Friday, July 24, 2009

Policy vs Practice??

In my last entry on this blog, I mentioned a confusion some have had about the proposed ABC structure change on one hand, and the change in the method of funding missionaries being implemented by International Ministries on the other hand. Once again, this week, I had to clarify to several people that the two are not connected.

I am encountering frustration in some instances and rage in others about the change in missionary funding. Unfortunately when people get mad at one part of the family, it tends to affect the rest of the family. I’m spending a good deal of time trying to explain.

Why does it matter so much to people?

I wonder if it is a problem of a common understanding of what is a value and what isn’t. We have had an historic practice in the ABC that overseas missionaries don't have to spend time fund-raising. For some of us that is a "value." Because it is a "value," life gets tense when someone changes it without engaging us in the decision. For others it has simply been an operational matter that gets changed when needed. This is a question of a change in policy vs a change in practice. [If fully funded overseas missionaries is not a value, it is at least what makes us unique. –And we tend to have problems when people take away our uniqueness/identity.]

The problem has arisen because The Board of International Ministries has more missionaries in the field than it can support. A few years ago a strategy was implemented to put more missionaries on the field. The decision to move to this approach was part of a larger planning process conducted by IM. The planning process took several years, involved interviews with people from across the country and around the world. The process was motivated by a desire to continue to update the way we do mission AND because nationwide, United Mission giving was dropping. The whole idea of Mission Partnership Teams was introduced and we were told they didn’t have anything to do with fundraising. Yet, everyone knew they did.

A big fundraising push got the money for the first year to put more missionaries in the field. Some of us were asking how this could be sustained. Some strategies work, some don't, and some only work partially. There was certainly some significant energy generated by the emphasis -- but not enough money. Then . . . the stock market problems of last fall. In April, Reid Truelson, Executive Director of IM, told the General Executive Council (all region execs, and heads of other ABC organizations) that IM would continue to pay a portion of missionaries’ expenses. He said that income had not grown sufficiently to continue to support the missionaries without their (the missionaries) help in the fundraising efforts. He said they had hoped to make the transition much more gradually to missionary-help-with-fundraising. He said declining church giving, the economic crunch and increased costs had made them move the date to Sept. of this year. There is not enough money coming in to support the number of missionaries on the field.

The problem for many is that in some places this strategy is not raising new money but diverting funds from other purposes. And so, money is taken from the local church, the region, home mission, and ABC general ministry. It feels like we are engaged in a win-lose game instead of a win-win partnership.

Another "value" is that ABC historically has been committed to doing what Jesus told us to do and that getting the job done is more important that who does it. We have not been "personality" driven although we have certainly loved our missionaries. If we discover than in Borneo we can win more souls by supporting a locally driven effort, rather than placing or keeping American missionaries there, that's the way we've gone. The current emphasis seems to be strongly personality based. And it seems to be popular. Some churches are much more passionate about “their” missionaries than about the mission.

Another characteristic of ABC overseas mission work has been that missionaries had excellent training and supervision. The perception is that we do an excellent job of quality control. When missionaries need help, often their supervisors see it first and take action. I hope this is still true. I keep hearing stories to the contrary.

These are challenging days. Is there a way we can address the policy vs practice issue. Might that help us help our constituencies to understand changes? How do we constructively engage a discussion?

A pastor asked me this week if the denomination understood how frustrated churches are about this, would it change. Well, I don’t know how many are frustrated. Certainly the calls I’m getting indicate frustration. But I’m sure others are probably happy. I’ve heard that missionaries have been pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to raise funds.

How do we help the part of our family in great pain over what is happening?