Ending Missionary Support Without Feeling Like You Shot Old Yeller

By Patric Knaak on January 25, 2017

There are good and bad ways to end a partnership with your missionary. That isn’t to say any of them are easy. Every missionary has had a church stop supporting them, and even if it wasn’t fun, most of them make it through just fine. What you do as you withdraw support, however, can have a dramatic impact on how the experience feels and plays out for them. Ending well is never easy, but it is one of the most tangible ways the gospel gets worked out in the sending life of a church. And while this article is addressed to the situation of a church stopping giving, there is plenty to learn even if you are not involved in your church’s mission committee.

Here are some ways to ensure you are finishing as well as you started:

Money actually matters more as you end the relationship than it did when you started. Most missionaries can’t absorb the loss of a church’s giving without needing to replace that amount in new giving. Anything you can do to help them in this regard will be greatly appreciated.

If a change (or end) to funding is on the horizon, tell your missionary as soon as you possibly can. They will need time to absorb the information and plan accordingly. Sometimes, this extra time makes a crucial difference affecting their continuity of fieldwork. If they know ahead of time that one source of support is going to end, they can begin working on finding new supporters without having to immediately drop what they are doing on the field and return home to raise more support.

Ask if there is a way to gradually stop financial support to minimize the impact of your decision on your missionary’s work. Missionaries regularly need to raise new support and often have scheduled times to travel and connect with potential new supporters. Understanding your missionary’s timetables may allow you to end your support in a way that minimizes the impact of needing to find new financial partners. Since money serves people and not the other way round, do your best to come at it from the perspective of people’s needs first.

Be as flexible and generous as you can. Reducing support gradually and offering to help cover one-time expenses associated with needing to raise new support are great ways to help.

If at all possible, free your missionary to raise support from your congregation. Often—especially if the partnership has been effective—members in your congregation will have formed special friendships with missionaries and are willing to consider giving individually to help them stay fully supported. This is a great place to see “the pie grow” because most of the time, these people wouldn’t simply start giving more on their own. With a strong personal connection to the missionary, a clear sense of the work they are doing, and sensitivity to how God is asking them to stewardHis resources, they often find new levels of generosity.

Communicate the decision to stop financial support personally, face to face if at all possible. Yes, this is daunting, but the gospel transforms not just what we decide to do, but how we love people through the midst of difficulty and pain. Getting a letter in the mail that dissolves a partnership may be okay in the business world, but that method has no place in God’s family. Find a way to speak with missionaries in person, over the phone or by video conference. Expect it to be hard and expect to make mistakes, but likewise, cling to promises that Jesus makes to use the hard things in your life to make you more dependent on Him.

Be compassionate. Becoming a missionary is going to be the hardest thing most of these individuals will ever do. Even if they have a strong ministry with lots of fruit and are blessed with a strong network of people that will care for them, there will be profound costs to their work—costs to their marriage and their children, to their comfort and security, and, at times, even to their safety. On top of that, they have to travel for months, sometimes years, to raise the money needed to carry out their calling. No matter how well thought out your decision is, or how necessary, it’s still going to be hard. Help your missionaries by bearing some of that cost. Listen to them and value their tears. Be tender when they feel hurt or angry. Find ways to let them know that a change in funding isn’t a referendum on the spiritual impact of their ministry or their personal worth.

A Special Note to Sending Churches

If you are a missionary’s sending church (vs. just one of their supporting churches) we would encourage you to use extra care here. Quite honestly, Serge generally recommends that you avoid cutting ties with a missionary your church raised up and sent, even if their support has to be reduced. Of course, sometimes continued funding just isn’t possible. In that rare occasion where the partnership is being brought to an end as a result of your church’s decisions, we’d recommend going the extra mile to love your people well.

Here are a few things that will help:

Be sure you understand what emotional, financial, and ministry impact your decision will make before you commit to it. Some families can’t stay on the field without the support of their sending church. Do you have a clear picture of how your decision will impact the missionaries you’ve personally sent?

