Spend Time, Send People, and Give Money: Three Ways to Think About “Generosity” in Missions
As Reaching & Teaching’s President, I have the joy of watching sending churches and donors show our missionaries incredible generosity. Here’s one example of many: I just heard about two churches who partnered together to pay for one family’s unexpected deployment costs. Amazing!
When we discuss generosity, we usually think about money. But there are other ways sending churches should be generous. Let’s think about a few.
1. Sending churches should be generous with their time.
Before a church sends a missionary, it should invest considerable time getting to know them. Put simply, hospitality bears much fruit. So future missionaries should be frequent guests in the homes of elders and other church members.
If you’re a church leader, here’s some basic counsel:
- Find a way to spend time with the men and women your church may send. Set up a regular breakfast or lunch.
- Consider reading a book together and discussing it at these meals. Perhaps pick one that focuses on missions or the sufficiency of Scripture or any other relevant topic. The goal isn’t to instruct them per se, but to get a sense of their instincts and ambitions.
- Look for ways to pull future missionaries into elder meetings when possible. Maybe they could take the minutes of the board meeting. Or they can just be a silent observer. Whatever they’re doing there, they will surely learn a lot as they watch their elders pray for the church, make difficult decisions, and discuss a variety of theological issues.
- In all this, don’t neglect the sisters who are training for overseas ministry. Think of creative ways to get to know them, too.
2. Sending churches should be generous with their people.
Here’s the most important application of this: be willing to send some of your best and most fruitful people!
In Acts 13:1–4, we read of five men who actively supported the ministry of the church at Antioch. Of these five men, Barnabas and Saul were set apart through the leading of the Holy Spirit. After a time of fasting, the church then laid hands on them, commissioned them, and prayed for them.
Can you imagine just how much these men would have been missed? Preaching slots would need to be filled; discipleship relationships would need to be passed on. Nonetheless, the saints at Antioch sent some of their best. What generosity!
When your church sends a missionary, you should “feel” it. You should feel it in your children’s ministry, your small groups, or your public preaching and teaching. You should feel it somewhere. That is, if you’re sending out some of your best.
If you watch sports, you’re probably familiar with the “next man up” mentality. When someone leaves a team or gets injured, the next person should step in and assume his teammate’s responsibilities. That’s how it should be in the church, too. If a church is discipling its people well, then the next man or woman should step in and step up.
3. Sending churches should be generous with their money.
I recently sat in on another church’s elders meeting as they discussed sending missionaries. During this meeting, the senior pastor encouraged his fellow elders that they should support their missionaries generously.
I love that instinct. If a church sends its best, if a church sends people they’ve invested in over the long haul, then of course it makes sense to commit a substantial amount of money. (Assuming, of course, that such an option is on the table.)
Generously supporting your missionaries frees them from the time-consuming tasks of fundraising and donor-updating. It prevents them from having to travel all over the country on stateside assignments. It allows them to rest when they’re home, without having to feel the exhausting constraints of visiting a different church every weekend.
If a church is smaller and has budgeted constraints, it can find creative ways to be financially generous. For example, the elders can reach out to other churches in the area and invite them to become supporters, too. At Reaching & Teaching, we serve many churches in seminary towns. Their members are transient, and many of them are students. These churches are often constrained in how much they can give to the dozens of missionaries they will send out. So what do they do? I’ve seen churches in this position counsel potential missionaries to cultivate a secondary hub of financial support. The goal is to cooperate with like-minded churches to generously support faithful work overseas. “A little here and a little there” works but fewer and more generous supporters is the ideal approach.
What do I mean by “generous”? Quite simply, missionaries need more than the bare minimum. They should never stress out about balancing their budget. The stresses of overseas ministry are enough on their own.
Andy Johnson, once a pastor in the States and now the pastor of an international church in Asia, reflects on this well. He writes,
I don’t know how the notion of equating poor missionaries with godly missionaries got started. Regardless, our business is to understand and obey God’s Word. And that means amply supplying anyone that our churches send out for the sake of Jesus’s name. In God’s providence, many gospel emissaries find themselves in want. The book of Acts and subsequent history are full of such accounts. But such times of testing are God’s prerogative. For our part, we should labor to be faithful in our task of sending and supporting.
With God’s help, may our churches be generous with our time, our people, and our finances.
 Andy Johnson, Missions: How the Local Church Goes Global (Wheaton, IL: Crossway), 50.