When missionaries either depart for the field prior to securing sufficient funding, or experience funding decreases on a month to month basis while they are on the field, one or more of these six effects will be produced:
1--THEY WILL BE DISTRACTED
Being underfunded easily draws the missionary's attention away from the actual work of relationship building and other ministry that God has called them there to be involved with in the first place.
If they are expending mental energy thinking about whether their support will be sufficient to pay the rent on the place they live, the utility bill, the food bill, etc. then they won't be able to concentrate on being as other-focused and engaged in other outward acts of service as they would be if they didn't have that weight to carry.
2--THEY WILL BE A BURDEN
If they serve alongside other missionaries who are also required to raise their own support, and they have any level of relationship with those fellow team members, they may easily become a burden to their team members.
Their fellow missionaries care about them and have a desire for their needs to be met. Because of that, their co-missionaries will voluntarily offer to use their support in various ways to help meet the underfunded missionary's needs.
Although this is a blessing and very God-honoring in many ways, it has the possibility of creating stress for the missionary who IS being funded properly because they are having to choose to spend funds for something that they hadn't planned on . . . and that their donors were not aware of when they gave.
All of which also increases the stress level of the underfunded missionary because they recognize that they now have become an added source of stress to their fellow missionary.
3--IT'S CONFUSING TO THE NATIONALS
Being underfunded also has the potential of sending the wrong signal to the nationals that the underfunded missionary is there to serve and reach.
The nationals may be thinking "hmmm, this guy says he believes and trusts in a God that has a message for me and that his God has sent him all the way to my city to live, but then his God can't provide the resources needed for him to be here?" The national would be right to be confused.
4--IT COULD APPEAR TO BE ETHNO-CENTRISM
If the nationals know that the missionary is underfunded AND that the underfunded missionary is being helped out financially by a different missionary, it could be perceived as ethno-centrism.
In other words, the national could be thinking, "this missionary told me he and his team were here for us and wanted to bless us, but now that his fellow missionary from his own country has a need, the money that could have been used for me and my people are being used to help one of his own people . . . which is crazy because all of these Americans have access to money any time they want....not like me and my own people".
5--IT MAY BE A BAD TESTIMONY
If the underfunded missionary ends up being late on his rent payment or other regular bills that are paid to a national, that's a bad testimony to that national.
It could feed the national's reluctance to hear about and trust in a God who can't fund His own messengers sufficiently so they can pay their bills on time. Why should they believe in a God who can't provide for the ones He supposedly sends out to tell others about Him?
6--IT MIGHT BE THIEVERY FROM FELLOW BELIEVERS
Being underfunded can actually be perceived as stealing a blessing from fellow believers you know and love.
Every missionary has a pool of relationships with other brothers and sisters in Christ from their current home church, previous home church, fellow believing co-employees, friends and neighbors etc.
Although these people haven't been called by God to go, they probably have the desire to participate in various ways in what God is going to do through this person they know that God has called to represent Him in a different part of the world. Giving from the finances the Lord has blessed them with to support a missionary is one of those ways.
It's similar to what Paul told the Philippians when he was thanking them for their financial giving for him and his ministry. He said that although he did benefit from their giving, his real desire was for them to recognize that God was paying attention and keeping an account of the funds that they gave for His global purposes through Paul. (Phil 4:17).
In other words, missionaries have been given a unique opportunity to help other believers increase what's in their account with God!
If being underfunded is the result of the missionary's unwillingness or ineffectiveness at properly sharing what their financial needs are to do the work God has called them to do, then they may inadvertently be thieving from--or at least diminishing, from the accounts God maintains on each of His people.
The bottom-line is that the consequences produced when missionaries are underfunded are enormous and multi-faceted.
Which means that God-honoring, missionary-empowering, and Kingdom-expanding fundraising principles and practices need to be taken very seriously.
Pastor Jeff Jackson is the founder of Shepherd’s Staff Mission Facilitators and currently serves as the director of Church Relationships and Missionary Care. Jeff previously served with his family as church planters in the central Philippines and in the United State.