In June, while in Texas, I met a writer-friend in a chic little coffee shop. Jackie leaned forward and urged me with southern drama and drawl, “You gotta write out the things that scare you the worst because those are the things that people need to hear the most.”
Just days before this, our family had concluded our stay at Respite Ranch to help us decompress and work through re-entry shock. Jason, Kristin, and their three children are new to the whole homesteading, owning-36-acres-and-a-ton-of-livestock thing. I asked Jason how they managed to figure out how to run a ranch. With a grin, he replied, “I just keep telling myself and my family this: You just can’t be scared!”
Okay, Jackie and Jason. I’ve taken your Texas-sized challenges. I just can’t be scared. So, I’m going to do it. I’m going to write about (gasp!) missionaries and money.
I’m dividing this topic up into two sections. Part One will be a general overview in regards to what precisely Christian missions is all about, and how biblically and historically it has and continues to be funded. This part might seem thick reading to you, but it is essential. Please note that in this section for the sake of length, I am going to stick to the area of “foreign missions”.
The purpose of Part Two is to address the questions, fears, and struggles we wrestle with and face as missionaries in regards to money. This is the “scary” part.
Dear readers, please note that I cannot possibly mention every aspect of this topic in one post. Also, this is based on personal experience, observation, training, and study. I do not wish to be presumptuous; you need to respectfully take the initiative to interact with other missionaries you might know to see if they truly resonate with any of the points I’ll attempt to cover or have additional helpful insights. I imagine such conversations might be educational, encouraging, honest, and even healing!
WHAT ARE MISSIONARIES? Missionaries are ones who are called and sent by Jesus to live among a particular people group as witnesses of the Gospel.
Ideally and biblically, the call of a missionary to “go” is discerned and affirmed by their immediate church community. They are then blessed to act as an extension of that body of believers, functioning as ambassadors of Jesus to do ministries of service (such as education, literacy, social justice, health care, and economic/community development) and spiritual care (pastoring, discipleship, evangelism, prayer, biblical teaching, etc).
I believe a sent missionary is to come under the vision of the church community which commissioned them. Thus, for our family, it is to live as ambassadors of Christ to the people of Mexico, reflecting our home church’s vision statement that “every person would come into a life-transforming relationship with the person of Jesus Christ.” For the past four years we have served in the areas of community development and evangelism through water projects, have helped construct and maintain a ministry center, taught, counseled, discipled, prayed, led worship and preached at a church plant.
IS THERE A BIBLICAL BASIS FOR MISSIONS? From Genesis to Revelation! The Bible teaches that God desires that worship will come to him from every nation. He intends to bring redemptive blessings to every people group. God will overcome evil powers to liberate people and, ultimately, to bring all things under His everlasting and complete governance. He calls his children to be a part of this movement to expand the rule and reign of his Kingdom upon the earth, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
God has always been a sending God and a going God. Jesus willingly came into the womb of a woman and emerged with skin to become one of us so that as the God-man he could deliver us from our sin, set us on the path of wholeness, restore us to our good Father and triumph over the powers of darkness. Before he returned to heaven, Jesus commissioned his disciples to go into all nations and make disciples. History tells the story of the Gospel spreading out from the Middle East into the countries of the world (and no, it has not always been done according to his heart).
Worshipers of the one true God have and continue to emerge from every tongue and tribe. This happened and is happening because some of God’s people are willing to stay, and some are willing to go (and that all happens because of God’s grace and the gift of faith upon people). The Kingdom is made up of both callings.
Those who live in their home country are to live out and work with the King to expand the Kingdom in their local spheres of influence. Those who are called, trained, and willing to live this out in another country are to go and do so with the love and blessing of those who sent them.
I recently read that worldwide there are only 430,000 missionaries, including all branches of Christendom. This is a small number considering we live on a planet of 7.4 billion people that speak over 6,000 languages! May God send out MORE workers into the fields that are ripe for harvest!
WHAT IS THE BIBLICAL PRECEDENT, AND HISTORICALLY, HOW HAVE MISSIONARIES RECEIVED FUNDS? 1 Corinthians 9:14 states, “The Lord has commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.”
Jesus commanded the missionaries he sent out to solely live off the hospitality of those they met and served (as he did during his 3-year ministry). Paul earned a living through tent-making for a time and then abandoned this to preach exclusively (Acts 18:1-5). He urged the Corinthians to send money to help him and thanked the Philippians for doing so.
George Muller and Hudson Taylor famously told no one of their personal needs, or of the thousands of people to whom they ministered, choosing instead to pray that their needs would be met exclusively. These men believed that in operating by this faith principle, it allowed God to demonstrate his presence and power.
D.L. Moody brashly urged Chicago businessmen to “invest in souls” and went on to found the bible school where my husband and I met and graduated from. The giving of those businessmen reached far into future generations.
The Old Testament taught that the Levite priests were to serve full-time and be supported by the people.
Biblical and historical examples are numerous. Full-time service to carry out the ministry of the Great Commission has not happened without the interdependence of God’s people in both giving and receiving. This has never been a man’s idea.
