In Defense of Second-Class Missionaries

by Amy Medina on April 4, 2017

Imagine what it would look like if western churches hired their staff with the same priorities that they choose overseas missionaries to financially support.

First of all, a Children’s Pastor would definitely be out.  Not strategic enough; he’s only supporting the children of believers.  Youth Pastor?  Also out, unless he targets neighborhood kids.

How about a Music Pastor?  Or Pastoral Counselor?  Nope.  Those are just support roles.  Not enough front-line ministry.

Administrative Pastor?  Receptionist?  Good heavens.  We could never dream of paying someone for those kind of inconsequential jobs.

How about a Preaching Pastor?  Well…..that’s if-y, but he probably doesn’t make the cut either.  After all, he’s only feeding the Body.  Most of the time, he’s not actually reaching the lost.

So that pretty much leaves only the positions of Community Outreach Pastor or Evangelist.  Yet how many churches even have those paid positions?

I’m not suggesting that churches go about firing two-thirds of their staff.  I just want to talk about a double-standard I often see.

Let me introduce you to the class system among missionaries. 

Who is on the A-List?  Well, that would be the Church Planters.  Among unreached people groups gives you A+ status.  Pastoral Trainers and Bible Translators might be able to squeak by with an A.

The B-List?  Doctors and other health workers, community development and poverty alleviation workers, ESL teachers.

The C-List?  Administrators, missionary member care, MK teachers, or anyone else considered “support.”

Whatever tends to be the current trend in “justice ministry” also often ends up on the A-List.  These days, that’s fighting human trafficking.  It used to be orphan ministry, but that’s pretty much been relegated to B-status now.  It’s cool, but not that cool.

Granted, this class system doesn’t usually originate with the missionaries themselves, but it’s come out of the culture of missions in their home countries.  How many missionaries have sat before missions committees back home who examined if they fit into their “grid” of priorities?  And often that grid looks exactly like the hierarchy I just outlined.

My husband and I worked for eight years in TCK ministry at a missionary school.  When trying to raise support, we called and sent information packets to over 200 churches in California.  We heard back from two.  Churches told us, over and over again, Sorry, but that ministry doesn’t fit into our strategy.  

That all changed when we transitioned to theological training of East African pastors.  Finally, we had churches calling us.  It was nice.  But frankly, kind of frustrating.  We didn’t change ministries so that we would become more popular with churches.  We switched because that’s where God was leading us.  But the truth is, we don’t consider theological training to be any more strategic, or any more exciting, than what we were doing at that MK school. 

Unfortunately, the missionaries themselves are often acutely aware of this hierarchy, and it makes many feel like they are second-class.  Over and over again, I hear things like this from missionaries:

Yes, I love my job as an MK teacher and I know it’s really important, but I fill my newsletters with pictures of the slum I visit once a week.  After all, that’s what my supporters are interested in.

Yeah, I’m a missionary, but not a ‘real’ missionary.  I live in a city and spend a lot of my time at a computer.

My visiting short-term team was supposed to help me out with my ministry to TCK’s, but they only want to spend their time with orphans.  

Why do these missionaries feel this way?  Maybe because when Christians stand up and say, I’m called to missionary care!  I’m called to teach MK’s!  I’m called to missions administration!, the churches say, Well, sorry, you don’t fit in our strategy.  We’d rather get behind the exciting church planters and the pastoral trainers and the child-trafficking rescuers.  Except, we expect them to do it without all the other people they need to be successful.

And so what happens?  The talented church planter gets bogged down by administrative tasks.  The mom who is gifted and called to women’s ministry has no choice but to homeschool.  The child-trafficking rescuer has a nervous breakdown because he has no one to help him work through the trauma of what he is facing.  Missionaries are particularly prone to burn-out.  Could this be partially because they are trying to do too many jobs themselves? 

I’m all about strategy in missions, and it’s important for churches to be careful in their vetting process of potential missionaries.  But can we expand our idea of what strategy means?  Missionaries, as an extension of the Church, must function as the Body of Christ.  Could the Western Church function by only hiring evangelists?  I realize that mission work can have different goals than churches back at home: Missionaries are working ourselves out of a job; they are doing everything they can to replace themselves with national believers.  But to get there, they need the Body of Christ. 

We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them.  (Romans 12)

The legs can’t do anything without the arms and fingers and neck.  So go out today and find your nearest missionary accountant or counselor or MK teacher.  Join their support team.  Encourage them in their pursuit of their calling.  Affirm their value to your church or your team.  And remind them they are never second-class.

 

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About Amy Medina

Amy Medina has spent almost half her life in Africa, both as an MK in Liberia and now in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, since 2001. Living in tropical Africa has helped her perfect the fine art of sweating, but she also loves teaching, cooking, and hospitality. She and her husband worked many years with TCKs and now are involved with theological training. They also adopted four amazing Tanzanian kids along the way. Amy blogs regularly at www.gilandamy.blogspot.com.
  • Linda Elsbernd

    I don’t believe the “class system” is true in every denomination or fellowship. Sorry you feel that way. Perhaps its time for a change. The call of God on your life should be all you need. There are actually Missionaries that are chosen by the call of God on their life rather than your stated “A” B C lists.

