Send Missionaries at Any Cost?

Cross-cultural expatriate missionaries pay a price for their calling. They must learn a new language and culture, leave their family, and develop a new circle of friends. They generally have to wait years to raise financial support. Depending upon their adopted location, they may be liable to exotic diseases, dysfunctionad is necessary—but is most of the extra for ministry, or for the missionary and the agency? Missionaries are ultimately accountable to the Lord, not to my standards of what is “reasonable.” However, I am accountable to the Lord for the use of funds entrusted to me, so must make a value judgement as to whether or not a figure makes sense to me.

Not all missionaries go to the poor of the earth. It's legitimate to go to the middle class and to the upper classes, and to developed nations that have largely rejected Jesus. What economic gap is created by huge missionary incomes among the poor and middle-classes? Mahatma Gandhi said: "I have told my missionary friends, 'Noble as you are, you have isolated yourselves from the people you want to serve.'"1 As Jonathan Bonk put it: "How can the economically secure and lavishly materially accoutered missionary teach the poor--with any degree of credibility--about simplicity, generosity, contentment, or the costly sacrifice entailed in all genuine discipleship?”2

At some point the question of Jesus' lifestyle surfaces. To me there is a huge disconnect, for example, between the riches of the Vatican and the poverty of the life of Jesus and the apostles. God gives us richly all things to enjoy, and not all are called to a vow of poverty. But wealth usually creates economic and social distance with the relatively poor. East African missionary David Picton Jones (1860-1936) wrote to his agency: “Our life is far above them, and we are surrounded by things entirely beyond their reach.  The consequence is, that they...cannot follow us....”3

While we reject the so-called “prosperity gospel”, do some Western missionaries unintentionally promote it? Becoming a Christian may be financially advantageous. African theologian John Mbiti wrote: “African Christians still regard the missionary or his home church overseas as 'omniscient' in all matters pertaining to Christian faith; as the 'omnipotent' in money and wealth."4 Disciples are supposed to become like their teachers.

Some missionaries are concerned that their incomes don't create distance, and decide to go with agencies that have more moderate support levels. It's possible for a missionary to go to the field with a reputable agency with half of what another agency requires. It's not unusual for missionaries going to European nations to raise a multiple of two to almost three times the average gross income of nationals, with packages of at least $125,000 per year. When going to African countries, that multiple can be forty times, with similar packages.5  Support levels for missionary couples going to the same European nation in the same year can vary by $50,000, per year. A survey of 5 large mission agencies revealed that none of them referenced missionary salaries to incomes of nationals in target countries, when determining missionary compensation.6

When challenged about support levels, missionaries sometimes admit that they also seem unreasonably high to them, but it's what their agency dictates. However, no missionary is forced to go through a particular agency. Like a car, they select the vehicle that best fits them.

Some agencies let the missionary determine the level of support. Mission agencies typically add a percentage to missionary support levels to fund home office personnel and functions. This can vary from about 5-18% or more. At least one mission has administrative staff that raise their own support, reducing those costs.7  For a missionary going to Europe, this can translate to $15,000 per year going to the agency. While I can't impute unethical motives, it is in the interest of the home office to have high missionary support levels, and to keep them on the field. I know of a retired couple going to the field for the first time, who did not need to be supported financially, except to cover mission administrative costs. However, their agency tried to get them to raise between $100-120,000 per year, anyway. A 2016 survey of 150 mission organization CEOs found that two of their six priorities for the next 3-5 years were “fundraising” and “new revenue sources.”8

Missionaries are constrained to maintain support levels, and often take 1 year in 5 to primarily keep and raise support. Missionaries can and have been pulled from the field to get their support back up to their assigned levels. A national ministry leader complained to me that missionaries regularly left their teaching posts for “home assignment,” creating a problem to replace them. I know another American missionary to Africa who has not left her village for the USA, for 8 years. She has no agency behind her (although I don't recommend that).

How can supporters determine what is reasonable missionary compensation? A good source is Numbeo.com, which gives average costs for many expenses on a global city-by-city basis. This provides an average for specific costs, such as rent and a dinner out, reported by residents. Another way is to ask for a complete breakdown of the missionary compensation package. Does the package create an outsized income, even by American standards, after compensating for travel and children's education? The Internet provides annual salary figures for many nations, for comparison. Other evangelical mission organizations could be contacted for a rough idea of what they stipulate for the same country, and size of family (or for a single). Missionaries should be asked if nationals are already available to do what they plan to do, and what advantage the US missionary might have over a national serving the same target audience, given that nationals know the language and culture.

In contrast to large Western missionary budgets and projects are Chinese house church leaders associated with the “Back to Jerusalem” movement. They intend to take the Great News, in turn, to Buddhists, Muslims and Jews, all the way back to Jerusalem.

