Last week, a colleague sent me a link to a blog post entitled "How Support Raising Keeps Parachurch Ministries White" (read it here http://ministerdifferent.com/support-raising-white). The piece contributes to ongoing conversations we have been having at the denomination's global missions agencies about how to engage underprivileged young people in missions.
Eric, the post's writer, asserts that "structural and cultural flaws produce systemic funding inequities for ethnic minorities that serve to keep parachurch ministries White." He explains that the models that parachurch ministries use to raise funds assume a resource base that ethnic minorities in North America either a) don't have, because of systemic injustice, or b) cannot effectively implement because of cultural differences. Because conversations about this issue have been happening among the agencies that I work with, I think his idea that missions are only accessible to those with privilege applies to church missions as well.
Eric indicates that post is meant to spark conversation, and concludes by asking why we haven't done more to change the model. But he doesn't offer any ideas for solutions. I suspect the reason is because there are no clear solutions. I know youth leaders, churches, parachurch and mission agencies are all struggling with this issue, and no one seems to have an answer.
So let's get this conversation going here. For those of us who agree with Eric's premise that current funding models prevent ethnic minorities from engaging in missions, how do we change that?
I have a few ideas, ready to be considered, shot down, built upon or added to. Note that in all of these suggestions I will talk about "churches", but know that when I say that, I am including individuals going for missions (because I believe the Church is the vehicle Jesus established for sending his followers on missions). Here we go:
--Stop doing short-terms missions. Then we don't need to worry about fundraising for them. They have proven in many cases to be more problematic than helpful. Perhaps they only serve to placate privileged, North American sensibilities. Note: I really don't like this suggestion, 1) because missions are often meant to change the missionary (look at Jonah), 2) because people have been working hard at redesigning short-term missions to focus on service and learning that contributes to the growth of all involved, and 3) because I firmly believe they are an important milestone for faith formation. As a North American, I don't know if there is a better way to learn how to follow Jesus than to be displaced from familiar and comfortable surroundings and be challenged to rely completely on God.
--Establish Savings Groups built from grants. Secure grants to use as seed funds, from donors or foundations, to start a savings group for churches lacking resources for missions. This is something groups of churches could contribute to and build on, and would be managed by the group of churches lacking resources so they could have ownserhip of the funds. But the funds to start it and to keep it going have to come from somewhere.
--Create church partnerships. Connect those with funds to those without. Build a relationship that is mutually beneficial, where a church with funds shares it's resources with a church lacking funds and the church lacking funds shares other gifts or assets with the church with funds. There are folks in churches that lack funds who know a lot about doing missions in a reciprocal, non-paternalistic way. Churches who have funds could learn from them. But the problem with this model is that with funds, comes power. While we can try our best to say that the contributions of each church are valued, those who give funds often feel like they are giving more and expect more in return.
--Offer crowdsourcing. Give churches who lack funds a platform for raising them. We could do this through the denomination's mission agencies. Unfortunately, it makes those lacking funds reliant on the denomination's mission agencies.
The Canons of Dort say that the gospel ought to be preached promiscuously. Can we do missions promiscuously? Can we send people on missions in a way through which everyone has the opportunity to participate, to learn, and to contibute to the ongoing narrative of how God is creating a people for himself in and through the Church?
Let's talk about it.