“Well, what do you think?” That was my question. And I’m pretty sure she only took about 30 seconds before saying anything. But the awkward silence felt like an eternity.
I’d just flown home from East Africa to raise support for my next term as a missionary. While there, I’d finally found the courage to tell a girl I was in love with her. Since I was headed back overseas within a few days—meaning no time for dating—there was a lot on the line.
To hear my now wife tell it, her answer was quick and easy. She knew me well. She’d had feelings for me for a long time. She’d already thought through some important questions about me. She was settled on what she was looking for.
In one sense, that scenario is similar to when a missionary asks you for financial support. You’ve likely known him for a while, but now he’s popped the question. How should you respond in that potentially awkward moment?
When someone asks you for missionary support, consider the vulnerability of the question. In an individualistic culture, relying on the generosity of others isn’t just countercultural; it can be offensive. The missionary has taken an impressive risk in asking you—like me waiting on that beautiful girl to possibly say, “Umm, not interested.”
But also consider her perspective. There was a lot of pressure to respond positively. She didn’t want to be a heartbreaker, especially to a poor missionary. Likewise, when a missionary asks you for money—and especially if he’s a friend—you hate to say no. And you certainly don’t want to come off as a Christian who doesn’t care about missions.
When someone asks you for missionary support, consider the vulnerability of the question.
So what do you do? The best response is to encourage his good desires and thank him for asking. Then pose some important questions. These are worth considering not simply to help you make a wise financial decision but to help determine if you want to join his work.
In the letter of 3 John, the apostle writes regarding first-century missionaries,
You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God. For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth. (3 John 6–8)
John goes beyond exhorting the church to be generous. He tells them their financial support makes them sunergos—work companions, helpers, teammates—in God’s mission. The vision is one of ongoing, active participation with people worthy of such support. This instruction is more than just “give to everyone who asks you” (Luke 6:30, NIV). The call is to give yourself to this cause, as if you were sending Jesus himself.
Now, that’s a big commitment. Is the person sitting across from you fitting for that kind of support? To answer that question, you’ll need to pray for the Spirit’s guidance. But these five questions can also help you decide.
1. Does she want a reciprocal relationship?
Paul’s letter to the Philippians illustrates the significance of this question. He didn’t just want their money—he wanted a mutually beneficial “partnership” (1:5; 4:17). Does the missionary want you as a “donor” more than a “stakeholder”? Does she have a plan for ongoing communication with you and avenues for further support (prayer, visits, etc.)? Does she express any desire for your edification through this commitment? Take note.
2. Is he doctrinally sound?
Don’t assume he’s grounded in good theology just because he’s willing to move to another culture. The last thing you want to do is help fund false teaching around the world. Is he committed to a doctrinal statement? Take the time to check it out. Does he align with a different Christian tradition than your own? If so, make sure you can support him in good conscience despite your differences.
3. Is she being sent from a local church?
The church at Antioch is a moving apologetic for the local church at the center (not the periphery) of global missions. It was from there the Holy Spirit launched the gospel into the Gentile world (Acts 13:1–3)—and to there Paul and Barnabas dutifully returned (14:26–28).
Don’t assume he’s grounded in good theology just because he’s willing to move to another culture.
Much of a missionary’s true ecclesiology is wrapped up not just in what she hopes to plant overseas but in her posture toward the local church from which she launches. Does she have a sending church to whom she’s responsible? Or is she seeking donors without much accountability? Has her calling been affirmed by a church community? Or has it been self-determined in isolation? Be kind, but also be wary of lone rangers.
4. Is he partnering with a missions organization?
It’s hard for sending and supporting churches to facilitate all a missionary needs to thrive cross-culturally. That means it’s wise to seek out partnership with a missions organization. They often provide vetting, training, financial services, and a field network. They’re like a global safety net. So ask the missionary what organization he’s partnering with. If none, ask why. If he does have a partner, research the organization to learn more.
5. What’s the vision and strategy of her ministry?
In being a “fellow [worker] for the truth” (3 John 8), you’re doing more than supporting a missionary. You’re funding a ministry that reaches people. So it makes sense to know the vision and strategy of that ministry. More than just knowing it, you need to believe in it. Can she articulate her purpose clearly? Does it align with your vision for global missions?
Here’s perhaps the most important question in the conversation: What’s your vision for global missions? What are you looking for God to do among the nations?
Know that, and you may not need 30 seconds to make your decision.
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