Put the Advance of the Gospel at the Center of Your Aspirations

Put the Advance of the Gospel at the Center of Your Aspirations

Read Philippians 1:12-18a
The flow of Paul’s argument is remarkable. Apparently some of his critics thought Paul had let the side down rather badly by getting himself arrested… One can easily imagine the reasoning of Paul’s critics. Depending on how this case turns out, Paul’s appeal to the Emperor could bring Christianity into ill repute. Paul is constantly rushing headlong into things where a wiser, cooler head would have been cautious. Why did he have to go up to Jerusalem and get himself arrested anyway? He knew how much he was held in contempt there. Surely there was a better way.

But Paul has few regrets: “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (1:12). That is what he cares about: not his own comfort, but the advance of the gospel. He offers two reasons in defense of his judgment.
First, his arrest and imprisonment in Rome has resulted in the Praetorian Guard hearing that he has been arrested for Christ’s sake: “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard … that I am in chains for Christ” (1:13). Because the full Praetorian Guard, when it was up to full strength, numbered close to nine thousand, many commentators wryly protest that nine thousand soldiers could not have been cycled in to guard Paul so that all of them could personally hear his witness. Surely this must be hyperbolic or a reference to some small detachment of the Guard. But Paul’s reference to “the whole palace guard” probably has a simpler explanation … In short, Paul was proving to be such an extraordinary prisoner that stories about him began to circulate around the palace – and not only stories about him, but the gospel story as well. And that, Paul insists, is wonderful. There has been an advance in the circulation of the gospel because I am in chains.

There is a second reason why Paul insists that his incarceration has advanced the gospel: “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (1:14). A whiff of persecution sometimes puts backbone into otherwise timid Christians. Older readers of these pages will remember the five Wheaton College graduates in the 1950s who lost their lives in an attempt to bring the gospel to the Auca Indians. Among the excellent unforeseen results was the very high number of Wheaton graduates who year after year for the next decade or two offered themselves for missionary service. Because of the death of the “Auca five,” many were “encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.”

Nevertheless, Paul is a realist. He acknowledges that not every consequence of his imprisonment is rosy in every respect. “It is true,” he writes, “that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will. The latter do so in love … the former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (1:15-18a).

Who are these curious preachers who “preach Christ” but who do so out of the most astonishing motives? It is important to recognize that they are not heretics… If they had been, Paul would have exposed them. The preachers to whom Paul makes reference here… propound the true gospel, but sometimes do so from the strangest mix of motives. In this case, the people Paul has in mind are those that must be understood to lie behind verse 12. They think that Paul has done damage to the Christian cause by getting himself arrested. Probably they magnify their own ministry by putting Paul down. We can imagine their pompous reflections: “It really is sad that so great a man as Paul has frittered away his gospel opportunities simply because he is so inflexible. After all, I and many others manage to remain at large and preach the gospel. One must assume that Paul has a deep character flaw that puts him in the path of trouble. My ministry is being blessed, whilehe languishes in prison.” Thus, the more they speak, the more their own ways are justified and the more Paul is made to look foolish.

How does Paul handle this? Is he wounded? Doubtless he has feelings like everyone else. But… he perceives that whether by preachers like this or by preachers who align themselves with the apostle, the gospel is getting out. And that is more important than whether or not he himself achieves universal respect in the church. Not only can he say “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached,” but he can add “And because of this I rejoice” (1:18).
Paul’s example is impressive and clear: Put the advance of the gospel at the center of your aspirations. Our own comfort, our bruised feelings, our reputations, our misunderstood motives – all of these are insignificant in comparison with the advance and splendor of the gospel. As Christians, we are called upon to put the advance of the gospel at the very center of our aspirations.
What are your aspirations? To make money? To get married? To travel? To see your grandchildren grow up? To find a new job? To retire early? None of these is inadmissible; none is to be despised. The question is whether these aspirations become so devouring that the Christian’s central aspiration is squeezed to the periphery or choked out of existence entirely …

