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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Financing the Machine

I get a paycheck on the 15th of every month. I know that isn't the norm for most professional "missionaries," but the IMB funds us so that we don't have to raise our own support. We're not getting rich, (in fact, we just got a decrease in pay), but we're not going hungry either. The financial support is a blessing that really frees us up to do our work without wondering how we're going to pay next month's rent.

Every year, the IMB collects the "Lottie Moon Christmas Offering." The Board uses this heavily-advertised season of fund-raising to ask Southern Baptist churches to give to the Board's international endeavors. In 2003, the LMCO brought in $136,204,648.17. This year, the goal is 150,000,000 (that's 150 million). When people give to the Board throughout the year through the Cooperative Program, some of that money is used for stateside operations such as administration, publicity, etc. (Most people aren't aware that a large part of daily operating costs is funded by investment returns- money made through stocks and bonds.) The entirety of the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, however, is used in support of overseas personnel. You can see, then, why the offering is a big deal to us.

The Board really knows how to do things. They use quality media productions and publications to educate the people in the pews about our church planting efforts around the world. They have a department that analyzes the financial needs for the budget year and sets giving goals for the churches. Thousands of people give sacrificially to the organization because they believe in what the Board is doing and they want to be involved however they can.

I'm trying not to get too comfortable, though. It's not that I don't think the IMB knows how to raise funding. Times change. In the past, churches were proud of their Southern Baptist identity. Today, many SBC churches don't use "SB" in their name; I'd venture to say that most members don't even know what the Convention is or whether their church belongs to it. The only real denominational identity these days is that of "Crusading Conservatives" who are caught up in divisive politics and culture wars.

People are tired of sacrificially giving their hard-earned money to a faceless corporate institution that both defines "the Task" and measures its own progress in fulfilling that task. "It's going to cost us $800 million for us to finish the task," the organization might say. But beyond that, there is no real accountability as to how the money is spent or even as to where the financial figures come from.

The changing times has changed the way people feel about giving, but it has not changed their desire to give. "We know Jack and Suzy Brown. They're part of our spiritual family. We know they're called to and equipped for missions, and we've seen them be intentional in ministry here at home. We'll support them. We have a relationship with them that will insure accountability, we can remain involved in their ministry, send them volunteers, and house them when there home for a visit."
The Board's efforts at personalization and fostering partnerships cannot compete with the relationship that Jack and Suzy Brown have with their home church. Nor should it.

Only when you know your supporters can there be true accountability. One of the biggest problems our field personnel have is the feeling of entitlement. This attitude of "I get what's coming to me" and "It's MY money" is everywhere. Regional policies only serve to reinforce the selfishness. "The Policy Manual says that we are entitled to 30 days vacation." "Regional guidelines clearly state that we get an apartment of 1400m2. Ours is only 900." It goes on an on. Because our money comes in the form of a paycheck every month from a well-oiled machine that raises support for us. We don't see the little old ladies who give as much as half of their social security check every month, or the families who give inheritance money or vacation savings. We don't know the people who give so that we can live and work overseas, so their money means much less to us. There is great financial accountability to the Board, but little accountability to the churches that give to support us.

So what's the solution? Well, the megachurches are sending their own missionaries. Denominational splinter groups are too. The Board is trying to put on a more personal face by encouraging partnerships between missionaries and stateside churches. They push missionaries to speak in churches and conferences whenever possible. I say, stop it. I say, dismantle the machine and let local churches send their own people through the Board. When they don't have anyone, or can afford to fully support them, let them cooperate through existing associations. But make sure every church that gives, no matter how little it might be, knows personally the missionary they are sending. If thirty churches in rural Arkansas want to give, make sure they have the opportunity to know the people who receive their offerings, and insure that they have some relationship with that overseas ministry. Instead of selling people groups, the Board needs to be representing us, the field personnel to the churches back home.

What do you think?


Kiki Cherry said...

Interesting post. I hear you.

