Faith-based Ministry: Whose Faith?

Across all denominations, doctrinally sound mission sending organizations tend to fall into one of two camps:

  • those that require their missionaries to raise support before they go to the field
  • those that don’t

The Plymouth Brethren traditionally tend to align with those organizations that are in the “don’t” category. Most of our missionaries are sent out without a guaranteed/pledged amount of monthly income, trusting that God will supply their needs as needed.

This article is not to debate the merits of either camp. I’m simply pointing out that this is reality. Saying it’s not so, or that raising support is not Biblical, does not alter the fact that this is the way a big percentage of modern missionaries are sent out.

2 camps

We tend to simplistically delineate between these two groups:

  • faith-based
  • support-based

We pit these two ideas against each other, quoting the following promise:

And my God shall supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:19 (ESV)

We commend the faith of the first group, and condemn the methods of the second.

Based on my interactions with missionaries in both groups, I’d contend that all missionaries’ faith has been stretched in the area of finances-both before leaving for, and in, the field. Every missionary has the financial expenses of the average Joe, plus the additional costs accrued from living in a foreign country.

Remember that support raising missionaries are not arbitrarily setting amounts for themselves. The mission organizations have considered everything from cost of living, to insurance (health, life), to schooling (including training for the missionary as well as primary, secondary and college education for their children), to taxes, to retirement to travel. Numbers are based on the specific country as well as averages, inflation, and exchange-rates.

It’s not a get rich quick scheme on any level.

That asks of thee

Our family has prayed several missionaries through the process of raising their monthly support.

  • It is a harrowing experience, let me tell you. Have you ever tried asking for money from someone who thinks that asking for money is fundamentally wrong? This describes most assemblies, as well as much of the population that subscribes to the philosophy that is commonly known as the Puritan Work Ethic.
  • It is a humbling experience. There is a need that you can’t meet yourself.
  • It is a long-haul experience. The average timing to raise support is 2+ years.
  • It is a faith building experience…trusting that God will provide the required amount in His timing.

Give to him that asketh thee.

Matthew 5:42

The ESV renders it a bit less tidily…

Give to the one who begs from you.

Wow. But, must we reduce our missionaries to begging for financial support?

Black and white, does Jesus mean what He said? Is this a random verse taken out of context? Or, is the idea of generosity supported throughout scripture? Is God a generous God? Doesn’t He promise to give without reproaching? (James 1:5 ESV) If God, who knows every thing, every motive, every call, every person, gives generously and without upbraiding, why would we, His people, His instruments, do any differently?

(This does not negate the need for financial accountability, but neither should we assume that missionaries are wasting their resources any more than we are wasting ours. No double standard allowed. Both missionaries and non-missionaries are accountable to God for how we steward what we have received. It all comes from God’s hands.)

Even if we think it is unscriptural for someone to ask for support…even if we aren’t comfortable with someone raising support…even if we think someone should only take their needs to God- does that release us from our responsibility to give?

I wonder if we shouldn’t be embarrassed (and rather convicted) that any man or woman called to the mission field is not there for lack of financial support.

Which begs my original question:

Whose faith?

Obviously the missionaries. Every.single.one.

And, just as obviously: my faith and your faith. The faith of the local church.

We need to individually and collectively be before God in prayer, not asking if we should give, but what we should give.

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work…He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God.  By their approval of this service, they will glorify God because of your submission that comes from your confession of the gospel of Christ, and the generosity of your contribution for them and for all others, while they long for you and pray for you, because of the surpassing grace of God upon you.  Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!

2 Corinthians 9:6-15 (ESV)

We need to individually and collectively trust that whatever amount God lays on our heart, however regularly, He will provide, so that we are able to pass it on to the recipient.

Does that take faith? You’d better believe it!

A testimony

Throughout our marriage my husband and I have given to those who’ve asked, and those who haven’t. We’ve prayed, agreed together, and committed before the Lord to give to various and sundry missionaries on a monthly basis. We have never once not had the money to give. It’s always been there as needed.

We’ve had years where our income was considered “below the poverty level.” But, there was always enough to give what we purposed, and to pay our expenses. There’s been months when we’ve been banging down doors to collect payment for our roofing business, but we’ve never missed giving…not a single gift.

Our faith has grown through this experience. We’ve seen how when we give to God first, through giving to His people, we’ve always had enough, and abundance. Every time.

Whose faith? My faith. Our faith.

We all should have similar stories of being the recipient and conduit of God’s provision.

Faith is the lubricant that greases the wheel of God’s work.

We can’t give to everyone. Individuals and local churches both have limited resources. But, surely we serve a limitless God. I hope we practically realize and live in the reality of that fact.

And so when God brings a missionary across our path, we should eagerly and expectantly ask Him what He wants us to give.

And our faith-based ministry is to watch how God provides what we need so we can give to him who asks (or conversely doesn’t ask) from us.

