Support Raising: Begging or Biblical

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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.  

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There is nothing wrong with asking for money and prayer and other support for ministry, including mission fields.  It is not begging, unless the missionary is not doing any actual work.  Otherwise it is asking for support to do the work.   While it is not wrong to ask for money and prayer and support, it is also nice if it comes without asking for it.   However, whether a plea goes to the board of missions, or directly to other supporters, it is still a plea.  

There is the added benefit of trusting in the Lord more directly when faced with  the uncertainty of direct support from members , rather than transferring this trust to a board of directors, or and executive director, etc.    And with this benefit also comes a greater direct sharing of the mission, its joys and sorrows, with actual people, face-to-face. 

  • “Behold the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children” (2 Cor. 12:14).  Paul’s attitude: (1) living off financial support (though appropriate) meant that he was a burden to the givers, (2) he sought not their money but their spiritual benefit.  When was the last time you heard a Christian ministry say sincerely, “I do not seek yours, but you”?

 

  • “When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man: for that which was lacking to me the brethren which came from Macedonia supplied: and in all things I have kept myself from being burdensome unto you, and so will I keep myself” (2 Cor. 11:8).  Though Paul received gifts, it was important to him not to be a financial burden to the Corinthians.

 

  • “For you remember, brethren, our labor and travail: for laboring night and day, because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God” (1 Thess. 2:9).  Paul did not view it to be incumbent upon the believers to support him financially.  Instead, he diligently sought ways to avoid being chargeable to them.

 

  • “Neither did we eat any man’s bread for naught; but wrought with labor and travail night and day, that we might not be chargeable to any of you”  (2 Thess 3:8).  Paul viewed eating off the charitable gifts of the church as a poor testimony. 

 

  • “For even in Thessalonica you sent once and again unto my necessity.  Not because I desire a gift: but I desire fruit that may about to your account” (Phil 4:16,17).  Paul received gifts from the church, but he did not desire the gifts.  When was the last time you heard a Christian ministry say to its potential supports “we do not desire a gift”?!

 

  • “Even so has the Lord ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel,  But I have used none of these things: neither have I written these things, that it should be so done unto me: for it were better for me to die, than that any man should make my glorying void.” (1 Cor. 9:14,15).  Where is this attitude among Christian ministries today?

 

  • “I have coveted no man’s silver, or gold, or apparel.  You yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me” (Acts 20:33,34).   
Participant

When I was a missionary, at first I found the whole idea of raising money distasteful. And so I tried to come up with reasons why I shouldn't do it.

As a pastor, I get requests daily asking either me or our church to support some ministry cause or person. After a while, this gets tiresome.

But the other side of this is that, as a giver, I want to support ministry I believe is important for Kingdom advancement. Eventually, that giving part of me began talking to that fundraising part of me (when I was a missionary), and I began to see fundraising as providing others with an opportunity to share in the great ministry I was involved in and believed in so deeply.

It's such a simple thing, to put a piece of paper in an offering plate, or in an envelope, or to set up an automatic deduction from a bank account. It's such a simple thing to participate in life-changing and world-changing mininistry around the globe. It's such a simple thing, that we easily loose the profundity of it.

The only other rule I strictly followed, and still do, is to never use guilt or manipulation to raise money. At the first hint of that I, as a giver, close my wallet and put my pen away. That gut feeling is also echoed in Scripture where Paul says "Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver." (2Cor. 9:7). I never give when I feel compelled to by some human asking me to support his/her ministry. Never. And I do my best to avoid compelling folks to give to our church, or some other worthy cause.

But giving, including financial giving, is something every believer must come to terms with as a part of our discipleship process. It all belongs to God, and whether we follow the discipline of the tithe, or find some other way to discipline our giving, we're missing out on the joy and blessing of giving (Acts 20:35), and the freedom of generosity, which reflects the heart of God (e.g., James 1:5).

