Mission creep: a shift towards building one's own kingdom instead of God's

Discussion in 'Evangelism, Missions and the Persecuted Church' started by Pergamum, Apr 17, 2019.

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  1. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    A sad thing commonly happens in ministry...

    Many missionary/church organizations begin with sincere motives. But this is gradually replaced by an emphasis on maintaining and improving the prestige of the organization:

    A theme emerges among many Christian and missionary groups. They often start off with good motives. They start off with a sincere desire to get money to where it is needed - into the hands of poor evangelists and believers. They are willing to remain small and to prioritize sending the funds to the field, even at expense to themselves. They exist for the purpose of those on the field.

    As time goes on, this group gains an established name. More and more needs are found at home. The home office must also live and function, and better tools will help them to function more effectively. A better office would, indeed, help. Maybe a whoile building is needed. Or a bigger and newer building.

    This requires diversion of some funds to the rear instead of the frontlines of missions. In many cases the heads get used to the funds rolling through and begin to think of other uses for those funds.

    The staff probably need a vacation retreat at least once a year. Maybe the org therefore, needs a vacation property.

    This shift in thinking is usually gradual. The stated priority in the written literature still remains the same - they exist to support poor evangelists and believers overseas. But the actual use of funds more and more begins to reflect a priority on caring for those back home or at the admin level.

    A new home office is needed, a bigger home and bigger salaries for those in charge, nice properties (they are investments, after all), a retirement home maybe or vacation property (for retreats, of course). The name and prestige and assets of the organization become greater and greater, and yet the amount sent to frontline believers who still suffer is decreased.

    And of course, every human organization eats up admin costs. But the desire to keep things "lean" disappears after awhile. The org becomes bloated and indulges itself.

    I will give 3 examples:

    (1) Voice of the Martyrs:

    Originally founded to support poor and persecuted Christians in poor regions, donors were surprised to find over 30 million used to build a large new building in Oklahoma, and funds were used to handle a sex abuse case in Africa instead of supporting persecuted believers:

    "Below is Voice of the Martyrs USA's new headquarters, still in Bartlesville, custom-built for $28 million taken from general donations. God's money collected for the world's poorest and most persecuted members of the Body of Christ was used by those who collected it to build a gleaming $28,000,000 office building for Americans."



    (2) NAMB (The North American Mission Board):

    The focus of NAMB is on North American church-planting and not poor believers overseas, but we see the same dynamic at work. We see less and less money going towards the actual work of the ministry and more and more funds going towards the leaders and teh admin and its assets and properties.

    This website explores the poor stewardship of tithes sent to NAMB:


    "It has been reported that actual NAMB guidelines mandate a reserve fund in the neighborhood of $70 Million. Instead, reserves have swollen to $223 Million. Assets are up to $423 million, and investments are up $77 million from 2010. Even taking into account NAMB's astronomical spending on church plants, it seems that a lower percentage of the funds NAMB receives is making it out to the field.

    In their 2017 report NAMB stated that, "NAMB is providing 89 missionary residences scattered among the Send Cities to enable planters to settle into their assignment for the first six to twenty-four months of their ministry..."
    In actuality although houses had been purchased in Send Cities, empty land and homes purchased not in or near Send Cities. In fact some of the homes purchased were luxury homes like the $415,000 condo purchased in Alpharetta, Georgia or the $475,000 home purchased in Tucson, Arizona that is listed below."

    (2) Gospel for Asia:

    Gospel for Asia is the 3rd example.

    "K.P. Yohannan, the influential international evangelical pastor behind Believers Church, has over the last 38 years grown his Texas-based non-profit “Gospel for Asia” (GFA) into the second-largest mission organization in the U.S. Now, a single lawsuit alleging fraud and misuse of hundreds of millions in donations could bring the whole thing crumbling down.

    According to a federal class action lawsuit filed on Monday in Arkansas, Yohannan and others in his organization allegedly took offerings from tens of thousands of faithful under the guise of feeding and housing the world’s most impoverished people. But instead, the lawsuit claims, they used the gifts to build an empire that includes homes, sports teams, private investing, and a sprawling $20 million headquarters in Wills Point, Texas.

    GFA’s mission, according to its website, is “to share the Good News of Jesus with those who have never heard his name.” They “train and send national missionaries to reach out into areas where the Good News of Jesus Christ has not yet been heard.” Specifically, they aim to convert those who live in what evangelicals know as the “10/40 Window”—10 degrees to 40 degrees north of the equator—where mostly poor Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists live."


    SUMMARY: Good intentions abound in the beginning and priority is placed on the frontlines.

    But over time, "mission creep" happens. As funds come in on a regular basis and donors are taken for granted, less and less is spent in the stated and advertized purposes on the frontlines and more and more is used to pad the nest of those in the rear or the home office. While adverts still shows pics of the frontlines needs and poor believers, in reality those poor believers are staying poor while the mission execs get more than modest salaries.

    For these reasons I support only individual missionaries that I know. But the same thing also happens to us. Individual missionaries require many funds that are used on the family and not on the field. For this reason, it is useful to divide the income of missionaries into a set private salary that is reasonable and for the rest to go towards a field/ministry fund to be used on ministry projects.

    Personal information in my life that lead to me studying this topic:

    This study came about because of personal reasons.