WHAT ABOUT TODAY? Now within Christian missions, there are three traditional ways in which missionaries receive funding: (1) Through their denomination. Several denominations have a large “pot” in which all missions giving through their churches are collected. This is used to send out and support their missionaries. (2) Pay your own way. Those who are economically self-sufficient or have a way to generate enough income on the side are funded in this private manner. (3) Raise your own funds. This is how the majority of missionaries function. Aside from cultural and linguistic adaptation, running ministries with limited resources, resistance, discouragement, sometimes persecution, often challenging living environments and attending to the educational needs of their children, they “raise support.” It is a hard model.
WHY DO MISSIONARIES NEED TO BE “PAID”? This would seem obvious, but we’ve actually been asked this question.
Missionaries work “full-time” and have the same needs as any other person in their home country, whether single, a couple, or an entire family. They must eat, put fuel in their vehicle, pay for housing, buy medical insurance, provide clothing and education for their children, and so forth. On top of that, they also must purchase any tools, supplies, and equipment needed for their ministry. There are also visa/immigration and travel costs, language training, as well as fees that foreigners need to pay to remain in a country legally. Not to mention retirement planning.
In our experience and in the case of other missionaries we know, unexpected costs arise on practically a monthly basis. Things break, your child has to go to the ER, a generator needs to be replaced, the car needs repairs. My husband had often commented that “when I was a working man in the US and things came up I could find extra jobs or work overtime to make up the slack” (he always took the initiative to do so, to help care for our family the best he could). As a missionary in a foreign country, this is not an option.”
Missionaries also have a strong desire and commitment to have funds to give away in ways that are wise and helpful. This brings particular joy! Which is another important point: missionaries should give tithes and offerings from not only their time and talents but also from the funds with which they’ve been entrusted. It is another way they can continue to express their trust in God, their gratitude, and their acknowledgment that it all comes from him and belongs to him.
HOW DO MISSIONARIES RAISE FUNDS? There are many models. Some “sell” stuff, some look for big “investors,” and still others are “bi-vocational.”
It was Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) who pioneered the “individual support model” which encourages missionaries to secure monthly commitments from 50-100 individuals. Most missionaries take 6-24 months of nearly full-time effort to get this amount of donors. It’s grueling and usually filled with travel, meals with many people, speaking engagements, and meetings with mission committees. We did it for two years, while homeschooling. One summer, we slept in 38 different beds!
Before this individual support model became the norm, there was a different model which was the one I grew up seeing in the Evangelical Free Church in which I was raised: missionaries were given half their needed funding from their local sending church. Then they needed to build the other half through churches in the area or across the States (in the same area is ideal). Today, most churches no longer function in this model for a plethora of reasons. More and more, missionaries must secure support mainly from individuals. There are pros and cons to this new trend in missions.
Most missionaries serve under a sending agency (full service, design-their-newsletters, provide training, furlough housing, and member care) or with a service agency (minimal overhead, no-frills, oversight is more in the hands of the local church). These agencies take out between 10-18% from every dollar given for administrative fees. They also provide tax-deductions to the supporters, as well as financial accountability for the missionaries.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT MONEY AND MISSIONARIES THAT CAN HIT SUCH A RAW NERVE? Henri Nouwen gave a speech about fundraising, which has now been printed in a brilliant little book. He said that money has to do with that intimate place in our hearts where we need security. None of us naturally want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone who may ignore us, feel pity for us, or betray us. Many voices warn us of the danger of dependence. We fear being dependent on others; we’ve been conditioned to view this as immaturity or even laziness. There is incredible pressure in our culture to secure our own future and to control our lives as much as possible.
So you see, the whole idea of our money and where it comes from is tied to our identity and ultimately our sense of security.
Perhaps that is why it feels incredibly vulnerable to live as missionaries who frankly, need the money that comes from God through the direct conduit of people. It demands we evaluate on a fairly regular basis where/in whom we find our identity, and in what/whom we derive our security.
Personally, the whole “raising support” and “living on support” thing has forced me to interact with God about my fears and anxieties that swirl around the issue of finances.
I am more and more convinced that learning to live in a state of unshakable, utter dependence and persevering Elijah-type prayer and bold expectancy is something that God is committed to bringing to fullness in my life. Obviously, he’s been relentless about it.
WHAT DO MISSIONARIES WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT “PARTNERING WITH THEM”? When you join their team of supporters, you give missionaries a clear and ongoing sense of being “sent.” It presses missionaries to share what God is doing in their lives, giving the sender a chance to affirm God’s work in them. When people commit to pray for missionaries or give financially to support them, they are reminded of how many people God has brought into their lives to bless and encourage them. It is both humbling and incredible. The friendships (often “divine connections”) and interactions that emerge from within the body of Christ are priceless and often lifelong.
Missionaries want you to know that your giving matters. They want you to believe God’s word applies to you from Philippians 4:15-19 where Paul said to a church that financially supported him while he was overseas: “When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.”
When you give, you increase your reward in heaven and missionaries are thrilled that in God’s economy, they get to play a role in your future blessings that will last through all eternity!