    • Leslie Rolling

      I think you may have misinterpreted the list she mentioned. Her whole point is that SHE felt called into different types of missions positions by God, but the church itself has a hierarchy of importance. I’ve been in the mission field for over 11 years and I believe her thoughts are spot on. Yes, as you said, not in every church/denomination/fellowship, but there is a general mentality of what is considered to be the more desirable, valuable type of missions work. We work in development/poverty alleviation, and time and time again, from people of all denominational backgrounds we’ve been asked, “Yes, but do you do any direct evangelism as part of your programs?” I have been contacted by countless potential donors, both churches and individuals, who have asked me to basically sell our ministry/work to them, only to later tell me/us that because we don’t have formal evangelism programs in place they can’t possibly support us. It does not matter that we’ve helped save countless lives with the work we’re doing. It doesn’t matter that we are providing job skill training and full time employment. It doesn’t matter that our own lives and daily interactions are modeling Christ. I find it all really ironic. Firstly, because Jesus is our example, and he spent his time with the poor, downtrodden and outcasts, and through relationship brought them into relationship with God. Secondly, because Paul was the first missionary, and yet he was a tent maker. As in, he had a job to support himself, and evangelized and encouraged the churches along with that. I think we’ve developed missions into our own cultural thing in the past 100 years and we, as the Church, need to re-evaluate all of it. As missionaries, the call of God is at the center of it, but it’s discouraging when the Church, who is called to support and encourage, sets down a lot of “strategy” about what that call should look like. Remember – the Church’s calling is to support and encourage, not determine calling and value in missions – that is God’s job. Yes, churches need to be prudent and make sure they’re supporting missionaries that are following the call of God, but God determines what he wants to do through each of us.

      • Amy Medina

        Amen!

    • JvH

      My husband and I are on the field as missionary member care. We will be leaving the field in the next month because we don’t have enough financial support after being told over and over and over again that we are not church planting or training pastors so therefore do not fit into the current missions strategy. This article is spot on.

      • Amy Medina

        ugh. What a loss!

    • The call of God on our lives will not pay our bills or feed our children or keep our car running so we can get to the people He’s sent us to serve.

  • Lainey Hitchman

    Great article with great insight! The ‘class system’ is all too alive and well! We are glad that it doesn’t represent God’s viewpoint but it’s important that the church in general values the different roles and ministries that those on the field have. Thanks so much for writing such an insightful article and being brave enough to challenge people to think differently.

    • Amy Medina

      thanks, Lainey.

  • Roy Hitchman

    Unfortunately, this is too true. Lainey and I provide member care specifically looking at the relationships of missionary couples. It is a very necessary role and prevents many valuable ministries from going bang. Of course, the A-list ministries attract a lot of the funding but without member support for the couples working in these areas the job is tougher and the risk of burnout higher. http://hitchedtogether.com

    • Amy Medina

      So thankful for your important ministry.

  • Heather Brooks Wallace

    I agree there is class system, though I have to say that (in our experience) training pastors doesn’t make the a -list cut. We constantly struggle for support because we aren’t “saving the world.” We don’t do orphan ministry or a lot of unreached people group stuff ourselves. We don’t fight sex-trafficking (directly – obviously we oppose it!) We simple help pastor a church here and train other pastors and leaders. Which we know is important, but most people want to know what our “real” job is other than Sundays! 🙁 Also, having 4 children on the field we LOVE our teachers and member care workers! We couldn’t even do this without them. We work together. Support raising is just plain hard!

    • Amy Medina

      So glad you are doing what you are doing! May it bear much fruit–even if it’s not appreciated!

  • Peter Warren

    Well said, Amy. A gutsy, tell-it-like-it-is blog that makes us feel uncomfortable because it’s so true.

    • Amy Medina

      Thanks, Peter.

  • Cory Miller

    My wife and I are in Member Care for MKs across Europe, and we’ve literally had people say, “I don’t understand why you’re ministering to ministers.”

    Thanks for your article. Helps me not to feel alone.

    • MK /TCK Teacher

      Thank you for how you serve! It is needed. If families are not in a healthy state, the parents cannot serve God well and the ministry crumbles or even does harm.

    • Jillian

      Cory, as one who has been both a traditional missionary and a medical missionary/disaster response worker, and also having grown up as a MK (3rd generation), and as on who has participated in member care, as part of Missions home group leader, and strategized how to help missionaries on the field, I want so thank you for what you do. Your role is critical. And I myself have needed member care , both as a MK and as a missionary, and not had it available. I did have the privilege of going through Dave Pollock’s Re-entry seminar for MKs when I graduated, and that was invaluable. But missionary organizations as a whole seem to be coming into a better understanding of the need for this function. Never devalue what you do, and I pray that more join your ranks, for both the MKs and missionaries.

    • The answer is simple: “Because ministers are PEOPLE too” 🙂 Thank you for the work you and your wife are doing, Cory!

    • MamaAustin

      Thank you so much for what you do! My husband is an MK as are our 4 boys. We would have left the field because of difficulties with our kids if we hadn’t had the support of counselors and now an MK school. We have seen others leave for lack of support. I’m firmly convinced that our kids are a particular target for the evil one, because if he can take down our kids, he can derail our ministry.

  • David Parker

    I served in West Africa with a Bible translation mission for about four years. I managed the print shop; Id din’t do translation. When my leadership and I agreed I should shift to our stateside HQ to work in our fledgling Communications Department, one church (the first church that supported me) dropped me immediately because I was no longer “on the field”, even though I continued typesetting Scripture in African languages. Another church dropped me at the end of their fiscal year. I found my income cut in half and barely scraped by.

    I had colleagues when I first started who were adamant that they wouldn’t work in a people group with less than a 100,000 speakers. He didn’t think his efforts would be worth it for a smaller group.

    We all have a call to make disciples; convincing other Christians to fund our efforts leads us to select assignments (when possible) that are more marketable.

    Better stop before a rant breaks out.

    • Amy Medina

      Yeah, I get it, David. My husband gets to hear me rant, and then I write blog posts. 🙂

  • Michelle j

    There’s also the opposite “class system” at times… those of us in evangelism among challenging people groups who rarely see fruit can also feel the comparison with those who have something to show from their efforts ( the doctor who saves someone from malaria, the pilot who flies in supplies, the person who rescues someone from sex trafficking…). I think most non-missionaries can more easily wrap their head around obvious results than with the endless seed sowing with little harvest. Either way, we serve Jesus and need to make Him our joy.

