Thursday, May 27, 2010

Interesting thoughts on missionary financial support

Contend Earnestly: On the Topic of Missionary Support

I ran across an interesting post (part of a series of posts on missionaries) over at Contend Earnestly. The post asks if we who are not out in the field shouldn’t be more than merely financial supporters but also help to raise funds for the missionaries so they spend less time looking for support. That raised a whole ‘nother question for me, one I have written about before and so I posted a response.

Here was my question:

Is there not a case to made that missionaries should be self-supporting, not in the sense of raising their own support from other Christians but supporting themselves financially either by saving up their own money or working for a living where they are ministering?

I am thinking specifically of places where Paul speaks of his own efforts to work in place to support himself (Acts 28: 30-31; 1 Thess 2:9; 2 Thess 3: 6-12) and even in 1 Corinthians 9: 1-14 where Paul talks about eschewing financial support in favor of supporting himself so that the Gospel ministry is not hindered. In one place Paul speaks of getting support from another church (2 Cor 11: 7-10) and sees it as robbing the supporting church (verse 8).

Not trying to be snarky, but I do wonder if we need to rethink our model for missionary support from “Pay-Go” (you pay, I’ll go) to one of self-support where practical. It seems that many missionaries spend far too much time raising funds and reporting back to those who support them, time that could be spent working “in country” which in and of itself is a evangelistic opportunity.

Certainly there are some cases where it is less feasible to become a self-supporting missionary. On the other hand, being a missionary somewhere in the U.S. or in other more developed nations like Europe, Japan or Korea makes it fairly easy to get a “job”. I can see financial help to get in place and get settled, but if a long term missionary is going to minister to a people, why shouldn’t he or she work alongside them?

Should missionaries be supported by individual Christians, local churches and denominational mission boards or should they fund their own way and work among the people they are trying to reach? I wonder how people in other countries see this? I also wonder again, if we are funding missionaries to go overseas shouldn’t we also fund missionaries to come to America?

Important questions.

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Mark said...

I think that is an excellent question. I have struggled with that thought myself, whereas in the past I always thought I would be a missionary to Mexico myself. I so much see my every day life as a very important mission field, and I see the purpose of the church differently than I used to (a shift towards gaining revelation of Christ, in order to more fully reflect him as being my/our primary purpose, from "things", like saving the lost, feeding the poor, etc.). The "things" we do in Christ have a place, but should be a secondary work of our individual and corporate pursuit of Him. That is not to say that He doesn't call people to go out of country, but i just haven't settled that issue in my heart. I'll be curious to read what others think. I have recently heard of business in missions, i.e, moving to a foreign country and opening a business in that land, in order to become knit into the fabric of that society, and I would have a much easier time supporting that, as the goal would be to further the local understanding and expression of Christ, not just to preach salvation, etc.

Arthur Sido said...


Very interesting. I think that being a part of the community by working or starting a business would be far more effective than just being some foreign holy man.

Anonymous said...

Randy and I were just talking about this the other day. We were actually talking about tithing. I brought up the fact that we give each month to our church more than we spend on groceries for ourselves. I wondered aloud how many people could have been fed with that money, rather than it paying for the rent on our building (we meet in a local school), or going to the denomination so that they can divy it out, or paying the pastor's salary, or supporting foreign missionaries. For that matter, I wonder how much of that money could have gone to support widows and orphans? Isn't that what it's supposed to do anyway?

Arthur Sido said...

"Tithing" to the local church drives me bonkers. Most of it seriously goes to maintain the local church (rent/mortgage, maintenance, staff, programs). I don't mind giving as much where we gather because we have very little overhead on our paid building and zero staff, plus we have a particularly well off family that absorbs lots of the general costs. That way what we give is mostly passed directly on to various ministries. I frankly think that instead of giving to the local church first, which is the party line, you should maybe give to the local church last, giving instead to feed the poor, caring for widows, supporting missionaries, etc.

