This ebook by Howard Culbertson was originally published by what is now The Foundry for the NMI mission book series under ISBN number 083-411-4186. It is presented here in updated form.
Staring at ripening wheat fields in western Oklahoma years ago, I couldn't imagine how all that grain would be harvested. Those fields stretched to the horizon and beyond. "Amber waves of grain,'" I said softly. That phrase from Katherine Bates' "America, the Beautiful" described perfectly what I saw. Before writing those words, she must have seen what I was looking at.
How are they going to harvest it all? I wondered. I'd seen only an occasional combine sitting beside the farmers' barns. It didn't seem like nearly enough machinery to harvest those huge fields.
Then, one day on the road I passed a convoy of combines and trucks filled with harvesting crews. Someone explained that these were custom harvesters, mobile crews that start in south Texas as soon as the wheat ripens there. Stripping wheat fields county by county, they work their way northward.
That was the answer to my question. Rather than every farmer having to go bankrupt buying expensive equipment that will lie idle most of the year, farmers across multiple states put the same equipment and crews to work one field after another. The manpower and machinery of custom harvest crews do what the individual farmers could never manage to do by themselves.
This system works because not all the wheat fields in the central U.S. ripen on the same day. Those fields don't even ripen in the same month. In Texas wheat fields begin ripening in the spring. In the Dakotas, it's late summer before the wheat is ready to harvest. That's why a relatively small number of mobile crews and equipment can harvest such huge expanses.
The Bible uses a lot of harvest metaphors. Jesus said: "Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest" (John 4:35). Another time He told His disciples: "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few" (Matthew 9:37).
Not surprisingly, it is easy to find parallels between a wheat harvest and Nazarene missionary strategy. One analogy lies in the temporary use of outside workers. In some parts of the world, the gospel message arrives and finds immediate response. The harvest may be ripe, but there are almost no local workers. Elsewhere, the church exists but is quite small. There isn't enough local manpower or other resources to bring in the ready harvest. So we send custom harvesters (missionaries) to those fields. These missionaries don't go to homestead a country. By that, I mean they do not plan to settle down and carve out a permanent place for themselves. There are farmers -- the local believers -- who live there, who "own" the land. The missionaries are simply the temporary custom harvesters.
Another wheat harvest analogy is that of right timing. To wheat harvesters, timing is important. Custom harvesters work their way from one field to another, harvesting grain as it ripens. This way, costly equipment and manpower don't lie idle in one area when it is harvesting season in another. The New Testament mentions this right timing for the harvesters (Mark 4:29; Galatians 6:9). As the grain begins to ripen in a particular field, we are called to pour in manpower and other resources to gather that harvest. Or, to continue the harvest metaphor, storms can break over the ripened grain and destroy it in the fields. So, for the sake of those who are responsive and for those who are still unresponsive, we must find ways to give immediate attention to responsive people.
Christ has given the Church some awesome commands. "Make disciples of all nations," He told us (Matthew 28:19). We must obey. That we have done so joyfully is typified by Nazarene founder Phineas F. Bresee's statement: "Our church is preeminently a missionary church." It's true. Properly challenged, Nazarenes have never been reluctant at trying to obey the Great Commission.1 The late evangelist R. V. DeLong wrote that he had chosen to be a Nazarene because "the Church of the Nazarene takes the Great Commission seriously."
The Great Commission was given to the Church. Fulfilling it is the responsibility of every local church. How is that possible? Extremely large churches might conceivably have the resources to attempt global evangelism by themselves. But, how can your local church do what God has called you to do? How do you dare try to carry out that Great Commission? Simple. By pooling resources with other churches.
Take that word budget which we used to use more often. The word came from an old French word, bougette. To the French, the word meant pouch or small bag with its contents. That's good symbolism for us. With the World Evangelism Fund, we Nazarenes are putting our resources together in one bag. Decades ago missionary pioneer Harmon Schmelzenbach said: "Individually, we accomplish limited returns. Collectively, we move mountains." He was right. Using our budget bag, we run Kingdom activities in almost 170 world areas. Every Nazarene church, no matter how small, has a part in the work of more than 500 missionaries. [ biography of Schmelzenbach ]
During the 1923 General Assembly debate on setting up the General Board and funding it, L. Milton Williams said: "God and one man can chase 1,000 and 2 put 10,000 to flight. What might God and 50,000 blood-washed, fire-baptized men and women accomplish?"