I am an MK, so grew up and even went to college on CP dollars.

But now I'm an MSC missionary, and we raise our own support even though we fall under the umbrella of NAMB.

To be honest, I prefer raising support. I love having a ministry team who know us directly and are in tune with everything that goes on in our lives. I love the emails and letters of encouragement we get almost daily. I love having a network of people who are available at the click of a "Send" button to pray for an immediate need.

And you brought up another valid point. People do still care about missions, although they may not be giving through the CP. I have heard that the X and Y generations don't support missions like their predecessors.

I beg to differ. Almost a third of our support comes from individuals under the age of 35. That statistic even surprised us when we calculated it. They give sacrificially to missions, find creative ways to get things done, and actually come and work with us on the field.

Maybe we do need to expand our options to include more than just CP funded missions. Technology has changed the face of our world. I think it is also necessitating a more "hands-on" approach to missions.

stepchild said...

Kiki, since I partially funded your education, I'd like a copy of your grades. Kidding. It's good to have you participating here. I feel like I "know" you from Steve McCoy's blog. You always add good stuff to the conversation.

I'm glad to hear that you prefer raising support. It's one thing for a spoiled, well-funded missionary like me to say how great it is to raise support, but it really means something from someone who's done both.

John said...

Hi anonymous non"missionary." I read your blog yesterday and took 24 to collect my thoughts.

I think you're wrong. This is how Southern Baptists have been doing missions since we've been doing missions. Annie was led by the Lord to network and collect for Lottie in China. Those little old ladies didn't know her but they believed in her work. God has been behind the machine and I believe He still is. There is fruit to support the supposition that He built the machine.

There are other great, Bible believing, missionary sending denominations that may have us in one way or the other but no one has us in missions. If you don't like the very thing that makes us who we are (and I'm not trying to be unkind) then why are you SB?

stepchild said...

You don't mention what, specifically, you think I'm wrong about.

If it's my assertion that people are tired of giving to the IMB, ok. I'm just speaking from my experience; we've had to tell lots of disillusioned supporters that they can't give directly to us, but should give to the IMB through the CP or the LMCO.

Maybe you think I'm wrong about the struggle for accountability on the field. Again, I write from experience with missionaries who demand what they think is theirs.

I wrote about the failing identity of the IMB. Maybe I was wrong on this one. It seems the Board of Trustees is hard at work defining who we are as Southern Baptist missionaries.

If you disagree with my assesment of the Board's pending demise, I hope I am wrong. There are many devoted people on the field who depend on the organization.

I really don't like to point to the IMB's successes as evidence that God is behind "the machine." That God is using us doesn't necessarily mean we're doing things right. See my post entitled "What's it gonna take?"

You mention that little old ladies gave to Lottie because they believed in what she was doing. You're right. But most of those old ladies are in heaven now, and the younger ones are just as likely to give to one of the "other great, Bible believing, missionary sending denominations" you mentioned in your comment. If we don't make some changes, I think we aren't gonna last.

Why am I still working within the SBC? Because I made a committment to it, and I know that there are folks sorta like me within the SBC that feel like we're representing them on the field. Although the circle is tightening, I feel like there's still room for me. Oh, and as much as I hate when people say this, we're here because we feel like God told us to.

Thanks for your thoughts. Please write back!

Anonymous said...

I have a question that I have wondered about for some time and I think most people in SBC churches would be surprised to find out about, and that question is "What is the total package that an SBC Missionary gets in support?" It's amazing to me that when I calculate the 150,000,000.00 Lottie Moon offering divided by the number of missionaries currently (5036 under appointment) I get about $30,000 per missionary, however isn't it true that most missionaries are husband and wife teams and they are both appointed so that cuts the number almost in half depending on the number of single missionaries that we have. So in that case it would be closer to $60,000 per year per missionary couple and that is just from Lottie Moon, where is all the other CP giving going? I'm with you, most church members need to use their mind and "THINK" instead of just accepting facts churned out by the machine.