How We Pay Our Missionaries

Guest commentary by Ed Smithson

(BNc)- It is about time. I’ve heard that expression applied to one thing or another. There are things, for some reason, we are not supposed to speak about in the church. If it is mentioned someone will say, “you can’t say anything about that!” My question is, “Why not?”

I will speak of this now, and I will speak of it again, the Lord willing and I live long enough.

We’ve come a long way in paying preachers in the last 30-50 years. Many preachers make a decent salary where they didn’t 30-50 years ago. They also get periodic raises, sometimes, that they didn’t get 30-50 years ago.

But while we have made great strides in support of our local preachers, we have, in many instances, done it on the backs of the missionaries.

Do you know, on the average, missionaries get paid a lot less than the “local” preacher? Sometimes only about half as much. Do you wonder why?

Of course, there are some who get paid a lot more. Usually, they are native preachers in a country where the average pay is very small and are being paid by a U.S. church that doesn’t know or care about the pay scale. But they are sure aware of the pay scale at home!

Through the years I have known men who went into mission work and did so knowing they would have to take a cut in pay. On top of that, they would have to raise their own support. Why? It is ridiculous to believe that because a man is preaching for someone who can’t pay him, or preaching for someone who is not a member of the church he should be penalized his pay! Yet, it is almost always that way.

I remember a young man in Oklahoma a few years ago who had just graduated from one of our “Preacher Training Schools.”. He was married and had a family, I believe, at the time, one little girl. He was “hired” by a congregation and worked with them for about a year. His pay was barely more than half of what the local pulpit preacher received. Now everyone has to start somewhere but half-pay? That’s ridiculous! In any large company he could have started at twice what he was making, or close to it. But since he wanted to preach the gospel, he must “learn to sacrifice”. Some brethren believe that, and they are going to make sure it happens.

I actually had an elder to tell me that one time, and he was not kidding. He was very well off, worth close to a million, if not at least that much, but he said when a man decided to preach, he felt he had decided to make a sacrifice.

Many a man does, but not because he wants to. It’s because he knows that is the way the brethren think and if he is going to preach he might as well get ready to do without.

Another preacher I was acquainted was sent by a church to the northern part of the U.S., to establish the church. No members in this town of some 25,000. He was paid only about 2/3 of what he was making in the “Bible belt” and wasn’t given any working fund to use, either.

I heard of a preacher once who “hired out” to a congregation. When they began discussing vacation time, one of the elders wanted to know how long he had been preaching. When he was told 30 years, the elder said he got a month of vacation time because that was the way it was where he worked. This preacher was flabbergasted. He had never had anyone think of preaching in that way before. Usually a preacher gets the customary two weeks no matter how long he has been at it or how long he has been where he is.

Back to the pay for missionaries. I had one elder say that if a man had a family he deserved more than one who didn’t. I asked what passage he got that out of. “The laborer is worthy of his hire” (Lk 10:7). “They who proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel” (1 Cor 9:14). “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn” (Deut 25:4; 1 Cor 9:9).

For years, a friend has done work in an area that would certainly be considered mission. He has lived on a salary that is about half what his counterpart at home in his sponsoring church makes. He does not have the local preacher’s benefits, either. He pays his own insurance, makes his own house payments, pays his own utilities and, while his counterpart at home has a retirement plan to which the church contributes, he has none. While his counterpart gets a book allowance, car allowance and expenses paid to college lectureships, he gets none of these. In fact, he drives his car, which is a lot older, a lot more miles than his counterpart at home, yet he pays all the expenses, mileage, upkeep, repair, etc.

One of these days this man, who has no children left at home, may get to the age of retirement or, for some health reason, have to retire. What is he going to do then? He is going to be criticized by brethren who will say, “Well, he didn’t plan for old age.” Most of them had someone else do it for them, and they made a lot more money. He is going to be left to the mercy of his children, or worse, his brethren, if he gets any kind of care at all, because he can’t pay for it.

Since the church is autonomous I can’t suggest anything that would work for every situation. But where missionaries are concerned, they need to be treated better than stepchildren where pay and support are concerned.

A man should get paid according to his needs, but he should also be paid according to his ability and time in service.

We have the money. Churches of today are richer than I have seen them in 60 years. Lack of money is not the problem.

I know several churches who are collecting interest on Certificates of Deposit while their missionaries are fighting to keep the bill collectors away from their door.

Brethren, such should not be the case!
_______
From Ed’s “Frankly Speaking Notes,” used by permission. See his OldPathsPulpit.org.

Randal and his wife Vicki have lived and worked in Brazil since Nov. 1984. They have three children, two daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren. He likes to read novels in his back-porch hammock. http://randal.us

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2 Comments

  1. Lee Parish

    I say a hearty AMEN! I pray everyday for missionaries spreading God’s Word. They need all the help that they can get. It is unfortunate that this can be such a taboo subject, we should be more open to discussing subjects like money and support.

    That said we should be careful not to go too far and make a problem on the other extreme.

  2. I would like to thank you from my heart for this article about missionary fields and their workers. I am a mission preacher in a long overlooked mission field…the United States! I work as a mission minister on the Navajo Nation in AZ. When I attempt to garner support I am often told that this is not truly a mission field since it is domestic. One elder even said that domestic missions are wasted fields and they would prefer to send their money to deserving fields in Africa and the former Soviet blocks in Europe in order “to fulfill the Scriptures in regards to Matthew 28:19-20”. It is truly sad to see such a prevailing attitude among our brethren.

    One need only travel and visit where I live and work to see it is not unlike any 3rd world country. We deal with poverty and sin just as anywhere but we also contend with mysticism and “spirit” religions, as well as many “traditions” just like so many groups of indigenous peoples in other parts of the world. We are a small congregation and struggle constantly to stay afloat and active despite these kinds of monetary setbacks. Often when I attempt to solicit support we are “graded” on the number of baptisms we have had rather than our evangelistic outreach efforts.

    We pray often in thanks for the few who remain tirelessly faithful of our work here and also pray in the hopes that elders and members of mission committees would rethink their stance on what constitutes a “successful” mission field. If we all had to rely on a specific number of baptisms to justify our existence and work there would many mission congregations that would have to close their doors due to lack of support, both financially…and spiritually.

    Please feel free to visit our website to see the exciting things happening here in Kinlichee, AZ! We are opening a computer school to teach local residents vital computer literacy in order to survive in a technologically based world, where many people here still live in traditional hogans often without running water or electricity and only wood stoves for heat and camp stove lights at night. We are also working with a preacher training school to begin a satellite virtual campus here for the Navajo preachers that do not have the luxury to leave their small congregations for two years to attend a formal school. A congregation in Tullahoma, TN provides the expense of satellite internet for us since we don’t have DSL like folks at home do so that we can operate our computer lab. Most of our computers have been donated lovingly by people and are quite old but still able to be utilized by the folks here.

    We are able to do this for support of about $2,000.00 a month (so you can well imagine my “pay scale” let alone being able to set aside a little for a rainy day!) This includes keeping up our lease and utilities each month to stay open. Were it not for a small disability pension and some blessed help from a congregation I was a member of before coming here I would not be able to stay either.

    I did not come here to get rich and would not leave here because it is a “poor” congregation…because it is not. I am blessed to be involved with a “rich” congregation that is “wealthy beyond all belief” with spiritually sound members who wish to better their relation with God and other Christians.

    Bud Paine
    Kinlichee Church of Christ
    http://www.kinlicheechurchofchrist.org

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