This week and next, I want to interact with a recent book that has some bearing on the discussion we have been having over the past several weeks. I have been writing a series of articles to encourage churches to become more missions-minded. As I was writing this series, my son (who will be returning to Africa for a second term of teaching) made me aware of a new book on support raising. Having been a missionary under the deputation process for eleven years and now teaching missions courses at Central Seminary, I am always interested in current missions ideas. While there are many new missions books published, occasionally one warrants significant attention. Steve Shadrach’s book on personal support raising is such a book.
Shadrach, executive director at the Center for Mission Mobilization of Fayetteville, Arkansas, has been involved in student ministry for decades. The purpose of this book is to offer a winsome plan for would-be workers to raise personal and ministry support in short order so that they may be about the Master’s business. In a day when missionaries often take more than three years to raise support, this premise is intriguing, especially since some of the success stories include workers who raised 100% of their support in one hundred days! Shadrach makes the case that if someone expects to take three years or more raising support, then that is how long it will take. The expectation becomes a self-fulfilling plan. Why not change the expectation? Shadrach offers a formula that makes this seem possible.
His proposal really doesn’t depend on the amount of support needed. If the support raiser will do the work—make no mistake about it, the plan calls for serious work—then the missionary can expect about a 50% return on investment. A simple summary of the plan is this: rather than the support seeker travelling all over the country visiting churches, he instead needs to “namestorm,” compiling a list of acquaintances, friends, and even friends of friends before whom the worker’s burden could be placed. The specific goal of the presentation is to ask for a tangible commitment of monthly support (minimally $75 or $100). Some supporters could be regular givers, others could be annual givers, while still others could be occasional special-need givers.
Once the support raiser has a list of several hundred prospective partners—a former football coach, a recent employer, a business man in your church, a tenth grade piano teacher, or any friend of the above people—he makes personal appointments for a 20-30 minute presentation of his ministry. He then asks the prospective donor for a specific commitment, always commensurate with his ability (e. g. $150 per month from a coach but $500 per month from the ophthalmologist) and sits and waits silently for the answer—on the spot. If done right, Shadrach assures his readers, about 50% of those asked will join the worker’s support team.
Shadrach himself has been using and teaching this formula for years. With the recent publication of this book and its reception by some of my recent students, I took the time to read it and now offer a critique in two parts. The remainder of this essay will highlight the things in the book that I greatly appreciate. Next week will offer several caveats to the book that I think are weaknesses. As a bit of a foreshadowing, I do not think that the weaknesses are fatal. But I do think the reader will need to evaluate them in the light of Scripture. For now, however, let’s consider the strengths of the book.
First, I like the spirit of the book. Shadrach wants to help and, although he recognizes that the missionary support raising system has some flaws, he does not use his book to criticize what has been done wrong beyond a passing reference here and there. This book is about a way forward. Shadrach offers what he thinks is a better way, and if the stories are true, one that works and works well.
Second, Shadrach capitalizes on an important component of missionary support—support from individuals. In our early years of ministry, my wife and I had a number of faithful people come alongside and help us fund our ministry. These people included both those well known to us and those we hardly knew. We had at least 20-25% of our monthly support from individuals, even though we did not target individual supporters. Steve’s plan centers on singling out individual donors who could and should be involved in a missionary’s work.
Third, I like the thoughtful way Shadrach challenges would-be support raisers to work hard in securing their support. Hard work is needed in seeking the donor base and in preparing the support raiser’s presentation. Hard work is also needed when following up with supporters. Many a missionary has lost the interest of his support base, however it was secured, by a failure to regularly communicate with donors, whether churches or individuals. Communication is a key to keeping the support flowing, and Shadrach’s counsel in this regard is spot on. For those under support, it must be a matter of regular attention and hard work to build and maintain the base. Support of any kind does not simply fall from the skies.
Fourth, I think the chapter on “Sharing Your Vision” is one of the strongest in the book and is applicable to all support raisers, whether traditionalists or those who buy into Shadrach’s plan. No matter who is solicited for support (churches or individuals), communicating the vision of the prospective missionary is crucial. Knowing what a worker intends to do, why it is important, and how lives will be impacted for the glory of God is the most important thing for the missionary to communicate as he seeks support. Donors want to know that their partnership will make a difference for the work of God. Missionaries who fail to adequately articulate their vision will have a hard time raising support from anyone. I especially like the encouragement to share the story of a transformed life as a part of the presentation. People and churches need to know that their money helps to accomplish something. What better way is there to demonstrate this than by the testimony of a changed life?
Finally, I think Shadrach scores some really good points in chapter 26, “You Need the Church.” He offers good advice on how to present support needs to a congregation. This starts with sharing the burden with the pastor. Generally speaking, if the pastor does not support the missionary then the church will not either. Shadrach also has some interesting observations on unique challenges in working with churches.
The God Ask is an interesting approach to raising personal support that offers helpful instruction to make a support raiser’s task easier. Next week, I will mention several points the book makes that give me pause.
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.
Jesus, I Will Ponder Now
Sigismund von Birken (1626–1681), trans. by August Crull (184–1923)
Jesus, I will ponder now
On your holy Passion;
With your Spirit me endow
For such meditation.
Grant that I in love and faith
May the image cherish
Of your suffering, pain, and death
That I may not perish.
Make me see your great distress,
Anguish, and affliction,
Bonds and stripes and wretchedness
And your crucifixion;
Make me see how scourge and rod,
Spear and nails did wound you,
How you died for those, O god,
Who with thorns had crowned you.
Yet, O Lord, not thus alone
Make me see your Passion;
But its cause to me make known
And its termination.
For I also and my sin
Brought your deep affliction;
This the shameful cause has been
Of your crucifixion.
If my sins give me alarm
And my conscience grieve me,
Let your cross my fear disarm,
Peace and pardon give me.
Grant that I may trust in you
And your holy Passion;
If his Son forgives anew,
God must have compassion.
Jesus, Lord, my heart renew,
Let me bear my crosses,
Learning humbleness from you,
Peace despite my losses.
May I give you love for love!
Hear me, O my Savior,
That I may in heaven above
Sing your praise forever.