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon

Bernadette Veenstra

    5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hello Bernadette Paul the apostle does not ask for funds, but he does write those who send funds to thank them. HE LOOKS ONLY TO THE LORD and does not share with the commending church in Antioch his need for funds, but He does comment and I love these verses. … Php 4:11  Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 
    Php 4:12  I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 
    Php 4:13  I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.  ……. This also goes for many believers in poor countries where they might eat once a day or every three days. Usually missionaries from North America live well above the standard of the people they serve. …. It is and was a challenge to me who grew up very poor and coming from an assembly that was very small to be challenged to TRUST THE LORD ALONE.. I read many missionary books, some like Gladys Aylward who was rejected by all mission boards because she was a cleaning lady and not a Medical Doctor as were many other missionaries being sent at the beginning of the great missionary movement in England of which Hudson Taylor was one. Gladys got a one way ticket across Russia with many difficulties and arrived without language skills because She was confident that GOD WAS CALLING HER She became one of the most famous missionaries sent to China . … She was invited by the local authorities to go house to house and teach all the women to NOT bind their feet. She had an escort for her safety and she agreed only if she could share the gospel in the homes. She was asked to do this because the Chinese saw that she had big feet and could walk well and the Chinese ladies were crippled and walked in pain continually. She agreed and spread the gospel throughout her region. THE LORD OPENED DOORS AFTER SHE WENT. WE CANNOT DICTATE TO GOD HOW WE WANT HIM TO USE US. … She later started an orphanage as there were many children without parent because of the wars. … During the Boxer rebellion (I think) she took those children walking over the mountains with no food and great danger to then Burma (now Myanmar) to safety. The movie (The INN of the Sixth Happiness) was part of her story. The ones who have no promises of help (like myself) see the Hand of the Lord in marvelous ways that others complain about constantly if they are short a little, and others have in abundance and demand that those who do not have have to pay their share. … I am reminded that David confronted Goliath with FAITH and a sling. …. Deborah and Barak were told to fight Jabin and Sisera with no weapons and to meet the army in a valley where they will be in plain sight and no protection. THEY WENT BY FAITH not knowing what God will do. … God caused a huge rainfall and the horses and chariots of the Canaanites got stuck in the mud, so Sisera’s men having lost the advantage became afraid and dropped their weapons and ran in their cumbersome armour, at which the Israelites collected their weapons and pursued them, defeating them. … Gideon was told to go to war against the Midianites with 300 men each with a torch a clay jar and a trumpet. Gideon won the Battle because the Midianites turned on one another in confusion. … Jehoshaphat went to battle with the priests in front of the army singing praise to God. … Joshua won the victory over Jericho because of Faith and obedience to God’s instructions though it may have seemed silly to some. … Elisha did not fear the army of Syria there to take him (and probably kill him) he was allowed to see a host of angels there to protect him. As such they showed the Syrians mercy and kindness, and they returned to their country no longer an enemy of Israel. There are many modern day stories of Missionaries in war zones, in danger, lacking funds, seeking guidance from the Lord ALONE, who see the LORD work in marvelous ways, that many other missionaries do not see or experience because they look to their missionboard for guidance, or even their home assemblies to make decisions, but who have never experienced living in a foreign country where they LOOK ONLY TO GOD for help, for guidance in the work, for health issues, etc. … Those who have only the LORD see many Marvelous blessings, and those who look to the mission board or their supporters do not see the Lord in the same way. … Nor do those at home see the Lord in the same way .. you look to your monthly paycheck , .. which can feel like a disaster at sometime, but many have money in the bank or it may take a month to find a new job, and you may have to sell your house and move into a more humble dwelling, But it never gets to the point where you live on the street with nothing. If you come to that state then you have to LOOK TO THE LORD. Please do not compare those who go with a mission organization and those who go BY FAITH ALONE. You have not had to live it. Jehovah Jireh THE LORD WILL PROVIDE. That was the motto of the Boyle family in Ireland and that was the source of my faith.

    Reply

    • Bernadette Veenstra

      Bernadette Veenstra

      I feel like you completely missed what this article is about. Obviously you disagree with support raising missionaries. That is your prerogative. I refuse to argue points that were not the points of my article.

      The point of the article is that God is generous, and we should be generous. And giving is as much as act of faith as a missionary’s faith. We both rely on God to provide. We must rely on God to keep supplying our need so that we can continue to give.

      And please don’t assume that I have not had to live by faith alone. My husband and I do not live by a regular paycheck. We own our own business. It is totally life of faith. We must rely on God to provide roofs for my husband to do. To provide customers who pay and who pay in a timely manner. You have no idea how many times we’ve been on our knees with our empty hands held out, asking God to provide.

      My life may be different than yours, but don’t assume we haven’t had to live by faith.

      Reply

    • Avatar

      Bernadette this is an excellent and well-articulated article. It is great that we can trust The Lord for all of our needs and live by faith. But faith without works is dead so I think it is very important for us to support those who we can and demonstrate our faith. I do not believe that I need to quote every verse on faith and not give to those serving the Lord in the mission field. Show me your faith by your works. Thank you for sharing your excellent biblical and practical thoughts on this subject.

      Reply

  2. Avatar

    If receiving a salary is not living by faith, then most Christians are not living by faith. Should not all Christians live by faith? Faith has nothing to do with whether one receives a salary or not. Just ask someone who has lost their home because they lost their job! While Paul may not have asked for funds (at least as recorded in scripture) he did establish the doctrine that those who labour in the gospel are to be supported by the church. Although he didn’t use this “right” he clearly taught the principle. Living by faith is not determined by the source of funding, but by the heart. God knows our hearts and where our faith lies. Both “do’s” and “don’ts” may be living by faith and they may not be. Whatever route a person chooses is between them and the Lord. We praise God for many faithful “don’ts” down through the centuries. However, the reality is that there have been far more “do’s” and many of the missionary “greats.” If only “don’ts” had gone out there would be almost no missionary activity in the world.

    Reply

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