As a young person, God put a desire in my heart to be a missionary. I did not know much about what it meant to be a missionary except that I wanted to tell people about Jesus. Little did I know how much learning I would have to do and how much training I would need, to do the work that God was putting in my heart.
Thankfully, while in Bible college, I had the opportunity to receive some invaluable training in missions from those who were doing the work of missions. This training included how to raise financial support for the work that God was calling us to. This method is what is called deputation.
At first, it seemed daunting and overwhelming – Call thousands of churches! Drive hundreds of thousands of miles! Visit hundreds of churches! Within two years or less! What?!
What I did not know was how much God was going to bless us through this incredible process and provide us with an amazing support base. A support base that has made it possible for us to serve with confidence for almost two decades on the mission field and with no sign of stopping!
So what are some of the blessings of deputation:
1. Raising prayer support
About 9 months into our time in Northern Ireland, we went through a very scary time that showed us just how much we needed prayer support. My wife Teri was pregnant with our first child. One night, after a late-night time of fellowship with some people in the town, she began to feel some contractions. After a few minutes of waiting, we realized that indeed the baby was coming despite being only 28 weeks along. We rushed to the hospital and five hours later, our son was in an incubator in the Neo-natal intensive care unit. For the next several months, he remained there, while we visited and prayed. Progress was sometimes agonizingly slow, but all along that scary journey we were reminded over and over that hundreds of people were praying for us.
I remember coming home from the hospital the day after our son was born and checking my email (in those days, email was checked on a computer, not a phone). And there were dozens of emails of people telling us – we are praying for you! Prayer was such an encouragement to us at that time and has been ever since. We have faced many spiritual battles in which there was no physical way to prevail, but God through His people did a work for His honor and glory.
One of the ways such a powerful prayer team was assembled was through meeting thousands of people in hundreds of churches, sharing our burden, giving them our prayer card, asking them to pray, and corresponding with them regularly about what God was doing and what we were asking Him to do. If for no other reason, deputation is a blessing because it raises up an army of prayer warriors who hold the spiritual ropes of the missionary as he goes into the places where Satan has long had a stronghold.
I also remember one night, having a knock at our door. A man with a snooker cue in his hand and alcohol on his breath was furious that his son had come to our children’s club. That night, I thought, “I am going down; this is really going to hurt!” Yet nothing happened. Some men from our church came out. The man backed down and left. And I still had my head attached to my body! I have no doubt that people I met on deputation were praying for me that night.
We regularly receive emails from people whose faces I have long since forgotten, but who still remember us and say, “We are praying for you!” What a blessing, and we would have nowhere near the same level of prayer support without deputation.
2. Raising awareness of the need for missionaries
Any missionary worth his salt wants more laborers to help him. And deputation is an amazing opportunity to raise awareness of the need for laborers. True, it takes several years to raise support, but think of all the people who have surrendered to missions through the preaching/presenting of another missionary.
The night I gave my life to the Lord and surrendered to be a missionary, a missionary to Holland was sharing with our church in a mission conference. His presentation wasn’t anything out of the ordinary really, but the simple truth that people needed to hear about Jesus and someone needed to tell them really hit me. God put a desire in my heart that has continued and that has been affirmed by the church. And I am so grateful for a deputation system that brought missionaries to our church all the time, so I could be challenged to think about how God might use my life.
As you consider deputation, don’t think of it just as a way to get your money as fast as you can. No way! Think of it as an opportunity to present the field of the world to thousands of people, many of whom God wants to lead into missions as well.
One big emphasis we tried to have on deputation was to recruit young people to attend a missions camp and go on a mission trip. We were able to do that, and, thank the Lord, some of those who went on those trips and attended those camps are in the ministry and on the mission field today.
3. Raising awareness of the respective field you’re going to.
Every missionary is passionate about “their field,” but the field is actually the world. So missionaries should emphasize the needs of the world. But, they also will be asked to talk much about the specific field to which they are going.
This is a great opportunity to raise awareness of the needs of the missionary’s field. The missionary can talk about the population, the religious (or non-religious) makeup, the history, the culture, the opportunities, and the challenges. Sometimes, there are misunderstandings and myths that need to be dispelled.
