I’m sure you’ve read these words: “We’re moving our family overseas to advance the gospel and equip church leaders for a lifetime of faithful ministry. Would you be willing to . . .”
You can probably finish the sentence.
A number of years ago, some friends invited my wife and me to breakfast so they could update us on life and ministry. Long story short: they were heading overseas, and we were thrilled for them. So when they asked us to support them, it was an easy decision.
Fast forward nine years. Here’s another long story short: now it’s my wife and I who are preparing for parachurch ministry. We needed little convincing about the worthiness of the work. No one needed to persuade us that our experience and gifting matched the need. But our hearts and minds were flooded with questions—by which I really mean “fears.” Most of them revolved around a single issue: our position required us to raise support. And so we wondered: Would God provide what we needed? Would friends and family respond favorably?
Every Christian should exercise faith when it comes to their income. But support-based work amplifies a sense of dependence upon the Lord.
In addition to raising support for my own salary and ministry, in my work at Reaching & Teaching I’ve had the privilege of coaching several dozen co-laborers. I can confidently say support-based ministry isn’t for everyone. Nonetheless, I’m convinced that a fear of support-raising has deterred too many away from worthy ministry opportunities.
That’s unfortunate. Christians shouldn’t be afraid to raise support. Here are three reasons why.
1. Support-raising is biblical.
Did you know this? We could do a quick survey of passages that present the biblical model of support-based ministry (Ex. 25; Deut. 18, 25; Matt. 10; Luke 10; 2 Cor. 11; 3 John 6–8). But the best place to go is 1 Corinthians 9.
The church in Corinth fundamentally misunderstood what it meant to financially support Christian ministry. They didn’t see it as a God-given stewardship and privilege, but as the means of authenticating the messengers. In their eyes, Paul’s refusal to receive their gifts undermined his teaching. But ironically, his “failure” to exercise his right to be financially supported in Corinth actually authenticated the message he proclaimed (9:12).
So is support-based ministry biblical? Paul concludes, “In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14). Not only does the Law promote support-based ministry (9:8–12), Christ obligated the church and its members to support those who labor to proclaim the kingdom (Matt. 10:10; Luke 10:7).
Paul isn’t the only apostle to apply the Lord’s teaching in this way. John exhorted Gaius to make note of those who “have gone out for the sake of the name” and “support people like these that we may be fellow workers in the truth” (3 John 7–8). Financial partnership in the gospel is normative throughout Scripture. So don’t fear.
2. God gifts his church for support-raising.
If COVID-19 has made any phrase commonplace, “essential workers” is near the top. The church is under the mandate of our King to bring the good news of the gospel to the ends of the earth. The beautiful feet that carry the gospel belong to the most essential workers in human history. While Paul addresses those feet being sent in Romans 10:15, it isn’t until Romans 12 that he tells the church how God will send them.
Every believer should feel the weight of Paul’s questions in Romans 10:14–16. But the body of Christ is composed of many members who “do not all have the same function” (12:4). Some will be set apart for vocational ministry. Others will support that work. Paul presents differing gifts in such a way that each member might stay in his or her “lane,” so to speak, with fervency and faithfulness according to the grace that is at work in them (12:6).
But did you notice what’s tucked in the middle of the examples Paul provides? Giving. He says that “the one who contributes” should do so “in generosity” (12:8). So here’s my conclusion: God gifts the church with givers. What a remarkably simple, fear-crushing truth!
Those gifted to “contribute” to the work of the ministry are just as essential to the body as those gifted to teach or evangelize (1 Cor. 12:14–15). Otherwise, why would God gift the body of Christ with such saints? No gift is arbitrary, but each accords with his sovereign will (1 Cor. 12:11).
This simple reality should dispel the fears that often accompany support-raising. Does this mean that everyone invited into gospel partnership will give generously? No. But it does mean that some will. Supported workers can confidently trust that the Lord has gifted his church with the “contributors” needed for the gospel to go forth—whether that worker is going to the frontlines as a missionary or leveraging their gifts in logistical support as a stateside worker. God generously gifts his church with everything she needs to accomplish his purposes.
If you’re reading this and suspect you may be the “rich” that Paul addresses in 1 Timothy 6:17–19, I encourage you to prayerfully read these verses and consider whether you’re gifted to contribute. May the Lord grace us all with a desire to store up eternal treasure “as a good foundation for the future, so that [we] may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Tim. 6:19).
3. Support-raising is discipleship.
Sending ministry newsletters or updates is standard fare in the world of support-based ministry. It helps ministry partners stay connected to the work and aware of prayer needs.
The book of Philippians is something like a ministry update from Paul to the church in Philippi. He thanks them for their partnership (1:3–5; 4:14–16), updates them on his ministry (1:12–26; 2:19–30), and makes them aware of the continuing opportunity to meet his needs (4:10). Paul recognizes their partnership in the gospel is a means by which God grows both the giver and the goer in Christlikeness.
The New Testament frames gospel partnerships as an opportunity to gain something of lasting value for both parties. God uses support-raising to sanctify both the giver and the goer. Opportunities to support gospel work provide believers with an occasion to exercise faith that treasures stored in eternity last infinitely longer than anything in our bank accounts here.
Paul understood the secret to contentment over the course of his support-based ministry career (4:11). Whether resources were abundant or scarce, his confidence in God’s provision was empowered by the presence of Christ (4:12–13). It’s possible he learned this secret through support-based ministry. Paul thought that sharing this secret with the Philippians would help their spiritual growth.
Paul encouraged them to give generously because he wanted them to have eternal fruit credited to their account (4:17). Supported workers today can hold out this same motivation. We don’t need to fear rejection as we invite others to give. We don’t need to fear what they think. Such fear is self-focused and unconcerned with the spiritual good of others. Contentment coupled with love for others replaces fear with a sincere desire to seek financial gifts that are “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (4:18).
God uses support-raising to disciple both the giver and the goer. We should never fear the opportunity to grow in grace and godliness, nor to offer the same opportunity to others.
Over the past seven years at Reaching & Teaching, I’ve observed that fear of support-raising is the number one reason qualified workers have stopped the application process. Of course, we rest in the Lord’s sovereignty over all things. But I wrote this that prospective missionaries might not shrink back from support-based ministry over unfounded fears.
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