Letters to the Editor (June)

Volunteer vs. career missionary service

A story in the April issue underscores the popularity of a short-term volunteer approach to overseas mission.  Bold monolingual English speakers witness to Christ through labored speech and good deeds.  Young and old have an opportunity to do something and feel good when they return home.  Their motives and commitment should not be dismissed. 

But for all the possible “upsides” of a volunteer mission methodology, I find the “no experience necessary … the Holy Spirit will do the rest” focus of the article an invitation to caution for at least three reasons:

1. By definition, mission implies being sent.  The story’s  focus on the individual volunteer’s self analysis of “heart to serve” or “love of adventure” does not resolve the tension between individual self-fulfillment and the strategic needs of the sending Church’s mission.

2. Do we really want to make ignorance of language, culture, and history a thing to be grasped?  Career missionaries struggle for years to understand a language and culture.

3. Is a constant rotation of short-term servants the best stewardship in a decade that has seen reductions of highly trained bilingual or multilingual long-term missionaries?  The article estimates the cost per volunteer on a week or two-week trip will run somewhere around $2,000.  Conservatively, then, that makes the cost of placing a volunteer in place at least $52,000 or perhaps as high as $104,000 per year.  How will these costs balance against maintaining one or two well-trained career or long-term imbedded missionaries?  Even ability to fund oneself does not make that good stewardship. 

There are critical events in which sister churches and missions need specific types of well-prepared workers to be sent, perhaps even for short terms.  Those occasions should take place only when the use of each person’s particular talent coincides with the mission’s strategic design.  The sent person’s spiritual and contributive abilities must place the individual beyond the level of a well-intentioned Christian tourist.   

Dr. Douglas R. Groll

Dr. Douglas Groll is former director of the Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Hispanic Institute of Theology (now Center for Hispanic Studies). 

Worker, church finances

I must admit that I am a bit confused.

In the August 2006 Reporter commentary, we read about the “economic pandemic” and “a general lack of financial literacy among church workers.”  A January 2007 story about help for church workers with financial literacy and debt concerns mentions a proposal “that seminaries require a basic financial literacy class; and in that same article, the director of education for Concordia Plan Services is quoted that “the real answer is in learning how to deal with expenses.”

Now we learn in the March story about the fiscal conference that the Synod is facing the same problem as church workers — namely, that “offerings aren’t keeping pace with costs.”

Surprisingly, though, the proposed solution for the church body’s financial problems isn’t more education or “learning how to deal with expenses” (perhaps by making cuts), but conferences to talk about the problem and legislated “fair share” giving by districts to be passed on to the congregations (as proposed in the 2006 report of the Blue Ribbon Task Force for Funding the Mission).

Why is education the answer for church workers whose expenses exceed their income, but mandated giving the answer when the Synod’s expenses outpace offerings?

We need to repent of our lack of trust in God’s holy Word and His Holy Spirit, of our stinginess in taking care of our church workers, of our lack of proper funding for missionaries and seminaries, and pray that God would strengthen our faith and not take His Word from our midst.

Do we still believe that it is the Holy Spirit’s work to grow the church when and where He pleases, or has the size of our denomination and endowment funds become our idol?

Rev. Ryan D. Wendt
Billings, Mont.

Please send letters via e-mail to REPORTER@lcms.org or by mail to REPORTER Letters, 1333 S. Kirkwood Road, St. Louis, MO 63122-7295.  Please include your name, postal address, and phone number.  Letters may be edited for length and clarity. — Ed.

Posted June 1, 2007

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