Thinking Out Loud

January 15, 2015

Missions Models: Paying the Staff

Ministry Salaries Deputation SupportWe continue where we left off on Monday and Tuesday with more of our missions theme. Today we want to look at how the actual mission workers — as well as people working for Christian parachurch organizations — get paid.

Salary – Several lifetimes ago I was hired by the publishing division of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF). I was the warehouse manager for the Canadian operation, and to the best of my knowledge this was the only time in my life I was ever covered by a dental plan, though being young and carefree I never used it. They were probably the best organization I ever worked for full-time. I was also hired for three years by our local Christian and Missionary Alliance Church, and again, it was a fixed dollar amount, though I was basically subcontracted to them which meant not technically on their payroll. I also worked briefly for the Canadian Bible Society and again, the job included a guranteed pay rate, as did all the jobs in their head office.

Raising Support – Several times in my life I’ve been offered an opportunity to work with the too-often repeated phrase, “but you need to raise your own support.”  Sigh! Do they want me, my gifts and abilities, or simply to exploit my network? Some of these Christian organizations actually don’t have a cap on the number of people they will hire; if you have the support raised, you’re welcome to come on board. (The organization takes 10 to 20% off the top for ‘administration.’)

Base Salary + Donations – This one is a combination of the two above, and the place I’ve seen it practiced most often is with students working at Christian summer camps. They are promised a very conservative rate of pay which includes meals and housing, but can then do fundraising over and above that in order to increase their bi-weekly pay. Sometimes the donors remain on the camp’s mailing list long after the kids have left and the last canoe has been stored away, which can be a bit of a windfall for the camp long-term.

Deputation – This is a word used largely in the Evangelical community to describe the relationship missionaries have with the local churches that support them. It usually means that when they are home on “furlough” instead of having a season of sabbath rest, they spend their weekends driving around to visit those churches, hand out prayer cards, set up a table in the lobby with artifacts and possibly even preach the Sunday morning sermon. This guarantees that they will be kept on the missions budget for the following year. 

Bi-Vocational – We usually hear this term used in conjunction with pastoral ministry, as it’s a growing model. But anyone serving part-time in ministry and part-time with a ‘secular’ job qualifies. There are really two meanings to bi-vocational; sometimes it means two part-time jobs, but other times it may mean the ministry job doesn’t really pay at all. Despite this, the ministry job may actually have demands that leave the individual ‘on call’ 24/7. There’s a saying that, “When they have you part-time, they have you full-time.” You’re expected to be available at all hours.

You Pay Us – In many cases, the person working for the organization actually pays for the privilege of doing so. In the case of an organization like YWAM, its entry program, known as Discipleship Training School is really an educational opportunity, not anything resembling actual employment. Participants can do fundraising to cover the costs, or if they’re coming out of the business world, or a students who took a year off to raise funds to take any of YWAM’s schools, they might just show up on day one with their checkbook and pay it that way. However, in other organizations (i.e. not YWAM) the line between education and training and the need for people to actually work on the organization’s behalf is rather blurred. If you’re paying to sweep floors or do dishes, and that is the majority of your responsibility, then you have the worst of both worlds: It’s not a job, and you’re not learning anything.

Are there some I’ve missed? Probably. One faith ministry I worked for frequently gathered the staff together and announced that the payroll would be late that week. I was a single guy, but there were people working for them that were the sole earners in their family, with dependent children. That’s why I’m sure this story is incomplete; there are all manner of variations out there because, after all, “It’s the Lord’s work.”

3 Comments »

  1. In the category of raising support: Sometimes you have a very skilled, competent person who simply is no good at raising money, or doesn’t have a large network or family that will pledge monthly help. For every worker the organization eventually hires, they probably turn away two or three who don’t want to have to beg for funds.

    Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 15, 2015 @ 8:32 am

    • As one who is in the midst of doing just what you are saying, i want to reply. I am in no way ‘exploiting’ my network or ‘begging’ for money. In fact by Gods care and love He is raising up idividuala and churches to be a part of His kingdom. Your “twist” on this issue makes it seem as if I am doing something wrong with what the Lord has asked me to do. Rather I saw to you. Get on board and make it easier for missionaries to raise the needed support so that its not to ‘hard’. Honestly I believe that if we would put our efforts of encouraging people to give to be a part rather than attacking how the money is gotten. Then maybe it wouldnt be so hard.

      Comment by tribalsoleja — January 20, 2015 @ 10:29 am

      • No, I’m sorry; that section was written in a hurry, and I don’t mean that all fundraising is exploitation. I simply meant that in this particular case, the organization only wanted me if I could raise funds for them, and not everyone is in a position to do that well unless they have a fair-sized personal network. I think that people who are good at something should be offered a chance to do the thing they’re good at, and other people should do the fundraising. In other words, the employment shouldn’t be conditional on raising support.

        Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — January 20, 2015 @ 6:09 pm


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