The mission policy proposed by Bro. Marion Reed leading into the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting was a thing of beauty. That policy was ultimately approved by the messengers of the association, which led to a more efficient state missions program. This mission policy, under which we currently operate, upheld the Landmark doctrine of the authority of the local church, provided flexibility in the way mission work is done in the state of Texas, and resulted in more request, but at lower amounts.
Prior to the passage of the current mission policy, the MBA of Texas set salaries for state-supported missionaries, then paid up to 80 percent of that salary. The program mirrored the ABA’s salary structure for interstate missionaries, however, a 10% raise approved by messengers at the 2006 meeting in Longview boosted the salary to a higher amount than the ABA salary. As of the 2009 MBA of Texas meeting, full salary for Texas state missionaries was set at $3,822 per month, with the association paying $3,057.60 toward that amount.
Some missionaries elected to receive half-salary in the amount of $1,911 per month, which allowed them to work secular jobs to obtain health insurance, and reduced the burden on the sponsoring church.
This system had a few disadvantages.
First, the missionary’s salary, paid by the association, was often left out of the mission’s budget. The only part of the missionary’s salary included in the budget was often the 10-20 percent of the salary for which the mission took responsibility. As a result, if a missionary wished to decrease support from the state association, he often had to simultaneously ask the mission or sponsoring church for a raise. Anyone who has been in ministry any length of time can attest to how uncomfortable, and unworkable that proposition is. As a result, missionaries who requested decreased support often did so at their own expense, and thus, few missionaries requested decreased support. The result was that missionaries stayed on salary for extended periods of time (up to 15-20 years).
Secondly, this system blocked struggling churches from being supported, and ceased support for missions that organized. While struggling churches were often added to the program, (as was famously done in Longview to support the construction of a fellowship hall), such a move required the setting aside of mission policy, which invited difficult floor debate.
Thirdly, this system was problematic for missionaries following the “church-planting” model of mission work, as opposed to the traditional model where a mission was an arm of the sponsoring church. Missionaries who followed the “church-planting” model established autonomous churches, bypassing mission status. However, these new churches often struggled financially, hence the need for missionary support.
Wanting to maintain an avenue for traditional mission work, while opening up a way for newer mission techniques, Bro. Reed introduced the current missions policy, which changed the way state missions are oriented.
The former policy was missionary-oriented, meaning the support was intended for the missionary. That is, we paid the missionary’s salary. Seeing the disadvantages of that system, and fearing IRS intervention if the government perceived that the association was paying “salaries,” and therefore had employees, Bro. Reed’s new policy redefined the money sent to missionaries as “support.”
In addition to switching the practice from paying salaries to sending support, Bro. Reed’s new policy changed the orientation from being missionary focused, to project-focused. Sponsoring churches were no longer required to recommend a missionary. They could recommend a project, or (before a recent change to the policy) a ministry such as Berean Bible Study, or Texas Mission Development.
Amounts of support were no longer defined by the associational policy. Instead, missionaries and sponsoring churches calculated a need, and requested the appropriate support from the association. The association then had the prerogative to either approve, or decline the request, and the policy was written to show that a vote to decline the request in no way denigrated the legitimacy of the project.
When the new policy was approved by the messengers of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas, several pastors told me that they feared that missionaries would request “lavish” levels of support. Looking at the history of the new policy, that fear has not been realized, as missionary requests are frequently well below the former “full salary” designation. In fact, of the seven requests that were approved at the 2018 MBA of Texas meeting, only one came close to the former “full salary” amount, and that request undercut the former “full salary” amount by $200. The average request for state support comes in at $1,864.29, which is even less than the former “half-salary” amount.
It should be noted that the missionaries and sponsoring churches, once freed to determine their needs and purposes for the support, were able to request lesser amounts from the association. And with three significantly reducing their requests over the past two years, it is demonstrated that the new system actually promotes the growth and maturity of the mission projects.
I say all of that to remind, and encourage our association, that our missions program is strong, and well-designed. If sponsoring churches and missions utilize the program as it is intended, then we will see new works started which will become self-supporting in shorter time frames than under the previous policy. However, this requires an understanding of how the program works. While one need not obtain a Ph. D. in missions to figure it all out, there are two keys to remember regarding our current mission policy.
- The association does not pay salaries. Years of seeing missionaries request “full salary” and “half salary” has programmed a lot of messengers, and well, missionaries and sponsoring pastors, to see state support as a salary to the missionary. This is no longer the intent of the program. The association does not pay “salaries,” and over the next few meetings, the association would do well to replace the word “salaries” with “support” in some of the more recent changes to the policy.
- The association supports “projects.” While the policy is worded to allow a sponsoring church to recommend a missionary or a mission work, it must be noted that the sponsoring church is the entity requesting the support, and receiving the help. This may seem like an obsessive attention to a minor detail, but that detail can be the difference maker in whether a work progresses toward becoming self-supporting.
The beauty of those two keys is that, by designating the associational support as “support” and not “salary,” the association’s support becomes a line-item in the budget. Thus, that support can decrease without directly impacting the missionary’s salary, thus moving the mission toward self-supporting status.
With all of this information, let’s explore how a new mission work can become self-supporting more quickly under this system. If I were starting a new work, here’s what I would do. These steps only address the financial end of mission work. We’ll study the spiritual end of mission work in another post.
- Determine the financial need. What would my personal needs be regarding salary? Housing? What would the new work need in terms of rent? Utilities? Outreach materials? Marketing resources? How much funding would be needed to acquire property and build a building? Or is it possible to purchase an existing building?
- Based on that need, I would set a budget, including start-up expenses for the first year.
- I would do deputation for one full year to raise funds to meet the needs of that budget.
- I would then set my request from the association according to the need of that budget after direct support from sister churches was factored in.
- Each year, a new budget would be set, factoring in offerings received from the mission, offerings received from sister churches, and support received from the association. As the offerings from the mission increased, the request for support from the association would decrease.
- This trend would hopefully continue until there was no longer a need for associational support.
We have employed this technique at Life Point Baptist Church, and as a result, decreased our request for support by $500 last year, and anticipate decreasing our request again this next year. This system is encouraged by our current mission policy, and judging by the number of decreased requests for support, I’d say it’s working.
So, take heart, sister churches of the Missionary Baptist Association of Texas. We have a great missions program. Let’s utilize it the way it was intended, and let’s support it so that our current missionaries can remain on the field, and so that new works can be started.
Thank you for your prayers and support.