Downton Abbey and World Missions

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Watching Downton Abbey has become a worldwide phenomenon. Lots of diverse people have become invested in the fortunes of the Crawleys: upstairs and downstairs. It occurs to me that one of the fundamental story lines in that series has important parallels to the future of Christian Reformed World Missions. 

Robert, Earl of Grantham, is deeply committed to his duties as Lord of the Manor. His status is not just a position of privilege, but of responsibility to all the tenants who live on the estate. That sense of responsibility makes him very reluctant to make major changes in how the estate is run which might discomfort those tenants. Widows occupying farms that are not being efficiently worked are under his benevolent care. He doesn't want to require them to move out of their homes (even to somewhere else on the estate) in the interests of efficiency. That sounds so middle class and heartless. 

Meanwhile, in season 3, Matthew, his son-in-law and heir, took a hard look at the underlying finances of the estate and saw looming catastrophe. The estate has been losing money for years, even decades. The only way it has kept operating this long is because of the infusion of cash from Lady Grantham's fortune, which is now gone. It was on the verge of sale when Matthew got a large inheritance. He now sees that his money will disappear down the same hole as Cora's unless there is major change.

Deep attachment to historic ways of working and benevolent if autocratic relationships are on a collision course with changing times and financial realities which are sure to bring down the entire edifice unless major changes are undertaken. With Matthew's death at the end of season 3, the strongest advocate for a different future is off the scene. A key question in season 4 is whether Matthew's widow, Lady Mary, and Branson, her brother-in-law, will be able to get the Earl to see that holding onto the past is impossible. Change must come, and quickly, before it is too late.

What does this have to do with Christian Reformed World Missions? Everything. All of us who are connected to World Missions, board, missionaries, staff, and churches, have loved and prided ourselves on a certain way of funding missions.  The benevolent role of the World Missions board toward its missionaries has been a touchstone of that relationship. Unlike in the parachurch mission world, our missionaries were not to be fund-raisers. They were to focus on their task overseas and let us know once in a while how it was going. This worked pretty well for a long time, just like the Grantham estate.

But it hasn't been working well for nearly a quarter century. Costs are rising rapidly. Ministry Share income is down slightly in nominal terms but down sharply in real terms. In fact, it now has half the purchasing power it did in 1990. This reality was covered up by continually shrinking the mission force, from 140 career positions down to 55. A close look at these trends and underlying financial realities makes clear that this problem cannot be solved by ignoring it. 

The choice for Downton Abbey is clear, as we know well, being 90 years in their future: change or die. Revise your method of operation or bankruptcy and sale lie at the door. The choice for CRWM is also clear. If one and all do not embrace a new way of doing business, we will continue to have a shrinking mission force and a smaller impact on our world for Christ. Embracing change is difficult. And, of course, the most important things are unchanging, but our method of financing missions must change if we are to have a growing ministry in the future.

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Interesting comparison!  I don't have cable, so I don't know the story of Downton Abbey.  What I'm left wondering, however, at the end of your comparison is: What new means of fundraising do we need to employ?  What are some examples of funding that we must consider to stay in business and to keep the mission going?

Secondly, I wonder if the lower number of career missionaries isn't a good thing.  Might that be because we now realize that for real mission to have power and impact in the local community, it must be done by locals?  So rather than having career missionary families on the scene, isn't it better if someone from the West goes occasionally to train the locals, and then returns to the West leaving the national to carry on the ministry?

Well stated. An interesting anology. Maybe "The benevolent role of the World Missions board toward its missionaries (that) has been a touchstone of that relationship" is the primary teaching for the CRC supporting congregations and for the people we try to help. Must a smaller mission force result in a smaller impact on our world for Christ? Isn't that up to the Holy Spirit to decide?  

Probably wrong, but I think the next 50 years in North America will see an economic/social structure similar to that described in Downton Abbey but without the benevolent ownership/leadership. The Gini Index will grow while the poor and the working class retains all our "rights" as defined by our constitutions and case law.