Deputation is not only the process whereby you are an ambassador of churches to your field, but whereby you can be an ambassador from your country to the churches. In our case, as missionaries to Ireland and the UK, we were able to educate people about the great gospel need in a place that has had lots of religion and even been missionary-sending countries themselves. Such is not the case now. Britain is essentially a pagan nation. There are many church buildings and even places of worship, but very, very few are Biblical, healthy, or alive. Most preach either no gospel, a false gospel, or are almost dead. Deputation gives us an opportunity to share this need with them.
4. Meeting other missionaries and pastors and reaping from their experiences.
Deputation is a great training ground for missionaries. One of the ways missionaries learn and grow on deputation is by having the opportunity to meet hundreds of other missionaries and pastors. In the context of these encounters, they get to hear stories of God’s provision and power. They get to make friends and see different ideas that maybe can be useful on the mission field. They also get to see that God often uses unlikely people in unlikely places to do big things.
Just the other day, we were talking about some challenges we face on the mission field, and another missionary on our team shared a couple of stories from churches he visited. These stories reminded us that God can work no matter our situation. He talked about a pastor whose church grew because he was involved in the community and another who won lots of people to Christ through being involved with his children’s sports teams. These inspired us to think about how we could get more involved in our community.
Deputation provides missionaries with a wealth of experience, contacts, ideas, and resources. They will need to be able to think creatively and sometimes outside the box to solve problems on the mission field, to get to the mission field, and to succeed on the mission field. Deputation can really cultivate a treasure-trove of ideas the missionary can use for future ministry.
5. Learning to live by faith
Missions is a faith endeavor. Even if you have a “guaranteed” salary or missionary support each month, it still takes faith to be a missionary. You have to believe that God is going to use you. You have to believe that You are going to be able to afford all the costs of overseas travel and living. You have to believe that the work can be done even when you are discouraged and frustrated. It all takes faith.
Starting out on deputation when you have no income, no savings, no resources, and no support is a great opportunity to prove the power and provision of God. Hudson Taylor talked about getting answers to prayer long before he went to China, and missionaries need to do the same.
I remember when my wife and I were in Bible college. We had just gotten married. I had one year left of studies. All we had to our name was a car, a laptop, a rent payment on a small apartment, and God. Sometimes, we would set out on a trip not knowing if we would have the money to purchase the gas to the church and back. Sometimes, all we could afford to eat was a couple items on the value menu. But we never went hungry, we never suffered need of any kind, and God always took care of us.
Now that we are on the mission field, our bills are much bigger than just car fuel. We just completed a building fund-raising project of over $100,000. That was scary and some probably thought we were a bit crazy. But God taught us we can live by faith. And we continue to see that He takes care of us, no matter what we are facing. Deputation is a great way for the missionary to develop faith.
6. Growing your people skills
My pastor still tells new missionaries how worried he was for me when I started deputation. His main concern – I was too shy to talk to people. Literally, my face would turn several shades of red just by someone saying my name in a group. I had that much social anxiety.
Enter deputation. How in the world was I going to raise support for our ministry if I did not talk to people. How would people know us and care about what we were doing if I did not talk to them. So I learned early on that I was going to have to force myself to talk to people, to ask questions, and to engage with people.
And nearly every Sunday morning, Sunday night, Wednesday night and often an off-night, shy Travis was walking into a new church and meeting new people. That was the best thing for me and my family because guess what it takes to start a church? Meeting new people, taking an interest in them, and being able to get on with others.
Deputation was a huge help to me in learning how to talk with people from many different cultures, walks of life, and situations.
7. Giving opportunity to minister and serve others
The ministry should really be that – ministering to the Lord by serving others. Deputation is a great testing ground of your servant’s heart. There are times you have to put up with less than desirable accommodation, times you have to exercise patience with circumstances that are out of your control. There are times you don’t feel well, but still have to travel and serve.
All of the stresses and challenges that come from travel, new environments, new places, new people (even new dialects) are vital experiences for a cross-cultural missionary. Missionaries have to develop a real servant’s heart, to humbly listen, care, bless, and minister day in and day out. Deputation helps prepare missionaries to be servants.
8. Building a base of supporters for future needs
The Bible is very clear that the responsibility of getting the gospel to the world rests on everyone in the church, not just those who go as missionaries. God has always had those who went and those who sent. In Ezra, some were stirred up to go build the temple; others remained and were told to support them. In Acts, the missionaries went and the church sent and supported.