    • Amy Medina

      That makes sense, Michelle. I’m sure the expectations put on you are high.

    • Don

      I agree Michelle. The class system you describe is also very much in effect. People groups who come to Christ slowly, one at a time instead of in large numbers test the patience of churches back home. “How come there aren’t more results? What could the missionary do differently? They should be doing church planting this way instead of what they’re currently doing. The mission should just wipe the dust off their feet and move on to a more receptive place.” I’ve become convinced that Japan–where I’ve worked for 20 years as an MK teacher–is a place that demands “incarnational ministry.” That is, we need to stay there year after year, showing Christ in that culture, making friends, extending grace, deepening friendships; in short, just being among the people while continuing to tell them who we are in Christ. As Christ came to “be among them,” we go to be among the people in Japan. That way of doing ministry just isn’t fashionable. Yes, I definitely feel second-class among missionaries.

      • “Incarnational ministry” – I like that! I haven’t heard that term before, but that’s exactly what we’re doing and hope to continue doing (see my comment right above yours).

    • My husband and I (and another couple we work with, who are already classified as missionaries – we’re just starting, though he’s been doing the work for six years, now) just encountered this. We work in relational ministry with teens and young adults who are nerds (typically in things like gaming, sci-fi and fantasy, etc), and while this is clearly very different thank what I imagine you’re talking about, it also isn’t different at all because these kids are completely marginalized by society, especially Christian society, and the last few years of Marvel movies and Lord Of The Rings have helped, but only a little (by making it more culturally acceptable to like that stuff, but in terms of these kids who live and breath it, not really that much more acceptable because it’s still largely considered immature, unworthy, and even in Christian circles sometimes ungodly, mainly from a simple lack of most people having any idea what they’re talking about, and making unfortunate assumptions). Our ministry is built around bringing these kids together every week into our homes, feeding them, listening to them, engaging with them over things they love that most people don’t care about or understand, and pouring Christ into their lives by what we say, yes, but mostly by how we live and how we treat them. In six years, we have seen very little “fruit” that you’d expect to hear as a congregation – conversions, for instance, are at zero in six years, out of roughly 20 kids? But we don’t consider that a true lack of fruit – we have seen a softening to the gospel across the board; we have seen hurting teens become adults who are able to break chains of generational pain; we have seen many of our Christian youth become young adults in love with Jesus, and many are going into ministry themselves. But very, very few people think what we’ve been doing is really ministry work. They see it as fun, and that’s pretty much it. It’s hard, knowing how to handle that, as workers. Especially since my husband and I are really considering taking that step to become “official” missionaries, and while our scope of ministry is much broader than this specific example, it’s the main one we’re doing now, and most people don’t believe it’s actually ministry. And since the other ministries we’re looking to add include things like me bringing teen and young adult women into our home in another relational ministry that will, on the outside, look a lot like me just listening to their lives, as well as our big one which is best summed up as community food systems agricultural based ministry to minority groups in rural Hawaii…..we’re not anticipating a lot of enthusiastic understanding. And we just aren’t sure how to fix that?

      • And actually, what this article discusses is why we’re currently looking at including a time-consuming “tent making” venture in our plans – so that we are financially independent, and can support our ministries fiscal needs ourselves. Precisely because we’re not A-listers, and even now, before we’ve even attempted to raise any support or even joined a missions – literally, just telling people we know who support missions work what we’re wanting to do – we’re running into nothing but misunderstanding and questions regarding the legitimacy of what we want to do actually being ministry or missions. Yes, some valid concerns about missions work have been raised, and we’re taking that under careful consideration. But the main issue is that people don’t see what we want to do as missions work. It saddens me that we may well need to take a lot of time away from ministry in order to be self-supporting. On the bright side, it’s an opportunity to minister by creating jobs in the community.

  • ohiocpa1

    Great article!
    I was very impressed when I got a tour of the USS Enterprise several years ago. The ship had a full crew of about 5000 — all for the purpose of providing a mobile airfield for 90 pilots and planes. Would anyone argue that the cooks, maintenance crews, mechanics, communications personnel, etc were not “really military” because they didn’t fly the planes? Yet, in the church it seems nearly impossible to get 90 support personnel to the field for 5000 missionaries!
    I am (humbly) proud of my daughter, who is in the final stages of raising her support to serve as an office administrator for an international mission office in Europe. As a young child, she enjoyed “playing” by sorting and organizing stuff. As she grew and had contact with hundreds of missionaries through a non-profit ministry my wife and I ran, she realized that the “typical” missionary HATES the administrative work of reports, maintaining databases, etc — the very activities she enjoyed and excelled at.
    During her internship at this agency, she was asked to research why the internal e-mail system the mission used wasn’t working. She realized that no one of the missionaries was likely to take on a project like this, which could easily amount to nearly a week of “unproductive” research. So she cleared her calendar and dove in — and amazingly found the answer in just a couple of hours. Got the 20+ digit code that was needed, sent it to the 300 or so people involved, and it was up and working. Without a “support” person to take on such a task, it would probably never have been done. Even if all the personnel had decided to tackle it, and IF they all managed to find the code as quickly as this computer-loving geek did, it would have taken 300 – 600 man hours.

    • MK/TCK Teacher

      Vital role indeed. And, much appreciated. As a missionary teacher, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for office staff that helps keep on top off email servers, health care coverage, etc.

    • Amy Medina

      Great illustration and story about your daughter! Thanks for sharing.

