What is the Bottom Line in Missions?
There is a missionary couple living in California and they have done their work so well that they may be forced to leave missionary work entirely! I recently met this couple and sympathize with their plight.
Several years ago they started working for a large mission that has over 3,000 missionaries scattered around the world. They went to the Middle East where they learned Arabic and plunged into their work. As they completed one project successfully, they were moved by their supervisor to another project and then another. Soon the husband was asked to coordinate the work of other missionaries in that part of the world.
All was going well until the husband was given still one more promotion, but this one required him to live in California as a home- based representative and coordinator. Although he now had more responsibility than ever, churches and individuals dropped their support because, they said, he was no longer a "real" missionary.
The Bottom Line
What is the bottom line in missions and how ought the sending community to evaluate the effectiveness of those they send? Many successful Christian businessmen are mystified whenever they try to evaluate missionary work. In the business world the health of a business is judged by profitability. There are clients or customers who pay for services rendered or products sold. The surplus of funds received after expenses is a profit, and a business that makes a decent profit is considered successful.
When business people look at missions they instinctively ask, where is the bottom line? If it is not a good profit margin, what is it?
Some have concluded that good missionaries are those who render the most service to their clients, just as a medical doctor is a good doctor if he keeps his patients alive and well. To give such service, missionaries must have close contact with their clients or the people to whom they present the gospel.
Others have despaired of finding a bottom line. They judge the worth of missionaries by what they have given up to do their work. Those living in remote areas without electricity and running water are sacrificing the most and have the greatest worth. Those living in a city overseas are still considered missionaries but less worthy than
the others because their living conditions have improved. While those claiming to be missionaries while living in the United States or Canada are not missionaries at all because they enjoy the same amenities as other North Americans!
A New Model Needed
We desperately need a new model for evaluating missionary effectiveness and worth. The work of fulfilling the Great Commission could much better be compared to the work of an army in wartime than to a business corporation. Those who have joined the ranks of the Lord's army in missions ought to be evaluated in the light of the territory they have gained from the enemy, or their potential for reclaiming such territory. One branch of the military does not charge another branch for services rendered because the whole operation is underwritten by the same taxpayers. It ought to be the same in missions.
People who say, "We want to support only those on the front lines," have not reflected sufficiently on the implication of what they say. An army made up only of soldiers in trenches would quickly be defeated. Logistical support is essential for those on the front lines. As one goes up the chain of command, one eventually arrives at the commander responsible for good battle strategy. The American Civil War dragged on for years partly because the South had an excellent general in Robert E. Lee while President Lincoln kept searching for a Northern General who would match Lee's wits and fortitude. Finally he found Ulysses S. Grant who was equal to the task and the war was over.
The allied defense of Kuwait a couple of years ago was successful because General Schwartzkopf was a brilliant strategist. Schwartzkopf was honored for the victory although he could never have done it alone.
Implications for Missionary Support
Why then do mission supporters insist on honoring the "foot soldiers" while ignoring the strategizer and the decision makers? Why do we romanticize missions while in the world of business we want facts, figures and graphs?
Because we do not consider missionaries to be soldiers in an army. We do not consider that if a general is a soldier as much as a private, a missionary commander, coach, or a strategist, is a missionary as much as those on the frontiers. Some judge missionaries by what they have given up to become missionaries whereas they ought to be judging them by what they are accomplishing for the Lord together with their fellow missionaries and national Christians.
If we look at the missionary movement as a mighty army working together to achieve clearly defined goals, support for the army would be more evenly distributed among all those who desperately need it. If we look at the missionary movement as a mighty army working together to achieve clearly defined goals, support for the army would be more evenly distributed among all those who desperately need it.
Paul wrote to Timothy, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus." (II Timothy 2:3). But Timothy was not always on the front lines; in the verse that immediately precedes verse 3, Paul says, "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others." Paul, Timothy, and many others all worked together that the gospel might spread throughout the Roman Empire, and concerning all these workers Paul wrote, "The worker deserves his wages." (I Tim. 5:18)
This is still true today.