Among churches of our persuasion that are involved in missions, the term “deputation” is well understood. When we say, “He is a missionary on deputation,” we mean he is visiting churches, sharing his burden, and asking for prayer and financial support. But there is more to it that we might be missing.
The command to preach Christ to every creature is given to every pastor, deacon, and church member—to you and me. But we cannot go to all these places and learn all these languages. Our inability, however, does not relieve us of our responsibility. It does show us the need to deputize others. To deputize someone means to appoint him to do a task in your stead, to represent you in a place where you cannot personally go. The missionary you deputize is sent with your authority to do the same job that you are doing here. The sheriff cannot patrol the entire county, so he deputizes others to help him.
Our love for Christ and our desire to please Him should cause us to beg for willing deputies. Missionaries should be some of the most valued members of the body of Christ! I want to obey Christ’s great commission, but I can’t without their help. We should take seriously our responsibility to evangelize the world and highly esteem our deputies who are willing to go in our place. We need to see them as ambassadors rather than charity cases.
The cost of traveling, working, and living overseas is often very high, and most missionaries settle for less financial support than they should really have. Five thousand dollars a month is not an unreasonable figure today. Some can get by with less; but others need even more, depending on the size of their family, the country they are going to, and the type of work they will do. How long should it take a missionary to finish this deputation process and reach his field? The time he spends raising support probably includes the best years of his life because youth is an advantage in language learning and culture adaptation. The sooner our deputy begins the better.
The average church today begins supporting a missionary at $75.00 per month. (His sending church may give three times that, thus helping him get started.) But he will still need to be deputized by sixty-four more average churches. So he simply visits sixty-four churches, right? Wrong! If one out of five churches takes him on for support he is doing very well. (One out of six or seven may be more likely.) So he must visit over three hundred and twenty churches. A pastor may hesitate to give his pulpit to a missionary on Sunday morning, or to have a missionary present his burden at a poorly attended mid-week service. Therefore, the missionary can only visit about one hundred churches in a year. There are many variables, but it will probably take our missionary between three and four years to be fully deputized.
Because many churches are doing so little for missions, the churches that are more mission minded become overloaded with missionaries. A mission-minded pastor usually receives multiple calls each week from missionaries wanting to present their fields. One day, a pastor in Ft. Worth received four or five calls before 9:00 am! A missionary may dial the phone between fifteen and thirty times to speak to just one pastor. He might reach a church secretary, but he usually gets an answering machine that promises: “Your call is important to us. Leave your number and we’ll call you back a.s.a.p.” He might talk to eight or ten pastors before one gives him a meeting. When a missionary walks into your church, sets up his display and equipment, and stands with a smile on his face and prayer cards in his hand, you are looking at a small miracle! The Army or Marine obstacle course is a walk in the park compared to what this man or lady has been through! We lament the high rate of missionaries leaving their fields prematurely, but many do not survive the deputation obstacle course.
The overworked sheriff says, “Crime is increasing and people are demanding more police protection; I need more deputies!” When the county officials decline, citing a lack of funds, the sheriff might say,
“Then get more money, or stop wasting it where it’s not needed. Get your priorities right!” It is altogether right for the pastor to be saying the same thing to the church!
We should be asking how we can get more deputies to more places in a shorter time. “Ye have not, because ye ask not.” When did you last hear anyone at prayer meeting beg God for more missionaries? We can’t seem to afford the ones we have; why pray for more? Because Jesus said to! We need every member of every church personally giving generously to missions. (I did not say giving his tithe. He should give above and way beyond a miserly tenth!) He must give, not what he can afford, but what God wants to give through him Call it “faith promise,” “grace giving,” or whatever seems good to you, but we must send out more deputies!