In a fair bit of Western evangelicalism, there is a worrying tendency to focus on the periphery. [My] colleague … Dr. Paul Hiebert … springs from Mennonite stock and analyzes his heritage in a fashion that he himself would acknowledge is something of a simplistic caricature, but a useful one nonetheless. One generation of Mennonites believed the gospel and held as well that there were certain social, economic, and political entailments. The next generation assumed the gospel, but identified with the entailments. The following generation denied the gospel: the “entailments” became everything. Assuming this sort of scheme for evangelicalism, one suspects that large swaths of the movement are lodged in the second step, with some drifting toward the third.

… What is it in the Christian faith that excites you? … Today there are endless subgroups of confessing Christians who invest enormous quantities of time and energy in one issue or another: abortion, pornography, home schooling, women’s ordination (for or against), economic justice, a certain style of worship, the defense of a particular Bible version, and countries have a full agenda of urgent, peripheral demands. Not for a moment am I suggesting we should not think about such matters or throw our weight behind some of them. But when such matters devour most of our time and passion, each of us must ask: In what fashion am I confessing the centrality of the gospel?

This is not a subtle plea for … a gospel without social ramifications. We wisely reread the accounts of the Evangelical Awakening in England and the Great Awakening in America and the extraordinary ministries of Howell Harris, George Whitefield, the Wesley brothers, and others. We rightly remind ourselves how under God their converts led the fights to abolish slavery, reform the penal code, begin trade unions, transform prisons, and free children from serving in the mines. All of society was transformed because soundly converted men and women saw that life must be lived under God and in a manner pleasing to him. But virtually without exception these men and women put the gospel first. They reveled in it, preached it, cherished Bible reading and exposition that was Christ-centered and gospel centered, and from that base moved out into the broader social agendas. In short, they put the gospel first, not least in their own aspirations. Not to see this priority means we are not more than a generation away from denying the gospel.

It may be that God has called you to be a homemaker or an engineer or a chemist or a ditch digger. It may be that you will take some significant role in, say, the rising field of bioethics. But although the gospel directly affects how you will discharge your duties in each case, none of these should displace the gospel that is central to every thoughtful Christian. You will put the gospel first in your aspirations. Then you will be able to endure affliction and persecution and even misunderstanding and misrepresentation from other Christians. You will say with Paul, “I want you to know … that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (1:12).

… Put the advance of the gospel at the center of your aspirations.

By D.A. Carson

The Day Francis Schaeffer’s Plane Almost Crashed in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean

The Day Francis Schaeffer’s Plane Almost Crashed in the Middle of the Atlantic Ocean

Once I was flying at night over the North Atlantic. It was in 1947, and I was coming back from my first visit to Europe. Our plane, one of those old DC4′s with two engines on each wing, was within two or three minutes of the middle of the Atlantic.

Suddenly two engines on one wing stopped. I had already flown a lot, and so I could feel the engines going wrong. I remember thinking, if I’m going to go down into the ocean, I’d better get my coat. When I did, I said to the hostess, “There’s something wrong with the engines.” She was a bit snappy and said, “You people always think there’s something wrong with the engines.” So I shrugged my shoulders, but I took my coat.
I had no sooner sat down, than the lights came on and a very agitated co-pilot came out. “We’re in trouble,” he said. “Hurry and put on your life jackets.”
So down we went, and we fell and fell, until in the middle of the night with no moon we could actually see the water breaking under us in the darkness. And as we were coming down, I prayed.

Interestingly enough, a radio message had gone out, an SOS that was picked up and broadcast immediately all over the United States in a flash news announcement: “There is a plane falling in the middle of the Atlantic.” My wife heard about this and at once she gathered our three little girls together and they knelt down and began to pray. They were praying in St Louis, Missouri, and I was praying on the plane. And we were going down and down.
Then, while we could see the waves breaking beneath us and everybody was ready for the crash, suddenly the two motors started, and we went on into Gander.
When we got down I found the pilot and asked what happened. “Well,” he said, “it’s a strange thing, something we can’t explain. Only rarely do two motors stop on one wing, but you can make an absolute rule that when they do, they don’t start again. We don’t understand it.”

