In Praise of Mission Support Workers
When talking with people about our financial support, one the questions that I like least is, “How much goes to admin?” It is a valid question, but I don’t like to answer it because there is often an unspoken assumption that paying admin costs is little more than flushing money down the toilet. Everyone knows that some amount needs to go to admin because donations need to be processed and receipted (at the very least). But admin money isn’t “really” used for ministry, but just for someone to push paper (or pixels) in an office somewhere.
For many people, admin fees are an unpleasant reality. They are part and parcel of working with a missionary organization, in the same way that paying taxes are an accepted part of being a citizen of a country (or should be). They need to be paid but there is a suspicion that they are probably not spent well and would largely be better used elsewhere. Therefore, if someone asks me, “How much goes to admin?” I feel like the lower the number that I give them, the happier they will be with my answer. I am not going to doctor the numbers, of course, but I am never sure how my answer will affect the attitude and willingness to give of the person asking.
But the longer that I serve with a missionary organization that assesses so-called admin costs, the more grateful I am for all the people behind those admin fees. All that money that goes to behind-the-scenes admin enables other people to do things that I would otherwise need to take time and money to do myself. And in many cases, those support workers who are in the home office or field office or in cyberspace somewhere are doing jobs that that I am not equipped to do.
I can’t do the ministry that I came here to do…
AND receipt donations for tax-deductible contributions each month,
AND fold and mail prayer letters each month,
AND manage international money transfers.
AND spend days on end filling out forms and running back and forth to government offices to get my visa and work permit processed,
AND interview and process new missionary candidates, never mind entire short-term teams,
AND manage a mission guest house or holiday home.
Besides all of those things that I *might* be able do if I had the time, there are other things that support workers do that I can’t do.
I don’t have the training to advise missionaries on their health issues.
I don’t have the ear (or tongue) to be a supervisor at the language school.
I don’t have the graphic design skills to make a snazzy brochure, flyer, or website.
Okay, I do have enough IT skills to make my own website but I am pushing the envelope on that one. If it breaks, sometimes I can’t fix it.
And you certainly don’t want to put me in charge of the accounting. Despite my objections, accounting friends tell me that “Eh, it’s close enough” is not good enough. Go figure.
I am a preacher.
I am a church planter.
I am a seminary instructor.
I am a writer.
I am a theologian.
I am a historian.
Those are the things that I like. Those are the things that I do well (enough). Those are the things that God has equipped and prepared me to do.
Because there are faithful, dedicated missionary support workers doing all those other things, I can focus on the things that God has equipped me to do. Because part of my missionary budget goes to admin, I can spend my time doing what I came to do instead of spending it on an array of admin tasks that needs to happen for me to stay in the country, stay funded, stay healthy, and stay effective.
The good folks who work in support roles are usually under-appreciated and under-valued. This is true both for salaried support staff and for missionaries who are financially supported by churches and individuals on the home side. This later group often get a lot of flack because churches don’t want to support people who are “just” doing admin. They want to support the evangelists and the church planters who are doing the “real” work of ministry. But regardless of how or why someone is serving in a support role, I am glad they are doing it. Because they are doing their ministry, I can do mine.
Those in support roles are often less honored or less valued than their colleagues who are doing direct evangelism or church planting. But we are all on the same team. We are all one body. The Apostle Paul put it like this:
“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” (1 Corinthians 12:21-26)
Let those of us who are missionaries or supporters of missionaries remember to honor and value those who work hard behind-the-scenes to support those in those ministries that get more attention.
Missionaries, tell a colleague in support work how much you value them.
Churches, support and pray for those missionaries who are doing support work because they are vital part of a bigger picture of the advance of the Gospel. Other missionaries, who are doing more flashy work, depend on them.
Mission Support Workers, you are not forgotten. I am sorry that too often the only time you hear from the rest of us missionaries is when the numbers are wrong, the internal email is bouncing, or the booking needs changing. You are a valuable part of the team. That’s why I wrote this blog. I am not very good at a lot of the stuff that you do, but I can write. So I wrote this for you. Thank you for what you do, for the glory of God and the advance of the Gospel.