The building is paid off. The preacher is paid well. Additionally, he is surrounded by a supporting cast including two secretaries, an associate minister, a youth minister, and a family and involvement minister. Somehow, there is still some money left in the budget. What should be done with it? The logical conclusion is to get involved in mission work. Several questions immediately come to mind. Who should be supported? Who does the preacher know? Who has sent a letter in the mail, and which letter has the most attractive font? How can the most number of people be reached and/or achieve the most number of baptisms with the least amount of money?
While admittedly this scenario is a caricature of how a congregation might come to support mission work, for some congregations it is a little too close to the truth. It goes without saying, however, that such should not be the case. The local church has a God-given mission to support, uphold, and spread the truth (1 Tim. 3:15; Matt. 28:18-20; Mark 16:15-16). God could have caused Bibles to rain down from heaven upon the unconverted, but instead He left the church with the responsibility of getting the truth to them. What should the church know about supporting mission work?
First, the church should know that prioritizing mission support is intrinsically tied to blessings. Many congregations of God’s people take a reactive approach to supporting missions. Normally, they wait for a missionary to come to them, and then they decide whether or not to help based upon the resources they already have at their disposal. However, reactivity rarely results in world changing activity—only proactivity does. Mission activity is not a vestigial organ to be kept only if it does not cause any problems. Instead, it is the lifeblood of a healthy church. When God’s people are challenged to give to worthy causes, they respond and subsequently are blessed.
The church at Jerusalem illustrates the power of proactivity. This church heard that some wonderful things were happening at Antioch (Acts 11:20-21). They responded by proactively sending Barnabas to help (11:22). No doubt, sending Barnabas was a high price to pay for missions in both money and manpower. After all, the Jerusalem congregation lost the “son of encouragement” (4:36)! Sending Barnabas, however, paid dividends. Not only did the church there grow (11:23-26), but it was also able to turn around and help the church at Jerusalem when famine struck there (11:27-30). Later, the church at Antioch even began its own mission program (Acts 13:1-3), and the congregations this formed also sent money to Jerusalem (Rom. 15:25-26). What if Jerusalem had kept Barnabas at home?
Second, the church should know the wisdom behind a targeted approach to mission work. Many congregations take a “shotgun approach” to world evangelism. In other words, they give a little money to a lot of missionaries. This practice seems to follow the adage, “Don’t put all of your eggs into one basket.” Doubtless, it feels good to help twenty places to receive the gospel. However, when those twenty places are actually twenty missionaries receiving $50 a month each, it probably translates into twenty missionaries needing a lot more to survive. As a result, these twenty missionaries are going to spend a lot more time fundraising, reporting to supporters, and worrying about making ends meet. Missionaries love small churches that give $50 sacrificially, but they struggle when larger churches could do more but choose otherwise.
Though a “shotgun approach” appears to be “safer” and “better,” it usually is not. It is actually incredibly difficult to keep up with twenty or so different works. What often results is poor stewardship as funds are sent to works that are not truly advancing the cause of Christ. A more targeted approach (ideally, picking a field) gives a congregation something upon which to focus. It leads to powerful prayer (less names and places to remember) and a greater connection between said congregation and the missionaries it supports.
Third, the church should know that there are no shortcuts to evangelizing the world. Increasingly, brethren are turning to mass media and short-term mission trips with their mission dollars. This effort often results in less support for long-term missionaries. The justification for this approach is the speed and ease of reaching people when compared to long-term efforts. No doubt, souls are won to Christ through mass media and short term missions. However, one wonders how often vibrant and autonomous churches are established through such efforts alone?
This missionary heard of one short-term campaign in Ukraine which yielded 200 baptisms in two weeks. Amazing, right? A year later, however, campaigners returned and found that there was not even one soul worshipping as the Lord’s church. Essentially, 200 babies were born (John 3:3-5; 1 Pet. 2:2) and abandoned. Had a long-term missionary been there, these babes in Christ could have been cherished and fed (1 Thess. 2:7-8). Short-term missions and mass media ought to work in conjunction with long-term missionaries, but not in lieu of them.
Fourth, the church should know the dangers of supporting third world missions. Brethren often favor supporting third world missions because, as more than one elder has told this missionary, “You get more bang for your buck.” “Bang” generally refers either to reports advertising large baptismal figures or to the relatively little money required to support indigenous preachers. However, the question must be asked: Where are the vibrant and autonomous churches from third world efforts? In particular, where are those vibrant and autonomous churches in which the American church has paid an indigenous preacher? Such congregations do exist, but fewer of them than one would expect. Too often, third world missions are plagued with corruption and/or result in anemic churches which will forever depend on America for guidance and support. Americans going into the third world need to go in with eyes open (cf. Tit. 1:12-13) and with an exit strategy for their support so that planted churches can learn to stand on their own two feet.
Fifth, the church should know that supporting mission work is more than just sending a check. Ideally, supporting mission work is a partnership. Paul thanked the brethren at Philippi for their “partnership in the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). Paul did not work for the brethren at Philippi—he worked with them. Yes, they sent him financial support (Phil. 4:16-18), but they also appear to have collected funds for him from others (Phil. 4:15). They were not content to just get a report from him. On the contrary, they sent Epaphroditus on a short-term mission trip both to deliver support and to help him (2:25). Though not explicitly referenced in Philippians, a supporting congregation should also be a partner in prayer—praying specifically and frequently for the needs of the missionary (Rom. 15:20; 2 Cor. 1:11; Col. 4:3; 1 Thess. 5:25; 2 Thess. 3:1).
In conclusion, this missionary wishes the church knew one more thing about supporting mission work. Simply stated, he wishes that brethren knew of the many congregations which are already applying these thoughts and achieving great things through their mission programs. May God bless reader’s congregation as it strives to support missions meaningfully.