“I don’t believe missionaries should have to raise their own support. It is an unnecessary burden for them. The church should be sending missionaries, therefore I will not support you.”
This was essentially the answer I received from someone who was invited to partner with us. I was saddened for a number of reasons, but the one that troubles me the most was the reasoning he gave. And not so much that it was his reason, but it was once mine, too. He was firm in his conviction and for me to insist on a longer discussion on the matter would have been pushy and argumentative. But I have been challenged to think about the matter more and hopefully the following will be helpful to others.
Hi, I am a missionary. Please give me money…
Yes, there are times when I would rather just not go through all this traveling, and calling, and texting, and calling, and emailing, and calling, and writing, and calling, and asking. But, believe it or not, there is actually great benefit in doing all of that, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Why? First, it educates the church what the needs are on the mission field. It awakens people to the fact that there are other people outside their life experience who need the gospel, too. Who better to do that than the one who has a burden and passion for that people group? I personally was awakened to Native American missions when a missionary came to my church over twenty years ago, and I thank the Lord for my old pastor for supporting so many missionaries and exposing us to first-hand accounts of the gospel in action around the world.
Secondly, it is an awesome faith-builder for the missionaries and watching supporters. Many of the necessary lessons in the school of faith are learned while raising support. Assignments include striving, praying, waiting, praying, studying, suffering, doubting, encouraging, relying, crying, asking, and trusting.
Yes, the church should send missionaries, if indeed there are people from within the congregation who are called to be missionaries. But with the majority of churches under 100 in attendance, how will they raise enough support to sustain a missionaries and their families? Can a church that size with a staff consisting of a pastor, part-time assistant and youth director, be able to sustain a missionary in a country like Thailand, pay for travel costs, living costs, ministry costs, health insurance, emergency evacuation insurance, language and cultural training, retirement, and pastoral care and counseling for missionaries and their families?
But can that church at least contribute to a missionary who is called to Thailand, Laos, or just for argument sake, Native America? Absolutely. That small church and twenty other churches can pool their money together and send that missionary. But back to the associated costs, training, and administration, which church takes care of that part? Does anyone on that small church staff have the expertise in training missionaries? It would need a separate and dedicated office to take care of all that. And who would that be? A mission board of a denomination would be a good place to start.
“But the denominational mission board should be funded by the churches in that denomination!”
Sure that would be great, and churches do commit funds to missions at the denomination level, but local churches reserve the right to decide where their mission funds go (at least according to my denomination’s polity). They are free to support particular missionaries of their choosing. There is a big mission field out there. Churches need to be informed where to send their mission monies. As mentioned above, who best to inform them than the missionaries who have the burden for a particular people group?
What is the advantage of a church partially supporting missionaries? First, it is what enables missionaries get to the field. There are very few churches who have the funds to fully support missionary, let alone two, three, or four. The debate over giving a little to a lot vs. a lot to a little will never end, but every church giving something is not up for debate.
Second if a missionary is fully supported by a church (as my friend suggests ought to be the case), there is great detriment if and when the church cuts its budget and the missionary is dropped. The work on the field ceases. Does the missionary leave the mission field and begin to shop around for a new home church to send him or remain at the church that dropped him while not fulfilling his call? The list of questions could go on, but I think the point is made. If the sending church ought to be the sole funding church, and if it is improper for the missionary to solicit support from other churches and/or individuals, i.e. itinerate, then the clear super majority of the missionaries would never get to the field.
But the Bible Says…
I have discussed a lot of the practical issues, but what about the biblical and theological issues. My friend believes his conviction is grounded in Scripture, which I can appreciate. But regarding this philosophy of missions, does Scripture give us ground to stand on?
We know for sure that churches ought to be involved with the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20), and we know from the book of Acts and Paul’s epistles that the early church supported missions, but we have no clear instructions on all the logistics of getting a person to the field. This shouldn’t surprise us. We don’t have clear instructions on a lot of things in the New Testament. For instance we know we should worship, but there are no instructions concerning where: a house, a catacomb, or a 50,000 seat arena? We don’t even have a suggested missions budget guideline in the Bible. So we try to use wisdom to discern the details of many things, but we cannot be too dogmatic on things that are simply not clear in Scripture.
Biblical Guidelines, Personal Policies
Jesus gives us stern warnings about the use of the money He gives us and how we ought to return it back to Him. Immediately following the Parable of the Talents (Mt 25:14-30), Jesus tells us of a final accounting of what we did in response to Him. In verses 34-40 we see the Great Commission fleshed out in great detail with Jesus’ benediction, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Jesus identifies with the people to who we reach out to and minister.
For sure, this parable does not teach us we ought to give to every missionary or para-church ministry who asks for support. That’s not my argument. I just want to point out that when we make personal policies on how and when we give, we need to be sure we have a biblical reason for why we refused to support good opportunities to spread the gospel when we had the means to do it. If we are going to say no to missionaries who are asking us to support them, we had better have good biblical justification.
We can’t give to every gospel endeavor. But if our missions giving is limited by a personal policy that has no real grounding in Scripture, then we will not have a good answer for Jesus when He asks us what we did with the talents He gave us.
Before I close, let me affirm with my friend that I believe a missionary should be sent by a church. My church is sending me. In my denomination, we call that a sending church. But they cannot fully fund me, so my wife and I have the privilege of dedicating the first chapter of our missionary life to educating the people of God about what he is doing on the mission field.
So how does not giving to a missionary solve the supposed problem of churches not fully funding a missionary? Do we not support itinerating missionaries until the churches get it “right”? Is ‘not funding’ missionaries a viable tactic to affect change in church giving policies and patterns? In the meantime while we are debating amongst ourselves, there is a mission field out there that is ripe for harvest. The Lord of the Harvest commanded us to pray for more laborers. Evidently there are not enough of them, yet with the ones He has called, are we holding them back until we fully implement a policy that is not derived from Him? How long shall we wait?
As much as I enjoy this support-raising process, if you know of any churches who are willing to fully support a missionary and his family to Native America, please give them my number, 407-416-1482.
Revised December 2, 2015