"Advocates" for missionaries A new model for sharing the responsibility for support raising and support maintenance

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This page is for discussion of the "advocates" model of missionary support-raising detailed in the article below. The crux of the proposal is the two things the "advocates" commit to do:

  1. Raise an agreed, specified share of the missionary’s initial support, typically in the 5%-10% range per advocate
  2. Find new donors to replace any support that is lost while the missionary is on the field

Discussion is specifically invited on three points:

1. The term "advocate" (see footnote 1 for alternatives)

2. Comparable models already in use (see footnote 2)

3. Anyone want to volunteer to try the idea and document the unfolding experience here or in a blog as a case study

 

Questions or comments pro or con are also welcome on other aspects of the idea--whatever would help the cause of the Lord who is sending his church into his world.   Thanks in advance -- Stan

“Advocates” for missionaries:

Toward a new paradigm of missionary support-raising

Stan Nussbaum

 

Raising and maintaining support are twin problems that loom large in the minds of many missionaries, and the challenge is not getting any easier. For example, many missionaries who used to be supported by a central fund of their denomination are having to raise some or all of their support personally now. Meanwhile Sunday night services—prime time for missionary presentations—have mostly ceased and platform time has become increasingly difficult to find. Short-term missions have absorbed a lot of the congregation’s attention and funding. A new generation of givers presents new challenges for the content and style of mission presentations. A few voices are saying that the day of American missionaries is over and that now America should only send money not people.

In the midst of this swirl of challenges, I want to propose for discussion and experimentation a model that intends to achieve several things in ways that are more appropriate for our times and more in tune with biblical precedents than the individualistic model which has become standard. Here are five of the goals:

  1. Get more missionaries onto the field sooner
  2. Create new hands-on roles for a few church members who are not missionaries and never will be 
  3. Change the ordinary church members’ view of missionary presentations and communications
  4. Develop missionaries as team players
  5. Free the missionaries to concentrate more on spiritual ministry and less on fundraising

Proposal – The “advocate”[1] model of mission support

The idea of advocates for missionaries already exists in various forms, of course. For example, it is common for a missionary to ask a friend to host a home meeting, inviting other friends to hear about the missionary’s work. It is also common for a missionary to form a prayer team and to ask members of that team to help in various ways with fundraising.[2]

The proposed “advocate” model differs from most current practices in that it centers on two unusual voluntary commitments. The “advocates” prayerfully accept the responsibility to:

  1. Raise an agreed, specified share of the missionary’s initial support, typically in the 5%-10% range per advocate
  2. Find new donors to replace any support that is lost while the missionary is on the field

The question for advocates is not just, “How much will I commit to give?” It is, “How much will I commit to raise?” This shift in thinking fundamentally changes the whole process of mission support raising because the missionary is no longer alone as the bearer of the responsibility.

Each advocate is in effect saying to the missionary,

“You work on your share of the fundraising and relax about my share. I will keep working on it until the Lord provides it. And once you are on the field, let us know whenever you hear that you have lost some of your support. If you keep feeding us information about your ministry, we will do our best to find replacement support so that when you come home on leave, you do not have to raise a single dollar. You will be free to concentrate on reporting what God is doing, reconnecting with friends, and getting rejuvenated personally.”

Operating as a team, the advocates would meet for prayer and mutual encouragement. Together the team can learn, grow, minister, and enjoy watching God work. This reduces the floundering, time wasting, and discouragement that are all too common when the missionary is bearing the support-raising responsibility alone. The missionary relates to the advocates as co-workers not as to a “support-raising coach” or supervisor.

Any version of the model would help the missionary a great deal because it would put a dent in the “last 40%” or the “last 20%” which accounts for 80% or 90% of the initial delay a missionary experiences and the catch-up fundraising that has to be done during home leaves.

Practicalities and possible scenarios

One of the most practical aspects of the proposal is that in most cases missionaries can initiate it as a personal strategy even before (or without) their agency or home church needing to make any policy change. They can experiment with it in a very small way (just one or two advocates to start with), and it will not interfere with any other methods they are already using.

They can also take advantage of the model’s flexibility. A missionary would ordinarily recruit two to four advocates (or collaborators). Here are some possible permutations.

 

 