Once we decide to work cooperatively, we face another question: How to actually raise that money? Suppose we financed day-by-day operations of Nazarene world outreach using individual offerings. We might do that on a country-by-country basis. We could ask every Nazarene church to take an offering for work in Argentina this Sunday, an offering for work in Bolivia the next, and so on. The problem with this is that we work in more countries than there are Sundays in a year. Taking offerings alphabetically by country, it would take us three or four years to get to Zambia!
Another option would be to take offerings for each area of ministry. We do, of course, promote some special offerings like the Radio Fund and Alabaster for buildings. [ more on Alabaster ] Suppose that, in addition to these few, we also had to take individual offerings for such things as:
In our beginning days, we Nazarenes financed missions with special offerings like that. A church-wide special offering paid for the first foreign trip by a general superintendent. In our early years, local churches were besieged with requests to take offering after offering for general church ministries. At one early General Assembly, delegates complained that the continual offerings "overdid the matter of solicitation ... sometimes even cutting pastors' salaries short."
Is there a better way? How can we finance what needs to be done without smothering people with endless offering appeals? Can we ensure that the custom harvesters don't run out of gas while harvesting a field? The 1923 General Assembly delegates felt so. Their answer was to combine all general church ministries into one unified General Board. Rather than every ministry office making its own funding drive, all became part of the new General Board, integrating various offering appeals into one unified budget or fund which came to be called General Budget (now named the World Evangelism Fund).
Initially, every church was just urged to give liberally to support what would eventually become the World Evangelism Fund. Then, some districts began setting goals of so much money per member. Finally, in 1949, global evangelism offering goals were linked to local church income. Each local church was asked to give giving 10 percent of its income to world evangelism efforts. It would be like a "tithe" given by the churches. When we began this Ten Percent giving emphasis, giving to World Evangelism Fund and Approved Specials was under 6 percent across the denomination. It has now grown to well over 9 percent. We're closing in on that Ten Percent goal. [ More on 10% giving ]
Parenthetically, some use the Ten Percent formula to note how incomprehensible it is that less than one-tenth of every dollar given to the local church goes for world missions. They contend that far too much of what they "give to the Lord" is spent on local ministries. Those reaping most of the benefits of "the Lord's money" are actually the givers themselves.
At any rate, to underwrite this budget, a system evolved in which two big offerings, one at Easter and another at Thanksgiving (or Christmas in countries other than the U.S. and Canada), began raising most of the money for what was then called "General Budget." For many churches, Easter and Thanksgiving (or Christmas) offerings are highlights of the year. Occasionally I've been in churches that regularly take part of their regular offerings to meet their share of the World Evangelism Fund. That's a real tithe of the tithe! Others depend less on two big offerings, using a year-round giving system called Faith Promise, where members add something for world missions to their weekly tithe check.
In whatever way it is raised locally, the World Evangelism Fund is the key element in putting our custom harvesters in the field. With more than 30,000 churches worldwide underwriting this World Evangelism Fund, we can put crews on combines and send them into the ripe fields. Haiti, for instance, is unusually responsive today. We've reaped an incredible harvest in that Caribbean nation, immeasurably aided by our World Evangelism Fund system of basic funding. [ missions in Haiti ]
Yet, Haiti's responsiveness does not blind us to other opportunities elsewhere in the world. We use our budget-funded system to plan and execute long-term strategies for carrying out the Great Commission. A global strategy funded by the World Evangelism Fund forces us into a balanced view of opportunities and responsibilities worldwide. We do not flood one country while ignoring others.
A budget system also offers advantages on the spending end. During periods of retrenchment, a budget system can keep missions going. Working on a budget can nurture a passion for efficiency. That was, in fact, the hope of the General Assembly committee that recommended establishing a World Evangelism Fund. That committee said one result of having a General Board should be "not a larger, but a more compact organization." Operating on a budget also avoids a stuttering, stop-start cycle of overspending after big offerings and having to rein in when income drops.
Some World Evangelism Fund money has become "seed" money. That is, it helps plant churches that grow from being consumers of the World Evangelism Fund to being contributors to it. Each new local church adds to the pool of World Evangelism Fund givers. Puerto Rico is a good example. Once, it was a mission field. Now, the Nazarene churches on this Caribbean island are a regular district, giving over $25,000 each year to the World Evangelism Fund.
