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14 Worst Types of Missionary Newsletters

Jul. 15, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

From Amy Walters at SEND.

1.    The Banker. Nothing but support updates and requests for money. Oh, and maybe a story about visiting a church and asking for money. “It’s not too late to join our team.”

2.    The Paper Cut. Focused mainly on the long, paperwork-filled process of getting legal documents, like visas or residency permits. As boring and painful to read as the actual process of gathering the documents and waiting in line. “The officials did not accept our documents (which is very normal for the first attempt, although it was over very small mistakes). However, to get a second appointment would mean waiting the next day in a long line (this whole process has been full of long lines all over the city for different steps) to see if the quota is still open. So, the next day Leon* waited in line for 5 hours, only to find out that no, the quota is closed. This means that we cannot apply for the temporary residency until after the New Year.”

3.    The Cluster Bomb. No communication for months and then a sudden rush of updates. Often this happens when the missionary needs something, like more support or home service is coming. “At the risk of sounding like a broken record, we will give another report about how wonderful our time was on our recent trip!”

4.    The Itinerary. Basically, a long list of activities, locations and events in paragraph form. The audience feels tired after reading it and bouncing from one place to the next. “We were able to combine visits to see Kim’s* father in Pennsylvania, children and grandchildren in Lynchburg, Virginia and Buffalo, New York to meeting friends and attending a new career conference in Ocean City, New Jersey.”

5.    The Treasure Hunt. Mostly filled with cultural tidbits and mundane details. But buried somewhere deep inside, like in a sidebar or at the very end of a long letter, is a great ministry story. [After nine paragraphs about other things] “Praise God for a girl in my class who has now received assurance of salvation.”

6.    The Novel. Anything longer than three pages. This usually happens because the missionary hasn’t written in months. “And one more thing…”

7.    The Christmas Letter. Almost entirely made up of family updates, with little or nothing said about ministry. Added bonus: long description and pictures of a recent family vacation to an exotic location. “Another family invited us to join them at a nearby resort.”

8.    The Cliff Hanger. A desperate call for prayer or help that is not followed up and resolved in the next letter.“Ended up in hospital, trying to find what’s going on. Our life here is but a moment, so easy to take it for granted.”

9.    Generic. As boring as the title, either from lack of interesting details or mainly focusing on day to day stuff. So general that it could be cut and pasted into anyone’s newsletter and still apply. “While at home, I did a lot of cleaning, sorting, and washing windows.” 

10.    The Shock & Awe. Too much going on, from too many different styles of fonts, to too many colors and clip art and photos and graphs and sections. The eyes don’t know where to look first. “Above: My fourth great-nephew and I pose for a comical photo on Thanksgiving Day.”

11.    The Snooze & Blah. No pictures. No colors. No graphics. Just words.

12.    The Judge. A negative assessment of the host culture, either subtle or blatant. “Is it possible to be both different and wrong?”

13.    The Gory Details. Goes into great detail about something incredibly gross or personal, like a recent surgery or explosive illness. Also could include pictures. “We could admire the iron in our toilet bowl.”

14.    The Bait & Switch.  Teases you with the promise of a great story but instead gets sidetracked with related but unimportant details. “So we landed in [the city], got in a van and rode out to join the teen camp that was starting the next day. 10 days later we took part in the English camp. The time at the camp definitely got us back into life here quickly.”

She offers to helpful tips here.

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Is the Modern Missions Movement Anti-Local Church?

Apr. 29, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Visit most campus ministries in the US and you will find new believers being discipled by ministry staff, students growing in their faith, attending Bible studies and worship services through the week. Almost none of them will be part of a church - including staff.

Many of these Christians have then hit the mission field, getting support frimgresom friends or the churches that their uncle, cousin or friend from 2nd grade attends who want to designate some money in their budget for missionaries. Steve Shadrach, who does the primary support-raising seminars for support-based positions (campus ministries, missionaries, etc.), recommends not approaching churches when looking for support. They are too slow! These missionaries, having raised support head overseas with a team, an autonomous group that partners with local ministries. None of them will get involved in the ministry of a local church. Most will not attend a church at all!

When Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck wrote Why We Love the Church, it was not just about combating the emergent church movement and "progressive evangelicals." It spoke to a bigger problem. Not only were people at ease in frequently criticizing Christ's bride, there seemed to be a lot of people doing "ministry" without any connection to a local church. Do a little research of your own: Go to a local Christian school and see how many faculty members are plugged into a local church. Then head to the closest college campus ministry and see if their staff have a church to call home and whether they encourage any students to attend any church. Really - go to any type of para-church ministry. Most likely, what you will find is the majority of people see no need. They emphasize the global church and their personal relationship with Jesus.

This is why it does not shock me when I travel overseas and find that the majority of missionaries and their families do not have a church to call home. Pioneer church planters might get a pass here because there is no church, but everyone else - seminary professors, teachers, evangelists, linguists, social workers, you name it, have a hard time plugging in. This past year I spent time in three eastern european countries. The overwhelming majority of missionaries there did not have a church they called home or attended on a regular basis.

Some readers might see no problem with churchless Christianity. I’m not going to spend time critiquing that here. I’m just assuming there should be no such thing as a churchless Christian. Some might also criticize me for painting too broad a brush here. I will be the first to admit that some situations make it difficult for missionaries to find a church to be a part of where they are serving. Just to give an example - I have friends who served in west Africa who wanted to be part of a local church, but every time they went the pastor and church members inundated them with financial requests. It became so stressful for them it almost caused them to come home. So there - I admit it. Hard for sure. But is this the case for everyone? It can not be so!

With this in mind, I offer three suggestions for getting back to church-based missions. It seems bizarre that we even need a category for this, but it’s necessary based on where we are today.

1.I think it would be best to drop the “sending organization” paradigm. I’m not against missions organizations (TLI is one!). However, no organization should be sending out missionaries. The local church is who prepares, commissions and sends. I have had to think through this as it relates to TLI. Will TLI open our hiring up to anyone on staff, or should we require that each staff member have a sending church that claims them as their own and sends them in a manner worthy of the gospel? We chose the latter, believing that TLI coordinates the sending. We don’t send anyone. The church does. 

2. Missions organizations would be wise to put the heavy lifting of missionary care on the local church and make sure that it is communicated up front to the church. Should mission organizations, with certain expertise, step in and help missionaries? Absolutely! But the primary care, especially if there is a long-term need, must be accepted by the local church. Is there some co-laboring in care? Yes! Should a missionary find a home church where they serve? Ideally! But again, the local sending church should bear the responsibility. 

3. No church or individual should support a missionary unless they have a primary sending church that has trained, commissioned and committed to sending them out. I know for smaller churches it is harder to be the primary sender, but they could still withhold support unless there was a primary sending church standing with the missionaries. Similar to individuals not giving to a non-profit unless audits are done, so individuals should not give unless a local church in behind those requesting support.

More could be said, but maybe we can start here. Let's love the church while reaching the nations.


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Religious Police Found in Nearly One-in-Ten Countries Worldwide

Apr. 22, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio



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Raising Support: Should You Ask People To Pray But Not Financially Support You

Apr. 16, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

There are roughly three different fundraising philosophies Christians follow when they raise support. They are:

  • No information, no solicitation approach
  • Full information, no solicitation approach
  • Full information, full solicitation approach

George Muller made the first approach famous. He claimed that he never asked anyone for any money, though he did spend four decades telling stories of God's provision to crowds around the world. One may question Muller's style here. If you had a world-wide audience, where at the end of every message you ended with telling them you never asked anyone for money, what do you think would happen? Muller had so much money he had to give it away - much of which was given to Hudson Taylor!

Hudson Taylor and CT Studd made the second approach well known, and it dominated the majority how missionaries viewed the solicitation of funds in the modern missions movement. It was later called the "faith principle." Missionaries would go out, share prayer requests, but never say how much they actually needed. They just prayed and asked God to meet their needs. Lillias Trotter, founder of Algers Missions Board also took this approach. Read this letter for example to see how this played out.

