Putting Deputation in Perspective

Mark Batory

The recent issue of GFA Missions newsletter, “Sowing & Reaping,” prompts an emphasis on Missions here at Proclaim & Defend. We will reproduce several of their outstanding articles this week. We encourage you to learn more about GFAM and other good fundamental Baptist mission boards. Pray for their missionaries and support those you can. The task of evangelizing the world never ends until Jesus returns, let’s do all we can to further that mission!

imageFor generations, deputation has been the traditional method used by faith missions to raise needed finances for conducting Gospel ministries around the world. Deputation requires that missionaries wear out multiple sets of tires on their cars while crisscrossing regions of our country to present their ministries in dozens of local churches. The goal is to procure financial and prayer partners who commit to back them in their missionary work. However, as the financial cost of missions has increased, so has the length of the time taken for deputation. That additional time is causing many to question the validity of deputation. Many ask, “Is traditional deputation broken?” “Isn’t it time to find some new way of raising support that will get missionaries to the field more quickly?” “Surely there has to be a better way!”

For almost six decades, GFA has assisted hundreds of missionaries in securing their funding. Missionaries have employed various methods, including establishing their own businesses or working at foreign secular jobs. These servants do what is commonly referred to in mission circles as “tentmaking” – the practice of having the missionary himself supply the financial needs of his family and ministry through his labor in secular employment, following the example of the Apostle Paul in Acts when he worked as a tentmaker.

Like many other mission organizations, GFA has found tentmaking to be a valuable and workable alternative in specific situations. Yet, we still find that “deputation” for the majority of missionaries is the most time-tested and God-blessed method to raise both financial and prayer support. Once a missionary secures supporters for his ministry through this method, he is able to enjoy for decades to come the benefit of devoting his best energy and time to the multiplication of the Gospel on the field where he serves without the distractions of developing a business or working at secular employment. The “tentmaking” missionary often finds himself limited in what he can do ministerially with the strength and resources he has left over from his secular work responsibilities.

To gain a sense of perspective, it is helpful to recognize the effects of inflation on the deputation process. A missionary’s financial need today is on average five to six times greater than four decades ago. In the 1970s the average deputation time for a GFA missionary was just under two years. Forty years later, the average length of deputation has doubled. However, the good news is that the length of time required today for deputation has not grown at the same pace as the ever-expanding support levels. If the length of deputation matched the growth rate of present-day support levels, deputation would now require an average of twelve years! Therefore, as we consider the ratio of growth of support levels to the growth of the length of time now needed for deputation, the deputation model is not broken; rather, it is quite alive and well!

Back in the 1950s when missionaries John and Bettie Dreisbach went on deputation for their ministry in Africa, the support amount they needed to raise was only $95 dollars a month! They were on deputation for less than a month and ended up slightly over-supported with $110 coming in per month. That was the era when having an American passport and a few dollars in your pocket opened the door to the world for American missionaries. Although times have drastically changed, making Great Commission work more financially demanding, the Lord’s people must not draw back from the responsibility of supporting missionaries.

Deputation continues to be an effective method for meeting the ever-growing need for missionary funds. In order to continue being viable, it is vital that support levels be routinely reviewed so that they accurately reflect the cost of living and ministering in foreign countries and offer a proper stewardship of funds. But ultimately, deputation will work as God’s people renew their own commitment to how they can better support and send the heralds of Christ’s message to the ends of the earth.

Mark Batory is the Executive Director of Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. This article appeared in the Spring/Summer 2017 edition of Sowing & Reaping, the GFAM newsletter. It is republished here by permission.