The 10-40 Excuse


It’s bogus.

I just learned of another mega-church which is laying waste to people they support who are not directly focused on the 10-40 window. Under the guise of reallocating resources, they are cutting people off who don’t fit their criteria of being on the ground in 10-40 venues.

So what’s wrong with such “prioritization?” Plenty.

1. Such decisions rarely have to be “either-or” type choices. They should be “both-and.” I’ve seen too many situations where a church’s financial support for incredibly effective people around the world and in North America, gets cut and the reason given is that the church wants to reallocate resources where the needs are greatest. However, the real reasons are all too often budgets that are stretched because of elaborate building programs, dwindling attendance, or turnover in a missions committee where control of the purse strings has shifted to people who have a personal agenda.

The church I heard about today which just cut some superb missionaries serving in North America has been engrossed in a 30 million dollar building extravaganza and felt compelled to begin eliminating missionaries. The justification was the 10-40 window.

2. Most such decisions are made by misguided and myopic amateurs who have created policies that may sound high-minded and strategic on the surface but are missiologically naive and are an indication of leadership that doesn’t know what they are doing rather than leadership that knows how to focus on the most unreached of the global population. If they really wanted to be more strategic, they could do it without the human carnage.

3. Such ill-informed decisions often demonstrates a gross misunderstanding of “leverage.” Such decision makers would probably have given Jesus the ax because he never got outside of his own culture.

Patty and I have personally gotten several such “dear John” letters. The most disappointing was from a church that had helped originally send us into a life of vocational ministry, the place where we were married and a congregation that had an incredible reputation for supporting the global Christian movement. In a form letter from someone we had never met, we were told they had “re-evaluated” their priorities and if we ever decided “to live overseas,” we should come back and talk to them and they would reconsider us for support.

4. In my experience, I have never seen a local church cut its pastoral staff or their compensation commensurate with cuts they deem necessary in those to whom they have committed who serve in a missions capacity. People you don’t have to see every week don’t raise as big a stink.

5. When a local church makes such draconian moves which can devastate people already living on the edge, I have never had one pastor or person responsible contact us and be willing to enter into a conversation about the decision. I have never seen a willingness to have these misapplied 10-40 window assumptions challenged.

6. Unfortunately, it is indicative of the fact that local churches are increasingly unreliable and unpredictable sources of financial support for those serving in mission postures. And when they take a valid, useful concept such as the need in the 10-40 window and use it to decimate and wound their existing mission force, it only reinforces the poor reputation that such church-based mission efforts all to often have earned.

I can’t help but believe such hurtful actions, like those I heard about today, grieve and sadden God. But in the larger perspective, I think it is all simply another symptom of the underlying condition of the traditional, institutional church in the western world.

6 Responses to “The 10-40 Excuse”

  1. Mike Zook Says:

    Great Post Sam. As my wife and I prayerfully consider missions in North America this is a sobering reminder of the limited view contemporary churches have on apostolic-missional ministry focus. It is also a reminder to not put our trust and hope in man’s (the mission pastor or head of the mission board) ability to sustain our needs as we answer the calling on our lives, but to put our complete trust and faith in our Lord Jesus.

  2. Brian N. Says:

    I have also been on the receiving end of Dear John letters from missions committees. It’s a bummer, big time! But your generalizations about the institutional church and cutting missions budgets but not pastoral salaries is simply overstated. It feels a bit like you are blowing off steam because of your frustration, but I’m on the other side of the local church discussion now. Not ALL churches cut missions and not pastoral salaries.

    I agree that the massive building programs churches undertake are crazy. I inherited one, so I know. Nonetheless, I think you might have made the local church into this evil thing. But it’s not.

    Maybe it would be an idea for you to do an interim pastoral position at a church somewhere? Hang out in the midst of the local church mess for 6 months or so? Just a thought.



  3. Sam Says:

    Hey Brian,

    Good to hear from you. A couple of thoughts in return:

    1. I am undoubtedly blowing off some steam and frustration. It is disheartening to see good people hurt.

    2. There certainly may be churches that cut mission AND pastoral salaries. But I have yet to see it.

    3. I want to be clear that I am not making the local church out to be “evil,” but I am quite pointed in my criticism of these practices within such institutional settings, particularly as I have experienced and observed such trends in mega-churches. I am not anti-local church by any means, but as you know the local church is much broader, more diverse and complex than the institutional, traditional structures that predominate in the West and practices like this that hurt God’s kingdom purposes.

    The church in its local form is certainly one of the expressions of the body of Christ, and I am obligated to love it as Jesus does. But there is nothing sacrosanct about the forms, traditions, and cultural baggage that gets in the way of the bride of Christ living up to its calling.

    4. Sometime over a cup of coffee I’ll be happy to share with you my personal experience and commitment over many years in local churches and church planting settings. I don’t believe I am naive about what life and ministry looks like on that side of the ecclesiastical equation.

  4. Brian N. Says:

    Thanks Sam. I appreciate your heart for the Kingdom and I share many of the same frustrations as you.

    Blessings to you and all at CRM who are doing such awesome work!


  5. Gavin Knight Says:

    Hi Sam.

    A very interesting post, and I understand the passion with which you wrote it.

    It’s always bothered me that the 10/40 window also misses out the southern hemisphere completely, where there are plenty of ‘fields ripe for harvest’ in terms of both spiritual and socio-economic poverty.

    Regards, Gavin Knight (Susanne Brantley’s brother, from Wellington NZ)

  6. Carl Holmes Says:

    I live in Colorado Springs. I have had the hardest time raising support for myself as I endeavor to start a new church because everyone believes that since we are evangelical central that we should have all the money in the world. That is so not true. What we have:

    1) 5 churches that have reached “mega” church status with the buildings and staff to go with it. One of them is going to announce, today, that it is going the way of the church you mentioned above, but they are cutting missions almost completely.

    2) several hundred smaller churches who are doing the work of God but who can not get money in the door enough to be self sufficient because the top 5 are getting the lions share.

    3) People longing to connect in a smaller context one on one with pastors, small groups, and missionaries. They can not because so many are in the top 5 paradigm.

    I just can not find myself in a “mega” church. I know they do good, but in the end they are to heavy and bureaucratic to answer the move of the holy spirit quickly and nimbly as the needs of the church, and the global missions movement dictate.

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