Do you remember your childhood well? Do you remember playing in your yard by yourself or in your neighborhood with your friends? I certainly do. I remember playing soccer in my back yard imagining myself playing in the championship game of the World Cup or catching the game winning pass in the Super Bowl. Or if you were a little girl maybe you can remember imagining that you were a princess dancing at a royal ball much like I see my daughters doing today.
Interestingly enough, I never remember myself imagining that I was a fan at the World Cup or Super Bowl just watching as others live out those glorious moments. Neither do I ever see my daughters pretend that they are just spectators at a royal ball watching others have all the extravagant fun. In both cases we always imagine we are part of the action, enjoying the thrill of the moment, and part of something larger than ourselves.
It seems that the Lord has planted within us all a desire to be part of something great, to be someone who makes an impact on our world. This of course is especially true for us as Christians although we now view our drive to make a lasting impact through a redemptive lens. In other words, we want to make an impact on this world for Christ’s Kingdom.
Regretfully, many of us do not know exactly how to do that, especially if we do not feel called to go to the mission field. We do know however that when it comes to the global advance of the gospel we do not simply want to be spectators, rather we want to be in on the action. In fact, this desire to be an active part of Kingdom advance around the world is not just an individual desire, it is a desire of our local churches as well. But how do our churches do that? How do we get beyond just being “supporters” and into playing an active and intentional role in what God is doing around the world while we simultaneously seek to fulfill what he has called us to at home?
On the other hand, from a missionary’s perspective we must ask ourselves, “How do we move our churches who have sent us from the position of paying spectator into the more biblical position of active participant in what the Lord has called us to among the nations?”
Over the last three and half years as my family and I have been deeply involved in the world of missions we have had the privilege of getting to know many fine brothers and sisters in Christ who either have been seeking to serve on the mission field or are currently serving there. Along the way we have noticed that it seems that whenever missionaries get together, one question that always seems to come up is, “How is your support level?”.
Sadly, many missionaries hate to answer this question because there are many underfunded missionaries serving around the world. This, of course adds a lot of extra stress in their already incredibly stressful lives and it often serves as a distraction from the work they have been called to do. Moreover, a lack of proper funding can also lead to feelings of discouragement and loneliness. All of this combined often results in missionaries who are ineffective in carrying out the work they feel called to do and has even lead many to return home earlier than they desire.
I believe the ongoing problem of underfunded missionaries is often the result of both sides (the church and the missionary) misunderstanding what the Bible teaches about their relationship, particularly when it comes to finances.
Therefore, today I would like to answer two questions: 1) What is a biblical perspective on funding missionaries? 2) What does this have to do with the local church? I believe this can best be done by taking a quick tour through the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippian church.
The Apostle Paul and His Philippian Partners: A Model Worth Following
Paul’s letter to the Philippian church is one of the most encouraging and joyful letters in the New Testament. Unlike many of his other letters, which were written for corrective purposes, this letter is a “thank you letter” from Paul to the Philippian church for their partnership with him in the gospel.
Paul sets this tone early in the letter when he writes, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ,” (Phil. 1:3-6).
In this opening part of the letter, and permeating the rest of the letter, we can see that Paul did not simply see the Philippian church as “financial supporters” but rather as partners in his missionary ministry. Moreover, throughout the letter we see seven examples of what a healthy gospel-partnership between a missionary (Paul) and a local church (the church at Philippi) can look like.
- Paul prayed for spiritual growth of the partnering church (1:9-11): As missionaries we must not only seek the prayers of our partner churches, we must be diligent to pray for their spiritual growth and fruit in ministry as well.
- The Philippian church continued to pray for Paul (1:18c-20): Paul was not just a prayer card on a cork board for this church, rather they continued to lift him up to the Lord while he was elsewhere doing the work of the ministry.
- Paul continued to minister to the church even when absent by pen, presence and proxy (1:25-26; 2:23-24): Even though he was away Paul continued to edify the church and report what was happening through letters, returning personally and by sending representatives (i.e. Timothy).
- They were suffering together for the same mission (1:29-30): Paul even saw the suffering both were experiencing as something they were participating in together, even though they were apart, because it was part of advancing Christ’s Kingdom.
- The church sent short-term missionary helpers (2:25-30; 4:2-3): More than just sending money and praying the church took an even more active role in encouraging and working alongside Paul by sending him people to help him on a short-term basis.
- The Philippians sacrificially provided financial support for Paul (4:14-18): The beauty of the financial giving that the Philippians did was that it took place within a larger relational context. Yet on a practical level it blessed and encouraged Paul and allowed him to more easily focus on the work at hand.
- The Lord would provide for all the church’s needs (4:19): As a result of their financial partnership, Paul assures the church that the Lord would in turn provide for all of their needs out of His abundant riches. This also encourages the church in their generosity reminding them that the Lord will never run out of resources to replenish what they have sacrificially given.
The Conclusion: We Do Not Need Supporters, We Need Partners
Therefore, as missionaries we do not need supporters, we need partners. By God’s grace, as churches and missionaries partner together for the global cause of Christ, may we strive together to fulfill all of what the Lord has called us to and may we give Him the glory for all that He accomplishes through us.