We have noticed that many Christians in the West have an abundance of material possessions, yet they live in a backslidden state. They have silver and gold, but they don't rise up and walk in Jesus' name. In China few of us have any possessions to hold us down, so there’s nothing preventing us from moving out for the Lord…. We can't afford any big programs or fancy gospel presentations. All we have to give people is Jesus. We don't know how the Lord will provide for Back to Jerusalem, but we are determined that our eyes will be focused on the hand of God and not on human hands.9
Chinese Missionary School


1  Jonathan J. Bonk. 1991. Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western missionary problem. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books. p. 45.
2  Bonk, p. 79.
3  Bonk, p. 10.
4  Bonk, p. xiv.
5  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_European_countries_by_average_wage    www.numbeo.com
6  Bob Waldron, “How Much is Adequate?: In search of equitable missionary compensation.”https://missionexus.org/how-much-is-adequate-in-search-of-equitable-missionary-compensation/ accessed 8/30/18.
7  Pioneers.org
8  https://missionexus.org/2016-mission-ceo-survey-traversing-the-global-landscape/  Peggy E. Newell, ed. North American Mission Handbook: US and Canadian Protestant Ministries Overseas 2017-2019. p. 39.
9  Brother Yun, et al. 2003. Back to Jerusalem: Three Chinese church leaders share their vision to complete the great commission. Tyrone, Ga.: Authentic Publishing. p. 89.

RMNi Doctrinal Statement

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Backyard BBQ Evangelism

BBQWe have to start letting go of some of our long-held ideas about church and ministry. Especially when it comes to evangelism and outreach. But it’s not always easy.

Here’s a true story that illustrates that reality. (I’ve kept some details vague, and adjusted others slightly to protect the identity of the pastor and church in question.)

Recently, I was talking with a small church pastor who was upset at his deacons.

"I have five deacons," he told me. "And they help out everywhere but at the church. One of them builds houses for Habitat for Humanity, the others volunteer at the senior center, the homeless shelter, the food bank, and as an assistant coach for the high school football team. That last one makes me especially angry."

"Why is that?” I asked.

Continue reading at ChristianityToday

A Good Half Day in the Hood

The Smokin' For Jesus event was a great time for over 100 volunteers to join in loving our friends at the Westside. The first picture below is of volunteers praying before the event--a shot which omits those at the serving lines. We had a lot of fun together, with excellent ministry, music and the message of Christ going out. Nine churches, including charismatic Baptists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Bible Church and Independent churches came together as one, together with a half-dozen parachurch ministries. The Bride of Christ looked great! Here is a page of event photos on the Westside Ministry Network Facebook page.

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Did you know …?!

Did you know there is actually a manifesto for African Americans and missions?!

I have talked to Christians who have never met an African American missionary. I have been to churches where members don’t remember ever having a cross-cultural missionary share at their services. And while it may not seem that a lot is happening among African Americans and missions, God is reviving a rich legacy in missions among those who are seeking to serve!

The Bible says, “seek and ye shall find.” A group of mission seekers came together to ratify the African American Missions Mobilization Manifesto. It crystallizes the vision and passion for global missions. It also includes some important history and statistics.

Here are a few quick excerpts:

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Did YOU See That?!

How did three people look at the SAME thing and see something DIFFERENT?!

Once there was a single lady that was leaving work late one evening with one of her employees as well as a fellow co-worker. As they approached the lady’s car, the lady and the two men all noticed she had a flat tire. At this moment,

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You’d Be Surprised!

You just might be surprised at which of your friends, coworkers, or family members is looking for help, direction, and opportunities to grow in their service in mission.

I have received forwarded emails that are just what I need to bring a smile or encouragement at just the right time.

Take a moment and share these helpful sites with your friends. The seed you sow might be just the one to bear much fruit for the kingdom!

  • Tools to help you pray
  •  Opportunities to give to support people and projects
  • Prayer requests for supporting the work through prayer
  • Information about various countries, people groups
  • Opportunities to GO for a short or long-term trip

As believers we are called to teach ALL nations. Surf the web and help build the kingdom!

Examples of the very helpful information about missions you will find at these links:

Joshua Project - www.joshuaproject.net

Find out about people groups with the least followers of Christ.

Serving In Missions – www.sim.org

An international sending organization with long and short-term opportunities to serve all over the world!

Wycliffe Bible Translators - www.wycliffe.org

About 350 million people do not have the Bible in their own language. Find out what you can do to help!

Use these tools to help encourage your church to be more missions minded!

Now share this info with a friend! This just could be for someone YOU know! 

Do We Worship Tradition More Than God?

Have you noticed that many Baptist churches have inserted “Missionary” in their name? So the revised name becomes, for example, Friendly Missionary Baptist Church. Why do you think that is?

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So you know your Black History?!

OK! Now that Black History Month is over, it is time for your BHM quiz!

Do you recognize these names:

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WHY Go?

question markI have heard this question more than once: Why go around the world with the gospel when there are people right here that need to be saved?

If we followed the reasoning of “why go”, we would never

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