Version 1

Version 2

Version 3

Home church

20%

10%

30%

Missionary

50%

60%

30%

Advocate 1

15%

10%

10%

Advocate 2

10%

10%

10%

Advocate 3

5%

5%

10%

Advocate 4

---

5%

10%

Advantages of the advocate model over the individualistic model

  1. Getting missionaries on the field sooner. It is accepted as normal for missionaries to spend a year or more raising their support to go overseas. Why? We can do better. After spending several years in training, primarily at their own expense, why should they postpone their departure?
  2. 2.    Creating hands-on opportunities for non-missionaries. Many members of the Body of Christ will correctly say, “I could never learn another language. I could never adjust to another culture. I could never be a good missionary.” The best reply may be, “Good, then don’t. But I’ve got a golden opportunity for you to make a difference in missions while you are speaking English, living American, and keeping your day job. Using the gifts God has given you and the connections you have developed, you could step up and help Jason and Kathy raise the support they need to do all those things you could never do.”  
  3. Giving the right impression. Paul was extremely careful not to give the wrong impression about fundraising even when the funds were not for him or his ministry. His rule was for people to set money aside weekly so there would be  “No collections when I come” (1 Cor. 16:2). By contrast, the current model of support raising easily creates the impression that missionaries are all about money. Fundraising very largely defines who gets to go as a missionary and when they go. On home leave they scramble to build their support level back up. The advocate model prevents the scramble and thus helps create the right impression—the bottom line for missionaries is not money.
  4. Developing missionaries as team players. (Eph. 4:16)  Since the process of support raising may be the most intense pre-field life-ministry experience a missionary has, why not capitalize on its potential to shape the missionary as a team player instead of a “rugged individualist”? At the commissioning service, let the missionary stand and say, “I am so thankful to God to be at this point, and I honestly don’t know how I would ever have got here without the help of these friends who were my advocates.” Under the current model, if missionaries raise enough support to get to go to the field, the experience reinforces the impression that the victory was won by them, personal determination, and God. And if they fail to raise enough to go to the field, they blame themselves.
  5. Freeing up the missionaries’ minds and hearts. While it is true that the process of support raising (or “support team discovery”) may involve some spiritual ministry to the donors, it is also true that support raising can become an entanglement, consuming a great deal of the missionary’s time, energy, and prayer. This is the kind of money-related, hassle-fraught activity that the apostles deliberately insulated themselves from by appointing deacons in Acts 6 to manage the food distribution program.  If we are going to send people out as “apostles” (missionaries doing spiritual ministry), why are we ourselves using a support-raising system that has so much potential for entangling them? Let’s insulate them a little and free them to concentrate like the apostles on “prayer and the ministry of the word.”

Can advocates be found?

A fine-sounding proposal is obviously useless if no one can be found who feels called to step up and do it. I am just starting to look for “advocates” at my church to help me cover some support that has dwindled, but early signs are encouraging. Another missionary friend is doing the same thing as he tries to raise the last 25% of the support he needs to move to East Asia soon.

One thing that seems to work with natural or professional salespeople is this question, “Would your sales department ever hire missionary X to sell for them?” If the answer is, “I doubt it. He/she doesn’t have the skill set we are looking for,” that is a strong argument that the person who does have the skills and the experience should step up and use them on behalf of the missionary who has never done this before, perhaps also helping coach or organize the missionary in his/her share of the work.

Another question that can be asked to potential advocates is, “Do you know any people who will probably never connect with missionary X unless you connect them?” Obviously yes. This gets the person thinking specifically about the people he/she would talk to as an advocate. If the Lord excites the person about those possibilities, he/she may agree to take on the responsibility of an advocate.

It is too early to tell what percentage of advocates will turn out to be “naturals” (outgoing, talkative, persuasive people) and what percentage will be people who are not so naturally gifted in these areas. Those who are not naturals will be tempted to use the common excuses:

  1. This isn’t me.
  2. I wouldn’t be any good at it.
  3. I wouldn’t know where to begin.

However, some of them may realize that the fundraising challenge is no more natural to the missionary than it is to them. In obedience to the Lord’s nudging, they may step a little outside their comfort zone to help a missionary who may already be way outside his or her comfort zone. They take some risks, develop some new skills, pray, and discover to their delight and amazement that God sometimes uses the weak to confound the strong. He can do through them what they could never do on their own.

It is recommended that the advocates not be wealthy enough to cover their agreed share personally, which they might be tempted to do if they are the last advocate to hit his/her target. Instead, the other advocates who have already raised their share can come alongside the one who has not, and the team can push to the finish line together.

Bottom line

This whole proposal is a matter of love, that is, simply caring about another member of the body who is in a tough spot. For the typical missionary, the challenge of support raising remains a massive, onerous, never-ending burden, no matter how hard their missionary agency tries to get them to see it as an opportunity for spiritual growth and for ministry to the donors. Many live with chronic support shortages of 10% or more.

In proposing this model, I am betting on the love of the friends of the missionaries. The model will not create that love but if the love is already there, the model creates a new way to express it and deepen it. If in love we bear one another’s burdens, we will do a much quicker and better job of sending missionaries on their way “in a manner worthy of God.” (3 Jn. 6)

Comments welcome. Please send to stan(at)gmi.org.

 



[1] Suggestions are still welcome for a better term than “advocate.” “Collaborator” is currently in 2nd place. “Assistant” is another possibility. “Reps” sounds too commercial. “Deacon” was used in an earlier draft but has now been ruled out (it is technically correct in the sense of Acts 6 but misleading in light of the ordinary usage of the term).

[2] I would love to hear of other similar models already in use. The closest thing I have found so far is the model of the Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions, sketched in a short booklet, “Missionary Support Teams,” at www.emm.org/mst-tabs. That model encompasses the whole range of support needs of a missionary (prayer, communications, finance, etc.), assigning one point person for each type of need. Besides the Eastern Mennonite model, I have also discovered one Nigerian friend who personally used this “advocate” approach several years ago to raise his missionary support in Nigeria with the help of a handful of college buddies who had gone into business.

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