  • Mother goose

    Oh my. This was our life for the entire 12 years we were on the field. Meeting with our home church was agonizing, because they told us over and over that we “didn’t fit their strategy”. They continued to support us only because we had a good friend on the missions committee who wouldn’t let them drop us. When our mission asked us to move to the home office in Georgia to work stateside (in a vital role that could not be done from the field) we chose instead to resign, knowing that we would have had to raise another 50% of our income to cover the churches that would drop us as well as the increase in the cost of living. After 12 years, we were exhausted and couldn’t do it any more.

    So the question is…how do we help to change the culture? What do we say to churches to get them to understand that every missionary, not just the ones on the “front lines” are vital to the Kingdom?

    • margt

      Hi, we work as home staff, regional co-ordinators for a Mission agency, so our role includes recruitment, promotion and member care as well as other stuff. We have a tool that we use when talking to churches where we list all the different roles necessary to keep a front line missionary doing their job. We pull people up from the group to hold up the cards listing the roles. They include TCK teachers, admin, medical/nursing, pilots, mechanics, engineers, literacy workers, printers, linguists, Bible translators, prayer supporters, financial supporters, member care workers and the list goes on and on and on. It gives a visual prompt to help people understand all the different people required if one church planter or BIble translator is going to be effective in their job. It also helps us to explain what happens when these people aren’t there…..

      • Amy Medina

        what a great teaching tool!

        • margt

          It does work well – especially when sometimes more than half the group are up in the line holding the various roles. It also helps show the importance of home support and prayer as part of the team – as if they are missing the missionary either doesn’t go or has to come home.

    • Lauren

      I’m a “front line” missionary state-side with a church on a college campus. Our model of support raising and sharing the load of the church is helpful to circumvent these issues (though it doesn’t solve the underlying problem).

      First of all, as a church staff team, we all have varying roles based on our talents and giftings to help share the load, but we are all able to talk to our supporters and say “I’m sharing the Gospel with students on campus” (because we all honestly are called to and actually do that). We don’t really send individuals out, so there is always a team to help make things happen (it’s not perfect and you always end up doing some of the tasks that are outside your passion and gifts, but it’s usually not overwhelming, at least not for very long).

      Also, our sending organization who helps us with a LOT of support resources and also for processing all the donations and everything that entails is funded by a percentage of the support we as “front line” missionaries raise. There is probably a couple dozen staff that work in the home office to make many of these important things function who are paid from this percentage since their job descriptions would be honestly pretty difficult to “sell” to churches and individuals to be able to raise enough support for them. Yet, we all know that what they do is vital to making what we do possible.

      Finally, we seek support primarily from individuals rather than church budgets, since as you’ve pointed out, church budgets are usually more strict and it’s harder to cast vision for why what you’re doing exists to advance the Kingdom. It’s easier to build relationships with individuals and help them to see the importance of what you as a missionary are called to. One thing we say is, “people give to people, justified by the cause.”

  • Thanks for being open about this. After many years as a single missionary, I’m now “just” a SAHM missionary, married to a national. I live and breathe this country I live in, but I don’t have much to “report” anymore…and don’t want to toot my own horn anyway when we’re being fruitful. Your article was helpful to read and realize that I have stereotypes in my mind, too. We can be very judgmental towards each other.

    • Amy Medina

      Thanks, Elizabeth.

  • Joe in PNG

    During my many years in PNG, I’ve watched this happen time and time again.
    And the sad thing is that when we lose one support family, we usually have to pull in a family from the “A list” to take over the role. And then the cycle repeats.
    Just because one is a missionary doesn’t mean that the host government waives the visa paperwork, or Customs forgoes inspections, or your local suppliers let you have everything for free.

    • Amy Medina

      Amen.

  • That is a powerful post and I have shared it on my Facebook profile. I am a pastor’s kid and although I’m local (Ukrainian), I grew up with missionaries from the US around, making me feel as if I’m a TCK sometimes. And I am incredibly thankful to all those missionaries who came over, long-term or short-term, because each one of them was a blessing to me (even though I guess I was in the “in-church-supposedly-saved-and-pastor’s-kid-maybe-we-should-focus-on-someone-else” category.)

    Thank you for sharing and for raising the topic. It’s an important one.

    • Amy Medina

      Thanks for sharing your unique perspective, Zee!

  • Pingback: This is so real | missionteacher()

  • Shari

    Yes, yes, yes! We are “second-class” missionaries and have had a number of churches drop our support becasue we are not in church planting or reaching unreached people! Yes, we also have supporting churches with the grid thing and that determines how much support we get. We are close to the bottom tier, so we get the least support. I have always felt this was unfair, but thank the Lord that in all our 37 years as “second class” missionaries God has always supplied our needs. Thank you for this article.

  • Peter

    Full disclosure: I’m in full-time, salaried, home-based administration for a large missionary organisation.

    Great topic.

    A lot depends on how you define missionary. My position is that the closest we can get to a biblical definition of missionary is apostle. However it’s common opinion in our churches that everyone’s a missionary (which is not categorically wrong, since everyone chooses how they define “missionary”, generally including themselves in their definition!). Just about every christian I know considers themselves a missionary, and just about every pastor I know would teach this.

    So I think we can understand where the church leaders are coming from. Why would their church support someone doing everyday-life work just because they’re in a foreign country, however strategic, when they probably don’t financially support someone doing everyday-life work in their home country? What’s the difference between doing supporting the spread of the Kingdom of God in East Africa to doing it in the US, other than that one looks for financial support and the other has a paying job? Just suggesting a perspective which may not be uncommon…

    I think that if I was in charge of a church’s budget, I would want it to go to strategically to apostolic ministries, regardless of what part of the world they are in. That and giving myself a pay rise 🙂

    So I think there are two biblically consistent perspectives we can appeal to, when it comes to financial support.

