For many missionaries, asking for financial support is one of the least favorite aspects of missionary work. Most missionaries probably wish they could just support themselves, without taking time away from the Lord’s work, and not have to rely on anyone else for assistance. But even if this idealistic scenario were possible, it would probably not be the best way to fund missionary work. If for no other reason, it would deny brethren an opportunity to be involved in worldwide evangelization (cf. Rom. 10:15; 12:8).1
Secure a Sponsoring Church
Before anything else is done to raise funds, it is highly recommended that the backing of a good sponsoring congregation is acquired. A missionary ought to be answerable to a faithful eldership, and a strong congregation that feels responsible for him will add more stability and security to his work. Although having all of one’s support provided by a single congregation would considerably cut down on the time and expense of traveling, fund-raising, and reporting, more often than not funds will have to be secured from a number of congregations and individuals. The positive side is that you are helping to get more brethren involved in foreign evangelism.
If you have a good sponsoring congregation to oversee your work, potential supporters will be much more inclined to contribute. To avoid any possible questions or problems, it is wise that the funds be directly handled by someone other than the missionary himself. No sensible eldership will agree to take oversight of a work unless they know and have confidence in the missionary. It is a good idea to spend about six months to a year working with your sponsoring church. Among other things, this valuable time will enable the members of the congregation to get to know you better, thus encouraging them to be more personally involved in your work and helping to ensure a long-term working relationship.
Attitudes Necessary for Fund-Raising
The first thing to be convinced of is that you are not asking anyone to do you a favor; you are not begging for money! It is neither a burden nor a special privilege for evangelists to receive financial support for their labors; it is a God-given right (1 Cor. 9:4-14). Sometimes brethren need to be reminded of their obligation to be involved in this divine plan.2
When you raise support, you are giving your fellow Christians a chance to fulfill their divinely-ordained responsibility. The money is not for you; it is for the Lord’s cause. If you do not make the effort to secure the funds, consider how much of the Lord’s work will be left undone! The Great Commission has been given to all of us. If some Christians are not willing to go, then the only way they can obey the Lord’s command is to send someone else (Rom. 10:14-15). Thank God for people like you who give them this opportunity!
Raising support is actually a good way to prepare for missionary work. If you can’t deal with the disappointments and frustrations of fund-raising, how are you going to cope on the mission field? Every time you receive a negative response, including no response at all, consider it part of your “toughening up” process. A missionary’s faith is always stronger at the end of the fund-raising trail than at the beginning. You must firmly believe that if God wants you on the mission field, he will, in time, provide the necessary means. This is not to say that you can just write a few letters and then sit back expecting the money to flow in. But if you do your part, including a lot of prayer and hard work, God will providentially ensure that the right doors are opened.
Be enthusiastic, confident, and persistent. No one wants to misappropriate the Lord’s money on someone who easily gives up or is hesitant and unsure about what he/she is doing. If you firmly believe in your proposed plan of action, it ought to show; enthusiasm is contagious. It will increase your effectiveness in selling yourself and your plans to prospective supporters, and you will not be easily discouraged along the way. If you have the necessary zeal, commitment, and determination to do missionary work, no obstacle can stand in your way.
Determining Financial Needs3
How much support will you need to raise? Obviously financial extremes should be avoided. On one hand, if you don’t raise sufficient funds, you could end up disillusioned, ineffective in your work, and maybe even return home prematurely. On the other hand, if your support is excessive, it could lead to a misuse of funds and leave a bad impression on those with whom you are working. Both you and your supporters must realize that economies vary throughout the world and a reliable indicator is not the cost of living at home. You may need more or you may need less than is required to live in the United States, so a lot of prayer, wisdom, common sense, and homework will be needed.
There are at least three things to calculate: salary, work fund, and one-time expenses. The salary should compensate for normal living expenses, like housing, electricity, food, clothing, insurance, medical care, weekly contribution, et al. A missionary, like anyone else in the work force, ought to have a savings scheme, including a plan for retirement. If you have outstanding debts (e.g. student loans, car payments, etc.), you should seek counsel in trying to determine what is legitimate to include in your support-raising and what is not. Always be up-front with your supporters. In some cases it may be necessary to postpone your departure until some of these debts are paid.
The work fund is to be used for disbursements directly related to the work, such as office supplies and equipment, postage, printing or shipping of materials, advertising, travel expenses, and so forth. Keeping good records is very important, and a separate bank account for your work fund will help. You may want to include in your work-fund budget a periodic trip to the States for reporting, maintaining support, and raising additional funds as needed. Work-related expenses are tax deductible.
One-time costs would include things such as airfare, travel documents, a vehicle, moving and setting-up expenses (e.g. shipping personal effects, purchasing furniture and appliances, etc.), and other one-time expenditures. As a general rule it is best to raise a little more than you think you might need, because there are always hidden costs that you have not planed for, such as fluctuating currency exchange rates, customs and immigration charges, bank fees, taxes, inflation, emergencies, and so on.
Having an emergency fund, or at least a supporting congregation that agrees to cover unexpected expenses, will remove a lot of potential worries. It is highly recommended that you make an appointment with a Christian accountant to figure out your income tax and Social Security obligations (both home and abroad). You most certainly want to pay taxes to whom taxes are due (Rom. 13:6-7), but you don’t want to be a poor steward of the Lord’s money and end up paying a lot more than is required.
Missionaries who are already on the field are the best source for determining financial needs. They will know first-hand how much it costs to move, settle in, and live in that particular location. If you are able to make a survey trip, you can gather much of this information yourself. The U.S. Government Information Bureau can also provide helpful data on foreign living costs.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Adapted from K. L. Moore, The Single Missionary (Winona, MS: Choate, 2001): 30-40.
2 See also Matt. 10:9-13; Luke 10:3-8; Gal. 6:6; Phil. 2:25-30; 4:10-20; 1 Tim. 5:18.
3 Some of these ideas were adapted from Glenn Owens’ chapter, “Fund-Raising” in Steps into the Mission Field: From First Concepts to First Converts by the Sâo Paulo Brazil mission team (1978), 103-13.
Related Posts: Raising and Maintaining Missionary Support Part 2
Image credit: https://medium.com/@karenlimww/a-man-walked-into-our-office-to-ask-for-money-and-this-is-what-happened-6a7314901dec