Here’s a common question in many evangelical churches and circles: “How much of your budget is spent on missions?”
Usually, to answer this question someone only has to pull out his or her church’s year-end report and look up a line item, commonly titled, “missions.” At this point, a dollar amount or a percentage of the operating budget can be reported.
At this point, it’s important that I make myself absolutely clear: It is important–and I would go so far as to say it is a biblical mandate–that local churches support ministry efforts outside their own organization to spread the Good News around the world and in their own community. Jesus was clear to his disciples (and to us) that we are to “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20, ESV). We can also derive from Acts 1:8 that we are not to be so focused on our own local context and what we are doing that we forget there is a world around us in need of Jesus, whether in our own regional area or halfway around the world. If a church spends very little money supporting ministries outside their own walls, it’s probably a sign of an unhealthy church.
However, I think it’s a mistake to classify as missions only endeavors that are happening overseas or other areas outside our immediate community. I believe this for two reasons. First, the word “mission” itself comes from the Latin missio, which means “the act of sending.” This reflects Jesus’ clear teaching in Matthew 28 and Acts 1: the Church is a missions organization, period. Whether you’re loving your next door neighbor or going to a foreign country, to be a disciple is to tell others about Jesus and be his witness. Second, it’s time to stop fooling ourselves about the spiritual landscape of the United States. It doesn’t matter if you live in the Bible belt, the Pacific Northwest, or in Utah (like I do): we live in a mission field.
So, if someone were to ask me how much I think a church should budget for missions, this is my answer: 100% of the operating budget. Every dime, every volunteer hour should reflect the fact that the Church is a missions organization, and everything we do should seek to glorify God by spreading the Good News of Jesus in word and in action.
Some will protest that a part of a church’s job is to help feed the flock. After all, won’t we just end up having shallow, immature believers if we don’t offer plenty of growing opportunities such as Bible studies and conferences? My answer: being a disciple of Jesus has always been tied to passing along what we know about Jesus to others, so they can begin a relationship with him. Part of this certainly involves “equipping the saints” (Ephesians 4:11-13). But any activity, any initiative that has only the purpose of feeding a follower of Jesus without the expectation that those who are being fed will in turn feed someone else more resembles an ingrown toenail than it does the Body of Christ.