    1) prioritisation of supporting apostolic missions (i.e. church planting, translation, etc where there is no prior gospel witness, and the support services that these efforts require, like MK education, for instance)

    2) giving to every one of the believers as they have need (NB: this strategy is about 2000 years out of date!)

    The challenge for the gospel workers who you refer to as second-class missionaries, is to show would-be supporters how their activities are a critical part of the spread of the kingdom of God into the regions beyond.

    I do agree that there are far too many salaried roles for professional christians in the western church, but I don’t think being overseas makes us all that different. Overseas gospel workers can even enforce this by giving the impression that a missionary is basically a normal christian with a valid passport…

    Somewhere, sometime, someone based in full time christian ministry is blogging “In Defense of Second-Class Christians” with “Missionary” on the A List. Let’s not make victims of ourselves. God provides.

    • PapaJuju

      Peter,

      I understand where you are coming from and I think your opinion is shared by many. This is evidenced by the lack of support that Amy’s post speaks to.

      But I appeal to you that there is a big difference between the spread of the Kingdom of God in East Africa when compared to doing it in the US. I’ll highlight just one. How about access to the Gospel in America verses in East Africa? I think you would agree that it would be difficult to argue that the lost in America have a much larger opportunity to access the Gospel in America verses East Africa. The access to resources, freedom, etc.. are much greater here.

      This is one area where I would gracefully disagree with you.

    • MamaAustin

      I understand the perspective that we don’t support people doing “everyday work” in the US, so why should we support them just because they’re doing it elsewhere? Because the accountant or teacher is being paid by their employer in the US, but not in, say, Uganda. We are under tight scrutiny in Uganda as an NGO, and must make a case that a Ugandan cannot do the work we are there to do, whether we get paid for it or not. I totally get that, because they don’t want westerners coming in and taking jobs with Ugandans can fill. We can’t just get a job here. There is a growing movement to do business as mission, which is fabulous. However, mission support people are there to support the missionaries, which is not a business.

      A key point in the blog is that those on the cross-cultural front lines need more and different support than someone working in their home culture, in order to do their work well, even if it is the same work as is done by someone in the US. Who will pay for that support? If we expect the missionaries to pay that, they will need to raise more support to pay for those services, or go without. This means that the church is still paying for the support staff, just through the support of the missionary, which maybe feels better for the church, but not for the missionary who’s had to raise the extra support. If we expect the support staff to get a job to provide their own needs (if they are allowed this in the host country), they will not have time to do what they are there to do to support the missionaries, except perhaps in their spare time. Hardly worth getting a job overseas just so you can use a few hours a week to help missionaries. (Though we missionaries are grateful for whatever is available.)

      The struggle is that the typical member of the western church, for the most part, doesn’t understand that support ministries are a critical part of the front-line ministries, not a separate bit of “fluff” added on that the support missionary has to justify to begrudging churches. Supporting member care missionaries IS supporting church planters, evangelists, and human trafficking workers. It’s body work out here, not hand work or foot work.

      I agree as well with your point that missionaries are often held up as A-list Christians, which is absolutely wrong. It puts way too much pressure on missionaries who already live in a fishbowl drowning in expectations put on them by those in the host culture, and it belittles very important Kingdom work being done in the home country. The difference is in the additional varied support necessary for them to do their work.

  • Beth Flack

    great article. We are missionaries on staff at our mission’s retirement center….and it tends to be difficult defending what we do.

  • Dan Evans

    I hate to respond since I know it may be taken the wrong way but here goes. The last thing this world needs is more western missionaries. and is say this as a full time western missionary living in Africa for a bit longer. the only reason for a western missionary to be overseas is to help indigenous people do things themselves. ALL churches should ask 3 questions of ANY missionary. 1. How are you going to prepare the locals to take over your mission when you leave and be fully financially self supporting 2. What is your exit strategy and when will you be leaving? 3. Why are you needed . If they cannot clearly answer those questions don’t support them.// If your ministry does not lead directly to fulfilling the great commission and making disciples then it may be awesome, God blessed wonderful work but it is not missions and should not rely on support.

    • Amy Medina

      I absolutely agree with your three questions–no doubt. But if those three questions can be answered satisfactorily, then why would you say that there is no longer a need for western missionaries? And how does that negate the need for those missionaries to have support structures/people in place?

    • Joe in PNG

      Here’s a case- ponder the archetypal A-list Church Western Church planter/translator assisting an indigenous Church in the center of PNG. He’s teaching, translating, writing lessons, and equipping his national coworkers to go out and reach others. He’s there because the local Church is not yet able to produce their own lessons or translate the Bible.
      -How does he get there? He’s a three day hike from the nearest road, and another day from town.
      -How does he get food and generator fuel? He still needs power to keep the translation software and printer running.
      -What happens if he gets sick?
      -Who helps him check the translation or lessons?
      -How does he get money to carry out his ministry?
      -Who takes care of his visa paperwork?

      Support ministries exist so that missionary can spend more time focused on his actual ministry, instead of just trying to keep up with life.

    • Clema Burke

      Dan Evans.

      The local population in some countries do not have the means to maintain most of the ministries and services that the ‘west’ brings in, unless it’s just church planting.
      the problems that these communities are experiencing wouldn’t exist so greatly if they had the community-sourced-finances and the know-how to manage their own orphanages, schools, hospitals, nutrition & farming programs, etc.

      I was in Haiti serving in an orphanage for over a year. I never got the impression the local churches and pastors would have been able to maintain the orphanage independently, for more than a month. they were good pastors and people, but most of them were struggling just as much as their countryman with keeping their kids fed and through school. the ones that worked for us, their orphanage job was the only source of reliable income.

      at the very least, a ‘westerner’ would always have to be present to ensure that the programs/funds from the ‘west’ were being used properly. Yes you could teach the nationals how to do everything, but if there’s no pay to go with the job, it will most likely fall into disrepair/misuse.