 

 

Hi Ken,  In other settings the word has gone out (not with complete accuracy!) that CRWM career missionaries will need to broaden and deepen their support networks.  Until now CRWM has relied heavily on Ministry Share to make budgets work.  The point of the analogy is that this reliance hasn't worked well in recent decades and other sources of revenue are essential to a growing ministry.  That is true even if it requires us to change cherished methods.

How important are career missionaries to that growing ministry?  Very.  In places where there are substantial numbers of Christians (the "reached" world) the main thing that CRWM does is provide training to those national Christians, who are the most important piece of the mission effort.  However, more than one-fourth of the world's people live among unreached people groups, where there are few or no Christians.  Even in such settings we "begin with the end in mind" by seeking to develop leadership abilities in those who have come to faith, knowing that we will not be there forever. CRWM seeks to respond to the varied conditions in various places and among various peoples.  

Guide

Posting on behalf of John Rustenburg:

Very well stated with the harsh realities of our affluent times....and that is a very sad reality, namely, we are not a "poor denomination", but I believe that the emphasis on where even Christians spend their incomes is largely on self ,and kingdom causes no longer or seldom have priority as they might have been in previous times.

Regretfully we seldom hear from our pulpits the Bible standards for spending: that Christ's kingdom work must come first.When I see the wealth among God's people (homes,vehicles,earthly possesions, vacations with global emphasis, sports,eating out, and the list could go on.) When will we again hear the warnings of Deut. 6 & 8 that God gave to His people before they became wealthy in the promised land as well as the clarion observation of our Saviour in Revelation to the Ephesian church: "you've lost your first love".

   John

Community Builder

Steve, I too have not seen the program but your comparison is interesting. The issue of CRWM is an issue for the CRCNA . We need to look at the whole and just not at each piece. The pillars (some would call them silos) are no longer the supporting the whole structure or mission. And I believe the foundations of the pillars need reform as well. 

I believe were are internalizing the process of the review and might be better served if we looked outside the religious establishment for some options. Just an idea.

Granted - a smaller mission force is not what we want - neither is a model where missionaries have to be salesmen better than the staff in GR, attempting to raise ministry shares! Financing local missionaries in foreign countries is another model, having staff in GR paid on the same basis as missionaries - raise your own funds - then come to work - is another model to use.  A shrinking money pot is what all of us have to face - why use the services of front line staff - the ones that actually bring the WORD to others - to raise money may not be the solution everyone is looking for. Missionaries can now shop around for the best deal, since many missionary organizations use the same model. Since there is only so much CRC based money around, who can prove more money will flow into CRC related organizations using this model? 

Are we merely competing for the same pot among ourselves?

I support the concept that OUR missionaries should be 100% supported by Synod. At the least, "A deal's a deal." If a missionary is not doing his part, fire him for cause. If the missionary is doing his part . . . how is Synod's unilaterially changing contracts in mid stream different than companies that are scrapping pension plans for senior employees? 

The financial condition of CRWM and CRWRC must be at least five years old. So how many new missionaries have been put on the payroll in the last 3 years? Just curious. CRC's strong point is theology. Our weak point is business management.

At least half of most every church budget goes to making the members feel good and/or to increase  the take aka membership. In 60 years of church going, I only know of one congregation - NOT Reformed - that gave 50% of their budget to missionaries and have heard they have gone main stream. I am sure that every one of you knows of a local congregation that is not paying its Synodical membership dues - call them what you want - because the congregation is paying for, even borrowing for, a cosmetic or building expansion building project. 

Recently read that there are 5 billion people in the world who live on $2/day or less. If every Christian in the US and Canada sold everything they owned and gave it to CRWM and other charity organizations, would there be enough to help those 5 billion people temporarially live on $3/day?

I remember in the 1950's hearing commercials for "Save The Children" and such. These are BIG national charities. If these charities were successful one might expect that by now there should be enough "saved" children who are thankful enough to make the charities self-propagating. Same with "Habitat." Apparently saving bodies is not more successful than the last 2,000 years of saving souls.

Not saying that we should not help people where and when we can if the Holy Spirit leads us to help a specific missionary or other person.  Personally, at least half the time I have tried to personally help one of my neighbors, their situation got worse. Does the Bible "say" anything about "sending good money after bad?"