The third way is seen most clearly in DL Moody, who would write and personally ask people to invest money into the work of Christ's Church. Today most missionaries and those who operate on support take this approach, though I believe many wish approach two worked better!

I would say that most missionaries today fall between approaches two and three. Many do not enjoy asking people for money directly, so they send out support letters with reply cards, but will not ask someone face to face to support them financially.

Here is the crux of the issue - why is it ok for pastors to preach on giving and churches to challenge their people to be generous, but not ok for a missionary to ask directly for people to be generous? Muller's approach was passive agressive. I am asking but not asking. Hudson Taylor and CT Studd were the same - here are our needs, pray about them, but we are not going to ask you to meet them. We are asking God.

The Bible never says that asking people to pray is good, but asking to give is not. It feels manipulative asking people to just pray when everyone knows full well I need financial support. Joining your support team (for whatever you are doing) is a chance for someone to invest in something with eternal consequence. Do you believe in the mission enough to have someone else invest. What better return on investment would you need in order to ask people to invest?



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Getting PhDs to the Mission Field

Jan. 14, 2014By: Darren CarlsonAuthor Bio

Seminaries and graduate schools around the world are asking for PhD holders to come as missionaries and teach Bible and theology.  I know of one major seminary in Europe who posted their openings in a major evangelical magazine, only to find no takers.  Why is this and how can we help?

Why They Are Hard to Find

1.  God has not called them.  This is simple enough.  To go to another culture with your wife and kids usually requires God to uproot you in some way that is so clear that you believe God is leading you to the field.   

2.  Some think raising money is below their degree.  I only write this because I have heard it so often.  Raising support is for the M.Div. students, so I have been told.  It is for the staff of some campus ministry or for helping orphans and those on the margins of society. I know of many that would rather work at Starbucks or UPS than ask people for their support to go overseas. 

3.  It is a career killer, or maybe better an inhibitor.  You can't participate at ETS/SBL. Your library (if you have one) is more limited.  The education level of the students (in some cases) is at a much lower level then what you find in the US (though that seems to be changing for the worse here).  Their colleagues might not be as educated and able to provide them helpful feedback or sharpening of ones own skills.

4.  It may involve learning ANOTHER language.  Most PhD students have learned Greek, Hebrew, German and French and now we are asking them to potentially teach it all in another language.  This is a real challenge.  Who wants to spend 2-3 years trying to master Japanese in order to teach Greek when your mother tongue in English after having spent years toiling with participles?

5.  You don't have very many friends who can support you.  One reality that faces graduates is that in the last six years you have probably lived in three different locations, and in each locations you probably did not make a lot of friends.  You have spent a lot of time in libraries or have probably only gotten to know your fellow classmates.

6.  You can still teach modular classes overseas without leaving your job in the US. 

7.  Debt.  Plain and simple, going to school costs a lot of money.  Very few escape with a PhD and less than $45K of school loans from the various institutions they have attended (at least in my experience).

How The Church Can Help

1.  Pray God calls them (or me or you).  There is such a great need for well-trained, godly, pastoral cross-cultural teachers.  

2.  Challenge the belief that fundraising is not for them.  Have them read Steve Shadrach's Viewpoints.  It could be that one of the reasons people have a hard time asking for support is because they do not think the people around them are generous.  That is fair.  That means we should be even more open in our generosity and encourage them to go by pledging our support.  

3. Seminaries in the west must talk to students about the global Church and do so often.  It is not enough to talk about it in the Missions 101 class.  It should permeate all of our classes.  Maybe seminaries should offer some full rides to students interested in teaching in developing countries.

4.  Churches should talk about being missional not just in their community, but around the world.  They should also disciple these students and get them into small groups with people in the church who are not theology students, but serving the Lord in different career paths.   

5.  Create a way to get rid of the debt.  I have prayed that some donor would come to TLI or set up on their own a fund that would pay off the debt of PhD's if they committed to 5 years of service overseas. Medical doctors have a program like this.  I believe this incentive would unleash many into service. I am thankful for places like Eternity Bible College and Bethlehem College and Seminary that are focused on keeping the costs low.

I am sure there are many reasons people do not go and many more ways we can help them.  This is just a starting point.

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