  • Charles Tryon

    Oh my word… you just exactly described my life! I spent 8 years working, on support, in the home office, doing IT and computer work, but it was the short term trips that really caused the upward bumps in our support. That’s what’s exciting, what church people could relate with.

    The sad part is that, if you ask those “front line” people — the evangelists and church planters — generally they KNOW just how important the accountants and member care and IT people, and all those other “support” roles are, that they wouldn’t be able to effectively accomplish their calling without that long string of support people holding them up. I spent a lot of time doing remote assistance for people in the field, and they were SO thankful for someone to rescue them when their computer — their lifeline and connection back to the rest of the church — started flaking out, or their email (how they communicate with their supporting churches and team members) didn’t work. Those are just my stories, but I know they are repeated a thousand times over for other people in support roles.

    Ultimately, we all have to keep our eyes on the final goal, and that is seeing communities transformed through the Gospel, so even those of us in support roles (partner, teacher, receptionist, whatever…) need to see ourselves as a part of that chain. Even the local church needs to recognize that they are really there to support that goal. Then perhaps, they wouldn’t have as much trouble seeing where those “non-strategic” roles fit into the bigger picture.

    THANK YOU!!!

  • Jon

    In a north american church, particularly a small church or more local community ministry, these “c-list” positions would be filled by volunteers, or occasionally, part-time paid employees. That model works because while all Christians are called to serve, not all Christians are gifted primarily for preaching or for outreach. For those Christians whose primary giftedness IS in teaching or shepherding, it behooves the body to support them financially — so they can focus on such tasks as cannot be done well part-time. This is logical, well understood, and usually well executed.

    Why then is this not done in the “mission field?” While there are some fields that do not provide opportunity for part time employment, most of the global economy — where missionaries of all types are still needed — does have more than sufficient opportunity for “c-list” ministry workers to support themselves through paid employment. And incidentally, having Christians engaged in that fashion in the community is significantly more impactful than keeping us separate from the host cultures working world.

    As a missionary kid, and former “missions strategy” volunteer at my local church, I think its high time that supported missionaries who find themselves in the “c-list” because their primary gifting or calling is not full time teaching and shepherding, use their OTHER God-given gifts to fund some or all of their global work. There’s really no excuse left not to bring some skill and passion other than missions to the missions field.

    • Amy Medina

      You raise a good question, but unfortunately it’s one I can only answer from my own experience, and I’m certain that every country is different. In the country where we live, missionaries are not allowed to make money in the country. Acquiring a work permit that would allow us to make money, especially for a non-specialized position, would be practically impossible. And as another example, the MK/TCK school where we have ministered has tried to help their teachers with support levels by adding housing stipends and other benefits, but every time the school does so, school fees are raised, which ultimately ends up in the budgets of the “Class A” missionaries–forcing them to raise more support. (And our school is still the only reasonably priced international school available to missionaries in our city.) Again, I am only speaking from my own experience in answer to your question, but in our situation, your proposed scenario wouldn’t work.

    • Also, in many situations, those C-listers are doing full time work in those capacities, so there is literally no time left for them to also find work, especially since without support they’d have to not only do their missions work, but also work full time on top of that, in order to continue doing their missions work. The result, especially for C-listers with families, is complete burn out, and quite possibly neglected family responsibilities and relationships. If someone can work and minister and family – go for it! When we enter our field in 2019, my husband will be working at least part time if not full time, probably for the first 3-5 years, as we get rolling. But to really get and stay on task, that will eventually need to end or at least scale way, way back. Not being an A-lister shouldn’t impact that.

  • Eric

    I’ve been on both sides of the conversation (as a missions committee member and a field worker). After being in the field for nearly a decade, I’m much more sympathetic to the need for personnel in “support” roles, not simply those on the very front lines. I fully agree that we need competent administrators, children’s education workers, accountants, member care workers, etc.; yet their roles are often dismissed or ranked as second-class (by both senders and other field workers). So I resonate with the heart of what you’ve written; I’d even argue that their roles are, in fact, strategic!

    But having said that, let me ask: how would you suggest that mobilization and sending committees prioritize human and financial resources in missions? You sent out 200 applications and only heard back from two; but many (larger) churches might get 200 applications and only have resources for a few. Or they may have a member who wants to go overseas and says that she feels called to a people group or work that is relatively resource-rich already, and should arguably be sending their own out, not simply receiving workers and/or money from elsewhere.

    How should such decisions be made? Do strategic priorities have any place at all in mobilizing, vetting, and supporting missionary workers and projects? If so, what place? If not, then what should govern such support? If you had to wear the shoes of your sending church’s missions committee, how would you decide? If a missions committee were reconsidering their support policies in light of your personal story, what suggestions would you make?

    • Amy Medina

      Whew, well that’s a big question! As I said in this piece, I absolutely believe that strategy is important. It is the job of the missions committee to do their research and ask the right questions when vetting missionaries. Decisions to take on a missionary shouldn’t be based simply on being a relative of someone on the committee. Yes, they need to make sure that the position is strategic, reproducible, realistic, fits the gifting of the missionary, and that the missionary himself is ready spiritually, emotionally, etc. to go into this job. BUT when it comes down to choosing among hundreds, my ideal “grid” would be based more on how realistically this missionary will be able to be connected to my church. Are they a member? Are they from the same hometown? Are they already connected to people in my church? And then support them WELL so that they don’t have to spread themselves thin over dozens of churches. But that’s a whole other subject….! I’m not saying we do away with strategic thinking, only that we broaden our idea of what is included in that strategy.