So I turned to him and I said, “I can explain it.”
He looked at me: “How?”
And I said, “My Father in heaven started it because I was praying.”
That man had the strangest look on his face and he turned away.

Schaeffer draws a big-picture application:

What one must realize is that seeing the world as a Christian does not mean just saying, “I am a Christian. I believe in the supernatural world,” and then stopping. It is possible to be saved through faith in Christ and then spend much of our lives in the materialist’s chair. We can say we believe in a supernatural world, and yet live as though there were no supernatural in the universe at all. It is not enough merely to say, “I believe in a supernatural world.”
Christianity is not just a mental assent that certain doctrines are true. This is only the beginning. This would be rather like a starving man sitting in front of great heaps of food and saying, “I believe the food exists; I believe it is real,” and yet never eating it.
It is not enough merely to say, “I am a Christian,” and then in practice to live as if present contact with the supernatural were something far off and strange.
Many Christians I know seem to act as though they come in contact with the supernatural just twice—once when they are justified and become a Christian and once when they die. The rest of the time they act as though they were sitting in the materialist’s chair.

—Francis Schaeffer, “The Universe and Two Chairs

The solution to failure in Mission

The solution to failure in Mission

“Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, 32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” 33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” (ESVLuke 22:31-34

I don’t know how your last year was, or how your year is actually going, but I can tell you one thing is for sure, we’ve all experienced failure in some way. Some of us had greater failures than others, but we’ve all experienced the feeling of guilt, shame and remorse at some point. This is a human condition. It crosses every culture and time period of this planet. Every person has some sort of standard (whether religious or self-imposed) in his or her mind of what is good, right and true and has failed to meet it. No matter the standard or who institutes it, we fail and have an impossible time remaining consistent. How we deal with our failures and sin, how we cope is important. More importantly is how we think God responds and interacts with us in those failures. This is monumental. If you, as a human being, are going to fail regardless of the standard and who put it there, then how you think God looks at you when you fail is going to determine how you see Him.

If we’re honest, most of us see God as this god who’s just waiting to destroy us. On the first day of school in seventh grade I was assigned a seat on the bus for getting into trouble. My dad said he would let it slide, but if I messed up again, it was over for me. I promised I’d be good and wouldn’t fail again. Then during the second day of school I got in trouble for not being quiet in class. My teacher said he was going to call my dad. I began to weep. After school I arrive home and saw my dad’s truck in the driveway. I realized I was dead. I appealed to my mom and hoping she’d have mercy for me, but she sent me outside to talk to my dad. I was terrified he was going to kill me. This is how we view God. If we’re going to fail our own standards, how much more are we going to fail when it comes to this eternal, perfect God? We’re going to fail Him all the time and in much more heinous and grievous ways. We picture Him waiting for us to fail so He can punish and destroy us. However, in Luke 22, Jesus shows us that God deals with our failures differently than we think. The way God treats us when we fail Him is monumental in our understanding of who He is. He is more gracious than we could imagine.

Jesus and His disciples were eating the Passover Meal together, the most sacred meal for the Jewish people that celebrated how God rescued them from slavery in Egypt and brought them into the Promised Land. It was Jesus’ last meal with His disciples before His betrayal. As they were eating, Jesus was teaching them about life in the Kingdom. Suddenly He singled out Peter. It’s important to know that Peter was the most vocal and bold disciple. He was the leader of the rest of the twelve, always speaking first. With this kind of personality, he had some amazing and terrible moments. In Matthew 16, Jesus asked the disciples who they thought He was. Peter spoke up and said He was the Christ, Son of the Living God. He was the first person to make a public profession of faith in Jesus. Then just six verses later, this same bold disciple responded to Jesus saying the reason He came was to die, by telling Jesus He was ridiculous. Jesus called him Satan.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-31 (ESV)

