What's Up at World Missions?


In the fall of 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain rose to reveal that God had been at work in Eastern Europe.  I enjoyed a front row seat during these events as a student at Edinburgh University in Scotland.  So, a few years later, when my wife and I felt called to missions, we strongly sensed God was leading us to post-Communist Eastern Europe.  We approached our denominational missions agency, Christian Reformed World Missions (CRWM), to see if it could use us as career missionaries in that part of the world.  The answer was no.  Instead, we went under a parachurch agency with the need to raise 115% of our actual costs.  (The additional 15% covered supervision and support-raising costs borne by the agency.)  By going under another agency, my wife and I were able to answer God’s call to serve in missions. 

CRWM was already financially stressed in 1996, a chronic state has continued to the present.  This stress is due to our old financial model assuming a large and increasing amount of funding from Ministry Shares and other general fund gifts for career missionaries.  Until about 1990 this system worked well because general gifts were regularly increasing.  This enabled CRWM to send new career missionaries, open new fields and enter into new partnerships from a solid financial base.  Since then, however, things have not been working so well as the purchasing power of the Ministry Shares dollars actually received by CRWM has gradually declined by about 50%. 

As a former pastor and field missionary who is deeply committed to seeing the Gospel penetrate new places and people groups, it has been painful to watch our career missionary force shrink year after year.  We have adapted by working in new ways in order to make up for this shrinkage, and we have seen God’s blessing. But, we need career missionaries to do primary evangelism among unreached people, train nationals to serve and lead, support partner missionaries, receive volunteers, and administer grants.  And, our old financial paradigm has made it very difficult for us to appoint new career missionaries. 

CRWM has helped prepare quite a few promising missionary candidates who ended up not going overseas at all because there was no place for them in our ministry.  I think of a young couple who came to Calvin Seminary specifically to train for mission service, did an internship in Africa, and completed seminary with anticipation of a call through CRWM.  But, there were no new positions at all that year.  The chronic problem became acute.  As a result, they went into pastoral ministry instead. God has blessed their work, but I wonder how He might have blessed if they had gone into missions as intended. 

The choice for Christian Reformed World Missions was not between sending new missionaries with a low support-raising goal and sending them with a higher goal.  The choice was sending new missionaries with a high support-raising goal or not sending them at all.  CRWM chose to keep sending sons and daughters of the Christian Reformed Church to serve God in missions.

These are exciting days at CRWM with three career and one associate missionary successfully raising their support and positions available for four additional missionaries to serve.  We have not had eight missionary positions in one year for well over a decade.

This week the Synod of the Christian Reformed Church considered two overtures which challenged CRWM’s decision.  After carefully weighing the matter, Synod turned down those requests, reaffirming the direction taken by CRWM.  You can read a news article on that here.  The basis for their decision is here.  You can also look at a PowerPoint which provides additional perspective.

The mission is ultimately God’s.  It has been delegated to His Church.  The way that congregations engage in missions has changed, and CRWM is adapting to that change.  We ask that you pray that the Lord of the Church will enable us to meet the challenge presented by changing times with faithfulness to His Mission, and consider whether He is calling you and your church to a deeper partnership in prayer and finances with your missionaries.

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"The mission....has been delegated to His Church."  When spelled with a Capital "C" this gets fuzzy, but insofar as a lot of reformed folk understand "denomination," the Church has dodged and a lot of congregations duck when approached.  Used to the paradigm of a missionary having to have 12 to 14 churches supporting them at anywhere from $500 - $2000 each, what does a congregation that has perhaps four or five missionaries do to "up" their amount to the necessary level?  The obvious choice to some is "cut some entirely."

This is yes, a pattern of quarter of a century, as is the decrease in membership.  That is the trend that so concerns me; I don't see enthusiasm for mission in churches that are not successful in local evangelism either.  God help us....

Hi Lou,

The exciting thing is that churches have mostly responded very well in the past year.  Instead of keeping their total dollar amount the same and shifting it around, many have boosted their support significantly.  One church decided to increase their support of a CRWM missionary from $1000/year to $1000/month, fully meeting his goal for this year.  Another missions committee member told me he was upset with the new model and asked the team, "What are we going to do about it?"  They decided to boost their mission support budget by $6000/year.  If we are to move boldly into the future in obedience to the Great Commission, we do need to think through priorities.

