Occasionally a person considering rural ministry will stop exploring the possibility when they realize that they must develop a team of prayer and financial supporters as part of their service with Village Missions. To be clear, this is only part of the support our missionary pastors receive, but it is an essential part.
If you feel that “raising support” creates an obstacle for you, may I ask you to think with me for a moment?
There are many important considerations in following God’s leading to serve as a missionary-pastor in rural North America. May I suggest that finances, while among the issues, should not be the first concern?
- The first question ought to be: “Is this where the Lord is calling my family to serve Him?” If this is indeed God’s calling, then everything else becomes His responsibility. I am not suggesting that wisdom is no longer required, but that God will enable what He commands.
- The second question may be, “Am I properly prepared?”:
- Am I committed to following Christ as a devotion of my life to Him?
- Have I surrendered to the Holy Spirit’s work in shaping my character? Are the qualities of an Elder (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, 1 Peter 5), present and growing in my life?
- Do I have sufficient skill with people to serve where ministry is primarily built on trust-relationships in the church and community?
- Have I trained to become a serious student of Scripture, with the tools to study effectively? Do I have a good working knowledge of God’s Word and am I able to teach it faithfully to others?
- Am I more concerned about the spiritual health of a church than I am about numerical size?
- Am I already living and sharing so that those who don’t yet know Christ have a credible chance to hear the Good News and respond to Him?
- Do I believe the Lord will enable me to devote my time and effort to missionary and pastoral ministry without needing a side job to meet my family’s financial needs?
- Do I sense God’s call to join with others who share the same passion to bring the Gospel to communities that otherwise would not have a full-time pastor?
- Am I willing to focus my ministry on representing Christ and teaching the core truths of Scripture? Would I willingly set aside lesser theological distinctions to provide a Bible-teaching church for the whole community?
The following issues vary in importance and may shift up or down in priority for different people:
These considerations and more, all seem more critical to me than whether or not the Lord would have me talk to other Christians about joining a support team.
A Proper Understanding of Responsibility
Perhaps those who are reluctant to “ask for money” are reacting to a false impression. Missionary pastors who are developing a support team are not asking people for money. A proper understanding leaves the responsibility for who gives and how much is given, firmly in God’s hands.
The same God who calls a person into service where financial support is needed, stands ready to prompt others to join in the work through prayer and financial support. I hear people declare that, “the Apostle Paul was a tent-maker, so I will support myself in ministry too.” Often, this statement misunderstands the Apostle’s motives. He wasn’t concerned about asking Christians for money or about receiving funds from churches. What he was working to avoid was the impression that he was offering the Gospel in exchange for money. He wouldn’t seek support from those who did not yet follow Christ.
He writes, “Was it a sin for me to lower myself in order to elevate you by preaching the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by receiving support from them so as to serve you. And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way, and will continue to do so.” (2 Corinthians 11:7-9)
In this passage and Philippians we see that he gladly accepted financial assistance from Christians in order to preach the Gospel full-time. In his first letter to Corinth, Paul uses much of Chapter 9 to make the case that those who receive the benefit from a pastor’s work ought to contribute to meeting his financial needs. For many of the locations where Village Missions serves, the church family gives generously to provide for their pastor, but the amount is simply less than the full cost for a family to live in that community.
Like Paul, we are committed not to unduly burden a rural church and community while supplying an effective pastor to live in the community and serve as a missionary there. We work with the church in that location to cover most of the costs of having a full-time pastor as the Lord enables. That is why we ask those who serve with us to bring together a team of people who will stand behind them in ministry.
This team is committed to praying with the missionary family and eager to hear how God is working. Scripture makes it clear that those who pray also share in the work of ministry. Paul mentions this as he speaks of how God rescued him from danger on his mission journeys: “He will continue to deliver us, as you help us by your prayers.” Some of those who pray will want to join in the work with their finances as well. So, the missionary who shares how God is calling him should also share the opportunity for partnership in the work, both in prayer and financial contribution.
As Jesus declared, “apart from Me you can do nothing,” and all spiritual results depend on His Spirit’s work. But our Lord invites us to join with Him in the work, to “bear much fruit.” We join in by demonstrating Christ’s love and sharing the Gospel. We join in by praying for those who go to share we people we may not meet on earth. We join in by contributing to the financial needs of those who go. Inviting Christians who know you to join in the work to which God is calling you nothing like asking for money. Quite the opposite, in a real way you are offering another opportunity to join in God’s work.