    • Darren

      We were also field missionaries for 8 years until our limited-access country didn’t renew our visa. We also sent out applications to nearly 100 churches with and heard back from very few.

      If I was on the missions committee, I would narrow down the list of missionaries we support. Better to support 5 or 10 substantially, than 40 with a token amount. Better for the missionaries to have a handful of supporting churches that they can build real relationships with, and spend more than one weekend with when home, than 40 churches that support them, that they have token relationships with, and then have a ridiculous deputation schedule when home.

      I think the reason many missionaries function with loads of supporting churches all supporting tiny amounts is that mission agencies like to keep it that way so that control stays with them and not the home churches. There are some missionaries who are more “church-sent” than “agency-sent”, which I think is healthier.

      To answer Eric, the church would need an understanding of all the necessary and valid missionary roles as detailed in the article, and then support the individuals they have real relationship with and that they can sense and confirm the equipping, gifting, maturity and calling on.

  • g1l1t1

    My father built and maintained missionary radio stations for Far East Broadcasting Company (FEBC), initially Stateside during the late 1960’s at their short wave station KGEI south of San Francisco, then in the Far East (primarily in the Philippines) during the early 1970’s. Our denominational mission was more interested in sending over pastors and pastor trainers, but our home church came through to provide 90% of our support directly through FEBC. How many Latin Americans, Filipinos, Chinese, Vietnamese and other. Indochinese, Koreans, Russian, etc., heard the Good News and received salvation because of the radio stations he built? How many Filipino youth (many of them orphans) and their families were reached through a children’s crusade he led or the Bible school classes he taught? How many men and boys from his Filipino work crews around Manila?
    How many FEBC broadcast staff were more effective ministers because he repaired their cars, air conditioners, appliances, prayed with them when they were sick, laughed with them (and made them laugh, and cried with them)? How many were clothed or fed or sheltered by the disaster relief supplies and workers he transported?

    Lastly, how deeply touched by God were the lives of his own wife and children, this ingenious, ingenuous, loving, funny, kindhearted, brace, mild man possessed of apparently indomitable strength of body and of faith?

    It was in God’s plan that our denomination hesitated to send him as a missionary, for FEBC was clearly a place where God could use him to the fullest.

  • Link Hudson

    Paul said he robbed other churches to minister to the Corinthians. The Macedonians sent him money while he was ministering in Corinth. The implication is that, even for church planters, if they are ministering among a certain congregation, that congregation should be the one to support them. Of course, it is righteous to give to a preacher of the gospel ministering elsewhere.

    It seems like a lot of our models for missions and outreach are based on churches in the home country supporting missions on an ongoing basis. This may make sense if our missionaries are coming from wealthy western nations to poorer developing nations where costs are cheap. But these nations are developing and costs are rising there. We are also seeing the rise of Asian missions, where Asian countries send missionaries out. South Korea, which sends missionaries, is a wealthier Asian country. China is also wealthy, but some of their missionary evangelist types aren’t from the wealthier segments of society.

    The challenges with some of the missions models have to do with the fact that wages and expectations for a standard of living are high in the western, sending countries, but lower in the target countries. Missionaries want to send their kids to schools that teach in English (or their own language), and to study at college in their home countries. The people they are ministering to have much lower expectations in terms of cost, which may include local education for their children in their own language. Domestic flights to see relatives are cheaper for them. Training and encouraging local leaders makes sense economically, in addition to all the other practical and spiritual benefits. Some agencies focus on sending domestic workers.

    The western missionary with high expenses may not be against local worker-focused ministries, but may be saying, “Hey, you churches need to support me, too.” It’s a socially awkward situation, especially now with social media, where you read missionaries writing about how they need to be supported. For those who have money to give, are they going to choose the MK teacher over the domestic church planter who has planted dozens of churches? He might if he knows the teacher.

    “Cries of ‘We don’t have enough money. We need to be supported too.” from missionaries are really awkward to deal with. On the one hand, you kind of want to ask why aren’t the local people they are ministering to supporting them, especially when you are talking about people in the church planting, pastoral, and evangelistic ministries. Biblically, that is who we should expect to support them. If they have any Biblical right to ‘guilt trip’ anyone into supporting them, it’s those they are ministering to directly, not the folks at churches back home who are choosing to give to works they believe fit with their understanding of the Biblical priorities, church strategies, or just where their heart is. It’s also difficult when missionaries or domestic workers whose ministry hasn’t influenced you personally hit you up for cash online when you don’t know how you are going to pay rent at the end of the month. There are lots of people from certain countries who do this on Facebook.

    If you hear missionaries and pastors discuss missionaries doing church planting asking for money, they may say, “if there are that many people in that congregation, why can’t they raise support locally.”

    I also understand why churches would support church-planting efforts as opposed to missionary schools. If we look in the New Testament, we see money given to the poor and money given to church-planting types, preachers of the Gospel. We don’t see money for missionary schools.

    I imagine teachers at schools for missionary kids need support because missionaries could not afford the tuition if it were directly charged to them. But if they have the ‘pull’ with churches in the developed world, maybe the model needs to change. Congregations in these countries may be more motivated to donate money to the MKs to pay for tuition.

    In some cases, what needs to be changed is the system of how support works. I believe there are a lot of opportunities for tent making to support some of these initiative. Combining some of these efforts with business can also help fund them. Why can’t an MK school teach local children in English and fund the MKs with the paid tuition? Most private school teachers aren’t paid, at least in the west, by requesting donations to support them. If the school could fill a need in the community that it could charge for, why not do so? These types of changes have to be made at the top of an organization, not by the individual teachers.

