One of the biggest challenges of mission service, whether in North America or internationally, is support raising. For many people the idea of asking people for money to support a ministry that they are involved in is daunting. Some simply refuse to do it and, unless they have lots of excess cash, don’t do the ministry that they are otherwise drawn toward. Christian Reformed agencies engage in this process differently than most para-church agencies because of the existence of Ministry Share and centralized development work. Actually, the agencies differ from one another as well.
While CRC missionaries working under denominational agencies do not have the same level of pressure to raise funds for their ministries, it is understood to be a part of the task of field missionaries to develop a network of individuals and churches that will provide prayer, care, and financial resources so that their ministries can occur. Some see this as a great opportunity to connect with people, tell ministry stories, and call people to faithful use of the resources that God has given them. Others consider it “begging,” and see it as demeaning to the missionary. What do you think?
Surprisingly enough there is some Biblical material to aid our reflection. While the particular means of support for missions used these days are of modern origin (especially 19th century), the idea of calling others to support ministry in distant locations goes way back. The Apostle Paul writes about this in a number of places. II Corinthians 8-9 is the most lengthy treatment. In these chapters Paul uses some approaches that I wouldn’t dare to try. He says, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others” (II Cor. 8:8). It seems that he is able to be this bold because he has clearly in mind that the ministry belongs to God, not to Paul, and the ultimate goal is God’s glory. “This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God” (II Cor. 9:12). This reality led CRWM to change their receipts to say “for the ministry of missionary X” rather than “for missionary X.”
As a field missionary with a para-church organization I was responsible to raise 115% of the actual costs (with the 15% contributing to central office functions). I viewed this as an opportunity to connect people I did know, or got to know, to a ministry that God wanted done and called me to perform. In that sense, support-raising is a holy thing. It is definitely not begging for the missionary’s benefit. There are several very good books on this that some readers may want to look into. Perhaps the most remarkable is The Spirituality of Fund Raising by Henri Nouwen. I was amazed to discover that Nouwen had written on that theme given his other writings. Friend Raising by Betty Barnett, Getting Sent by Pete Sommer and Funding Your Ministry by Scott Morton are also frequently used. It will be interesting to see the thoughts of others on this.