The work of ministry on any significant scale requires resources. This is especially true of the work of missions. Nearly every country that admits missionaries requires them to be fully supported from outside sources so that they do not take jobs from the national population. This almost always means the missionaries will need to raise support before going to the field. Few missionaries can go to the mission field self-supported. For those who can, it might be a good option, especially in limited access countries where missionaries are not permitted. A Christian might go while working for an NGO (non-government organization) or go to start a business or teach in a school. This may be the only way to enter some countries. However, most modern missionaries will need to raise personal and ministry support to serve in foreign lands.
Last week I offered some suggestions to churches who desire to improve the quality of their missionary support. This week I would like to suggest some practical ways to increase the church’s missionary support commitments. How do we teach our church to give to missions? How much should we be giving as a church? I previously mentioned a church that gave seven missionaries 35% of the church’s monthly budget. This was a church heavily invested in missions. Few churches can give so much, in part because of other legitimate ministry commitments. Since the rise of the Christian school movement in the 1970s, there has generally been less money available to support missions. This is regrettable at some levels, but it is not the total explanation for why missionaries struggle to raise support, especially since the recent decline of the Christian school movement has not resulted in a surge of missions giving.
Currently in Minnesota, there are eight good men contacting area churches seeking meetings to raise new support—eight men with Minnesota ties, and all eight of these men are Central Seminary alumni! With eight good families needing funds, it should come as no surprise that not all will gain the support they need from Minnesota alone. Missionaries will need to travel, and in some cases travel extensively, to visit enough like-minded churches to raise adequate funds.
One alternative to raising local church support is to seek personal support from individuals. This is becoming a popular alternative to traditional deputation, but it is quite another topic than what I am addressing here. What can we do in our churches to increase our ability to support more missionaries and for more dollars?
The first consideration has to do with the regular stewardship instruction in our congregations. How do pastors teach on stewardship (of which money is a component) without appearing to be self-serving? The stewardship of resources—time, talents, and treasures—is the duty of every Christian, and they need to be instructed in their biblical responsibilities.
When I pastored, my first step to increasing our missions giving was regular, systematic instruction on stewardship in the context of missions. We hosted an annual missions conference as a component of our overall mission emphasis. Before the conference began, I would preach at least one and sometimes several messages to prepare for the week of missionary interaction. I did not want to give the impression that we had interrupted our busy ministry schedule for a mere distraction. I tried to build to the conference into my preaching, emphasizing some theme on which we could focus—“The Field is the World” or “A Heart for God, a Heart for the World.” Then I would deliberately preach a message on stewardship on the Sunday morning after the conference, with the understanding that we cannot think about world missions without thinking about our personal participation in missions—what are we willing to do? How much are we willing to spend? What treasures are we willing to commit to the cause of Christ? We cannot pray for the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers if we aren’t willing to pray at the same time, “Here am I, Lord; send me,” or even, “Send my children.”
In our church, I challenged the congregation to consider giving to the missions program of the church over and above their regular giving. Commitments of monthly giving would be solicited, always anonymously. Based on the commitments, we would plan our annual missions budget. We found that many members were eager to give an extra $25 or $50 per month to be used to expand our missions giving.
When determining how we would use the pledged funds, we first tried to evaluate whether any of our existing missionaries needed additional support. They would get the first consideration. Then we considered missionaries with whom the church was already familiar. Which of these could we add to our missions family? Last, we might solicit new missionaries to expand our program. Usually, we could spend our entire budget on our existing missionaries and the ones we already wanted to support but could not yet afford.
Moreover, we did not fund our mission effort solely through extra giving. We tried to make missions giving an integral part of our church’s annual budget, a line item just like a utility bill or an office expense. We wanted to allocate a predetermined percentage of our income to missions. I challenged our church the same way I challenged individual Christians—think about missions giving as a percentage of income. We started with a goal of giving 10% per annum to missions. I challenged the church to “tithe” to the task of world evangelism—spend 10% of our income on ministry outside our immediate congregation. Then annually, we considered how we could increase this percentage. The increase came through extra pledges and occasional missionary special offerings, as well as regular increases in the line item budget. Eventually the church was giving about 20% of our overall budget annually to missions.
Regardless of the specific percentage that a church designates for missions, churches ought to weigh carefully their annual commitment level and ask if their budget demonstrates a serious overall investment in world missions. In the same way, individual Christians need to be encouraged to examine their personal stewardship and ask if there is more they ought to do for the cause of spreading His glory among the nations. A church will not increase its commitment to missions without a plan to do so. What plan will help your church to do more for world missions?
This essay is by Jeff Straub, Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary. Not every one of the professors, students, or alumni of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.
How Few Receive With Cordial Faith
William Roberston (?–1743)
How few receive with cordial faith
The tidings which we bring!
How few have seen the arm revealed
Of heaven’s eternal King!
The Saviour comes! no outward pomp
Bespeaks his presence nigh;
No earthly beauty shines in him
To draw the carnal eye.
Fair as a beauteous tender flower
Amidst the desert grows,
So, slighted by a rebel race,
The heavenly Saviour rose:
Rejected and despised of men,
Behold a man of woe!
And grief His close companion still
Through all his life below!
Yet all the griefs he felt were ours,
Ours were the woes He bore;
Pangs not His own, His spotless soul
With bitter anguish tore.
We held Him as condemn’d of heaven,
An outcast from His God;
While for our sins He groan’d, He bled,
Beneath His Father’s rod.
His sacred blood hath wash’d our souls
From sin’s polluting stain;
His stripes have heal’d us and His death
Revived our souls again.