    If God says go teach at a certain missions school, go do so, and step out in faith. But in general, we all need to make wise decisions. If we are going overseas, we need to be able and willing to work hard to make a living. That may involve getting the appropriate legal paperwork, having some kind of business contacts or a trade, etc. and a business model that pays for it. Paul could have rightly asked for support from the churches started through his and his co-laborers’ work. At least one some occasions, he would not take it. He made tents. Paul probably knew that he could sell them and make money. He probably understood the business model in addition to the skills of the trade. We don’t see him writing letters home to Antioch complaining that he was under-supported.

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  • Chris Brittain

    Well said

  • MamaAustin

    The lie that missionaries are “super saints” who can and should do what others can’t and won’t is dangerous and undercuts the effectiveness of the missionaries. It also leads to many people who are gifted for ministry feeling incapable or unqualified to be missionaries, because they feel they have “nothing of value” to bring to the field. Who knows what could be accomplished for the Gospel if we have the full contingent of personnel working together?

    • Amy Medina

      Absolutely.

  • i used to be a missionary

    this is right on…
    and it hurts my heart.
    One of our supporting churches actually made up a rubric while we were on the field. They tested us on it and we scored the highest of all of the missionaries they supported and then they decided to score our organization, which scored the lowest. While we were on home leave we were called in and asked to answer for this. I asked, “How much have you done to learn more about the organization?’ They responded, “Admittedly nothing.” So… What were we to do?
    I’d say that there are organizations that this happens in as well. I served as a teacher, in a teaching organization but because I was more interested in teaching and working with administration I was seen as less than the teachers who were choosing to combine their teaching with overt evangelism. That combined with being seen as a second class citizen for being a female teaching spouse (my husband was seen as a second class citizen with in the org for being the stay at home parent) led to us leaving the organization.

    • Amy Medina

      sorry….sounds frustrating.

    • We’re preparing to enter the field, and we’re worried about the gender class thing, too. At first, and possibly long term, my husband’s role will be largely support of me managing the bulk of our ministry-vision, with the exception of two ministries that will be primarily his. Eventually, he may be even more “secondary” in that he may take over much of the household work to free me up for more ministry work. And we have kids, with hopes for more of them. We’re perfectly happy with this, but we’ve gotten pushback that’s been, honestly, well, we don’t know what to do with it. Combine all of that with him being an introvert, so he’s not talking about his spiritual life or the results of his current ministry work unless asked, which doesn’t generally happen, and…yah. I’m sure you get it. We’re currently trying to decide if we should even apply to a mission, or just wing it on our own.

  • daniel buck

    I agree with a lot of what you said, especially having just recently come back to the U.S. from six years in missions, but there is one thing I didn’t see mentioned in this, and that’s the importance of relationships. Maybe you’ve addressed it in other posts, and I haven’t read those. In regards to contacting 200+ churches and only hearing back from two…well that’s not surprising to me at all. They don’t know you are what you’re doing. Why would they contribute to you? Hopefully they’re already supporting missionaries who are part of their community. Even switching to the theological training of East African pastors, I’m surprised you heard back from many more. When we were in the field, my wife and I quickly realized that we were much more successful when we invited people into God’s story and what he was doing across the world–and the platform to do that comes out of relationships–than simply asking for support. I say this not to criticize, but hopefully to encourage. I am greatly appreciative of what you are doing.

    • Amy Medina

      I hear what you are saying, Daniel, and I agree. Support raising in general is a whole other topic, and over the years, we’ve learned a lot about what “works.” I agree that relationships are the key for support team building. But when we switched to theological training, we had churches contacting us who had no relationship with us at all. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but it sure felt like it was because of our change in ministry.

  • yakshak

    The majority of missionaries in the organization I served with were ESL Teachers. However, the “class system” in our org was based on *where* you served. Asia? Not only did you make money at the school, but everyone threw donations at you. Latin America? Well, I guess the “lost” look different enough from you that putting your picture in the newsletter will show the good work we’re doing. Europe? Forget it. Why are we spending money reaching white people in “Christian” nations?

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  • Wes Groleau

    On the C-list and not in the least embarrassed. But often having trouble finding someone to support.

  • Don Johnson

    Amy, my wife and I really relate to this article you wrote. She is a Christian counselor engaged in member care and I’m a mission administrator working with Missio Nexus and the Standards of Excellence in Short-term Mission, as well as serving with our own organization. We’d like to include your article in our next newsletter. We would, of course, give you credit along with the website to find your materials online. Can we be given permission to do that?

    • Amy Medina

      H Don! Glad you were able to resonate with this! Yes, you are welcome to re-print it as long as you say that it was originally published here at A Life Overseas and include the website. Thanks!

  • As B-listers preparing for to enter the field and currently attempting to figure out if there’s even any point in attempting to join a mission because everyone we’ve talked to so far about our vision doesn’t think we’re going to be “real” missionaries…thank you. I feel that there is a profound misunderstanding of the actual scope of missions work and workers. It makes me really sad.

  • Elizabeth Hanchett

    I can relate to this. My parents had to leave the field due to our main supporting church deciding that Spain was not “glamorous” or “needy” enough and that sending my siblings and me to boarding school was “bad parenting”.

  • Karin

    Many important thoughts.
    I’d like to add a question: who are you speaking for? Your blog post suggests it is the Western church but the West includes Europe and many European churches would consider themselves blessed if they could afford to hire more than one pastor or had funds to spare for strategic purposes.

    • Amy Medina

      Karin–You are right. I am American, and I’m sure the dynamics are different in Europe. I was trying to keep my audience as broad as possible but it’s likely that this issue is very American.

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  • Missionary Yesutor Blessing Gu

    I have been inspired, touched and provoked to see things anew because you wrote your mind. Your points are painfully true. Thank God for you. Love you.

    • Amy Medina

      so glad. thanks for reading!

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