When and how to directly ask for missionary financial support can be complex and frightening. We are beginning a three-part series to help pre-field and on-field missionaries understand a God glorifying model of allowing others to join in the work. This week we’ll focus on gaining understanding and having clear expectations before inviting others into the work.
George Muller’s influence on Hudson Taylor, and therefore China Inland Mission, is thought to have originated the phrase and concept of “full information, but no solicitation” in regards to missionary support. On the other end of the spectrum are those missionaries and ministry leaders who seem to constantly ask for support with high pressure techniques which may be hard to distinguish from a startup company looking for capital investors. Both believe they have a biblical model and both have been used of God for His purposes. For the pre-field missionary, and many already on the field, it will be good for you to discern where in the spectrum you fall, especially in relation to your home church. The ultimate question will be if pre-field missionaries should directly ask for financial support, and if so, how do they do it?
Persevering in the Call
It was the classic missionary support Catch-22: a missionary family was struggling with their lack of support to the point of not being able to afford basic necessities, but also not having the funds to travel to the States for a needed support raising furlough. The fact their home church and sending agency allowed the situation to degrade to such a point was hard to fathom. When asked how the missionary’s prayer and financial supporters may respond if they heard how difficult the situation was, the missionary’s attitude was equally hard to fathom, “We have not told them because we don’t feel called to actively raise support or ask for funds.”
It is possible, though unlikely, this missionary family had a call to the mission field and the call did not include raising missionary support. It is also possible they were lazy, had fear of the process, or thought they were being more spiritual by needlessly suffering.
The call to the mission field and the call to not raise support are incompatible. If a missionary is called to join God’s work to seek to save that which is lost among the nations, that same missionary is called to actively take part in everything needed to make that happen. Simply put, persevering in the call to go and remain on the mission field makes raising financial support an inherent part of the call. That perseverance will often take on these four characteristics.
Willingness to labor: the recognition of a calling to join Jesus in His efforts to seek and save that which is lost is a recognition that you have joined a labor force. Part of the labor for missionaries is communicating the needs, and inviting the people of God to join in the mission financially.
Willingness to be courageous: being courageous means being confident to walk in the calling of God. Confidence allows missionaries to rest in the knowledge Jesus will provide for what He has foreordained.
Willingness to be humble: humbleness for missionaries raising support is having the humility to live honestly, openly and transparently before the Lord and those He brings to support His work.
Willingness to be generous: missionaries are generous in inviting others to join in the work of Jesus that they may have fruit to their account and fulfil their portion of the Great Commission calling to be senders.
Establish Expectations for Financial Support
Whether clearly spelled out in written policy, or simply understanding the way the church has always done missions, it is good for the pre-field missionary to have an ongoing discussion with their home church leaders regarding financial support expectations. In a church with a well developed mission program, there is likely a written mission policy explaining how missionary support may be raised. Possibly more powerful than any written policy are the cultural traditions and precedents within denominations, church movements, and individual churches related to missionary support. Both policy and traditions are often created through both good and bad experiences.
Proverbs 13:15 says by good understanding favor is gained. You should seek to gain both understanding of the formal missions policy and the informal traditions of your church’s missionary support raising expectations. This understanding will primarily come through discussions. Here are topics for church missions leaders and pre-field missionaries.
- Is there expected language or methods for communicating the need for financial support? The important question is: How can I let the need be known?
- Is the church planning to financially support the mission work? If so, what is the expectation for communication and accountability? Understanding the church's commitment to support, including for how long, will be key for your understanding of their overall commitment.
- Will the church provide times for you to share the purpose and proposition of the call before the church? Can you have missionary communication signups available?
- Do church leaders understand your missionary budget, including pre-field training costs, startup expenses and language acquisition?
- Will the church receive support on your behalf, or do they suggest using a mission organization? How will the funds be transferred?
For some, these questions may be awkward, but clarity and understanding in the beginning is far better than confusion and disappointment on the field.
Pastor Ed Compean, along with his family, served as missionaries in Kenya and Mexico for more than 12-years. He is now engaged in church relations and communications at Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators.