In my work in third world countries there is a common theme that has surfaced that seems to be an indictment against the North American church relating to missions. I am sure that one cannot generalize and say that all fall into this category but it is there, nonetheless. The indictment tends to follow these patterns.
Churches initially embrace the concept of the need to be involved in missions, if not actively themselves of at least providing financial support to assist the missionaries and others to do the work of feeding and clothing the poor, of providing educational opportunities, sustainable housing and so on. The belief is that these things are central to our Christian faith.
The church then decides to commit itself to the supporting of the missionary and/or the work by pledging a certain amount of money for the furtherance of the gospel, the support of the missionary and the care of the poor. They may make this a line item in the budget or decide to take up a love offering on a systematic schedule. Either way it becomes a commitment that the church makes with the missionary as an extension of the church’s mandate in the fulfilling of the Great Commission.
As the Lord enables churches to grow many have moved into building and expansion programs that meet the needs of the people that are in direct contact with the ministry of that particular church. This is where there seems to be a subtle shift in priorities, especially as it relates to missions. As the church begins to incur debts (mortgages) and other expenses in the fulfilling of its ministry what often was seen as a commitment to the missionaries and their work tends now to be seen as discretionary spending. In other words if money is needed for local ministry, especially church buildings and there is a decision to be made between mortgages or honoring the previous commitment made to the missionary the mortgage always seems to win. Or if there are monies needed to expand local ministry and not enough to support both, the local almost always wins out over the previous commitment to the mission field.
I have sat with missionaries as they have wept over the burying of children in their care because the promised support has not been forthcoming and there were no more monies for medicines and food. I have watched as missionaries have agonized over the betrayal of commitments made and broken, even by their home church. Yet even in the midst of deep disappointment the missionaries I know have remained gracious and prayerful knowing that the Lord of the harvest has not abandoned them.
Does this imply that I am against church buildings and expanding programs? Absolutely not but the building is only a servant to the ministry and not the Lord of the house. When the servant begins to dictate the priorities of the ministry and we cannot honor our commitments made to our missionaries maybe the servant needs to be set free or better yet, maybe we need to be set free. Winston Churchill once said that we shape our buildings and then they shape us.
I wonder if the indictment against the church at Laodicea may have some application to the church of North America. They had thought themselves to be rich and wealthy, needing nothing. Yet our Lord declared them to be wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked. His remedy was to buy from Him gold refined in the fire, white garments and eye salve. Only then could they be rich; their nakedness covered and their sight restored. (Rev. 3:18)
My view is that our commitments made to our missionaries should be seen as covenant relationships and as such inviolable. Let us honour those who not only work among us locally but also internationally.