Jesus told Peter there was some serious satanic attack coming his way. Satan himself had asked God for permission to sift him like wheat. To some extent, God granted him permission to do this to Peter and the disciples. Jesus told Peter that he was going to fail. “When you have turned again,” meant, “When you’ve come to your senses and realize that you’ve failed, you must turn to your brothers. I’m going to pray for you.” Jesus told him this in front of the rest of the twelve disciples. This had to be difficult news to hear. Imagine if Jesus said you were going to deny Him in front of everyone you knew. Peter responded in the same way we probably would. He began to defend himself.

33 Peter said to him, “Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death.” Luke 22:33 (ESV)

Peter told Jesus he wouldn’t fail Him, he was more loyal and faithful than Jesus knew. He would follow Him even to death. We would do the same thing. Whenever we’re challenged, we begin to defend ourselves saying we belong to this church, know this theology, serve here, and do this.

34 Jesus said, “I tell you, Peter, the rooster will not crow this day, until you deny three times that you know me.” Luke 22:34 (ESV)

Jesus explained He knew what He was talking about, Peter would deny the fact he even knew Him. It wasn’t going to be in some distant future, but within the next twelve hours. All the bravado and faith Peter claimed to have would be for nothing; he would deny Jesus three times. He wasn’t just going to talk bad about Him, but rather completely deny he even knew Him. It’s one thing to talk bad about somebody. We’ve all done that at some point, even about someone we love. Yet, how many of us have ever denied we’ve known somebody? That’s a whole other rejection. Jesus told Peter this then ended the conversation and moved on. Peter’s betrayal ensued. Just like every other word that Jesus spoke, His word came to fruition. A couple hours later, Peter denied him three times. As the High Priest was trying Jesus, Peter stayed faithful and was there with other onlookers who were curious to see what was going to happen to this guy named Jesus who claimed to be the Messiah. People begin to realize that Peter knew Jesus. They recognized his accent and claimed he was a friend of His. Twice, Peter denied it and told them they had the wrong guy.

60 But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are talking about.” And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” 62 And he went out and wept bitterly. Luke 22:60-62 (ESV)

As he was speaking the words of denial, a rooster crowed in the background. The rooster crowing didn’t set off Peter’s realization of what he’d done. He probably didn’t even hear it. But somehow, in the midst of the chaos of the moment, Peter and Jesus locked eyes; Peter’s fear and anger dissipated and he realized that all Jesus had said came true. He realized what he had done, was filled with shame and guilt and ran away weeping bitterly.

We’ve all been there. We’ve all had those moments where we’ve sinned in some way and have felt the shame, hating ourselves. Some of us respond the same way Peter did; prone to depression, responding by weeping and crying, not knowing what to do. Others of us respond differently. I had a buddy in college who would deal with his shame by working out as hard as he possibly could until he would almost pass out. It was his way of coping with his failure and guilt. I do similar things. I’ve noticed a pattern in my life where I cope with my overwhelming shame and remorse by cleaning. That way I don’t have to deal with it, I busy myself with cleaning instead. Most of you are no different. We’re too scared to admit how much of our lives and what we do in our busyness is to distract us from the guilt we feel. That’s why we constantly need input, entertainment and noise, something going into our minds, because the silence can be deafening. You stay quiet long enough and your insecurities become too loud to ignore. How much of our lives is busyness so that we don’t have to deal with the shame, guilt and insecurities we have?

If you don’t have Jesus, that’s all you have. All you can do is numb the pain and shame. You can’t deal with it; you must distract yourself by being busy. When you fail, all you can do is try to work harder. You do more and put more pressure on yourself to be different, only to find that you can’t. You can’t deal with it. If you try, you become overwhelmed with the shame. So much of our busyness is because we don’t want to be still and quiet, we want to avoid all those things that come flooding into our minds. We have no solution. No pill or therapy session can give you the solution you’re looking for. Those things only work if they’re pointers to something greater, to Jesus.

