I still wince when I go to the grocery store to buy fruit or meat, remembering what those prices per pound used to be back when I projected our family’s grocery budget! Whether at the grocery store, the gas pump, or almost any other service provider, there’s no hiding that our dollars don’t go as far as they once did. Cumulatively, this affects what we choose to eat, whether my wife and I go on a date night, whether or not we can afford a vacation, if we sign up the kids for swimming lessons, or how much money—if any—we set aside for savings or retirement in a given month.
We are trying to be responsible stewards of what we have, and inflation causes even the smaller decisions to feel more weighty. Naturally, if there are ways to increase our earning in proportion to our increased costs, we want to explore those options, reduce our consumption, and rely on God’s provision at all times.
But what about those we have sent overseas? The increased globalization of our economy means that the same pain points we feel here at home are often being experienced by those on the mission field, likely more acutely and with fewer options to absorb it.
There are precious people serving overseas who call our church their Sending Church. This has to mean something beyond simply receiving their newsletters! For us, it has meant learning to be much more proactive in our care, spiritual oversight, and provision than we once were. Certainly, we respond to unique needs as they arise, but we also look ahead and forecast the needs we can reasonably predict, and we plan accordingly. Just as we would take into account the rising costs of living, the realities of a growing family, or the increasing responsibilities of our home staff when planning their compensation, we must similarly look out for our sent ones and take these matters into consideration in our support of them. It is our job to do this.
What are some practical ways to address inflation’s effects on our missions support?
Build in a yearly (or bi-yearly) support review.
It’s tempting to simply carry over the same monthly amount for our sent ones into next year’s budget. (After all, they probably didn’t explicitly ask for an increase.) Why not use “budget season” as an extra excuse to have a caring, relational conversation with your sent ones about their evolving needs and costs? Not only does this generate data on which to base your support decisions, but it also serves as another “spoke” in the system of care in your sent ones. Not every need can or should be solved by money, but some clearly can, and those that can’t can still be prayed over and empathized with. Commit to at least a modest cost of living increase each calendar year. Consider other metrics that might boost support levels as well, such as when a child is added to the family or when a missionary hits a particular tenure milestone.
The church must build enough trust where the level of vulnerability and honesty allows the sent ones to make their needs known.
Advocate with the sending organization.
Hopefully, your church has a relationship with the sending agency through which your missionary’s support is processed. If not, build one! Sending agencies vary greatly in their approaches to missionary budgeting; some require comprehensive budgets with yearly updates on detailed templates, and others leave the ball in the missionary’s court and get involved only if the missionary’s account is short for several consecutive months. Work with the sending agency to find creative ways to adjust the budget and/or increase support in a way that the sent one can access for their monthly needs. Do not just assume that donating more to the account will translate into liquid assets that will bring your sent ones immediate financial relief. Extra funds often get banked and held against future budget deficits unless you and the agency structure things differently.
Explore alternative donations.
Sometimes, there is just no easy way to adjust a sent one’s budget mid-year to provide immediate inflation relief. But what other options are there? Can your church pick up the tab for the music lessons the missionary can no longer afford for their child? Venmo some cash for date nights? Give a digital book subscription? Pay off a dental bill? Reimburse for car repairs? Start savings accounts for their kids? Stock their pantry with household supplies the next time you visit? Contribute to their retirement fund? Keep in mind many sent ones are sheepish about asking for more or different kinds of support. The church must build enough trust where that level of vulnerability and honesty allows the sent ones to make their needs known. Even then, it helps if the sending church primes the pump with suggestions of ways they can contribute.
Depending on the nature of the need, some churches can supplement ongoing mission money with short-term benevolence funds to creatively increase support and bring relief. Leverage what you can!
Build flexibility into the church budget.
Budgets are educated guesses. None of us can plan for every eventuality, so why not build some flexibility into your missions budget? Churches can set base monthly support levels while still budgeting a percentage into a missions contingency fund. Among other things, those contingency monies could allow church mission leaders to nimbly respond to inflation and temporarily boost monthly support as needed, and without going through a lot of red tape to do so.
Ultimately, sent ones need their sending churches to remain connected, present, and prayerful with them during tough times more than they need a 5 percent financial increase. But wouldn’t it be great if we could do both?
Practice dependency alongside your sent ones.
The proactive, caring posture of a sending church we are espousing is never intended to shield sent ones from ever feeling discomfort or experiencing need. Often, needs serve as catalytic moments when God is building dependency into their lives. Be proactive, yes, but don’t rush in to fix without first connecting with your sent ones and letting their needs drive you and them to God in humble, mutual prayer. The increased financial strain of inflation is a holy opportunity to look to our ultimate Provider. Ultimately, sent ones need their sending churches to remain connected, present, and prayerful with them during tough times more than they need a 5 percent financial increase. But wouldn’t it be great if we could do both?
At the end of the day, we want our sent ones to spend less time worrying about inflation and more time making disciples. If the sending church can help address these budget needs in a proactive way, we are releasing our sent ones to do the main thing we sent them to do.
Jared Burwell is husband to Corrie and father to six children. Jared felt God's call to ministry while living in Seattle and later planted a church in South Seattle. Four years ago, God directed Jared and Corrie to shift ministry focus and move to Richmond, Virginia, for a new assignment. Jared is now the missions pastor of Movement Church, where he oversees global and local missions and church planting. Jared is the Sending Church Online Training Manager here at Upstream.