Funding Missions — Part 2
A second primary factor is a shift in thinking among donors and potential donors. Many younger donors in particular dislike giving institutionally. Giving to an institution, be it a church or an organization, seems very impersonal and takes the control for how donations are used out of the hands of the giver. Therefore, a growing number of donors are eager to give directly to a favored missionary. They want to give because they have a personal relationship with the recipient, not because he or she is someone to whom their church has made a commitment. Also, someone who has a relationship with the person to whom he is giving, feels a sense of ownership for what is being done with the money. Today, many donors want to have a place at the table for discussing how ministry will be pursued and prioritized. Traditionally, such strategic thinking has been the domain of the “missions professionals,” but more recent leveling within our society encourages donors to have more of a voice in the practice of missions. Rather than resist this shift in perspective, I encourage missionaries and mission agencies to embrace the change and tap into the benefit of creativity and entrepreneurship which results from networked thinking about missionary practice.
A third major factor in the shift in missionary financing is the rise of business as mission or tentmaking approaches to service on a mission field. In many cases, this shift has been necessary because countries which used to grant missionary visas will no longer do so or because the countries which are home to the world’s least reached peoples are hostile to Christianity and any kind of overt missionary activity. Much of the shift in methodology has also come because using marketable skills in a work environment on the field provides a much more natural platform for interacting with local people about the gospel. The topic of business as missions and tentmaking demands a blog or two of its own, but I think that we are seeing only the front end of a general transition regarding how missionaries access their fields, and the platforms that provide their identity on the field. Rather than being the foreign religious leaders (traditional home supported missionaries), tentmakers might be seen simply as foreigners who live in local neighborhoods and work in local businesses. They provide needed services which in turn secure an avenue for relationships and gospel communication.
Much more could be written about the changes which are taking place in the world of missionary finance. Any attempt to prognosticate the future will at best prove to be only partially correct. In my estimation, the key issue during periods of methodological transition is to carefully examine whether the status quo is biblically necessary and whether the new approach is biblically permissible. We should not promote change for its own sake, but neither should we resist change simply because it’s not the way we have always done things. Always is always a temporary concept! I’m hopeful that great things will come from the shifts that are currently underway.
Mark Vowels, Bob Jones University