When you possess this mindset and communicate it, this reminds the missionaries you support to keep this perspective, too. It is actually the antidote to most of their fears because it keeps the glory of God at the center, not your “investment” and their “support”!
Let that soak in. I had to take some time to rest in that beautiful and freeing truth just now. I could pretty much stop writing at this point.
And please keep in mind that along with this most foundational truth, missionaries are “worthy” because they are willing. There are people among your churches who are eager and equipped to go, if only you will send them!
WHAT DO MISSIONARIES HOPE FOR IN THEIR “PARTNERS” OR “SUPPORTERS”?Missionaries desire that they understand all of the above and all of the below. They wish that they are involved through not only giving but through prayer and encouragement. They don’t want to be forgotten.
Your prayers are absolutely critical; you must not underestimate your intercession!
Missionaries work hard to communicate with you effectively consistently (at least they should). It may be and usually is through a mass mailing. This doesn’t mean you are to take this as being impersonal. Many can see who reads their updates and who hardly opens them. We have a consistent 57% average readership of our monthly updates. In the MailChimp non-profit world, this is actually quite good. Do we wish it were 100%? Absolutely, but we understand people are busy, and life is full. One can only absorb so much.
One-time donations are welcome and rejoiced over when those special needs arise, such as moving costs and emergency health care. Many people can only give one-time, yearly, or several times throughout the year. But it is regular monthly support that provides missionaries with a more consistent and dependable source of income for their regular budget needs. A missionary can’t go to the field and remain there without these monthly commitments. And the thought of having to uproot their families yet again to return to the States for an extended amount of time to raise more support because people dropped off or forgot to give can be a problematic distraction. So please, consider consistent monthly giving. And do not have the thought that an amount could be too little to be a fragrant offering unto God!
WHAT FEARS TEMPT MISSIONARIES? My husband and I are in our early 40’s. We hope to remain serving in Mexico for many more years to come. A large percentage of our supporters are older than us. It may sound morbid, but we have a genuine concern that our support will fade out as our supporters go Home. We have found that many of our generation and younger do not understand God’s plan and passion for global missions, nor do they know consistent, sacrificial, and committed personal financial giving. We often pray about this, and when we meet younger missionaries who are predominantly supported by their peers, we are incredibly encouraged!
Missionaries fear losing current supporters because they are not meeting their expectations, communicating well or often enough. We exist in the tension of living for an audience of One, and yet, we desire to be honoring and accountable to men. We can be tempted to despair because we just might not be doing it “right.” We can start to fear man over God.
Sometimes supporters stop giving and missionaries rarely hear the reason. It feels awkward to call and ask why, but it also feels wrong to not check on it in case something happened with their banking or giving method. We don’t want to offend, nor do we want to assume.
Another common fear is not knowing how often and to what extent to voice our financial needs when they arise. Through the years, we have read some missionary updates that “ask for money” in every letter. We tell ourselves we will not do the same. We pray earnestly for wisdom on when what and how to detail things. We pray for weeks ahead of time before writing. Sometimes missionaries sense the Spirit leading them to ask a person directly, and other times to “only” pray and not ask, like Mueller and Taylor. It’s all a continual walk of faith. Sometimes missionaries would like just to get a regular 9-5 job and feel “normal.”
Missionaries can be guilty of writing their updates with Christianese verbiage such as “pray for such and such a need to be met” when really they are screaming, “can you help me, please?” It’s easy to communicate in this way because it feels safer and less vulnerable and needy. But, we don’t want to be subversive and profane the holy things of God (like prayer) by not saying what we mean. Didn’t Jesus teach us to speak simply and accurately?
Do you see how tricky this can be?
One last fear missionaries walk around with (and I am sure there more), is that their supporters will think that they are taken for granted.
In the last four years, I have done big, once-a-month shopping in Mexico. After that, I can get by with merely going to the market every week. When my children haul in the boxes of food that I’ll use to create meals for the next month, and I see it all laid out on our counters, I simultaneously get the urge to dance and cry. I see the faces of our precious supporters all over that stockpile. I know the commitment, the sacrifice, the long work hours, the money carefully sent into our mission or put in the offering plate and given back to God — which he distributes to the people we serve and us — and I am moved beyond words.
I stand in silence and stare for a moment at God’s bountiful provision. He is good. And He is good through you. And I wish that I could tell you that.
I think that is how many missionaries must feel and you need to know this. You are not just a name to them. They think of you. They pray for you. They love you. They cannot always express it, but you cause them to praise God. This is true, this is a partnership.
WE CAN’T BE SCARED. More than anything else Jesus commanded, he urged us to live fearlessly.
So, let us as missionaries and as those who financially support missionaries be scared no longer. Let us be clear. Let us give and receive radically and unabashedly.
Let us kick Satan and his accusing, lying, deceiving, and oppressive workers of evil out of the work of the Kingdom of God.
Let this all be about Jesus. His is the glory and the power forever and ever, and to his Kingdom, there shall be no end!
We’ve no time to be scared, y’ all! For our King is coming and our task is great!