The Christian context is replete with missionaries raising financial support for their mission. This is a fine and beautiful thing, and God uses this kind of financial backing to advance his kingdom all over the globe. In fact, as we continue to explore what it looks like to build a partnership with global missionaries, we will certainly have opportunities to provide financial support as a corporate body as well as individual members.
That being said, I want to provide a little direction on discerning whether or not you should support particular missionaries. In my experience, the default Christian mode of discernment when they are asked for financial support is to decide almost entirely on whether or not they “like” the person. Now, certainly some degree of relational synergy is appropriate when partnering with someone. But I would argue that there are at least two other factors that need to be considered: character and competence.
Like any other challenging endeavor (raising a family, starting a business), faithfully and successfully executing a mission strategy on the field requires more than likeability. The people entrusted to execute the mission need the godly character to thrive relationally with God and people and the competence necessary to accomplish the mission.
Consequently, I would like to give you one piece of advice that will go a long way when considering supporting a missionary; talk to your global missions pastor (or the pastor responsible for global missions at your church, though he may not carry that title).
The reason for this is that your pastor will probably be very equipped to speak into the issues of character and competence.
Regarding character, this is especially the case when the people raising support currently attend or have attended your church in the past. Your pastors have spent time shepherding these folks, getting to know their struggles and successes. But because we don’t publicize shepherding issues on Facebook or the slide show Sunday morning, there is significant risk that you, as the prospective supporter, will be making a decision with very little information about one of the greatest issues influencing mission. There are many questions to be asked: How is the marriage? How is their (especially the man’s) relationship with other leaders? Who are their current disciples now? What is their track record relationally? Have they demonstrated long term fruitfulness? Do they have a history of breaking ties and relationships?
Regarding competence, your pastors have experience in assessing and placing people in different types of roles. There are different gifts necessary for different types of missions; teaching, counseling, evangelism, hospitality, strategy, communication, etc… It would be wise to tap into this type of wisdom. After all, your pastors are the men that you have hired to ask and answer these types of questions; you have a tremendous opportunity to tap into this resource. There are many questions that need to be asked: What are the primary gifts necessary for this mission? What type of training is necessary? Is it the right time? How does this person’s gifting complement the overall strategy of the organization? Is there long term sustainability? Have they demonstrated fruitfulness in their current context?
Let me leave you with one final piece of advice. Be very wary of people in your church raising support when you haven’t heard anything from the pastors about it. Certainly, the pastors cannot strategically endorse each and every missionary effort, so it may be completely appropriate for someone to be raising support without public support and acknowledgement for the pastors. However, it very well may be the case that they have circumvented the advice of the pastors and are taking advantage of the fact that they know that Christians don’t ask these kinds of questions.
My prayer is that we subject proposals for missionary support to at least the same level of scrutiny that we would apply to renting out our home, hiring an employee, investing in a business, etc…
If these efforts are worthy of care and counsel, certainly God’s mission is.