For my wife and I, it was a season of waiting on the Lord. Of ministry transition. While it was clear God was pushing out of our nest, we had no idea where we would land.
Thankfully, I knew for certain one place we wouldn’t land: anywhere that involved raising support. That meant no church planting, no campus ministry, and certainly no missions work.
While that decision didn’t necessarily tell us where we were heading, it felt good to know what to avoid..
Then I ran into Bill at a wedding.
Bill is the president of the campus ministry that led me to Christ as a college freshman, then into a calling to full-time ministry. I had always looked up to him, and we began talking about where God was taking his ministry.
He started sharing about the kinds of staff they needed, and I soon found myself eagerly brainstorming with him about other positions that might be helpful, too.
We were having a great time. Until, like Nathan with David, he suggested that maybe I ‘was the man’ to fill one of the positions I had suggested.
‘But…that would mean raising support,’ I objected.
Oblivious to my allergies to support, Bill simply nodded, smiled, and suggested ‘maybe you should pray about it.’
Nearly twenty years later, we are still raising support and working with students we love, though the details have changed over the years.
Not For Me
You may be thinking, ‘Glad it worked out for you, but I could never do that.’ (Support-raising is a spiritual gift, right?) I’ve certainly heard that from many friends and acquaintances over the years.
Obviously, I can’t tell you whether God is calling you to raise support. But I can share how God has poured out his blessing through it in our lives, and try to convince you it should not be ruled out if you are truly called to ministry.
Let’s take a look at common obstacles to support-raising, the blessings it brings, then close with some possible next steps in your journey.
Four Common Objections
It’s no secret that raising funds is a real challenge. Let’s examine some common objections, and see if they hold water.
1. I’m happy where I am now.
Many of you may be entirely content with whatever paid position you’re in now. That’s a tremendous blessing, and likely a sign that you’re exactly where God is calling you.
My only challenge would be to hold your ministry plans lightly, and be open to raising support in the future. Most of the men and women who have impacted the world were called out of one thing to start an adventure in another.
2. It’s not really biblical.
Paul says that people in ministry should be paid for their work. ‘Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “The laborer deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:17-18).” That sure sounds like a command for pastor-elders (and, by extension, anyone in ministry) to receive a paycheck, not raise one.
Obviously, many pastors do receive compensation directly from the congregations they serve. That allows them to focus on shepherding their congregations, rather than splitting their attention with raising support. I’m grateful they do.
On the other end of the spectrum, others point out that Paul was (literally) a tentmaker, and supported himself so he could teach and preach (see Acts 18:3-4).
So, it seems like we can either receive our support from those we minister to, or, we can be bi-vocational and pay our own way. Scripture allows both and we should not discourage what the Bible does not forbid.
When we look more closely, though, there’s more to the story. It’s certainly true that the bible teaches that those in ministry should be compensated for their work. We are worthy of our wages, and we need to eat and put a roof over our heads. Especially if we have a family.
But, the bible doesn’t specify where our wages must come from. Paul’s letter to the Romans, for example, was one-part support letter. ‘I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you’ (Romans 15:24). He was asking the Romans to fund his ministry in Spain.
It also appears that, while Paul did support himself by making tents at times, it wasn’t what he preferred. After making tents in Corinth, for example, he was joined by Silas and Timothy. At that time, Paul pivoted from tentmaking to ministering God’s Word full-time (Acts 18:5).
There are many other biblical examples, too. Jesus’ healing and teaching ministry was funded by women he had ministered to (Luke 8:1-3). The disciples (Luke 9:1-6; 10:7) and Levites (Numbers 18) also lived off of support from God’s people.
So, we may not prefer raising support for our ministry, but we can’t say it isn’t biblical.
3. It will distract me from my real calling.
Many of us worry that raising our support will take a long time. To be honest, it can, depending on how much time you’re able to devote to it.
And even after we raise our initial support, there’s still a need to connect with our support team and raise new funding as people drop off. Although church planters may get beyond this as their church becomes self-sustaining, most pastors–at a minimum–have ultimate responsibility for their church’s financial health.
The real question, though, is whether this responsibility is a distraction from our ‘real calling’. Truth be told, sometimes it feels like that for me. I’d rather mentor someone at Starbucks, do some strategic planning, or prepare a bible study.
Some years ago, I remember calling a former donor to see if he could give again. But soon after we began talking, he shared that his wife had abruptly left him. Even worse, he had seen her through an extensive professional training process where he was the primary breadwinner. When she finally began collecting a significant paycheck, she callously walked away. The time I spent listening, sympathizing and praying that day wasn’t a distraction from my ministry; it was my ministry.
In Romans 15:24, Paul shows us that supporting God’s work doesn’t have to be at odds with our ministry itself. If Paul were like me, he might begrudge the bother of stopping in to see the Romans on his way to Spain. It would’ve been so much easier for a big donor to gift some frequent flier miles so that he could just take the direct flight to Barcelona and get going.
But Paul views his detour to Rome as part of his ministry. While he gives them the heads-up that he needs their financial assistance, he makes it clear that his heart is to connect with them personally.
The same can be true for you. As you recruit financial resources for your plant, campus ministry or work overseas, you’re interacting with real people who need your encouragement, love and support. If you do that well, you will join God in his work among them–and, raise your support a whole lot faster.
4. I’m afraid.
For most of us, most of the time, this is the real reason fund-raising feels so toxic. Even after 18 years of raising our support, I still wrestle with fear every time I contact someone for support.
We’re afraid that:
- introducing money into our relationships will ruin them.
- we’ll hear ‘no’ and feel rejected.
- God won’t provide what we need.
- our friends and family will think of us as beggars.
- we’re not really worth the investment.
- support-raising is merely a ‘necessary evil’ we need to put up with.
- our network of connections will assume we have ulterior designs upon their wallet.
If you can identify with these fears, you’re completely normal.
God is far more concerned with our response to our fears than the presence of fear itself. Will we, like Jesus at Gethsemane, acknowledge our desires and fears, yet commit to following God’s will (Luke 22:39-46)? Or, will we take the easy way out and allow our angst to stop us from pursuing God’s calling on our lives?
Ultimately, behind each of these concerns lies a lingering suspicion that God is small, and not quite up to the task of funding the ministry he’s called us to. When we downsize God, our relationship to the people around us becomes distorted. Like the Israelites on the cusp of Canaan, we feel like grasshoppers in the midst of giants (Numbers 13:33).
God reminds us that he is ‘The Mighty One, God the Lord, [who] speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.’ He owns ‘the cattle on a thousand hills’, and everything else, too (Psalm 50:1, 10). His ability to provide, and his perfect love, will drive out our fear (1 John 4:18) and allow us to raise our support if that’s God’s call.
Our Response To Fear Matters
So, there are many understandable reasons we may not want to raise support. Like Jesus at Gethsemane, it’s natural to feel fear, but what comes next matters most. Will we roll over and take the easy way out? Or, will we turn to God in trust, and ask him to clarify whether his path involves raising support?
Truth is, raising our own support comes with many blessings that collecting a paycheck does not. We’ll look at five of them in the next article.