Debbie said...

"I don't mind giving as much where we gather because we have very little overhead on our paid building and zero staff, plus we have a particularly well off family that absorbs lots of the general costs. That way what we give is mostly passed directly on to various ministries."

I trust that you don't mean this the way it sounds - that you are happy with this situation because another family's money covers the costs of the gathering, so your money can go directly to ministries. Surely it's just as important that the other family's money go to the ministries.

Debbie said...

I never responded to the post that was triggered by my conversation with Eva, mostly because I didn't have time to be drawn into the discussion. But I can't ignore that (in 1 Cor. 9:1-14) Paul repeated states that he has a right to be supported in his labor. In fact, he says "the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel." "Commanded" is a pretty strong word, wouldn't you say?

Yes, Paul set aside his right to be supported by the Corinthian church. It appears that to require/allow them to support him would have hindered the gospel in some way. Yet Paul did accept support from other churches. Do you think he was literally saying that he broke the 8th commandment in accepting their support (2 Cor. 11:8), or is he again telling the Corinthians that they should support those who proclaim the gospel?

If those who proclaim the gospel have a right to get their living from the gospel, that would imply that we have a responsibility to support them. Paul clearly waives that right in regard to the Corinthian church and the Thessalonian church (though I think there he was addressing the basic responsibility to work rather than being a busybody). His refusal to exercise his rights does not allow us to take that right away from others.

In fact, since Paul accepted support from other churches while he was in Corinth, maybe it even sets the standard that missionary support should come specifically from churches/individuals who are not on that field. Hmmmm......

Bottom line - those who proclaim the gospel have the right to get their living from the gospel. They are completely free to give up that right, but others are not free to take it from them.

Arthur Sido said...


Who is "taking it" from them? My entire point is that we should think through our traditional system of missionary support: a) feel called, b) go to a mission board or individual churches for support,c) go to the field, d) come back regularly to shore up financial support. I think that an honest reading of Scripture at least suggests the possibility of self-supporting missionaries and missionaries working among the people they minster to might actually be more effective witnesses. Paul's writings in 1 Cor 9, so often thrown out there to support paying professionals, is part of a consistent message that actually argues the opposite, that seeking money for the Gospel ministry is counterproductive and an impediment. Surely the suggestion that we think something through is not dangerous. Is it?

I actually don't have a huge problem with financially supporting missionaries. I am far more apt to support a missionary financially, at least to get in place and get settled, than I am a local pastor(s). I also strongly believe that the enormous wealth of the American church is going to come to a crashing end soon and we need to start rethinking the way we "do missions" and "do church". We have buried our collective hands in the sands of tradition for quite long enough.

(BTW, the family in question also supports a ton of ministries directly. They are exceedingly generous. My point was that we don't have much in the way of overhead at all and we have never had to worry about our budget because it is so minimal.)

Debbie said...


I agree that thinking it through is not dangerous. That is exactly what I am doing. Clearly, we think differently in some areas. :)

When you read 1 Cor. 9, you see "part of a consistent message that argues that seeking money for the Gospel ministry is counterproductive and an impediment." I see Paul clearly and repeated saying that workers for the gospel have the right to be supported. He states that he does not say this on his own authority and even refers to Jesus saying this. Then he says that he has "made no use of this right." Does he say anywhere that because he didn't make use of this right (in regard to the Corinthians) it nullifies the right?

I don't think it's a mistake that the following passage (1 Cor. 9:19-23) talks about him adapting to the people he is presenting the gospel to. Taken all together, 1 Cor 9 tells me that 1) those who proclaim the gospel should get their living from the gospel, 2) Paul became all things to all people that by all means he might save some, 3) in Corinth, exercising his right to their support would have presented an obstacle to the gospel, so he didn't accept support from them.

