A couple of months ago I created an online survey where people could anonymously ask me anything they wanted to about missionary life. I posted the survey on my Facebook page and many people responded with excellent questions. About half of the questions that people asked were money related and fell into one of three categories.
a) Living by faith (raising missionary support).
b) Missionary salaries and accountability.
c) Missionary lifestyles and family choices.
My plan is to write a blog post for each category and give a response to each question asked. This blog post will answer the questions that I grouped under the "living by faith (raising missionary support)" category. Other posts will follow in the next few weeks where I respond to the other questions.
If you would like to see the original survey or ask your own questions follow this link.
Question #1 Why should other people pay your salary? If you truly want to travel and talk about your God, why not get a job that allows you to earn your own money to do so?
I would have liked to talk to the person that asked this question and find out if there was also a question behind the question but since the survey was anonymous I'll just answer the question as asked.
In 2003 my wife Kim and I were examining our lives and decided that if God was real and the bible was to be believed then we wanted to experience God in a new and powerful way. After years of reading and studying the bible we wanted to take the leap of "faith" and actually do the things that the bible said. It was kind of like reading a brochure for something that claims to be the "worlds highest!...." or the "worlds fastest!....." We had to try it for ourselves and see it was everything that it promised to be!
After much prayer and discussion we decided to become missionaries with Youth With A Mission (YWAM). One of the reasons that we choose YWAM is because they do not pay its workers, instead each person much trust God to cover all of their expenses/salary.
We left everything that we had (jobs, possessions, friends and family) and followed God into full time missionary work. At the time we did not know much about the "theology of missionary support" or living by faith, we just simply trusted that God would provide for us. I guess that we were inspired by stories in the bible where Jesus would call certain people to follow Him and then taught them that God would provide for all of their needs.
To read about these stories in the bible click here (calling of the disciples) then here (God's provision).
We did not consider missionary work a career or a job, something that we do for money, but more of a calling, something that God wants us to do. We still need money, most of the time, to pay for things so I will continue with my response to this question below.
People serving God in this way is an ancient practice
For the first couple of thousand years of biblical history God had a personal relationship with many of the people on the Earth. But as the population of the Earth grew God chose certain people to represent Him to the rest of the human race. These people were sometimes called prophets, judges, priests, prophets or even kings. We do not have time or space to explain each of these roles but the one thing that they all had in common was that God's followers, the humans who worshipped and obeyed Him, were commanded to provide for these people.
The best example of God's command for His followers to provide for His priests comes from the book of Numbers in the Old Testament. In this book God's people, the Israelites, are rescued from Egypt and with God's help they defeated the people living in the land of Canaan. As the Israelites begin to occupy the land of Canaan God gives them very specific instructions about who gets what land. Now at this time the Israelites are divided up in 12 tribal groups but only 11 of these tribes receives land in Canaan. Why not the 12th tribe?
The 12th tribe that does not receive any land is the tribe of Levi, also referred to as the Levites. This tribe was chosen to be the priestly tribe who is responsible for religious affairs such as sacrifices, leading in worship, prayer, etc. All of the other tribes receive land so that they can grow crops, raise animals, dig for minerals and build cities so that they can be provided for. God then commands that each of the 11 tribes with land gives Him a tithe each year. A tithe is portion of their wealth, click here for a longer explanation.
How can you give God a tithe you ask? God tells the Israelites that the tithe is to be given to the tribe of Levi, the Levites. In this way the Levites receive their pay and have their expenses covered. I'll post this part of the story from Numbers 18:20 - 21 below...
20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will not receive any property that can be inherited, and no part of the land of Israel will be assigned to you. I, the Lord, am all you need.”
21 The Lord said, “I have given to the Levites every tithe that the people of Israel present to me. This is in payment for their service in taking care of the Tent of my presence.
In His wisdom God chooses to provide for His priests by a tithe from His people. This tithe was used to pay for the expenses of running the Temple and pay the priests. The Apostle Paul, one of the leaders of the early church, tells us that even in the New Testament God still commands His followers to provide for His "priests."
“Don’t you realize that God told those working in his temple to take for their own needs some of the food brought there as gifts to him? And those who work at the altar of God get a share of the food that is brought by those offering it to the Lord. In the same way the Lord has given orders that those who preach the Gospel should be supported by those who accept it.”
1 Corinthians 9:13-14
Missionaries today are the continuation of this ancient practice and in theory it is a great system. God blesses and provides for His followers (the Church) who in turn bless and provide for His workers (missionaries and other full time Christian workers).
Who is living the alternative lifestyle?
I cannot finish answering this question without mentioning that when God first created the universe everyone lived this "alternative lifestyle" and lived by faith. In the beginning humankind was put by God in the garden of Eden where everything was provided for them. Everything that they could possibly desire was there in the garden and no one needed to work for it. Only after humankind rebelled against God was the Earth cursed and warped. Now humans need to strive and work by the "sweat of their brow" to live. I would suggest to you that this is actually the alternative lifestyle and trusting God to provide is the normal.
Question #2 What have you found to be the most effective way to raise support? Ineffective way?
This is a subject that I regularly teach at staff training events in YWAM and I could definitely write pages and pages about this subject but there two very important things that I would like to say about raising support as I respond to these questions.
1) God leads each missionary differently and takes into account their personalities and home culture.
When my wife and I began our missionary life we told God at the beginning that we did not want to stand up in front of churches to ask for money. Both of us had seen visiting missionaries visit churches and cry in front of the congregation begging (that's what it looked like!) for money. We had also seen missionaries corner people directly ask people for huge amounts of money. Neither my wife or I was the least bit interested in doing either of these things. I suppose that we would do these things, if God commanded us to, but thankfully God has called us to communicate our needs in a different way.
When were new missionaries we prayed about raising support and we felt God say to us that if we acted in obedience and stayed connected with our home churches He would raise our support for us. It has now been 14 years and God has never let us down. Every month receive exactly what we need.
2) God places us into community for a reason.
The God of the bible is a relational God, He exists as Father, Son and Holy Spirit in something that we call the Holy Trinity. When God created humanity He placed us in families, tribes and towns where we would live in community. In the New Testament God's followers are told that we are part of the Church, also called the body of Christ. God does not want us to be independent. We were created for community.
There is no limit to God's power, that means that He could give each missionary a thousand pound brick of gold in an instant, if He was only interested in providing money for us. Instead, in His wisdom, God creates a community of believers where each person is important and contributes to the whole. When each person in the community loves freely the way that Jesus taught us something amazing happens! We get a glimpse of God's plan for us, we get to see what life is like in God's kingdom. Here are two of my favourite bible passages about life in God's kingdom.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. John 15:13
Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Isaiah 55:1
We are so privileged to be surrounded by a community of friends and family who understand honor God through faithfully giving to missions.
Question #3 How much of your time is spent trying to secure resources for your life?
Very little. With the risk of sounding very religious let me say this, I think that being is much more important that doing when it comes to raising support for our ministry. In other words we live by faith and we trust that God is going to give us what we need when we need it.
Like I said in the answer to question #2, we believe that God has created us to live in a community of believers and share our lives with each other. We dedicate several hours each week praying for our community, writing letters, updating our blogs/website and posting on Facebook. When we are home from the missions field we are very active in our churches and minister to people in our communities. We do not do this to raise support, we do this because we believe this is what it means to live in biblical community. When the community is healthy and people love each other freely then a by product of all of this is that we receive missionary support.
If you pressed me to come up with an amount of time that we spend communicating, praying and sending out newsletters I would estimate about 6 -8 hours week.