Jesus actually has a solution for you. Through Him you can look at your guilt and shame and be honest about it, but get rid of it at the same time. He has a compassion and love that we know nothing about.

31 “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat,32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:31-32 (ESV)

Jesus knew Peter was going to reject Him. He had known for sometime. The man He’d given three years of His life to was going to deny Him. Jesus responded to such betrayal and cowardice by praying for him. In fact, He had already been praying for him. Peter’s failure was not an opportunity for Jesus to punish him. God didn’t want to put His thumb on Peter and destroy him. His failure was an opportunity for Jesus to show him how great His love for him was. Jesus is altogether different. He deals with the failures of His people, no matter how perverse or cowardly, by praying for us. He forgives us. Jesus didn’t just dismiss Peter’s treachery and faithlessness because there was something special about him or because Jesus had a special feeling toward him. Jesus was faithful and prayed for Peter because of what He told him earlier in the meal. Before Jesus told Peter about the attack that was coming, He was teaching them about the Passover, explaining how the meal was a foreshadowing of what He was about to do. He was going to rescue them from their enslavement to their guilt and sin. We can’t get away from the guilt we have towards God. Jesus came to rescue us from that.

19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. Luke 22:19-20 (ESV)

Jesus told them His body would be beaten, he would be mocked, tortured and degraded and all the wrath of God, due to them for their guilt, would be put on Him. He was the sinless One, the spotless Lamb, and God would destroy Him. On the cross, Jesus got what we deserved. It was that cross that enabled Jesus to look at Peter, and us, and say the following…

32 but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers.” Luke 22:32 (ESV)

Jesus said to any and all who trust in Him, “No matter your sin when you fail, I pray for you. I want to give grace to you. I’ve taken care of all your sin.”

This year should not be about making up for past sins. Jesus has already made up for those past and those to come. Every accusation Satan hurls at you regarding your sins Jesus took on the cross. When I feel distant from God, I tend to run away. I try to read my Bible first and quit feeling guilty, and then I’ll come back to God. But Jesus was saying we don’t have to get ready first, He’s been praying for us, even before we’ve failed and run away. That’s the grace He offers to us! New Year resolutions are aimed at fixing areas where we’ve failed. There are areas in our lives where we keep failing God. Spiritual resolutions are about reading the Bible more or loving people more. I hope God gives you victory in these things, but there’s no way to escape failing in these areas. Do not think this year will be the year where you don’t sinanymore. That’s not possible. You’re going to fail and be deceived. Your rebellion is going to be overt or subtle depending on the day.  Let this year be a year marked with repentance. Let us repent more often of our sin and confess it more to God and other people. God is not sitting up in heaven angry with you. He’s been praying for you, thinking about you, working everything, including your sin, to be for your good. Let us look to our Savior and say His grace makes repenting far easier. There is a reason Paul prays, “and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God,” (Ephesians 3:19 ESV). It takes forever. You and I are going to spend forever marveling at the love He already has for us through the cross. When you begin to see God for who He is and repent to this God who is praying for you, you will see He’s more gracious and kind than you could ever imagine. All of a sudden it makes running away from Him more and more foolish. You will still do it, but the more you’re around Him as He truly is, the more you’ll want to stay near Him.

Are all Christians really missionaries?

Are all Christians really missionaries?

Every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor.
Let that sink in for a minute. Quite a bold statement, isn’t it? This is a quote from the famous 19th Century British pastor and theologian, Charles Haddeon Spurgeon. He pastored one of the first megachurches of the modern era, The Metropolitan Tabernacle, in London. Thousands of people came to faith under his ministry and it’s estimated that he preached to upwards of 10 million people over the course of his life.

So, why would he say that every Christian is either a missionary or an impostor? Seems odd to me. Is he saying that every true follower of Christ should pack up their bags and move to Africa and become a missionary? That’s what a missionary is, right?