For many years I had heard about a Presbyterian denomination in southern Asia that funded missions through a handful of rice taken from the bag for family use and setting it aside for missions.  I met the mission director and asked, "Is it true that people in your denomination do this every day?"  He said, "No, we do it at every meal."  In their poverty, they are totally committed to exalting the name of Jesus and willing to sacrifice to advance His cause.  The challenge to us as wealthy North Americans is clear.

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My heart aches for CRWM and for our overseas mission staff as they deal with funding issues.

I recently returned from India where I was witness to incredible church growth. K.P. Yohanan's Believers Church plants 17 churches per day across that nation.

I attended a ceremony for a class of Bible College graduates. These were 20-year-old young men, many of them having grown up in the slums of Mumbai and elsewhere, who were new Christians and who were determined to return to their slum neighborhoods to spread the gospel.  They went through a two-year Bible College training program with the express purpose of church planting.

Each one of those 20-year-olds said that they would plant churches and preach the gospel until they die ... realizing full well that they may only live three or four years before they will be killed for their faith.

My point is this: Is there a simpler, more-effective way to train young men and women ... something that doesn't require four years of college and then seminary training with an MDiv at its conclusion.

The demand is incredible in India -- and around the world. These graduates feel the 'urgency' to get out and spread the gospel. They 'ache' for the lost.

The Christian Reformed Church -- especially our pew-sitting parishioners -- don't see that urgency. Their focus is on the plight of our overseas missionaries and their families rather than on the thousands of 'lost' they may reach.

Last night I attended our church's congregational meeting where we are looking at a $3.5 million 'renovation' to our church building. It will make our comfortable pews more comfortable. We have numerous churches throughout our classis -- never mind our denomination -- who invest millions in their own comfort, building their own 'kingdom' rather than God's kingdom.

That $3.5 million could fund a new church plant in our city, providing $100,000 in salary and support for the next 35 years.

We as a denomination have lost the sense of urgency when it comes to spreading the gospel.

Thank you for this, Steve.

There is greater depth to this than from what can be ascertained from a Twitter feed. I am glad that CRWM is able to use this model to free space for new missionaries as CRWM only sends missionaries as are able to be created. Your 'shrinking missions' fact is that of demand. This demand is not our want or desire to send missionaries-- of course we do, and the more the better. It's an issue of demand that is constrained by our ability to create the position.

My point of clarification, coming from someone who is say, younger. I think you were circling the camp with this sentence: "CRWM chose to keep sending sons and daughters of the Christian Reformed Church to serve God in missions." This is historically correct. I mentioned on social media that there is a vast contrast between missionaries then and missionaries now. The number of missionaries actively entering the field is an issue of supply. The CRC has not been doing the best job in this regard-- and this is an issue separate from financial status. This brings up orthodoxy-- strong conviction and belief. We are not raising up missionaries the way that we were because, in my opinion, we are feeding ourselves wishy-washy statements, unchallenging gospel truth, and lackadaisical doctrine. How are we to fulfill the Great Commission if nobody is telling me that we are to be salt and light to the earth? Or "because I belong to him, Christ... makes me wholeheartedly willing and ready from now on to live for him."

We ought to be wise builders who build on rock-- Not foolish builders who build on sand. Those creedal truths are our rock-- and as Jesus said-- we must both hear and put into practice these words. That's how you'll raise up a generation of missionaries.

Hi Steve,

This is where I mentioned on the Twitter feed that I concluded we were talking past each other.  I hear you speaking to the need for the denomination to stimulate the desire to serve in missions through a clear commitment to the life-changing, essential character of the Gospel.  "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12).  We certainly do need to re-emphasize in our day of relativism and pluralism that the Bible makes all kinds of exclusive claims about Jesus.  This builds the desire to serve in Gospel proclamation at home and abroad.  

I was addressing the mechanism for getting those motivated people to their field of ministry, which hasn't been working very well for a quarter century.  These are exciting days on the deployment side because our change in support-raising paradigm means we can send more people, but all of us need to work at the stimulation side.  And, truth be told, many CRC people are serving in missions with a variety of other organizations who would have served with CRWM in the past.