We recently had cause to reevaluate our mission partners. We had always taken the view that we would only support those individuals and/or organisations with whom we had a direct link in the church. That is, someone in the church knew the people we were supporting personally or were directly involved in the organisation, and that connection was ongoing. This basic criterion has remained entirely unchanged.
However, we came to the conclusion that we ought to be supporting church-based partners. That is, we should be supporting missionaries who have been sent by churches to support existing churches or plant new ones. Alternatively, we should support those sent by churches to work in theological education with a view to training up the next generation of church leaders and evangelists. Otherwise, we should simply support existing churches in their work of mission.
Two of our current partners happily met these criteria. One partner is engaged in serving and planting churches in East Asia having been sent by a church in the UK. Another has been sent to serve in theological education in Africa and are seeking to raise up the next generation of African church leaders, missionaries and evangelists for the African context. Apart from one other partner – which we will continue to support with workers whose fees we will continue to pay – we needed to reevaluate our support.
One of our first, and better, thoughts was that we needed to support other churches working in deprived communities. Not only were we committed to supporting church-based ministry in general, we were conscious that we are asking others to support our ministry in a deprived town and it was right for us to do the same. We, therefore, committed to supporting another church with whom some of us have links who are working in a similarly deprived community.
Two points seem worthy of note in all this. The first is the focus on church-based ministry. The second is how and why a small church struggling to support itself should continue to give a missions budget at all. Both have relatively straightforward answers.
We want to support church-based ministries because God’s plan A is the church and he has no plan B. The early church sent out individuals to plant churches and appoint elders. Paul could consider his work completed in a certain region not because he had shared the gospel with everyone there but because he had planted churches in the region and they would continue that work. The New Testament knows nothing of individuals other than those sent by churches, working from or with churches, sharing the gospel and then planting other churches where there were none making Christ known. If at least one of our reasons for not baptising babies is because we see no examples of it happening anywhere in scripture (see here), it would be inconsistent to support ministries we similarly don’t see in the Bible or for us to shun the only forms that we do.
The second is similarly straightforward. The Lord calls his people to be generous with the gifts he has granted to them. There is nothing in scripture that states those who have little can legitimately keep all their money to themselves. We don’t tell our least wealthy members that there is no obligation on them to be generous, despite the fact that generosity looks different for each person based on circumstances, and we rightly expect to support many of them financially too. As they seek to honour the Lord in their generosity, so we seek to be generous to them. But the Lord calls them to be generous with what they have, just as he calls poorer churches like ours to be generous with what we have too. Though we can rightly expect the wider church to support us financially as we have need, it does not free us from the gospel call to be generous.
We felt it was incumbent on us to be generous if we were asking others to be generous towards us. We cannot expect the Lord to bless us when we are unwilling to bless others with money that actually belongs to the Lord anyway and that he has simply given us to steward. It is eminently possible that the Lord has not made us rich because he either couldn’t trust us with the funds or knew that we would become so complacent as not to rely in any way upon him were we to have them (or, perhaps, both). What we do know, however, is that we can’t expect him to be generous to us if we are tight toward others. That is not a theological belief that the Lord only blesses us in response to our obedience – he doesn’t. He gives to us according to his sovereign decree – but we cannot expect the Lord to bless us if we actively hold him in contempt. Scripture does say, after all, ‘those who honour me I will honour, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed’ (1 Sam 2:30). Money is nothing if not a window to the soul, even that of a church.