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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sending $$$, people or both?

Mission trips can expensive! It is possible to have a mission trip that has a reasonable cost per person if it is possible to drive to the destination. Involve an airplane and the $$$s go up quickly.

Our church is planning a mission trip to a Native village in Alaska. It will cost approximately $700/person just in travel fees! That is $7,000 dollars if just ten people go! Additionally, we will spend $$$ on food, supplies and materials to fix up the building. I am sure that the Alaskan church could use that $7,000. They could use it to heat the building, buy curriculum, pay insurance, etc. The church could use that money to hire local workers to do the building maintenance that our mission team would do (this would provide some local jobs that are desperately needed).

Some would say that if we really cared about that Alaskan church we would send them the $$$ instead of sending our group up to that church. They could also say that it is selfish to insist that our people go on that mission experience. In the short run that kind of criticism is fair (and probably true!).

Mission giving with participation kills mission. I firmly believe that mission giving goes up when there is active participation in mission. I also believe that mission giving will go down when there is no active participation in mission. The PCUSA is a good example of this. Many of the PCUSA mission co-workers are college/university/seminary professors. How are the people-in-the-pews going to participate in their ministries—sit in their classes? Many of the “missions” of our mission co-workers do not lend themselves to our sending them mission groups. Thus, our congregations are not excited about supporting those mission efforts. On the other hand, we can participate with a small Alaskan village church in their life and mission. We can help them develop a worship team and help fix their plumbing. We can send them $$$ and help them with a VBS. We can help that church buy Christmas presents for every student in the K – 12 school. Our people can participate in that mission—thus, we are excited about that mission.

If we don’t send people and money to mission projects it will not be long before we don’t send money to mission projects.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Mission for Life

My first experience with mission happened in high school. I grew up in eastern Oregon and went to the Presbyterian Church most Sundays with my family. I do not remember a single message saying that I needed to have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I moved to Washington State and that immediately changed. Through the ministry of the First Presbyterian Church of Ellensburg I came to know Christ Jesus. At that same time my church was thinking about having its first “mission trip.” It was going to be a youth mission trip to Alaska, serving on the mission boat Anna Jackman. The trip was to be a year-and-a-half way. A church in our presbytery was planning on sending a group to the Anna Jackman that very summer. The church did not have enough students and advisors to make the trip so the opened it up to other churches in the presbytery. Our church decided that it would be a good idea to send some of our youth plus and adult. The group from our church was to help evaluate the possibility of our own mission trip. This was my first experience with mission. The following year our youth group worked and worked to earn enough money for us to head to Alaska. We spent seven days on the mission boat going from Native village, to logging camp, to small town. We sang. We talked to kids and their parents. We talked about Jesus. I have been an advocate of mission ever since.

I have spent several hours going through the denomination’s web pages on our mission co-workers. The denomination says that we have 250 fully compensated mission co-workers. I will give my analysis of the PCUSA mission involvement at the end of this mission series. I don’t want to give away what I have been finding; however, I will say that I have only found one (I have looked at 40 of the 250) that I think would “hook-a-teen-on-mission” like the Anna Jackman hooked me. Getting a teen excited about mission gets him/her excited about the church. Getting a teen excite about the church can create a church bond that will last a lifetime. Why is it that when the PCUSA has budget cuts to make that it always hits missions so hard? The PCUSA is cutting the one thing that can grab a teen for life.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Mission - Day Two

My college-aged daughter just returned from a six week “mission trip” to Japan with Campus Crusade for Christ. Students in Japan take English classes all of the way through school. Less than 2% of the Japanese people identify themselves as Christians. Most people say that they have no God. The Campus Crusade students went to a private university campus each day to share the good news of Jesus. They developed friendships with the Japanese students and spent hours talking to them about Christ. The Campus Crusade students would host “fun evening gatherings” to get to know more Japanese students. Many Japanese students accepted Christ as their Savior and Lord as a result of the ministry of these college students.

My suspicion is that most people in “Presbyterian pews” have this model as their picture of mission work. However, as I said yesterday, the PCUSA does not have a clear definition of “mission.”

The definition of “Mission (Christian)” in Wikipedia:

“Since the Lausanne Congress of 1974, a widely-accepted definition of a Christian mission has been "to form a viable indigenous church-planting movement." This definition is motivated by theological analyses of the acts required to enhance God's reputation (usually translated as "glory" or "honor"). The definition is claimed to summarize the acts of Jesus' ministry, which is taken as a model for all ministries. The motivation is said to be God's will, plainly stated throughout the Bible, including the Old Testament (see below).

The movement must "plant" (start) churches because the process of forming Godly disciples is necessarily social. "Church" should be understood in the widest sense, as an organization of believers. It is not a building. Many churches start by meeting in houses. Discipling is required to grow the number of believers to the largest extent, and maximize their quality and therefore the acceptability of their worship to God and non-Christians.

"Viable" means that it is self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating. This is the famous "three-self" formula invented by Henry Venn of the London Church Missionary Society in the 19th century.

"Indigenous" means that fully native members of the culture have all the needed abilities and accept all the required duties. Only indigenes can fully adapt the Gospel to their culture, maximizing both natural, high-quality worship and the number of people that can be reached in that culture.

It must be a "movement," because special organization is required for the task of planting churches. This movement naturally forms cross-cultural missions, when persons who understand and accept church-planting duties go to people outside their culture, as Christ commanded in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20). Thus the cycle repeats.

However, Christian missions can more broadly mean any activity in which Christians are involved for world evangelization.

In addition to theological doctrine, many missionaries promote economic development, literacy, education, health care and orphanages, believing these causes advance the glory of God. Christian doctrines (such as the "Doctrine of Love" professed by many missions) may permit the provision of aid without requiring religious conversion.”

What do you think about the Wikipedia definition of Christian mission?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Mission - Day One

Several things have caused my mind to move to the topic of “mission” for this week. First, Presbyweb had a link called Mission Uncertain. Second, we are planning a mission trip for our church. Third, a key component of being a Purpose Driven Presbyterian Church is mission. And finally, a missionary (mission co-worker) blasted me several weeks ago when I was writing on the options that churches have in light of the PUP report (in those postings I did not advocate any particular option, rather, I looked at the pluses and minuses of each option). I have always been a strong advocate of mission. A church I was serving as an Associate Pastor was going to cut mission giving to be able to keep me on staff so we took another call so that mission would not get cut. I have, and will continue, to be an advocate for mission.

What exactly is “mission?” The “mission budget” of our presbytery use to have the executive presbyter’s salary package in it. Is that mission? The PCUSA has a group called Mission Responsibility Through Investment. Is this mission? People volunteer at a community food bank. Is that mission? People give $$$ to the mission budget of their church, yet, never lift a finger in mission work. Is that mission?

Years ago an Associate Pastor at Highland Park Presbyterian Church said that the Presbyterian Church has an “ethos of ambiguity.” He was correct and this ethos is killing us! We have no denominational definition for the word “mission.” We are experiencing mission chaos in the PCUSA because we cannot, or will not, define mission. I think that this is one reason that so many individuals and congregations started designating how their “mission $$$” were to be spent. I truly believe that more mission $$$ would flow into the PCUSA (or away if it were a bad definition) if we were to develop a concreted definition for “mission.”