No matter what the reasons, or how well it’s communicated, your missionary is going to feel personally rejected. To some extent, it is a personal rejection. Be sensitive to this fact and know that your missionaries may not respond as well as either you or they would like. Part of your role in bearing one another’s burdens is to be willing to carry some of the pain that will inevitably result, and to do so graciously and well.

Go over and above in your efforts to stay connected and make provision for your missionaries during the time of transition. The ending only starts with the news that you are going to stop financial support. Even though communicating that news will feel like the big event for you, for your missionaries, it’s just the start of the big transition. Be ready to walk beside them for another year or two, particularly if they will need to come off the field to raise new support. Find ways to help them with travel expenses, lodging, a car to use, etc. Offer to fund some time at a debriefing program for missionaries (Serge uses Mission Training International and we recommend them highly), or to work with a counselor. Find out if your church can help fund ongoing expenses for their children (e.g. helping them finish out the term or year at their school).

Pay careful attention to what you communicate to your congregation about the change. Having to explain over and over what has happened and why compounds the difficulty for missionaries who have strong networks at your church. Someone on your mission committee should be a point person to deal with all the inquiries, and you should ask people in your church to go to that individual directly instead of asking the missionary. Often, individual members of your congregation will disagree with this type of decision. These disagreements should be discussed so you can help avoid the type of gossip and division that these decisions can occasion. 

How the Gospel Informs How We Think and Talk About Money

Even though we’ve addressed funding, we haven’t actually been talking about money. Not really. We’ve been talking about:

Faith: God provides funds to expand his Kingdom and we have to trust Him enough to release those funds to missionaries, even though we have expenses that need to be met in our own churches.

Stewardship: As His sons and daughters, we need to seek to use God’s money for God’s purposes to bring about God’s glory.

Vision and calling: Your church should find ways to support missionaries that are in line with the passions and gifts of your congregation.

Therefore it shouldn’t be too surprising that when it comes to communicating about funding to a potential or current missionary, we aren’t really talking about money either. Rather, we’re talking about what “faith expressing itself in love” looks like in the conversations churches and missionaries have about financial support. Talking openly and compassionately about such things isn’t easy. In many ways, it’s countercultural. At times, it can feel a bit awkward for everyone involved. But we want to encourage you to see this as an area where the Gospel needs to be at work in your own life so you can freely and lovingly discuss the realities of financial support without feeling shame, pride, fear, or struggling for control.

When a missionary approaches your church for financial support, what do they most deeply want from you? It may shock you to hear this, but it isn’t money. Well, okay, most of the time it isn’t money—we’ve all had those “Please give us money even though you don’t know us and have never met us” form letters, and we think you should feel free to drop them directly in the recycling bin. But when a missionary takes the time to personally write to you, call, or schedule a visit or video appointment, what do they really want? They want a relationship, not a business transaction. They are longing to find partners who will pray for them, dream with them, and engage with them so that people who don’t yet know Jesus can meet Him. Even though dollar amounts, beginning dates, and ending dates are in view, they are not the most important parts of the story. Don’t get us wrong. Missionaries do need your money in order to fulfill their calling on the field, but it isn’t what they are really about. They want you! Understanding this—the fundamentally relational nature of all aspects of mission—is the first step to having open and compassionate communication with the missionaries who will join your family.

 

>>> This article has been adapted from Going Global: A Guide for Deepening Your Church’s International Mission Program. Get your FREE copy today.

Patric Knaak

About Patric Knaak

Patric Knaak serves as Area Director for Renewal for Serge. As a pastor, Patric’s life, marriage, and ministry were radically changed through the Mentored Sonship program. It’s now his great joy to be part of making that same teaching and mentoring available to a new generation of Christian leaders. He’s husband to Jennifer, father to Parker and loves it when they can join him to see what God is up to in the world. He loves to read, dabbles in vintage fountain pens, and has never met BBQ he didn’t like.