Not all is rosy with the World Evangelism Fund, however. Approach some Nazarenes and strike up a conversation about giving to the World Evangelism Fund and use the word "missions budget." Watch them bristle. They'll likely grouse that their World Evangelism Fund is too high. Giving that much to global outreach cripples their local church, they say. Why do they feel that way? Well, "budget" sounds ominously like taxes. People fight and howl about taxes. Bad feelings about taxes so distort Nazarenes' view of World Evangelism Fund that debates about the amounts requested have sometimes disintegrated into something more at home in the political arena than in the Kingdom.
The word budget sticks in some people's craw not only for its tax overtones. It also may smack of limits. Constant talk of "paying the budgets" even gives some the impression we're preoccupied with money. Budget can give the impression that we're more concerned with sustaining an organization than we are with carrying out Kingdom mandates. Just thinking of the word budget rather than what it is doing leads to bad decisions when expenses rise above income. When money gets tight in a local church, paying the budgets is often put off. Maintaining the local ministry inevitably takes precedence over an imposed tax being spent on things unrelated to the mission of the local church.
Some of our problems with budget may also be because we tried coining a new meaning for it. We Nazarenes have long talked about "paying our budgets." You really cannot do that, however. The World Book encyclopedia says budget is "a financial plan that helps people make the best possible use of their money." So, a budget is technically not something you pay. A budget is really a spending plan, not a fund-raising one
You can give to the World Evangelism Fund. You shouldn't say, however, that you've been "assigned a budget." Budgets are not what you're asked to give. Budgets are spending plans. They're not paid or collected. Only the general church can be said to have a "general budget." That's the plan of how the General Board expects to spend the money it receives in a year.
Your local church has a budget, a local budget. What this spending plan should include are contributions to the World Evangelism Fund. How much should your church be giving to global ministries? Well, our international operating budget has been divided into more than 10,000 slices. There's one for every Nazarene church around the globe. Some slices are big. Some slices are very small. Each church's financial strength determines the size of that slice. That slice gives your local church a way to fulfill its global responsibilities.
Through the years, we've used all kinds of images to say what we mean by the World Evangelism Fund. Picking up on a lifesaving metaphor, we've called the World Evangelism Fund the "lifeline" for Nazarene missions. Sometimes we even gave a human shape to "General Budget." General Superintendent D. I. Vanderpool talked about meeting this Mr. General Budget in far-flung Nazarene outposts.
One year, I was at the San Antonio District annual NMI Convention. While there, I joined the District Council members in a skit in which I played Mr. General Budget. That year the district had fallen short of its share of support for the World Evangelism Fund. As a result, I played a rather sickly Mr. General Budget. Parenthetically, being weak and sickly was good imagery in that situation. World Evangelism Fund underpayment does reduce our flexibility, forcing us back into a maintenance position. Plans have to be cut back. Strategies for expansion have to be pared down.
Sometimes we've used military images to promote the World Evangelism Fund. "General Budget" was portrayed as leading Nazarene forces invading enemy-held territory. Whatever the imagery, World Evangelism Fund is these things and more. It's the unifying thread of Nazarene general church structure and global outreach.
To avoid the distressingly negative overtones of the word budget, Linda Seaman, missionary to Africa, began talking about "Great Commission Investments." A film was even produced using that phrase to explain World Evangelism Fund. The 1989 General NMI Convention voted to ask for a name change to "Great Commission Fund." General Assembly delegates did not agree to make a change that year. Numerous substitute names then began appearing. In central Oklahoma, the Cushing Nazarenes used "Eternal Investments." The Joplin District used "General Investments." In Kentucky, it was " First fruits." South of Oklahoma City, the Norman Nazarenes called it "Shares for Others." Eventually, a General NMI Convention and then the General Assembly would change the name to World Evangelism Fund.
"Big deal," those who think of it as a tax will say. "Whatever youcall it, we have to come up with the money. What difference does a name make?"
It makes a difference. People who mistakenly view the World Evangelism Fund as an imposed tax feel powerless and resentful. That's not a good atmosphere in which to raise money for world evangelism. We've got to do a better job of explaining, or else we've got to change our terminology.
The World Evangelism Fund system allows us to follow a strategy in planning the worldwide operation of the church. During World War II, American troops island-hopping across the Pacific often talked about establishing a " beachhead" on islands held by enemy troops. By this, they meant that an invasion force of assault troops would land and throw the enemy off a small section of the beach. Then, they would use that newly conquered small area to bring in troops and supplies for a major effort to wrest that island from the enemy. Having the World Evangelism Fund as the funding core of our cooperative global efforts has enabled Nazarenes to secure beachheads in almost 170 world areas.
