A serious shortage
‘Troubled. Shaken. Ashamed’. Those were my opening words in an article I wrote as long ago as 1970 in a respected Christian periodical. Unexpectedly, I rediscovered the article only a few days ago. And my response? One of surprise that it was still relevant for Christians and churches in 2006.
The second sentence in that article partly explains my thoughts at that time: ‘No other words could describe my reaction recently after reading several evangelical missionary magazines’.
I had just read a number of magazines and letters in which well-known missionary societies shared their desperate plight concerning the lack of finance. For example, they informed readers that missionary personnel were on vastly reduced allowances and some were having to return home because of a lack of financial support.
In addition, important projects concerning gospel outreach, the commissioning of new workers, Bible translation and urgent literature needs were also being modified or postponed indefinitely. And the reason? Again, shortage of funds.
Troubled and shaken? Certainly; the information came as a shock and a major disappointment to me.
Has the situation improved? Not really. From the sample of missionary magazines I receive regularly, my impression is that it has worsened.
Take, for example, the magazine of society ‘A’. Like the others I shall refer to, this society is reasonably well known to ETreaders and its work is solidly biblical and church-centred.
They have had many encouragements over the years. Conversions have taken place in many areas where they work; churches have been planted; nationals have been raised up as preachers of the gospel; and enormous progress has been made.
But ‘A’ has a big problem – shortage of finance. Interestingly, ‘A’ also speaks on behalf of other societies, stating: ‘A cursory glance at the magazines currently emanating from many evangelical missionary agencies will present a somewhat disheartening picture … many are finding it difficult to make ends meet … our own Financial Statement … reveals a similar picture. And there are quite a number of societies experiencing tougher times than we are’. And those words were written in late 2005.
Is the above quote an exaggeration? Not at all – there is plenty of supporting evidence. For example, society ‘B’ has ventured prayerfully upon an exciting programme of gospel advance in various countries, including pastoral support for small groups of isolated believers.
It is a step of faith on their part but they need to increase their budget by at least 25%. As 2005 ended, their financial accounts were not looking good. Or think of society ‘C’. Despite careful planning and tight financial controls it has a growing gap between its income and expenditure – forcing it to cut back on workers where they are most needed. Sadly, such examples can be multiplied.
When preparing my 1970 article I discussed with several mission leaders in detail how they interpreted the lack of financial support from Christians for their work. Most of their answers then are even more relevant and challenging today.
One leader, for example, complained that ‘the growing preoccupation with holidays even among Christians is making the recurrent situation even worse than it has been’. Exotic holidays, frequent mini-breaks, and bargain package tours are all part of our contemporary lifestyle – in which we spend, perhaps excessively, on ourselves. Holidays are important and necessary but have we lost our balance here?
It should not surprise us, therefore, that mission leaders in 1970 complained ‘that lots of Christians are not supporting God’s work as they ought’. Many mission leaders felt that Christians – while professing the supreme authority of Scripture in all matters of faith and conduct – in practice ignored biblical principles concerning finance and indulged themselves in all kinds of unnecessary luxuries.
Those pastors and missionaries who ‘exist’ on meager, fluctuating allowances, and who gladly sacrifice in order to serve the Lord, often feel disillusioned and disappointed with the lifestyles of other Christians. This is experienced in several ways, perhaps in visiting the well-equipped homes of believers or hearing about their frequent and expensive holidays.
Moved by TV pictures
My contacts in 1970 provided yet another explanation that still applies, namely, that Christians are often more willing to support famine relief or disaster appeals than the vital gospel ministry of the church and missions.
We can be more moved by TV pictures of homelessness, poverty and starvation than by the spiritual needs of people throughout the world. I am not opposing the two needs but I am asking for a balanced biblical perspective.
The title of my original article was ‘Facing the facts’. That is what we ought to be doing in this context today – and urgently so because God’s work is languishing through lack of finance.
If the money currently spent by Christians in self-indulgent, materialistic life-styles were redirected to the Lord’s work, there would be more than adequate support.
The subject, of course, is complex and I know a lot more could be said from various perspectives. I acknowledge the point.
However, I have deliberately used this personal column to flag up a desperate need – a need that is on my own heart and the hearts of other Christian leaders at present. I may have more to say on the subject next month.
But in the meantime may we have grace to review our priorities and give proportionately but also sacrificially to the Lord in this New Year.