At it's best, fundraising is an invitation to join a particular ministry (as God leads the giver), as that ministry serves God in a particular way.

Thanks Rich,

I think your comments echo those of many who were very reluctant to engage in support raising, but came to see it as an opportunity to seek the blessing of God on the donor, not just a way to fund a particular ministry.  The books I referenced in the original post all point in that direction.  It seems to me that they go a long way toward responding to the concerns raised by thomps above.  One point that I would make in regard to the quotations thomps supplies is that Paul was very deliberate about not relying for financial support on new converts.  He didn't want to be associated with the methods of religious charlatans who were so common in his day.  However, he praised those from established churches who gave generously to his work in planting new churches elsewhere.  This was not for his benefit, but for the sake of the ministry and the blessing of the givers.

Participant

I know this is suppose to be about money, but I'm going to share a fun little testimony on how God values the support of prayer.  This came through a telemarketer of all people!  Bless his heart.

So, several years ago, I was working at my desk when the phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID, and it said "unknown number".  I debated about answering, thinking "it's probably a telemarketer, but it might be family", so I answered.  It was a telemarketer.  He went through his "spiel"/monologue about raising support for children, and then asked if we would be willing to give on their behalf.  I told him that we supported children in other ways, like through prayer.  His reply astounded me.  He says, "why didn't you tell me you were one of the top donors?!?!  You have a good day Mrs. Sterk." and he hung up.  My mouth fell open, I was so surprised.  This man understood prayer, and shared with me that very encouraging message from the LORD, on how God views our prayers.

anyway, I know we need the practical side of the $ as well, and we have lots of cool testimonies on that too!   I'm sure as a result of our prayers.  Just the other day, a crc council cut the rent in 1/2 for a non crc ministry I'm involved with on their campus, and the decision was made in 3 minutes.  WoW!!  I joked, most times, any decision in a crc setting  takes 3 mos- 3 years to get anything done =)!!   Thank You Jesus!!

Participant

You know, I think John Z has mentioned George Mueller before somewhere before, but George prayed in all of his support to care for over ten thousand orphans, and travel over 200,000 miles (in pre aviation days) evangelizing.    He never requested any money, never gave an appeal for funds other than to God.   

from:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/George_M%C3%BCller 

Through all this, Müller never made requests (other than to God)  for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes cost over £100,000 to build. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God. For example, on one well-documented occasion, they gave thanks for breakfast when all the children were sitting at the table, even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone ...

So, how are our methods different from the methods of the "religious charlatans"?

Sadly, they often aren't different.  A great deal of what happens in raising funds for Christian organizations is highly problematic.  My observation is that the worst offenders are often televised ministries.  Those of us who have been around a while remember the Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart scandals in which funds were pulled from little old ladies with heartrending stories and used for luxurious living and immoral conduct. 

But there are approaches that do seek the blessing of the donor and the advance of the Kingdom.  I'd invite you to take a look at one or more of the books referenced in the original post.  Henri Nouwen's book is the briefest and most surprising.  All of his other work, as far as I know it, had to do with spirituality and ministry.  His book The Wounded Healer was an amazing gift to me at a difficult transition in my life.  The perspective he offers on doing fund raising in a manner worthy of God is truly remarkable.

I have a lot of respect for George Mueller and others who followed his model, like Hudson Taylor, but I don't think that approach is required of us in Scripture.  Some have felt led to employ it, and I applaud them.

Participant

I mention George Mueller's "methods"  as an alternative example, that we don't hear about often, and frankly have never heard in the crc.    I do think it is a specific call to specific individuals/ministries, and agree that it is not a "universal" call required by scripture, but a personal call that the LORD puts on some people's hearts.

I also think, in agreement with Bev, that it is a fantastic illustration of where our support really comes from.   None of our appeals will have much impact if God does not bless the giving, either by the giving itself, or by the results of the giving in the life of the receiver.   If we forget that, then all of this is nothing more than money passing from one hand to another.