Financial independence is the goal for many people in the West. It is a state of existence when the assets we have built up through hard work, scrupulous saving and wise investing can yield sufficient income for us to live without having to work. It acquires significant meaning when thinking about saving for a secure retirement, and many investment strategists encourage us to invest 10, 15 or even 25% of our monthly income in our future security.
Such an approach may seem sensible, but it is frequently beyond the financial means of mission workers. We often struggle to raise the income we need for our current needs, let alone future ones.
Financial independence may be part of the mantra of western individualism, but a much healthier goal for Christians is the complete opposite – financial dependence. This is a state which is familiar to most of us who raise our financial support, a state in which our daily needs are met by others in our community on whom we are dependent. This may be a humbling reality for many of us, but is much less of an issue for many of the cultures among which we work, where the community cares for its own, and actually feels it is an honour to be able to support family members, friends and others in their community who for various reasons are unable to support themselves.
There is also Biblical precedent for financial dependence. The Levites, for example, were not given land like the other tribes of Israel. They were supposed to minister full time to the Lord and his people in the temple, and because they would have no time to earn a living they were supported out of the offerings that were brought to the Lord (Numbers 18:21-24). Jesus, once he started his ministry, seems not to have ‘worked’ but been supported by the donations of his followers (Luke 8:1-3). When he sent his followers out on a ministry trip, he told them to expect others to provide for them (Matthew 10:5-11). Paul, although he did fall back on working at times, took the opportunity to devote himself to preaching the gospel full time whenever he received a financial gift (Acts 18:1-5, cf Philippians 4:15). And many of today’s church leaders are supported by the giving of their flock, even though we may lose sight of this direct relationship as we give into church funds, which in turn are used to pay the minister’s salary.
Mission workers, as part of our ongoing ministry, gather around us a group of supporters who contribute to our ministry through prayer, advice, encouragement, practical support and finance. Sadly, the ones who provide finance are often too few, which can lead us to start recruiting donors for their finance alone. We can feel under pressure to produce results so that we can demonstrate that supporting us is a good ‘investment’. We frequently feel that our need for money complicates our relationships with friends.
Yet focussing on our material needs, and on the people on whom we are dependent to meet them can obscure from us the real basis of our financial dependence – God. It is he who sends us, and an important part of the testing of our calling is to see God provide for our needs. Jesus taught that we shouldn’t worry about what we eat or what we wear, as God will look after us (Matthew 6:25-34).
So why do so many of us struggle for finances? God is not short of wealth, he says he will provide for us, and yet we don’t see it. Part of the reason may be that our expectations are too high. God may be giving us enough for the basics, but not enough to support a western materialistic lifestyle. Perhaps, alongside of Paul, we need to learn to be content in all circumstances (Philippians 4:11).
The other reason why we don’t always see full provision for our needs is that God doesn’t have his own bank account – he keeps his money in other people’s pockets! God likes to share around the blessing of giving and allows us all to take part, yet I am convinced that many people today are not giving to world mission because they are not hearing God’s heart to pass on the money he has blessed them with. They focus on their own needs rather than the Kingdom’s, despite the exhortation of Jesus to ‘seek first the kingdom of God’ (Matthew 6:33). The temptation to seek first our own financial independence may resemble that of a rich farmer who hoarded his assets instead of giving them to the poor (Luke 12:16-21). Jesus called him a fool.
We might be tempted to think that we are not wealthy enough to be supporting mission workers, but the Philippians were commended for giving generously even though they were poor. And to them (not the financially independent) Paul gave an amazing promise: ‘My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus’ (Philippians 4:19).
If you wish to support mission workers, you can do it effectively through your church, direct to their agency if they have one, or through Stewardship. If you are trying to raise your own support, our friends at Oscar have some helpful resources, and there are some very helpful day courses run by Stewardship. You can also find excellent factsheets on their website.
However you seek to raise your funding, and whether you are giving or receiving, follow the advice of the man of faith Hudson Taylor: ‘Have faith in God’.