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Why Do Missionaries Need to Raise So Much Money?

Why so much?

It is a common question. “Why do missionaries need to raise so much money?”

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Liz and Méabh walking along the River Liffey.

There is a lot behind that question. We’ve all heard stories of people who have been downright illegal in how they have handled money that was given to the work they were doing. Sadly, the church has not been exempt. And when we give money that we’ve worked for, we want to know that it is being well stewarded, and used appropriately.

Okay, so why do they need all that money?

I remember coming up with our first budget as we prepared to move to Ireland. We had shared it with individuals our local church to let them know our goals. Shortly afterwards, I was talking to one of our leaders and one of us mentioned meeting with people in Ireland in coffee shops. A person who overheard our conversation said, “I guess that’s what they need all that money for.”

I share that to show that there is often a bit of discomfort on both sides of this conversation about what missionaries need to raise to get onto the field and support their families. My hope is that this post can shed some much needed light on the topic.

You’re going to make how much?

While there are a number of factors that go into how a missionary budget is arrived at, a huge misunderstanding often takes place when people hear the amounts.

A common line of thinking goes like this. The potential missionary heading to the field announces that she needs to raise $6,000 per month.

The person hearing that thinks, “That’s $72,000 per year. That’s more than I make.”

While the math is correct, and the person thinking this may have a salary that is less than $72,000 per year, a crucial incorrect assumption has occurred. That assumption is that the missionary is raising a salary of $72,000 per year.

They are not. It is important to understand that their salary is only a part of their total budget.

While this is not an exhaustive list, here are 6 factors that need to be taken into consideration when looking at a missionary’s budget.

1) The Cost of Doing Ministry

Before moving to Ireland, I spent 13 years as the lead pastor of a church in Ithaca, NY. For about 75% of the time I was there I received a salary.

In addition to a reasonable salary, the church at times provided me with the following:

  • Health insurance
  • A budget for purchasing books
  • A computer to work on
  • An office to work in, with office furniture
  • A mobile phone
  • Stationary, stamps, etc.
  • An expense account for meals, mileage, and the like.

When I travelled to a national, regional, or area conference, the church paid for my (and sometimes my wife’s) hotel, rental car, meals, air fare and whatever else might be associated with that trip.

As you’d imagine, all of those things add up. At your job you may have many of these, and perhaps even more benefits. And while those things cost your company ‘real’ money, you would never consider them part of your salary. They are a cost to your employer of having you in that role, but they are not your salary.

(Imagine your computer breaking down, and being told by your boss that you’ll need to bring in a new one tomorrow.)

As missionaries, many of those things are still needed, but they are not provided by your missions organisation. They are part of budget you raise.

And if you don’t raise the money…you go without. It is that simple.

For example, this year (2015) our family is, as all European staff are, required to attend our organisation’s annual conference in Prague. However, when I was a lead pastor I would have expected my employer, the local church, to cover those expenses (airfare, hotel, food, etc). Now, they are an expense that I need to budget and raise money for.

I am not only required to attend, I am required to raise the funds to attend.

As you might imagine, things like this end up being a sizeable part of a missionary’s budget.

2) Money that goes directly to the missions organisation.

The organisation that Elizabeth and I are part of retains 10% of all monies that are donated to us. That amount covers things like payroll, processing donations, and a whole host of other essential services. And while other organisations may require different percentages, the fact is, most keep a similar amount of monies that come into their missionaries. It is part of how all of us contribute to keep the organisation going.

So, take our friend with the $6,000/month budget. Take the first 10%, and that amount is, before anything even gets to her, reduced to $5,400 per month.  And now she can begin thinking about her ministry budget.

3) More ministry expenses.

When we did a Servant Evangelism project like a free water give away, the church bought the water, the ice to keep the water cold, flyers, coolers, and anything else we’d need for the event.

For missionaries, any events, or outreach they hold need to be included in that budget.

4) Cost of living

This is simply about where they live. Had we moved to rural Ireland rather than Dublin, our housing expenses would have been less. Had we gone to Eastern Europe, Africa, or parts of Asia, our budget would have been much lower than it is. But we go where we believe God is sending. And for us it was one of the 50 most expensive cities in the world.

Another issue with being in Europe is the currency exchange. When we first arrived here, €1.00 was worth about $1.20. So a salary of $5,000 becomes €4,166. Within months the Euro rose and was worth about $1.39. So you’ve dropped down to €3,597. (Of course this doesn’t count the cost of wiring your salary internationally, which until recently was over $800/year).

We are currently at a point where the Euro is at it’s lowest point in years. So while that’s has been a great help, you can’t count on currency markets doing what you’d like them to do.

5) Social Security

If you are employed in the US, half of your social security is deducted from your salary, the other half is paid for by your employer. For many missionaries, they need to pay for both halves.

6) Visiting Home

Ideally most missionaries would head home to visit family or raise support, once every two to four years. If you have kids, (say four daughters) the air fare, and additional expenses add up rapidly. When our family travelled  back to the States in 2013, although we were able to schedule some church services where we could share our vision for Dublin, the cost of the airfare, the car we rented, gasoline, etc., cost us more than a month’s salary.

7) And of course, salary

Speaking of salary. If you are sending people to another country to reach people with the Good News about Jesus the Messiah, you don’t want them spending large parts of their time stressing about whether they can stretch the food budget, or afford to take their kids to the doctor this month.

Depending on factors such as; where people live, whom they are ministering to, how many kids they have, whether or not they need to pay for schooling, etc., they need a salary to do what they are there to do.

Questions?

I hope this helps you have a better understanding of how missionary budgets and salaries work. At the very least, it can help you ask missionaries you support good and encouraging questions.

Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions, or if you know of something I forgot to mention.