 

Your forum cynic,

bill

 

Guide

Bill,

You raise a lot of interesting points. I can't speak to how CRWM finances its missionaries as I am not familiar with the inner workings, but I'm not sure what you meant by "The financial condition of CRWM and CRWRC must be at least five years old." World Renew (formerly CRWRC) finances its missionaries very differently from CRWM, particularly because we do not receive ministry shares. Our staffing levels were reduced in 2009 but are increasing as donations permit.

As for your comment about whether the money being spent is effective, and why you might have experienced negative outcomes as a result of trying to help your neighbor, I suggest you read the book When Helping Hurts. It will explain why handouts often hurt instead of help. And makes a case for integrated word and deed ministries. There is also a webinar in the archives.

Wendy

 

Thanks for the reply. I will get the book.

Bill

Community Builder

Thanks for the timely analogy, Steve.  I do not watch "Downton Abbey" but I can clearly see the parallel in your example.  CRWM has been a blessing for many years, and we pray God will use CRWM to continue to bless others and be blessed by others well into the future.  

Ken, the new way of fundraising has been called the "90%" model.  It was discussed in a recent article in the Banner.  It will eventually require all missionaries to raise 90% of their actual costs of doing ministry on the field.  The actual costs will differ from the average cost per missionary numbers, which CRWM has used for many years when missionaries were asked to raise 60% of the average cost.   Also, with respect to your second question, we agree.  It is time that career missionaries take on a new role.  However, as our number of partnerships increase in the world, it is also increases the number of opportunities to serve in the world.  I am sure you can imagine that 55 missionaries limits the means and locations in which we are able to meaningfully engage.  Since CRWM values sharing the gospel with those who have not heard it, we are seeing more and more opportunities to share the gospel creatively with Muslim people groups around the world.  The missionaries may not all come from "the West" as you suggest, but as we partner in ministry with other brothers and sisters from the majority world they too will need financial partnership in order for us to see the kingdom continue to advance in our time.  

Great questions! 

The comparison of Downton Abbey and CRWM raises many serious questions. As an example: Is Lord Grantham’s benevolence to the widows occupying farms that are not efficiently worked a comparison of “the benevolent role of the World Missions Board towards its missionaries? If so I find that offensive and I might add inaccurate.

We have worked for World Missions off and on since 1973 and are presently working for World Missions in Nigeria. For many years we have raised money for World Missions.  For 20 years, after 2-½ years of service in the field we spent the next 6 mo. in the US travelling from western Washington State to eastern Washington to southern Ontario, to all over Mich. to visit 18 supporting churches. What a time that was! We told them what God is doing through them and us working together; we continued to ask for support and for prayer! I am convinced that if churches support us financially but do not pray it is ineffective, prayer is our lifeline. I told all my churches that support us and still do so today that we cannot do this work without their support and prayers. That seems to be no longer important to the Board since the burden of support has been removed from the church and laid on missionary families. We have always raised money and it was always a blessing to visit our churches. However there is now a new standard, it is called raise 90% or else. Apparently only the missionary’s jobs are on the line.  If the Board is really serious about this change, let them apply this 90% standard to all of its employees.

 

I think there is a more urgent question that arises out of this comparison; it is out of balance and one sided. If missionary attitudes are compared to the traditional and old ways of Downtown Abby then let’s also compare Lord Grantham and his family to World Missions. Since I have watched that program they have continued to hire staff even as they faced bankruptcy. They have not made one change in scaling back their lifestyle to alleviate the financial problem. Although busy all the time no money is brought in by them, except by inheritance that contributes to the running of the Abby.  Has the office staff been reduced along with the radical reduction of missionaries? I do not mean to be unkind nor do we lack Christian Charity as the leadership of the Mission Board have suggested but if you make comparisons lets not be one sided.  After all that why would World Missions be compared to the corperate asperations of Downton Abby in the first place?  Is it because World Missions is slowly moving away from expecting our many churches to support Missions as our Lord has mandated? I believe the new 90% corperate gold standard moves us in that direction.