You asked who is taking missionaries' right to be supported away from them. It seems to me that if non-missionaries decide that missionaries should earn their own support in the field - and then act on it - they would be taking away the missionaries' right to be supported. Is that not accurate?

If your point was to question our whole process of how we "do missions," I'll admit that I missed it. I thought this blog post addressed how missionaries are supported financially.

As far as the whole idea of missionaries having to constantly raise support, I'd prefer that they never have to beg people for money and spend gobs of time and effort to justify receiving it. If missionaries choose not to receive financial support, fine. If they choose or need to have financial support, it should be there without them having to beg for it.

Arthur Sido said...


So you assert:

It seems to me that if non-missionaries decide that missionaries should earn their own support in the field - and then act on it - they would be taking away the missionaries' right to be supported. Is that not accurate?

So are obligated to support any and every missionary? It sounds like your default is that if a missionary decides to go overseas, we have an obligation to support them. I am thinking of the Walker's, who I assume are still stateside.

The bigger question re: 1 Cor 9 is to ask what Paul's main point is? Is his focus on the right of certain Christians to be supported financially? Or is it on why he declined that support? It seems that Paul's point is not focused on the right but on why he didn't use the right and his reasons for declining support are at least as valid today as they were in the 1st century.

Debbie said...


Hmmm.... Walkers' situation does bring up some interesting questions. Not sure how to answer that one. (I could say more, but I won't in a public forum.)

I understand that you believe Paul didn't accept support, but Scripture doesn't say that. It only says he didn't accept any from the Corinthians. Others' comments have already mentioned 1 Cor. 11, where Paul says that brothers from Macedonia supplied his need. There's also Phil. 4:15-20, where Paul thanks the Philippians for their gifts. He states that they supplied his needs "once and again." I haven't scoured the rest of his writings to see if there are other instances where he addresses this, but these examples are enough to tell me that I can't simply look at a couple verses in 1 Cor. 9 and say that missionaries should always be responsible for providing their own living.

I hope you know that I'm not trying to attack you or your position. I'm just trying to communicate why/how I see this so differently.

We read a lot of missionary biographies for school, and we've read about all kinds - missionaries who are sent by an organization, missionaries who earn their own way, ones who ask for support, others who refuse to ask people for help, and so on. God sent them all and used them all. I don't see it as a one-size-fits-all thing. This matches what I see in Scripture.

Mark said...

I guess my question is whether every missionary that has gone was actually sent by God? My own opinion is that, if the Lord lays it on my heart to do a work, whatever that work is (could be missions abroad, a work in my home town, etc.), he will make a way for me to go, whether it is working to support myself, connecting me with others who have a heart to support the work I've been instructed to do, etc. I don't believe there is a cut and dried answer as to how missionaries should be supported. I certainly don't feel an obligation to support anyone, unless the Lord lays that on my heart specifically, and to this point he has not. I think the systems in place right now miss the mark, as this is a very individual, personal decision on the part of an individual, and is between them and the Lord. If He has instructed, He will make a way.

Debbie said...


Not sure if your comments were addressed to me, but in case they were, I'll respond. :)

I suspect that not every person who goes somewhere as a missionary is sent by God. I don't think we ever hear much about the ones He didn't send - at least not those in the past.

The missionaries we've read about are the ones through whom God did great things. Some of them felt a call and went totally on their own (Bruce Olson in Bruchko, Gladys Alward). Some went through an organization (Joanne Shetler in And the Word Came With Power, Don Richardson in Peace Child, Eric Liddell). Some never asked for support (George Mueller). Some started organizations to send missionaries (William Carey). These are a few of those we've read about.

You're right, there's not a cut and dried answer for how missionaries should be funded. I think some systems miss the mark, and some are on target. Sometimes the Lord makes a way by laying it on people's hearts to support an individual, and sometimes He lays in on people's hearts to support organizations which send missionaries. Yes, He always makes a way for those He calls.

Mark said...


not necessarily addressed to anyone, just my thoughts!