Funding Missions — Part 1
It takes money to do missionary work. It takes money to get to the field, stay on the field, work on the field and return from the field. This is true for both short-term missions and career missions. Since the dawn of the so called modern missionary era in the time of William Carey, most missionary activity takes place because donors voluntarily offer money to send missionaries. Prior to this epoch of missionary history, a great deal of missionary effort was funded by the labors of the missionaries themselves as they used their skills to work on their fields of service.
The financing of missions is undergoing a potentially dramatic shift in our day which could threaten the status quo and change the way we send missionaries to their field of ministry. Before thinking of what is causing this shift and what the ramifications may be, let’s pause to ask, what is the biblical pattern for financing missionary outreach?
As we look to the New Testament, we see three sources of missionary financing. First, in some cases, funds were provided by churches which supported the work of the paradigmatic missionary, Paul the Apostle. The Philippian church sent money to Paul on several occasions (Philippians 4:15-16). Paul assumed that it was the responsibility of the church at Rome to help him in his proposed gospel expedition to Spain (Romans 15:24), and the Corinthian church to fund his return voyage to Judea (2 Corinthians 1:16). In 2 Corinthians 11:8 he describes having received money from churches (which ones is not specified) in order to accomplish his ministry in Corinth. And while the text never specifies that the church in Antioch funded Paul’s journeys, it seems safe to assume that they gave some financial backing to his work (Acts 13:3; 15:3). Second, there were times when individuals gave money to fund the spread of the gospel. Most of the money needed to fund Jesus’ earthly ministry apparently came from individual donors (Luke 8:1-3), and He sent out His disciples with instructions to humbly receive offerings from anyone who was willing to give (Luke 10:7-8). This is speculation, but I wonder whether wealthy individuals such as Lydia in Philippi also gave money to Paul to help him as he continued his outreach to the next city (Acts 16:40). Finally, there were times when the great missionary Paul had to work to support himself and his team (Acts 18:2-3; 20:34; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:8).
Our current system of missionary deputation and faith missions has worked relatively well for many years, but it is not a system that is demanded by Scripture. That is not to say that it is contrary to Scripture; not at all. But it is not expected by Scripture, so there is no point in defending that methodology as being somehow the one right way to do things. The traditional approach to which we are accustomed has served us well, but it is, in fact, only a method based on functional principles and practices that has worked relatively well for many years.
The stark reality that confronts many people today who are trying to raise money to go to the mission field is that it is increasingly difficult to secure adequate funds in a reasonable period of time. Average times for completing missionary deputation seem to grow longer and longer. Most churches are giving everything they can and a decade or more of slow economic growth means that most church missionary budgets have not expanded in recent years.
In addition to economic factors, there are three sociological factors that are presently affecting missionary financing. First, many churches want to become more directly engaged with doing missions, not just funding missions. That means that they use money from their missions budgets to send teams to the mission field and to get involved with what God is doing in other parts of the world. They recognize that part of the way they disciple their people at home to live missionally is to involve them in missions away from home. The more money that churches expend to do missions directly, the less they have to finance more missionaries. This topic is continued in another blog post Funding Missions–Part 2.
Mark Vowels, Bob Jones University