Guidelines for Deciding Whom a Church Supports

Article
02.26.2010

The following memorandum was unanimously affirmed by the elders of Capitol Hill Baptist Church as providing the criteria and “tiers” of support for CHBC church members who do overseas missions work.

Our goal in thinking through the issue of “how much” our church will support our members who move overseas is not to discourage people from taking the gospel to other cultures. Rather, it results from the fact that our resources are not infinite as well as the positive desire to help church members view their relationship with the local church as a significant, even essential, part of what it means to be sent with the gospel. We want our members to think not merely about how they can take the gospel overseas, but how they can serve and support their local church in where, how, and when they go overseas.

Andy Johnson

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Memorandum
August 19, 2008
To: CHBC Elders
From: Andy Johnson

Re: Levels of support for CHBC members headed overseas.

[In my capacity of overseeing our overseas missions work for our church,] one of my most significant challenges has been to help determine what level of relationship (pastoral, strategic, and financial) CHBC should have with various members hoping to work overseas. In this memo I want to lay out my current thinking and invite your questions and feedback.

BACKGROUND

In just the past 3 months I’ve had conversations about missions that have run the gamut from one person recently saying,

I’m thinking more about God’s glory among the nations. So I would like help thinking about how I can become better equipped to possibly serve overseas in the next few years. I want CHBC to help me determine if this is a good thing for me to do. And I would love to understand how I could best serve the gospel by joining with what my church and its leaders hope to do in missions,

to a conversation with a member who said,

I’ve decided to go overseas with a mission organization for a year. I’ve already applied with an organization, been approved and I leave in a month. I’ve never spoken to anyone at CHBC about this other than to inform a few friends of my plans. Since you are my “sending” church I would love it if you could “partner” with me financially and corporately support my ministry.

Obviously these two conversations reveal radically different understandings of what it means to be “sent out” by a church. And they show radically different understandings of whether missions is the prerogative of individuals who are then supported by a church or if missions is mainly the responsibility of local churches who then involve the voluntary participation of members as they are caught up in the church’s vision.

ADDITIONAL COMPLEXITIES

The reality of this continuum has caused me to think about how we can and should both send and support gospel workers from CHBC. Adding to the complexity are the small but growing number of CHBC members who are interested in being genuinely “sent” by CHBC—with all the attendant involvement in their life and decision-making—but who are interested in going to areas and joining work where we as a church have no strong relationships.

For example, Tina R. [not her real name] is a sweet sister who wants to have CHBC leaders involved in her decisions about overseas work but who really wants to take a two-year position in Latin America. I have looked over the organization’s job-request list with her, but there is no real potential for me to build the kind of relationships that will allow me to have much knowledge about any team she might join.

And there are additional complications. How should we think about supporting Tina (or others like her) if she ends up in Argentina or Chile? It’s certainly not wrong for her to want to go to a Spanish-speaking nation, but should we be as committed to sending leaders to visit her and to trying to get members to partner with her work as we would for a person who might choose to join a team we know well and whose judgment and methods we already trust and are invested in? And how should our assessment of the strategic nature of work in Latin America (with some areas having tens of millions of evangelical Christians) affect our commitment of staff time and CHBC resources? How would trying to engage fully with workers in areas we find less strategic, with potentially theologically diverse teams, affect our congregation’s focus and impact our training for missions? Finally, do qualified CHBC members have a right to expect full support from CHBC regardless of whether they go out in cooperation with or outside of CHBC’s congregational plans, efforts, and overseas network of relationships?

FOUR PROPOSALS, FOUR TIERS OF SUPPORT

These are just some of the issues I’ve been thinking about lately. What follows is a tentative outline for how I propose we respond. I propose that we

  1. Continue to have a proactive congregational focus on a limited number of relationships with teams we know and trust, in areas and among people that seem especially strategic.
  2. Continue to cultivate groups of CHBC members that might go out together, or arrange placement for individual CHBC members with established team relationships we have cultivated.
  3. Actively encourage qualified CHBC members to join these teams and not to strike out on their own with teams and in areas about which we know very little.
  4. Articulate a four-tiered approach to official CHBC support for qualified workers who do go out from us as follows:Tier #1 – CHBC Teams:  these are groups of members counseled, trained, and sent out together by CHBC in support of planned CHBC engagements with specific regional teams we know and trust. Or to peoples and with regional teams we have identified as strategic and worthy of our cultivating long-term working relationships.
    1. Financial Support: Extensive, ongoing, and special projects.
    2. Pastoral Support: Regular, annual visits by CHBC leaders
    3. Strategic Support: Ongoing and CHBC member-wide
    4. Prayer Support: Listed in directory and Sunday night rotation.
    5. Personnel Support: Continuous recruitment of other CHBC members to  join with and support the team long-term.
    6. CHBC Membership: Continued CHBC membership anticipated.

    Tier #2 – CHBC Workers: individual members who are counseled, trained, and sent out by CHBC to support existing strategic workers or non-CHBC teams we know, trust and have ongoing relationships with. Or sent to strategic non-CHBC regional teams with whom we want to develop long-term working relationships.

    1. Financial Support: Less extensive, ongoing, and special projects.
    2. Pastoral Support: Regular, annual visits by CHBC leaders
    3. Strategic Support: Ongoing and CHBC member-wide
    4. Prayer Support: Listed in Directory and Sunday night rota.
    5. Personnel Support: None – no ongoing recruitment.
    6. CHBC membership: Continues if worker desires.

    Tier #3 – Independent Workers: members who seem well qualified and who involve the CHBC community in their plans, but who choose to join with workers we do not know and/or in areas where we do not have or desire to have significant, ongoing relationships.

    1. Financial Support: Occasional special projects only.
    2. Pastoral Support: Emails, Skype but no planned annual visits.
    3. Strategic Support: Based on friendships, not CHBC wide.
    4. Prayer Support: Listed in Directory only.
    5. Personnel Support: None.
    6. CHBC Membership: May continue, case-by-case.

    Tier #4 – We Won’t Stop You: members who don’t seem unqualified but who make largely independent decisions to work where they want to work without serious reference to the relationships, needs, or aims of CHBC.

    1. Financial Support: None.
    2. Pastoral Support: Emails with friends only.
    3. Strategic Support: Based only on friendships.
    4. Prayer Support: No organized, corporate prayer.
    5. Personnel Support: None.
    6. CHBC Memberships: Need to resign membership.

My hope in this is certainly not to discourage workers in Tier 3 and 4, but to acknowledge and communicate the reality that CHBC won’t (and likely shouldn’t) try to support all people equally. We want to encourage any good motive among members willing to uproot their lives for the sake of the gospel, but we also want to encourage getting wise counsel and working to serve the aims of CHBC, not just their own personal interests and desires. Likewise, just as we do in our financial support for seminary students, we don’t want to communicate that agreeing to allow folks to go equals a commitment to provide ongoing oversight and support. I also think we will need to be humble in recognizing our church’s limited size. We cannot give adequate attention to the whole world and to everyone who might choose to move overseas.

By:
Andy Johnson

Andy Johnson is an associate pastor at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC.