In the world of missions today, it is rare to find a missionary who is solely funded by their home church, let alone sent out by their home church with respect to who directly funds their ministry. Even the Southern Baptists have the International Mission Board (IMB), which essentially acts as a mission agency. Like it or not, this is the way the world of missions has gone and for the time being it most likely will not change. This situation has created a strange partnership of missionary and mission agency. Depending on the level of involvement, it can be a relationship with very strong bonds.
In the spring of 2014, World Vision, an agency that mainly focuses on sponsoring needy children around the world, decided that they would open up their hiring process to those who both profess to be Christians and are in a same-sex marriage. This decision sent rumblings throughout the Evangelical world and in turn affected their bottom line. It was not long after that they had reversed their decision, but the damage had already been done. Many long-time supporters focused their giving to other causes because they felt that the gospel had been compromised. What was not talked about in the headlines was the effect such a decision had on the missionaries who worked with World Vision. Were there any repercussions on how they were funded? How did they feel about the decision of the higher-ups? Did any of these missionaries think about leaving World Vision because of this change/no change?
At times, mission agencies undergo big modifications for a number reasons. Some, such as World Vision, are swayed by new cultural norms. New leadership can bring about new direction. In order to expand and reach a broader range of missionaries, some agencies will adjust their doctrinal statements, reducing them to only the primary doctrines of the faith. Others may broaden the scope of their ministry practices. For instance, the IMB recently decided to allow for their missionaries to practice private prayer languages. Others agencies may decide to buck against cultural trends and add into their doctrinal statements secondary teachings that they had previously been silent on.
Missionaries, who often feel a bit on their own, draw some of their identity from the mission agency they work with. When a missionary first meets another missionary, the question of what agency they are with usually starts the introduction process. In a sense, it is a way they can size each other up. So when an agency makes a big theological or methodological shift, it can be quite disturbing to the missionary that has been serving in their name for many years. If the shift becomes too drastic, then the missionary is placed at a crossroad and must make a decision.
There are basically three options that these missionaries can take. They can choose to do nothing and go on with life. They can forego the relationship altogether and partner with another mission agency or go independent. Finally (and this one depends on the nature of the partnership) they can remain with the agency while linking in with more like-minded groups and networks.
Before making such a decision, an evaluation of the mission agency’s role must be taken into account. Answering some simple questions will help clarify things. The list below is a good starting point.
1. Does your mission agency require you to sign a doctrinal statement that you do not agree with? (If your answer is ‘yes’, you should leave that agency. If your answer is ‘no’, continue on with the following questions.)
2. Does your mission agency have a doctrinal statement that is too light for your liking? In other words, you agree with all of it, but it is so small that it could allow for doctrines to creep in of which you do not agree with. (If your answer is ‘yes’, then you should consider the role that agency plays in your ministry and decide based on that. Questions 5 through 7 will be helpful. If your answer is ‘no’, continue on with the following questions.)
3. Does your mission agency require you to engage in evangelism/discipleship/church methodologies that you are opposed to? (If your answer is ‘yes’, then you should leave that agency. If your answer is ‘no’, continue on with the following questions.)
4. Does your mission agency allow for evangelism/discipleship/church methodologies that you are opposed to? (If your answer is ‘yes’, then you should consider the role that agency plays in your ministry and decide based on that. Questions 5 through 7 will be helpful. If your answer is ‘no’ to questions 1 through 4, then you and your mission agency are a good fit.)
5. Does your mission agency hold an overseeing/elder role? In other words, do they have direct input and charge over your ministry? (If this is the case and you answered ‘yes’ to questions 2 or 4, then you should leave that agency.)
6. Does your mission agency hold an advisory role? In other words, are they part of a board with other members, such as a home church, that have direct input and charge over your ministry? (If this is the case and you answered ‘yes’ to questions 2 or 4, then you should consider leaving that agency, depending on your trust level with the leaders above you.)
7. Does your mission agency hold a deacon role? In other words, they do not have direct input and charge over your ministry, but are there to support you by providing a platform for fund raising, human resources and missionary training. (If this is the case then you should not leave that agency.)
Hopefully the questions above are helpful. The relationship of missionary and mission agency is a strange beast. It is a rare occurrence that one agency will meet the exact desires of a missionary. It is important that theologically and methodologically the two can come into agreement. If this is not the case, the relationship is doomed to failure.
 For more on World Vision’s reversal, see this article in the Huffington Post. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/03/26/world-vision-reverses-gay-christian_n_5037689.html
 A similar situation occurred for missionaries partnered with Wycliffe. Wycliffe underwent controversy when they created Muslim-friendly Bible translations that avoided phrases such as “Son of God”. See this article from Christianity Today for more information. http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2012/june/stop-supporting-wycliffes-current-bible-translations-for.html
 For more on the IMB’s change in policy, see this article in Christianity Today. http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2015/may-web-only/imb-ban-speaking-in-tongues-baptism-baptist-missionary.html