    I am sent as a missionary to a remote tribe. But I am sick at present and must stay in another country which possesses better medical care. I've seen a great shift in how much I can directly spend on ministry towards tribals and how much I must use personally for medical care and housing while I recover. I used to be able to use the majority of my funding on the tribe, but now I am finding that I must use more of my personal funds for hospital bills. While I have not yet bought a vacation home or a BMW, this year has shown me how easily priorities and budgets can shift as long-term missionaries or organizations focus less on the field of ministry and more on themselves and their own maintenance or upkeep.

    Any thoughts?
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
  2. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    An Ananias and Sapphira spirit pervades many church and missionary organizations:

    "But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.” Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him. Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” She said, “Yes, for so much.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband. So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things." (Acts 5:1-11)

    With regard to Voice of the Martyrs, Michael Wurmbrand writes:

    "A fundraiser for VOM was promised to be paid a percentage or cut of the funds he raised! We are far indeed from charitable actions through which one sacrifices for the interests of others."

    If donations are raised for a special project and not the general fund for upkeep of the org, then that "re-designation" equals dishonesty along the lines of the sins of Ananias and Sapphira, keeping back a portion of the pledge for one's self: http://www.billionbibles.com/michael-wurmbrand-vom.html
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
  3. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    An army is not judged by how well the troops in the rear get along, but how well the frontline troops perform, after all.
  4. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Brother, here are my thoughts:

    *I like your heart. I'm reading through The Chronicles of Narnia and you kind of remind me of Reepicheep (to clarify, this is a compliment).

    *I would be wary of the Gospel for Asia example. I don't know anything about it, but there's a big difference between a lawsuit and actually being guilty of something. We all need to be incredibly careful here as we're all prone to pass judgment when we sniff the smallest rumor; but it doesn't mean it's true.

    *The VM example is saddening. However, I don't think it's fair to clump that in with things like retreats or vacation. The latter is a normal part of what's expected at any job; and a worker is worthy of his wages. Our mission org gives us 4 weeks/year and an area retreat every 4 years. I don't think it's wrong.

    *There's nothing wrong with spending money on medical care.

    *Spending money "on the tribe" isn't more spiritual than buying a car. You probably don't need a BMW. But if someone gifted you one, it might be an opportunity God uses to get to some heart idols that might be below the surface.
    Last edited: Apr 17, 2019
  5. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    Ha ha, thanks for likening me to a rat. I am flattered ;)

    Yes, there is nothing wrong with an organization growing and organizing such that the organization now has employees who need vacation time, etc. Many of these things are not wrong in themselves.

    BUT, I see a trend happening where charitable orgs begin to enrich themselves off the donations and lose track of their first priority.

    Digging deeper into the 3 examples will show you how troubling this can become. For example, in the case of the Voice of the Martyrs, it is okay I suppose that the former President received a yearly salary of 140k plus other benefits, thogh this is way above the average in Oklahoma. But the building was just way over-the-top when they already had a good building.

    The post is about general trends in missions. I can provide more particular examples. And you might be able to defend a lot of the examples. But cumulatively, it makes a case to build my general premise - that organizations often encounter mission creep and lose sight of their original vision.

    A useful analogy is that of a trellis and a vine. Here is a book developing this theme: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B007R0P4LG/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1

    "A trellis, of course, is a structure that is used to support, to hold up, a vine. In this metaphor the trellis refers to the administrative work within a church, those tasks that, though important, are not actually directly related to discipling people. Vine work, on the other hand, is those tasks of working with the vine, drawing people into the kingdom through evangelism and then training them to grow in their knowledge of God and their obedience to him. As the authors say, “The basic work of any Christian ministry is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ in the power of God’s Spirit, and to see people converted, changed and grow to maturity in that gospel.” The problem, though, is that trellis work tends to take over from vine work. Perhaps it’s because trellis work is easier and less threatening; perhaps the trellis work looks more impressive. But for one reason or another, many Christians, and pastors in particular, soon find themselves consumed with trellis work, leaving them little time and attention for the vine. “Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that in many churches, maintaining and improving the trellis constantly takes over from tending the vine.”

    Many organizations are almost entirely trellis and no vine. They've strayed from their original purpose of existing. That pressing urgency that caused many groups to form then slowly dies as the organization turns inward and looks to its own needs.

    And of course, I am feeling that now upon my heart because I am undergoing medical care when the field continues to need help. It doesn't make my medical care wrong, but I am aware of how this impacts my focus and where ministry money goes if it is not specifically designated. I cannot help but grieve all the funds being used for hospital bills and not on tribal evangelism.
  6. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    Thanks for the interaction. He was a sweet rat. PS, are you in Thailand? We'll be passing through there and spending a few days in just over a week.
  7. Pergamum

    Pergamum Ordinary Guy (TM)

    I am back in Malaysia after several weeks in Singapore getting a 2nd opinion (yielded another parasite to kill and also found evidence of encephalitis/inflammation in my brain, so if I act out I will blame it on my brain-fever and not my deficient personality).
  8. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is one reason among many that missionary work should be a churchly endeavor rather than a parachurchly one. Who do the organizations answer to until things get so bad that it ends up, tragically, in the secular legal system? Of course no system is foolproof (or sinproof), but I can't imagine $30 million being approved to build a state of the art administrative facility for missions in the States by the GA of a Reformed denomination.
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  9. JTB.SDG

    JTB.SDG Puritan Board Sophomore

    There you go, it's the brain fever's fault! Hey, sounds legit to me :)
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