“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints—and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.” (2 Corinthians 8:1-5)
As we continue to consider the different causes of poverty, we will examine another case that is by choice rather than from outside forces. Yesterday we reflected on poverty that comes upon individuals due to their own sinful choices and slothfulness. But there is another category of folks who choose to receive less income for the good of others: ministers, preachers, missionaries, and other religious and humanitarian workers often choose to work for a meager salary or stipend. Many but certainly not all of these servants depend upon gifts and contributions from individuals, churches, and organizations.
When giving to unpaid workers, it is important to take into consideration how they view your gifts and spend your money. I chose the passage from 2 Corinthians because it reflects Paul’s appreciation for the financial contributions of those who were poor, as he was writing to those who had more. The Macedonians gave out of their poverty; the Corinthians were to give out of their wealth. As a missionary serving in Africa, I was fully supported for sixteen years without any gaps in my support, by the grace of God and the generosity of his people. This was a tremendous confirmation and encouragement for me. Some of my donors gave by making significant sacrifices, and others chose to give to my work rather than give to others. Regardless, I felt it was vital to be super-diligent about how I spent their money, which was God’s money that they were stewards of, for his glory.
Many needy folks in the majority world have no hesitation to ask for help; they may tell you outright that they need funds for basic living expenses, and it is evident that they do. Missionaries and community workers with soft hearts will have a hard time saying no, but it’s necessary that they do. I recommend two books for those who need help in this area: “When Helping Hurts” by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, and “Helping Without Hurting in Church Benevolence” by Steve Corbett. The workers you support must be able to discern which needs are the ones best addressed by others because they do not directly relate to the worker’s role. Otherwise, he or she will be stretched very thin and lose focus, which we call mission creep.
Another vital aspect of importance when supporting workers is their belief, doctrine, biblical knowledge, and tactics. I know some missionaries who are very pushy about getting new supporters and contacts, to the point of violating privacy and respectfulness. Dignity in fundraising reflects a worker’s beliefs about God’s sovereignty and calling—if he believes that faith in Christ is a result of works, he will probably expect to receive support as a result of his or her works. If he or she is humble and ready to admit their own need for personal growth and the benefit of serving the Lord, you will also grow as you support their service. Biblical character and maturity should be the most compelling reason for your financial support of that particular person, along with the work they are doing.
What do you know about the workers you or your church supports?