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21st Century Missions – Jamie Arpin Ricci

July 7th, 2008 · 3 Comments

Today we get into the first responses to the questions I asked last week and begin with Jamie Arpin Ricci who in his own words is "a missionary/church planter and writer, serving with Youth With A Mission for nearly 15 years.  He lives and serve in the inner city of Winnipeg, share life alongside his neighbours, trying to love God and others along with his community.  He writes and speaks on issues of missions, missional community and urban ministry.  He blogs at www.missional.blog.com."

So here are Jamie’s thoughts on the questions I asked, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments:

In considering financial support for missionaries to what extent do you think it is important for both the supporter and supported to think about the support as theological endorsement?

While it is very important that both parties consider the implications of given as a tacit endorsement of theology, there is a very real and dangerous possibility that people will attempt to coerce or manipulate someone’s theology through financial support (or with-holding said support).  Giving should be done out of obedience to God’s leading.  This requires a degree of trust, both in God and in the missionary.
A big challenge with this is the very differing reality facing missionaries than the average Christian donor.  Missionaries are often on the front edge of theological and missiological thinking and practice, growing out of the necessity of their work.  Many Christian donors, on the other hand, often engage theology in a more theoretical context, affording them the luxury of "idealism", the danger of nostalgia and ignorance (this is, of course, a generalization).  As a result, missionaries often face crippling support drops stemming from unrealistic expectations (not to mention, shifting support loyalty based on anything from theology to novelty).

There is an increased awareness in Churches today that the mission field is also their local community, some are saying this is resulting in a drop in financial support being directed to International missions? To what extent do you think this is a good or bad change?

The shifting of awareness to seeing the local community as needing missional engagement is, of course, a very good thing.  However, it can (and has) resulted in a drop in support of international missions, as well as domestic missions/parachurch organizations.  Sadly, even prior to this, missions received far too small a fraction of Christian giving.
While churches do need to be aware and careful about this issue, the bigger problem is with how Christians spend their own money.  Much of Christian culture in the West has bought into the consumeristic pattern of life, meaning that massive amounts of money are being spent on what we are told are necessities.  I believe this is the single greatest threat to the Church in the Western world.  Unless this issue is more directly addressed, the above issue will not be satisfactorily remedied.
That being said, missions agencies and para-church organizations must recognize that "the writing is on the wall", so to speak.  They will need to rethink their approach to missions, ministry, fund raising and financial structuring to be more effective (or even survive) in this shifting time.  So, again, while local missionality is impacting foreign missions spending, the great fault lies with Christian values being co-opted by materialism/consumerism.

Many are suggesting that the traditional conception of missionaries and those who ‘Go’ and are financially supported needs to be revised to a more self sustaining bi-vocational model akin to Paul’s tent making enterprise, Is this a realistic model in all contexts? What would be the grounds in your opinion for advocating an approach to missions which is based entirely on financial support?

With countless contexts, fields of ministry, etc. there will never be one single model or method that will suffice.  As a result, there will always be a place for full missionary support.  Contexts where a community cannot provide an alternative income (i.e. remote/tribal contexts); where specific ministry emphasis requires full time work (i.e. missionary doctors, especially among the poor); etc.  We must also recognize the leading of the Spirit in these decisions, as cost-effectiveness cannot be our exclusive or primary deciding factor.  While my own income is significantly from missions support, we supplement it through rental properties, writing jobs, etc. out of necessity.  More missionaries are taking this blended approach.
Like my last question, I am concerned that there is increasingly talk about placing great financial responsibility on those called to Christian leadership/mission, when the larger Body of Christ in the West is still the most affluent in human history.  The circumstances may demand a change, but we must address the root causes as well.  It must be both/and on this issue.

In your opinion what claim does a financial supporter have on a missionary, in terms of communication, accountability, and authority?

As my earlier answer suggested, financial giving should never be transactional.  We give in obedience to God, not as investors or business partners.  Of course there should be accountability and communication, but to demand these things as though they are claims "purchased" by the donor taints the gift.  This is why I advocate for as close a relational link between giver and recipient as possible (which is not always easy, especially when supporting indigenous leaders).
While on this topic, it should also be noted that churches must intentionally and proactively seek to avoid and discourage giving as a form of "missional indulgences"- that is, that people buy out their missional responsibility by supporting missionaries elsewhere.  Guilt can be a great motivator for giving, so many churches, organizations and missions agencies depend on this mentality to keep the dollars coming.  This is unacceptable and must be stopped.

What are the foundational concepts which effect the way in which you ‘raise’ financial support? Do you ask for financial needs directly? Or do you not make people aware of financial need and trust that God will provide?

There are many people called to not make their needs known (often citing George Mueller and others as inspirations).  While I believe that God does call some to this, there are some serious and common problems that arise from this approach.  First, asking for financial support is very humbling.  Many people use the "Mueller" approach as way to avoid this discomfort to their pride.  Second, many people claim to not ask, but strongly hint and suggest about their needs in a way that can be manipulative.  Third, support raising is hard, demanding work.  It is far easier to leave it to others.  Not surprising then that a lack of finances is one of the number one reasons people leave missions/ministry.
This is not to say that asking is simple either.  Again, the use of manipulation can be all too easy to fall into, especially if you work in a culture/context of extreme poverty.  To make it work, both sides need to invest time and energy into building relationship, communication and trust.  I remember once when donors helped raise a significant amount of money to help me travel to a location.  When, after a few days it didn’t work out and I headed home, I wrote to apologize to my supports for not doing more research prior to spending.  That apology and openness went further in actual developing and increasing my support than any guilt-inspiring language or false optimism.  They trusted me as a result.
While I do believe that some are called specifically to trust God for their provision without making their needs know, I think it should not be the norm.  Christ calls us into the intimate community that is His Body- a community of brokenness, honesty, accountability and trust.  Too many Scriptural affirmations call for transparency, mutual support and honesty with each other.  I think there is far more to gain by learning to be open with our needs.
I will also say that, since the missionaries lifestyle is dependent on the generosity of others, so to must they live generously.  Of course they should be wise, live simply and be very careful with their money.  However, freely we have received, so freely we should give.  It is all too common to become miserly or adopt a poverty mentality.  This is not nature of the Christians or community Christ wants us to become.

Tags: Christian Living · Theology Thoughts · Worship

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