“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you.”– Matthew 28:19
“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”– II Timothy 2:2
“Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.”– I Timothy 5:22
It is impossible to speak about missions without addressing the financial requirements or demands of sending and sustaining missionaries on the field. The proper attitude regarding the matter is beautifully summarized in John’s third epistle. There the Apostle writes to Gaius regarding the “missionaries” of their day:
“For they went out for the sake of the Name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore, we ought to support such men, so that we may be fellow workers with the truth.”1
John is not writing about every so-called missionary, but about those who are missionaries indeed: Those who have gone out, not for gain or fame, but only for the sake of Christ. Such men and women are not only worthy of support, but it is a privilege to support them.
In the above admonition, the word “support” is translated from the Greek verb hupolambáno, which literally means to “to take or receive from below,” usually, with the purpose of raising up or carrying. William D. Mounce defines it as “taking up, by placing one’s self underneath what is taken up.”2 In the above context, the “support” which John admonishes Gaius to render to these traveling preachers is not limited to financial contributions but encompasses whatever support they might need in order to fulfill their ministry. A lesser-known but similar admonition is given by the Apostle Paul to Titus:
“Diligently help Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way so that nothing is lacking for them. Our people must also learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs, so that they will not be unfruitful.”3
In both cases mentioned above, the giving is not merely for the sake of the missionary or the missionary enterprise but is also for the benefit of the givers—that they might be “fellow workers with the truth” and not be “unfruitful.” Thus, giving to the missionary enterprises of the church should never be seen as a mere duty, but as an opportunity to bless and be blessed. This attitude toward giving must be promoted among the people of God by the elders who lead them through teaching and example.
Even a cursory reading of the New Testament’s “commission” passages reveals that every believer and every church without exception has been called to contribute to the Great Commission. We are either called to “go” or we are called to “support” those who go with our prayers and financial support. Prior to leaving for the mission field of India, William Carey said the following to the pastors and churches at home in England:
“I will go down into the mine but remember that you must hold the rope.”
Several decades later, nothing has changed. We either go down into the mine as missionaries or we hold the rope for those who go down. Either way, labor, sacrifice, and scars will mark our lives. A thoughtful question to ask ourselves is: “Where are my scars?” or “What has my participation in the Great Commission cost me?”
In contemporary missions there are a great number of ways in which missionaries are supported on the field. It is beyond the purpose of this article to consider each, but we will mention the most representative of the whole.
First, there are bi-vocational cross-cultural missionaries on the field who use their employment as a means to enter into a country and share the gospel through personal interaction and relationships. This is a worthy ministry and such missionaries are to be commended. However, those who sense a call to this kind of ministry must be aware that such employment may sometimes consume a great deal of time, and the balancing of employment and ministry can be extremely taxing. The Apostle Paul was a tent-maker by trade and at times used his vocation to support himself.4 However, when Silas and Timothy arrived in Corinth, they brought financial aid from Macedonia5 and “Paul began devoting himself completely to the word, solemnly testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.”6 From this brief description of Paul’s life, we understand that a bi-vocational missionary is biblical and worthy of all commendation, but in most cases, it is preferable if a missionary can devote himself completely to the word.
Second, there are missionaries whose entire support is provided by their church or denomination so that they have no need of working or raising financial support. By God’s grace, there are biblical local churches that are large enough to financially sustain, not only a single missionary family but several. There are also denominations that are able to provide full support for their missionaries through the cooperation of a multitude of local churches pooling their funds and working together. The objection that such support hinders the missionary from living by faith is absurd. Whether a missionary is fully supported or not, it still takes a faith that is “beyond human” to leave church, family, and friends, and move one’s entire family across the world to live as a stranger in a strange land!
Third, the great majority of conservative Evangelical missionaries are required to “raise” their support before they are sent off to the field. There is nothing unbiblical about such a methodology, and when practiced correctly it can be a blessing to both the missionary and the churches from which support is sought. However, this method of supporting missionaries is sometimes practiced in a manner that tends to humiliate and even degrade the missionary and his or her calling. This occurs when the missionary is given the full responsibility of raising his or her support without the direct involvement of the elders. Such a practice requires that aspiring missionaries self-promote, make cold calls, and sell their vision to churches and leaders who are unaware of the true nature of their calling and the true quality of their character. Such a scenario can be avoided when the elders who have trained and ordained the missionary also take responsibility for his financial support. The sending church should be the first to give sacrificially to send their missionary on his way in a manner worthy of God. Then, the elders of the church should take responsibility for raising the remaining support by contacting fellow pastors and churches and speaking on behalf of the character and calling of their missionary candidate. The writer of Proverbs gives us the following admonition: “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.”7 This intervention by the elders on behalf of the missionary, will transform “missionary deputation” from a dreaded necessity to an encouraging endeavor.
- III John 1:7-8
- Mounce Greek Dictionary
- Titus 3:13-14
- Acts 18:1-5
- II Corinthians 11:9; Philippians 4:15
- Acts 18:5
- Proverbs 27:2
Paul is the founder of HeartCry Missionary Society and currently serves as its missions director. He also ministered as a missionary in Peru for ten years. He has preached hundreds of sermons and has authored a dozen published works. Paul lives in Radford, Virginia, with his wife Charo and their four children: Ian, Evan, Rowan, and Bronwyn.More By Paul David Washer