 

What I think is tragic in this whole new fund raising scheme is that the standard has  changed, 90% or else is a corporate standard. The standard of good missionary work by conveying the Good News to the people around us, good language learning skills, loving the people we work with, enduring separation from our kids during the school year and separation from family and friends in the home country are standards that no longer will keep us working for World Missions when the gold standard is not met. If you want to know the standard of Jesus, log onto heavenhigh.org  I pray World Missions will move forward to that standard.

Community Builder

PastorCase I understand your objection, and I believe the analogy certainly falls apart if we think that CRWM missionaries are dependent on the good graces of the agency to continue in their kingdom work.  Nothing could be farther from the truth!  I think it is important for us to realize that missions is not now nor has it ever been the work of a few apart from the body of Christ.  In fact, the support of churches (prayer, financial, emotional, spiritual, etc.) is of utmost importance and remains the gold standard even in the new support model.  Please allow me to explain.

Our hope is that more churches would join in helping our missionaries raise the support they need.  We see how it is difficult for missionaries to focus on both fundraising and ministry.  Therefore, we encourage missionaries to develop teams in North America (members from supporting churches, etc.) who can assist in telling the stories and raising support.  In no way should the 90% model be seen as the agency abandoning its missionaries.  If that happens, then shame on us (agency and church)!  I think what it does is sound the alarm to let the church know that its decisions regarding paying ministry shares, working to adopt missionaries to support, etc. have consequences.  I believe that if the need is properly communicated, as well as the vision for what God is doing in the world, the church can meet the need.  The resources are there, we just need to reconnect the church to the work being done.  We believe the 90% model will work best to re-establish that connection.  

As for the question about North American staff raising their own support, I am sure you can see how that might be difficult.  The stories they tell will not likely be as compelling as the work of frontline missionaries.  So please continue to share your stories, and we will do our best to share them as well, so that God might be glorified, the church of Jesus Christ edified, and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven.  Thank you again for your good kingdom work!  We really appreciate you.

Could it be that part of the "problem" is that churches in North America are discovering that being missional means more than supporting missionaries in other countries? Conservative as well as liberal writers such as Michael Horton (The Gospel Commission), Alan Hirsch (Untamed), Lance Ford (The Missional Quest) and others have been reminding us that The Great Mandate is not just for countries far away, but also for our communities right around us. While we all appreciate and support the hard work of our overseas missionaries, we should be truthful and admit that it is easy to have the attitude of I've supported financially and even prayerfully so I've done my part to fulfill Christ's mandate for the church. I grew up in a missionary family and I married into a missionary family so trust me, I am aware of the difficulties faced by missionary families. I believe that while churches still desire to support our missionaries, we are also realizing that we need to be missionaries right here. As an example, for years our church supported 4 missionaries. Then we decided to support 3 missionaries and set aside the remaining 25% to support our members involved in mission causes. Since we made this change, a number of our members have experienced the joy of being a missionary.

Thank you to the Van Wyks (my wife's family served CRWM in Nigeria for many years) and to the many others who have sacrificed much in listening to God's call. I pray that, as a denomination, we can continue to have a strong presence of missionaries around the world. I also pray that, as local congregations, we will also be willing to sacrifice and to listen to God's call to be missionaries right in our own communities.

Community Builder

Thank you for your comments, Steve.  I agree, North American churches are developing more of a missional focus, however I do not believe that a missional focus in North America should occur to the detriment of missions in and with the majority world.  If anything this should spur us onto a view of our role in global missions (local, regional, cross-cultural, and worldwide).  I pray that is what will happen as God's people are reawakened to prioritize Jesus' great commission from Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15.

Community Builder

As an agency, we also need to emphasize that partnership in the gospel is not limited to financial partnership, but also includes prayer and service.  In fact, CRWM has increased its number of volunteer missionaries over the last few years by more than 100%!  God is good.

