Raising Support: Why & 3 Benefits
I'm currently finishing a 2 Year Pastoral & Church Planting Residency with the Austin Stone in which I have had to raise support for my salary. Raising support was never the plan, and yet God has used it in ways beyond what we imagined. As we immerse ourselves in another season of inviting people to partner with us in this phase of planting a church, there are a few things that I have learned along the way.
WHY RAISE SUPPORT?
Why leave a six figure income and all the security it provides? Why not serve the church and have a job at the same time? Aren't you just begging for money?
The questions and concerns abound when it comes to support raising in ministry. It's certainly something my wife and I had to bring before the Lord when we were left our jobs for this residency we sensed God calling us to. An opportunity that excited us. Something that our church and community had affirmed. And yet while we had given to missionaries before, we never thought we'd be raising support ourselves.
Why raise support? Because it is biblical. Because God has designed the gospel to go forth throughout the world and the faith of believers to be strengthened through the work of men and women living off of the gracious, yet obedient generosity of others. Is it the only means? No. But for new churches to be planted, for pastors to faithfully engage their people, and missionaries to reach the far ends of the earth, God has seen fit for some men and women to be called to a life of full time ministry. Every church had to receive funding from somewhere to get started. Even now, pastors receive their paychecks through the generosity of those who have been blessed by or believe in their ministry.
God initiated this concept in the Old Testament with the 12 tribes of Israel. After God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, led them through 40 years in the wilderness, and conquered a number of other nations for them in the Promised Land, every tribe received allotted portions of the that land to live and thrive in. Every tribe except Levi. They received nothing, except for God himself. He said, "I will be your portion." Of all the tribes, the Levites were called to specifically work for God's temple, living off of the tithes (10%) and sacrificial offerings of the other tribes.
"The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, shall have no portion or inheritance with Israel. They shall eat the Lord's food offerings as their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the Lord is their inheritance, as he promised them. And this shall be the priests' due from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether an ox or a sheep... The first fruits of your grain, of your wine and of your oil, and the first fleece of your sheep, you shall give him. For the Lord your God has chosen him out of all your tribes to stand and minister in the name of the Lord." (Deuteronomy 18:1-5)
Even Jesus during his 3 years of ministry lived off of the support of others, including a number of women who "provided for him out of their means." (Luke 8:3) When Jesus sent his 12 apostles and then 72 disciples to heal and proclaim the gospel from town to town, he sent them with "no moneybag, no knapsack, no sandals." He told them to come to each house saying, "'Peace be to this house!' And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him. And remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they provide, for the laborer deserves his wages." (Luke 10:4-7) The disciples were sent, trusting in the Lord's provision for their well-being, completely freed up to minister wherever they were received.
The Apostle Paul picks up on this idea in his first letter to Timothy: "Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, "You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,' and 'The laborer deserves his wages.'" (1 Timothy 5:17-18) Paul was the exemplary missionary of the New Testament, planting dozens of churches amongst the unreached peoples of his day, living off of the support of other believers and churches. While he was willing to work outside of his ministry as a tent-maker and did so on occasion, it was not his preferred means. Paul desired every waking minute to be dedicated to the advancement of the gospel, evidenced by his time in Ephesus, "that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears."
3 BENEFITS OF RAISING SUPPORT
1) God Is After Hearts
Raising support is a refining process. In Psalm 50, God says, "For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High." (Psalm 50:10-14)
God is the creator and sustainer of all things. There is not one square inch of this universe that does not fall within his reign and rule. He doesn't need our money. He owns it all. Every cent. Ultimately, what God wants is our heart. He wants our sacrifice of thanksgiving. He wants our obedience and faithfulness to him. If "every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights," (James 1:17) then how are we stewarding these gifts? How are we managing that which does not belong to us but was graciously given to us, including our money, resources, abilities, opportunities, and time?
Every meeting I have with someone to invite them into partnering with us, I am inviting God to work on my heart as well as theirs. I am asking God to grow my humility and trust in his provision, and I am asking God to engage those I'm meeting with. Whether they choose to give to me is not the point. It may be a desired outcome, but in the greater scheme of things, it's whether they are being faithful to God's call for generosity, stewarding their resources well for the advancement of God's kingdom in their local church, local non-profits, or toward church planting and missionaries around the world.
Jesus talked a lot about money. And there's good reason for it. Money can have a grip on people's hearts in a way that nothing else can in this world. It's easy to know when you're in the sin of stealing or lying, but how do you know you're being greedy? As Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." (Matthew 6:24)
2) Abundance Of Prayer
Raising support increases prayer. Paul highlights this in the beginning of his letter to the Philippian church. He loved the Philippians, and begins his letter saying, "I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now." (Philippians 1:3-5)
As people join our team, prayer increases. We're praying for them, and they are praying for us. And as we engage the difficult road of planting a church in a city like Los Angeles, we need all the prayer we can get. Apart from abiding in Christ we can do nothing. We are totally dependent upon God to move and do the work that we cannot. While we faithfully toil and strive to see the gospel take root, only God can give the growth, and for his glory alone. More people partnering with us means more people praying for us. And that's a good thing.
As John says in his 3rd letter,
"Beloved it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are, who testified to your love before the church. 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 (Jesus), accepting nothing from the Gentiles. Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth." (3 John 1:5-8)
We need fellow workers for the truth.
3) Treasures In Heaven
Raising support invites people to increase their treasure in heaven. Jesus said, "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven." (Matthew 6:19-20) There is heavenly reward for our generosity, and it is far better than anything we could buy for ourselves on earth. Paul knows this, as he said to the Philippians, "Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit." (Philippians 4:16-17) Paul knows how to be content in Jesus, no matter his situation. He cares more for the heavenly reward of those supporting him than he does for the money coming his way.
He exhorts Timothy in this light:
"As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life." (1 Timothy 6:17-19)
That which is truly life... There's something greater than earthly possessions, adventures, or experiences. Jesus understood this. "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich." (2 Corinthians 8:9) It's the beauty of the gospel. With sacrificial giving comes an abundance of life in Christ that cannot be experienced otherwise and brings with it treasures in the life to come.
Would we be a people increasing in our generosity for the sake of fueling the mission of God all around the world so that worship of him would increase. God is certainly worthy of it.