Understanding the cost of missionary support

(Photo Courtesy to Reach Beyond)

(Photo Courtesy of ReachGlobal)

Int’l (ReachGlobal) — [EDITORS NOTE: This is a community post from ReachGlobal blog.]

It often surprises people when mission candidates share the amount that they need to raise per month. One candidate in the process of raising support told me that they will often hear, “Wow, I don’t make that much,” when they explain that they need to raise $6,000 per month.

Let’s talk about that.

Missionaries are those who, in response to God’s particular call on their life, often must give up traditional employment opportunities for the purpose of following God’s call to a foreign context. Either they cannot legally earn an income in their country of residence, or they simply do not have the time for traditional employment. It has always been an important function of the church to fund these apostolic Christians in their quest to see the gospel news take root in new and foreign neighborhoods. “We ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth” (3 John 1:8).

We should never use the cost of sending missionaries as an excuse to no longer send long-term personnel internationally. That would be to abandon the call on the church to fulfill the Great Commission. It is true that in today’s world the role of missionaries is changing, but not the need.

To be sure, a missionary wage is not opulent. Missionaries in our organization make a fair but modest income. But, we are not comparing oranges with oranges when we measure our income against what missionaries need to raise.

Think about this. The total amount a missionary raises includes the following:

-salary

-health insurance*

-travel expenses (for all ministry-related travel, domestically and internationally)*

-ministry expenses*

-cost of educating children overseas

-housing

-taxes (including all of social security)*

-continuing education*

-retirement*

-cost of setting up a home overseas

Each of the starred items are “hidden costs” in the United States as these are paid partially or fully by employers and never show up as compensation. In addition, there are expenses missionaries have that most of us don’t, including the need to pay for the education of children.

If they are living in cities with high housing costs (often the case in Europe and Asia), the housing costs are significantly higher than the United States. It is not unusual for a modest flat in a place like Hong Kong to cost $3,000 per month. To provide faithful presence among neighbors, it is often strategically required to live in expensive cities.

In addition, whatever ministry expenses a missionary has must come out of the support they raise. Travel to coach or train nationals, for instance, comes out of their ministry account (which they must raise). In today’s world, many missionaries live in one place but travel to multiple countries training, coaching, and mentoring. All costs come out of what they must raise.

What we often don’t think about are the actual costs of ministry personnel in our local churches. On top of salary, you have benefits paid by the church, the cost of offices and facilities, the cost of support personnel who assist them, as well as the covering of ministry expenses. It is a much larger bill than we often realize. The difference with missionaries is that everything shows up in what they need to raise. There are no hidden costs.

Mission incomes are quite modest. It is the ancillary costs that are not. The next time you have sticker shock, remember what the number means and does not mean.

(This post originally appeared on the Leading From The Sandbox blog.)