For some reason, I’ve had countless unrelated friends in the last few months ask for my thoughts about missions’ fundraising and the sometimes-uncomfortable conversations when missionaries outright ask their friends for support.
I’ve found myself in that situation more times than I can count. I used to dread these conversations. I don’t think my experience is unique, particularly among young people who have college-age peers regularly launching into the mission field for the first time.
My discomfort with these interactions stemmed from my own neglect to think through what should constitute a decision to support a missionary. I simply knew of Luke 6:30 which tells us to give to everyone who begs of us, so I thought it was my duty to simply say yes to everyone who asked.
For a while, we did that. Unsurprisingly, we found this approach unwise and unsustainable. I’m glad we gave, but I’m also glad we learned some things along the way. As you prayerfully consider how to financially support the Great Commission, there are a few key principles to keep in mind.
- When giving money, we should do so privately, as our reward is in Heaven (Matt 6:3-4). This goes against the grain in the day and age of social media “shout-outs” where instead of bragging to a few friends, you can do so to hundreds.
- We should also do so generously and joyfully, not under compulsion (2 Cor 9: 6-7). Under the new covenant, we are not under law-compulsion to give, but we have a far greater incentive: God has freely given us every blessing in our lives, so we give freely to others. These two guiding principles are crucial, but there is a third principle I want to focus on:
- We should give with wisdom and discernment (James 1:15). With the pressure to say yes to every friend who asks comes the pitfall of not properly vetting what you’re really supporting. Are they preaching the gospel, distributing Bible literature, or making disciples through long-term relational investment and Bible study?
Or are they sipping luxury coffee in Europe and loosely praying God will “open a door,” but never actually sharing the explicit gospel? Perhaps hiking for 4 days in a third world country to “make connections” but again, never sharing the explicit gospel? Is one of your friends going on a multi-country race to satisfy their wanderlust and feeling good about themselves for hugging an orphan along the way?
These scenarios are not imaginary. I wish they were hyperbolic examples of false charity, but shamefully, they are real occurrences that happen far too frequently. For whatever reason, the standards for long-term missionaries entering the mission field seems non-existent for their short-term counterparts (often students and young people).
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of modern missions fundraising is the apparent lack of emphasis on prayer. When I read various Christian biographies, George Mueller’s for example, I find a large part of their daily life was devoted to petitioning God in prayer to supply their every need.
A startling lack of prayer pervades the American church as a whole, and sometimes overflows into the lives of our missionaries. It seems that the American way of independently striving to accomplish things in our own strength has infiltrated churches in more ways than we realize.
Why else do some mission organizations teach their newcomers for mere minutes on the power of God to supply needs, and then spend hours instructing them how to raise the money by their own efforts? Send letters, sell t-shirts, make a Facebook page, post trendy graphics on your social media pages. There’s nothing wrong with these tactics in and of themselves, but we must be careful not to negate the wonderful truth that our hope lies not in man’s works, but God’s.
What about Paul’s model of using your God-given skills and talents to earn money more naturally? While working as a minister of the gospel, the apostle made tents to earn his wages on at least one occasion (Acts 18:1-4). In another instance, he said he considered it robbery to take the financial gifts of the Macedonian brothers (the Philippian church) while preaching to the Corinthians, but did so to avoid the appearance of working for profit like the false preachers who were merely taking advantage of them (2 Corinthians 11:7-15). We also know that churches aided his ministry and met his physical needs by bringing him food in prison.
There is an abundance of Scripture showing us the radical nature of God’s provision for his children. My husband and I have experienced it firsthand. In Psalm 37:25, David says that though he’s lived a long life, he has never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread. This means that whether God’s people live in poverty or riches, their needs will always be met by their Heavenly Father.
This promise is especially true for the missionary, who often must leave a life of comfort to follow God’s call to the mission field. Whether you go or whether you give, do all to the glory of God and know that He will supply every need.