination’s inability to define “mission” in a way that resonates with people in the pews. Part of the decision to designate giving is due to institutional distrust. The days of just giving blindly to denominational causes is long gone. We are reaping what we have sown.

Groups like Presbyterian Global Fellowship (PGF) and New Wineskins Association of Churches (NWAC) are returning to the funding model that started our Alaskan mission. Personal connection with a person on the mission field is so important—it gives mission a face and personality. The missionary feels connected to a church family back home—they are not alone. More churches and individuals are adopting this style of mission giving.

Reporting from the PGF conference, The Eagle and Child (blogspot's linking button is not working right now. URL is: reported that Vic Pentz said that our denominational structure is stuck in the 1950s and we are in the 21st century. This frozen-in-time situation is seriously affecting mission funding in the PCUSA. This “business as usual” approach will result in a continual decrease in mission giving to the PCUSA. The way the PCUSA funds mission needs to be totally overhauled.

Change will be difficult! The reasons it will be difficulty to change are:

  1. There is a shift in power. The one that controls the dollars has the greatest power.
  2. “We’ve never done it that was before!” There is no need to expand on this…
  3. Pet projects and issues of denominational leadership may not get funded. Their “mission projects” will have to compete for funding just like all other mission projects. If they cannot make a compelling case for their mission cause it will not get any congregational funding.
  4. Mission outside of the Presbyterian family may get some, or most, of a congregation’s mission dollars. This should not bother anyone who truly believes in mission; it will bother those who are blinded by a denominational brand or label.
  5. People in Louisville may lose their jobs. A different set of skill may be needed by those serving at the national level. People without those skills will need to be let go and new staff hired. Staff who refuse to change will have to go.
  6. Denominational staff will need to “trust” congregations instead of congregations “trusting” denominational staff. This is a HUGE shift.

What if the PCUSA doesn’t change the way it does and funds mission? Failure to change will mean even more mission dollars will flow outside of the PCUSA. Some churches will continue to support the old giving model—but they will be fewer and fewer. Additional, painful, cuts will have to be made in the future.

It will take courage for the leadership in the PCUSA to bring about a change in how we fund and “do” mission. I do not think that our current leadership is up to the task.


At 6:07 PM , Blogger Presbyterian Gal said...

Hi Pastor Lance,
Your ideas and passion for mission are inspiring. My Faith Missions/Outreach Pastor is equally passionate about this. If you have time or are inclined, I feel led to give you his name to contact: Jim Milley at La Canada Presbyterian Church. in California. And, then again, you may already know him. Keep up the good work. I will pray for you.
Peace, out.


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