I grew up going to church all the time. I remember every few months, a missionary would show up at church. They were always kind of weird and looked odd. There names were usually something like Herb and Martha. They always had slides with them. Not PowerPoint slides, but clear, translucent slides that were shown on an overhead projector. An overhead projector was basically this huge box that weighed about fifty pounds and sat on a table and had a bright light in the bottom of the box that pointed up at a mirror which displayed the slides on the wall.

Missionaries were varsity Christians. They traveled overseas, usually to Africa. We paid them money to keep up their missionary work. The rest of us were basically losers because we worked normal jobs here in the States, but we always made ourselves feel better by contributing a few dollars in the love offering. No, I’m not sure why it was called a love offering.

Unfortunately, this is the only thing that comes to mind when we talk about missionaries. However, in Spurgeon’s mind, the essence of what it means to be a Christian is that you live your life as a missionary, regardless of where you live, stateside or overseas.

In fact, if we take a look at the life of Jesus, he was a missionary. At least thirty-nine times in the Gospel of John, Jesus refers to himself as “sent” on a mission. He left his home in heaven, left his family, and left his culture to come to the earth as a missionary to reach a people who would’ve otherwise never been restored to the Father.

Additionally, Jesus not only refers to himself as “sent,” he refers to every Christian as “sent.” We are all sent as missionaries here and now to the culture where we live.

As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:18

This is why the early church made disciples at lightning speed. It wasn’t because they had fancy programs or great productions. It was because every believer operated as a missionary. There was no such thing as a “foreign missionary.”

I love what Michael Green’s says in Evangelism in the Early Church. He says that early Christianity’s explosive growth was in reality accomplished by means of informal missionaries.

As well, Tim Keller communicates a similar concept in Center Church. He says, Not only the apostles but every Christian did evangelism — and they did so endlessly. Numerous passages indicate that every Christian was expected to evangelize, follow up, nurture, and teach people the Word. This happened relationally — one person bringing the gospel to another within the context of a relationship.

Every believer must see themselves as a missionary sent by Jesus Christ, sent into the world, and sent on a mission. If your Christian life doesn’t look like this, then you need to ask the hard question, “Am I a missionary or impostor?”

Ethan Welch

What finally broke Louis Zamperini

What finally broke Louis Zamperini

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemptionthe riveting life story of Olympic runner Louis Zamperini, is easily one of the best books I’ve read… ever. As I was reflecting on the journey of this remarkable man, I was moved to tears by the wondrous power of the Holy Spirit to change a heart.

Louis was once a man “unbroken,” but not anymore:

  • The bullies he faced in high school in the 1920′s couldn’t break him.
  • The injustice done to him by other runners as he raced to beat records didn’t break him.
  • The severe homesickness that accompanied his military service couldn’t break him.
  • His plane crash into the Pacific on May 27, 1943 didn’t break him.
  • 47 days drifting on a raft in the ocean couldn’t break him.
  • The sharks that attacked him from the water while the Japanese strafed his raft from the sky didn’t break him.
  • Burying his close friend and fellow soldier at sea couldn’t break him.
  • A typhoon that nearly swamped his raft didn’t break him.
  • His Japanese captors who taunted and tortured and nearly starved him for two and a half years couldn’t break him.
  • The mental agonies stirred up by the tortures of “The Bird” didn’t break him.
  • But in September 1949, at a Billy Graham crusade, the gospel broke him.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, and also to the Greek.

Where Do Missionaries Get Their Money?

Where Do Missionaries Get Their Money?

As my wife explained to a long-time friend how we need to get our support back up before returning to Thailand, a puzzled look came over her face. “Don’t they pay you a salary?”  Actually, they don’t!
The idea that missionaries get paid a salary just like an employee at any other company is one of the biggest misconceptions about missionary support that I’ve run into.  And I know that my wife and I are not the only ones who’ve encountered it.
Unlike NGOs who apply for grants to fund their operations and pay salaries, missionary organizations generally don’t have those funding sources available to them.  So where do missionaries get their money?  In this post, I want to briefly explain the three major ways that missionaries are funded.  I hope that this will be a help for those interested in becoming missionaries, for those who wonder how missionaries get their money, and for missionaries who want to help their friends and supporters understand their circumstances.