 

Thank you Joe for your comments I am encouraged that a board member is aware of the importance of people (churches) praying for us. For missions at home and overseas prayer is our lifeline! My understanding concerning teams to help us bring our stories is:  that is the function of the board and North American staff. I am also encouraged that I finally see an understanding of the problem I quote " I think what it does is sound the alarm to let the church know that its decisions regarding paying ministry shares, working to adopt missionaries to support, etc. have consequences.  I believe that if the need is properly communicated, as well as the vision for what God is doing in the world, the church can meet the need.  The resources are there, we just need to reconnect the church to the work being done.  We believe the 90% model will work best to re-establish that connection".  Joe, I am not convinced however that overseas missionaries should be the point of the spear in that endeavor. Blessings.

Community Builder

Thank you Case.  We are not sure what will happen at this point either.  The impetus is on us to make this thing work.   We need to remember that we are all in this together and work to see God's kingdom advance as we each play our particular part in the one mission of God.  Again we very much appreciate you and pray God's blessing on you, your family, and the ministry to which He has called you.   Thanks again for your partnership in the gospel over many years.  

When my wife and I felt called to missionary service in 1996 I went to my denominational agency, CRWM.  The staff tried to interest me in work happening in the Philippines, but our sense of call was to Eastern Europe, where communism had recently been dethroned.  It seemed clear to us that God was at work in a remarkable way in that part of the world at that moment in history.  CRWM had work in Eastern Europe, but in 1996, there were no positions available.  The financial struggles of World Missions had already begun a few years before that and new positions were hard to come by. 

So, following the advice of a recruiter for World Missions we discovered another agency which enabled us to follow God's call.  Because that parachurch agency does not have the blessing of Ministry Shares, we were asked to raise 115% of our actual costs.  The extra covered the supervision and support which the agency provided us.  We approached churches and individuals who knew us and explained that we believed God had called us to this work and prepared us to serve Him in that setting.  By God's Grace and through the generosity of many, our support network came together quickly. 

There were many blessings in this process.  We reconnected with old friends.  People showed amazing generosity.  They got in touch with the work of God in Eastern Europe in a deeper way as they prayed for us, which certainly is the lifeline of any missionary.  As we visited with churches on home service they were encouraged to see that God was at work even in the Old World.

Later, when we shifted from that other agency to CRWM and the support goal was lower, that was nice.  We were grateful for the role of Ministry Shares in reducing the challenge.  I understand the deep attachment that people have to our historic method of missionary finance.  However, with a 50% decline in the purchasing power of the Ministry Share dollars actually received by World Missions some hard choices need to be made. 

It seems that there are three basic options.  First, continually shrink the size of CRWM's mission force.  This is what we have been doing and don't want to do anymore.  Second, renew the Ministry Share system by having Synod request and churches give a continually growing amount of general gifts to World Missions that are not connected to a particular person.  Given the trends in our churches and the track record of the last quarter century, that doesn't seem very likely.  Or, third, recognize that our world and our denomination have changed and we will need to adapt to that change.  The higher missionary support goals are part of an overall effort to raise support for World Missions that includes direct mail appeals, connections to major donors, grant requests to foundations and work with those considering estate planning.  All of these efforts are necessary.

With Missionary Support Teams, The Veenstra Missionary Support Fund, assistance from staff and other resources, we believe that this change will result in the renewal of the CRC's mission effort, and that there really is no other realistic option.  No method of missionary finance is more important than the mission itself.

Community Builder

Steve your comments about the options for CRWM might include sending a list of all missionaries by country to all churches with a cost for each country.  Then ask churches to commit to sponsoring missionaries in those countries with a certain amount.  The process might need to be formalized so that the commitments made can be met. But it would certainly involve the churches. At the CRWM you would need a template to help churches decide why they can or would support certain countries.

This is a very high level idea that would need lots of work.

Hi Harry,  Actually, every congregation in the Christian Reformed Church received a report last September detailing the situation of the career missionaries they currently support.  It had figures on the individualized budget, support received in 12-13 and the goal amount for 13-14.  Many of our missionaries already have 15-23 churches supporting them.  We are really hoping that most missionaries will not have to take on additional relationships with congregations.  It would be better if current churches were able to evaluate their giving patterns and some (at least) would be able to increase their financial support.  If you, or others do not know what happened to your congregation's letter, please email me at [email protected] and we will get another copy to you.  Steve