On Board with the 90 Percent

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We will discover the Lord moving people to go to bat for us.

The Banner published an article sharing the point of view of some World Missions missionaries who objected to the new goal of raising 90 percent of our support by 2020. I offer a different perspective here because my wife and I, and many others, are on board with the new paradigm.

Many decades ago, the denomination supported World Missions missionaries almost exclusively. They did so through ministry shares in a time when the cost of doing ministry was lower. Now the cost of doing ministry is much higher, and ministry shares giving has long been declining. People prefer to give their money to support concrete needs. The idea of a general budget is hard for many to visualize or get excited about. These are things to lament.

At the same time, many of our churches use part of their missions budgets to support missionaries from other missions and send mission teams overseas. These are things to rejoice about. Still, they affect our mission adversely. World Missions needs to adapt to this new reality, and the 90 percent paradigm is part of that adaptation.

A bit of context: my wife and I served with an interdenominational mission in the 1990s. We raised 100 percent of our support plus travel and ministry expenses. The administrative staff of that mission organization, though they were wonderful people, could offer us nowhere near the help we get from the staff of World Missions. Our salary and benefits were minimal during that time, whereas now they are on a level comparable to those who work in the U.S. For that organization, the administrative cost was 12 percent, whereas with World Missions it is 8 percent.

We were told not to view raising support as an interruption of what we do but as a part of what we do, ministering to people back home and inviting new people to take part in what the Lord is doing in our ministries. The missionaries quoted in the Banner article don’t seem to see it in that way.

Some voices are grumbling, resisting change, and criticizing the home office without knowing what goes on there. Others are even portraying the situation as adversarial: World Missions versus missionaries. But I would “show you a more excellent way”—that is, love.

If we who are at the forefront of the foreign missions efforts of the Christian Reformed Church are willing to connect more intimately with people back home, our enthusiasm, global perspective, and authenticity will help inspire and strengthen them. Then we will discover the Lord moving people to go to bat for us. The support will come in.

To God be the glory.

About the Author

Dave Gifford is an ordained minister in the CRC and a missionary with World Missions. He and his wife, Blanca, have served in Mexico City for the last nine years. The Giffords' website is www.giffmex.org.

See comments (5)


So if missionaries end up having to raise 90% of their support from the CRCNA constituency and that very same pool provides the "Ministry Share" support for World Missions what's the compelling reason for keeping Ministry Shares at all? Why not have everybody find their support through direct, free-will offerings and have everybody more directly in touch with the local church scene? Furthermore, shouldn't we expect a decrease in the MS assessment asked of every confessing member? 

The problem of funding shifts is more than the decision to require missionairies to raise 90% of their own support.  World Missions is increasingly spending it share of ministry funds on project I would suggest have little or nothing to do with "world missions," at least as that phrase has been historically understood.

For example, World Missions funds the "Hope Equals" project, which tries to find peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, see: http://www.crcna.org/news-and-views/hope-equals-seeks-articulation , and do other "global justice" things.

Now, finding peace between the Israelis and Palestinians is not a bad objective, but it something the CRCNA, whether through World Missions or otherwise, is neither equipped to do nor capable of doing, nor is it what CRCNA members understand to be "world missions."

In my view, the move to require missionaires to raise 90% of their own support is nothing more or less than a rejection of the importance of doing "mission work," at least compared to doing the work of so-called "global justice."  I think this is a very decision.  It amounts to giving up work the CRCNA should and can do -- as an institutional church -- in exchange for work that the CRCNA can barely define ("doing global justice") and frankly is ill-equipped to do because the CRCNA's skills and experiences are largely other than what is required to do this "new kind of work," which is largely political in nature.

Well said, David. Thanks for writing this!

Hi Lambert, Thanks for your question.  A very thorough answer to it is coming in the form of a supplementary report to Synod by the Board of Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM).  The short answer is that parachurch agency missionaries, which I used to be, are typically expected to raise 115% of their actual costs.  So, although 90% sounds like almost all of it, this paradigm still has a significant amount of Ministry Shares going into the budgets of individual missionaries.  Second, CRWM does much more than send career missionaries.  It sends partner missionaries and volunteers, provides grants to international partners (who use those funds to support national evangelists and teachers, etc.) and has other sorts of program costs that are vital for career missionaries to do what God has called them to do.  The overall budget for CRWM has been virtually flat over the past 25 years.  Meanwhile costs have been climbing much faster overseas than in North America.  The goal of this move isn't shifting the burden to the missionaries but moving to a sustainable model of ministry that enables us to appoint new missionaries.  The good news is, it is working.  We have four new career and associate missionaries raising support right now and four more career positions open.  We have not had eight new positions in more than a decade.

Hi Doug, I appreciate the concern for doing missions that lies behind your comment.  However, this move certainly is NOT a rejection of the importance of doing "mission work."  In fact, it is exactly the opposite.  If CRWM thought that the work of missions was complete or that it could be totally delegated to others while we busy ourselves with something else, we would not be working hard to create new positions for career missionaries.  

For the last twenty-five years CRWM has been under financial stress because our model required a large and undefined amount of general fund revenue to fund each new career missionary position. Because the purchasing power of Ministry Shares has been decreasing each year, we have been inhibited from appointing new career missionaries.  The result is that the career missionary force has been shrinking.  But we are not satisfied with that.  That doesn't fit with God's calling on the Christian Reformed Church.  

If our old method of missionary finance has a twenty-five year track record of leading to this kind of shrinkage, it is time to change it.  As you can read above, it is working.