So missionaries should not apologize for expecting God’s people to support them. And deputation is a great way to expose churches to the work that God has put in your heart and to let churches get involved in that work. Generally speaking, we have found people who love the Lord are excited to help those who want to do something for God.
Deputation is an amazing way to raise a robust and diverse support base that withstands the test of time, pastoral changes, and even church closures. One criticism of deputation is how long it takes missionaries to raise their support. They have to go to “so many churches” and these churches support for “so little.” Granted, it would be good for churches to evaluate the amounts they give to their missionaries to cut down on the number of churches they need, but consider the benefits of being supported by many churches for relatively small amounts:
- First, it means that if one church is unable to continue to support you, it does not cause a great dip in the missionary’s overall support level. If a missionary is supported by a few very large donors, the moment one of them stops, he either has to return to raise more support or he greatly suffers.
- Second, it allows lots of people to get in on the work you are doing. Each church becomes a stakeholder in the work. Churches that support lots of missionaries get in on the fruit of the ministry.
- Third, it allows you to raise good solid support. Far too many missionaries go to the field under-supported and really struggle as families and in the ministry because they don’t have enough support. By going to lots of churches, it enables the pressure to rest on lots of churches to get the missionary to the field and the missionary can raise adequate support to do more than just survive.
9. Benefiting your family
Another criticism of deputation is the strain and stress on the family. Certainly it can be tiring to travel from church to church and be under a microscopic lens at each church, but consider the other side. Deputation prepares the family to deal with flexibility, travel, and pressure. The mission field will only magnify that pressure, so deputation is a training ground.
Deputation does put pressure on the family, but it also provides for lots of time together as a family. Most missionary families are very close because they have had to learn to rely on each other through lots of transition and change. Sometimes the only constant thing in your life is your immediate family, and so deputation can prepare the family to work as a team to do the Lord’s work.
10. Growing you as a preacher
Deputation is a great opportunity for the missionary to learn how to preach and communicate. A big part of his ministry is sharing with people about the work and answering questions. The skills of communication and preaching are essential for the mission field. Often missionaries have to learn a new language, so if they at least know how to preach and communicate, it is one less challenge to get their message across.
Deputation provides hundreds of opportunities to give short presentations, longer sermons, question and answers, and everything in between. These experiences are valuable tools for ministry on the field.
11. Testing the missionary
Deputation is a proving ground. Certainly, no church should send out an unqualified missionary, but even then, not everyone who desires to be a missionary should be a missionary. As the missionary faces the challenges of hard work, travel, working with people, presenting and preaching, sometimes he finds the challenge too much. Or churches do not sense that he is gifted for the work.
It can be really hard when hard-working, genuine people do not raise their support. But it can be a blessing in disguise. It might save them from more frustration on the mission field. It would be better for them to realize that maybe their gifts are better suited elsewhere before they get to the mission field. As harsh as it sounds, deputation has a way of weaning out those who may not be committed or gifted for the work.
12. Teaching patience and seeing God work
Related to number five above, deputation teaches the missionary patience and about how God works. It can be very frustrating to call, work, travel, and preach and not see support come in. Months can go by and your support plateaus. You begin to wonder what is going on, what have you done wrong, what is God doing? You pray. You seek the Lord. You wait, and then one month your support goes up ten percent! Now you praise God. You trust God. You thank God, and you learn patience and that it is the Lord who does the work.
In many ways, that is the same as doing missions work. You preach, you pray, you witness, you distribute literature, you visit, you wait, and nothing happens. So you go again, and again nothing happens. You keep going, you want to give up, you beg God. You complain to God. You get mad at God. You are reminded in the Bible that God is at work. You wait and then one day three people walk into your church on the snowiest Sunday morning of the year. You were about to throw in the towel and God said, “I’m not done; I still have plans!” That happened to us in Northern Ireland, and I am grateful for all the experiences leading up to our time there that helped us develop patience and trust in how the Lord works or we would have given up sooner.
No doubt there are other blessings and benefits, but I hope these have wet your appetite and taken away the fear of “DEPUTATION.” Deputation can be just another step in the journey of God preparing His servants, His churches and His people for the work. If you have a positive and excited attitude and if you are prepared to work hard, it can be such a blessing and the way that God provides for you to do the work He has put in your heart! My family and I are still reaping the blessings and the benefits of our time on deputation many years ago!