Most nations are actually mosaics of people groups. Parts of these mosaics may be very responsive to the gospel. Some people groups may be only moderately responsive. Some groups are often resistant to the gospel. This should not surprise or disturb us. Jesus pointed out that some areas would be more responsive than others.
Over 200 years ago, John Wesley studied Britain's social scene. He tried to discern where God's preparatory, prevenient grace was at work. Believing that the Holy Spirit opened certain groups of men and women to God, he chose to proclaim the gospel to those responsive segments of the population. John Wesley was our spiritual ancestor. Like him, we must try to discern where the winds of the Spirit are blowing, then unfurl our sails before them.
Our World Evangelism Fund system allows us to balance our missions resources between harvesting very responsive fields while continuing to plant and cultivate in the somewhat unresponsive fields (looking to that day when they will become responsive). Our cooperative World Evangelism Fund system of raising and disbursing funds avoids unduly favoring those fields generating the best stories or whose missionaries are the best deputation speakers.
Naturally, every area of ministry could use a bigger share of the World Evangelism Fund than it is receiving. The World Evangelism Fund helps us tailor our response to opportunities so that we meet needs in an orderly fashion rather than just jumping in where somebody is yelling the loudest. Dividing up that general ministries fund is not always easy. "By preparing a budget," says the World Book, "[we] can make sure that enough money is set aside for items that have the highest priority."
Although we employ a budget system as the financial core of our all-out effort to carry out the Great Commission, it does have certain drawbacks. We have to guard against the insidious tendency to degenerate into institutional survival. Maintenance can replace mission, and we can just fine-tune what we're currently doing, improving a bit here and there while ignoring new outreach opportunities. The issue of control also raises its ugly head occasionally. One General Board reorganization some years ago spcifically sought to steer us away from empire-building and battles over turf.
In the pre-computer era,strategic planners used the World Mission office floor. Annual funding requests from all the fields came to Kansas City. These request forms were spread out across the floor of the missions office. The requests included money to maintain current work plus hoped-for expansion. The World Mission staff pored over the cluttered floor, walking around to look, bowing to pray, trying to discern God's will. Reflecting back to the time when he was Nazarene World Mission director, General Superintendent George Coulter spoke of the "harrowing experience" of looking at the huge gap between the money missionaries asked for each year and the amounts being given by local churches toward what is now called the World Evangelism Fund. Requested amounts were lowered and juggled until the grand total on those request sheets came down to anticipated income. This grand total was the World Mission portion of the World Evangelism Fund.
Computers now simplify and speed up this process of adjusting and readjusting figures to make authorized expenditures match anticipated income. The process has also been decentralized with details now ironed out at regional centers in cities like Buenos Aires, Singapore, and Johannesburg. It should be clear how much underpayment of World Evangelism Fund hurts our global outreach machinery. Any fat that may have been in the original requests from the fields has already been eliminated. World Evangelism Fund underpayments mean that some muscle has to be cut out.
The World Evangelism Fund is not a tax. It's a way to combine resources to do what is impossible for any individual church trying to fly solo and do things on its own. Remember Cinderella in the delightful European folktale? Mistreated, abused, and poorly dressed, Cinderella didn't seem to belong in the same family as her lovely sisters. In the end, however, she turned out to be the most beautiful and charming one in her family. I think the World Evangelism Fund may be a Nazarene Cinderella. Long disguised by an ambiguous label (General Budget), the World Evangelism Fund has been reviled, mistreated, and abused. Those of us who know it well, however, see it as something beautiful, helping us fulfill our global mandates. . . .[ continue reading ]
1Who was the first to use the phrase Great Commission? It may have been Dutch missionary Justinian von Welz. He certainly is the one that popularized the words "Great Commission" to describe Matthew 28:19-20.
1. Football and missions
2. Budget: A bad word doing good things
3. We called it general, but it's
very specific |
4. Peanut butter and jelly
5. The Nazarene Construction Company
6. I was hungry and you gave
me something |
7. Giving more with less pain
8. Doubling and tripling our investments
9. Cleaning out attics and garages
|One local church's efforts can seem quite small in front of the tremendous needs and opportunities. However, a lot of local churches joining together can accomplish incredible things. That's what World Evangelism Fund is all about . . . [ more ]|