Self-Funded Missionaries

There are some missionaries who don’t need any external financial support from churches or individuals.  Some of these self-funded missionaries go to the field when they are older and have retirement savings to live on.  Others may have served in the military for twenty and have a government pension to live on.  Others are bivocational missionaries who have regular secular employment in the country where they serve.  The school where they teach or the business they run provide ample income for them to live and minister.  Within this category, we might add those missionaries who are partially self-funded.  They have an internal source of income that contributes to, but does not provide fully, for all of their needs.  So, they still need traditional missionary support in addition to whatever pension or local salary they draw from.

Denominationally-Funded Missionaries

There are some church denominations who fully fund all missionaries who are accepted to work under their denominational mission board.  The biggest of these is the Southern Baptist Convention, although the Christian and Missionary Alliance and the Orthodox Presbyterian Church use the same type of pooling system.  On the plus side, missionaries who get their money this way don’t have to be concerned about raising or maintaining a certain level of financial support.  On the down side, there is sometimes less personal connection and commitment between local churches and individual missionaries.  And, more significantly, if the denominational mission board needs to make budget cuts, they may eliminate funding for your position, or for your entire field of service.  Under this system, there is still occasion for missionaries to need funding for exceptional needs above and beyond what is in their normal budget.  However, regular living and ministry expenses are covered by the denomination.

Individual & Church Funded Missionaries

The majority of missionaries rely upon the generous donations of individuals and churches to make up their budget for living and ministry costs.  Whether they are working under their denominational mission board or an independent or inter-denominational mission organization, it is up the missionaries themselves to find their own support.  This generally involves contacting individuals, families, and churches to see if they want to partner with them in prayer and finances.  In the American context, some missionaries are quite forward and will solicit money directly, asking you to consider a gift of $50, $100, or more on a monthly basis.  Others merely present their ministry, ask for prayer, make their needs known, and leave it up to the individual/church and God.  The best, or most biblical way to go about support raising is a huge topic in itself but it will suffice for now to note that the majority of missionaries cannot do what they do without the voluntary financial support of local churches and individual believers.

Transparency in Finances

The question of missionary finances can be mystifying at times, for all involved.  Churches want to know, “Does this missionary really need money?  How much?  How will the money be used?  Are they doing a ministry that we want to support?  How do we ask this missionary about finances without seeming too nosy?”  Missionaries want to know, “How interested is this church in supporting with us?  Is there any rhyme or reason behind how much they give or don’t give?  How can I be upfront with my financial needs without seeming like a mercenary?”  Supporters (and potential supporters) want to know, “Does this missionary need my support? Will my contribution really make a difference?  Or will it just go into some organizational blackhole somewhere?”

Not everybody has the same questions about missionary finances but regardless of where someone stands, missionaries and those who support them should be brave enough to ask good questions and openly communicate about finances as needed.  Personally, I do not like to seem like a salesman.  But at the same time I know there are people who are interested in what my family and I need as missionaries and want to help us if they are able.  But they are not going to know unless I tell them.  The most helpful guideline that I’ve heard regarding communicating about money is, “Share about finances commensurate with interest.”

Dependent on God’s Provision

There are pluses and minuses of each model of missionary support and many missionaries, at one time or another, wonder if the grass is greener on the other side of the fence.  But what type of support is best for a given missionary (and his family) will depend upon one’s home church and sending organization.  At the end of the day, however, all missionaries are dependent upon God to provide the resources that they need to do what God has called them to do.

My wife and I are thankful for the many churches and individuals that provide our support and trust God to raise up new supporters at the right time when current supporters are no longer able to give or when needs increase.

“God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” – J. Hudson Taylor
Written by Karl Dahlfred
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