This is part two of our series on being a missionary supporter. Here, we’ll address the question, “What is the best way to support a missionary?” through the lens of providing financial support.
When William Carey set out as a missionary to India in 1792, he likened his missionary call to a miner getting lowered into a mine shaft that had never been traveled. He was recorded as saying to his sending church, “I will go down if you will hold the rope.” What a great analogy! But what is striking about this story is that he made his senders take an oath that as long as they lived, they would never let go of their end of the rope. That is a great vision of what it means to partner with a missionary! John Piper says, “Go, send, or disobey.” That means you are called to be on one side of the rope or the other. If you find yourself as a bystander and watching others hold the rope, you are in disobedience.
Let’s get the awkwardness out of the way. Everyone hates talking about finances. If a pastor wants to empty his church, he only needs to start a series on tithing. Sadly, as a culture, we have compartmentalized our lives in such a way that our personal finances are not under the jurisdiction of the Lord. We separate our work life, play life, family life, and church life. Our work life is what provides the resources that help make our play and family lives more enjoyable. But the moment a pastor says that your “church life” should require a financial investment as well is typically the time people start looking for another church. But the Bible speaks a lot about finances and exercising proper stewardship over our resources. When it comes to giving there is one verse that sets the tone: “But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:6-7). There is a direct link between investment and return on investment in this verse. But the point I want to emphasize is that “God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving to the Lord should never be labor. It should happen out of an overflow of thanksgiving. Giving should be an act of worship especially when it is sacrificial.
Thinking of Paul’s inspired encouragement in giving, let’s turn our focus to missionaries. Think about the practical state that missionaries find themselves in: they have left home, sold their possessions, and moved to a foreign country where they cannot legally work. But even if they could work, do we want them to? Is it not more beneficial for them to be focused on the task of fulfilling the Great Commission? That might not be true of every missionary because in some mission fields it is more beneficial for the missionary to work than to be supported. We don’t have to be dogmatic on this point, but for the most part, missionaries should focus on the task of fulfilling the Great Commission. To do this, they often must depend on the sacrificial and cheerful giving of their supporters.
So what is the best way to support a missionary financially? Well, the answer is to sign up for an ongoing monthly support plan that gets directly withdrawn from your bank account in an amount within your financial means. Some will say, “But I want the joy of writing the check each month and praying for the missionary!” Honestly, that is a noble intention, but unless you are going to be radically diligent to faithfully write that check on the same day of the month, month-after-month, sign up for automatic withdrawal. Remember, the goal here is to develop a system that benefits the missionaries. If you forget to write the check, then the missionary is the one affected. They are trying to live on a budget, and if they have to wait for checks that may or may not come in, they are now distracted from the ministry. But if they know that on a certain day each month your $35 donation will be processed, they now have the tools to manage their finances well, giving them the maximum benefit. I have also heard people say, “I just do not like people automatically accessing my bank account each month.” If you are uncomfortable with setting up an auto debit from your bank account, then you can set up an auto-pay from your bank account. This will allow your bank to cut a check each month for you and have it sent wherever you want it. These automatic systems are remarkably helpful for missionaries in projecting and managing their budget month-to-month.
In the previous paragraph, I brushed over an important point that needs to be brought to the forefront of our thinking. I have seen people, with a good heart and generous intentions, overextend their budget by committing to too much support. I want to stress the importance of “within your means.” I have personally seen individuals sign up for ongoing support that was way beyond what would be sustainable for their personal budget. It is excellent for the first two or three months but quickly gets difficult for the donor to sustain. This error does not benefit the donor or the missionary. Also, it is not ok to go into debt as a donor to support a missionary. Your heart might say $250 per month, but your budget only says $40. Remember, the goal here is to develop a system that benefits the missionaries. You’re going into debt and ending up in a financial mess in which you can’t support missionaries at all is not beneficial for anyone. It is also not wise stewardship. Set a financial support goal that is sustainable for your budget.
Lastly, small amounts are still valuable. The bread-and-butter of missionary support is the $15-$50 donations. That’s because those amounts, as we pointed out in the previous paragraph, are sustainable. Most of us can afford a $25 hit to our budget each month, and if finances get tight, there will not be a huge pull to cut a $25 donation to a missionary. We will cut eating out from our budget before we cut our missionary. Another point along this same train of thought is that it is better for the missionary to have you sign up for a $30 ongoing donation than for you to give a one-time donation of $400, because again, it is most helpful for a missionary to be able to establish a regular, ongoing budget. Also, if God has blessed you with greater financial means and called you as a sender, then supporting “within your means” might mean higher amounts than the examples I used above.
Just as a missionary is called to go, God is calling the Body of Christ to send. I leave you with the words of Paul to the Romans in chapter 10 of that epistle: “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
Train4Missions.com is a ministry Pastor Mike Thiemann runs to help equip and train missionaries and senders on all topics of long-term overseas service. Pastor Mike and his wife Erin serve State-side as full-time missionaries through Saving Grace World Missions and raise their own missionary support. If you would like to partner with Pastor Mike and Erin to help them further the ministry of Missions Training, please click the “ways to give” image below. Also, you can access their website by going to sgwm.com/thiemann.