Because the well-established system for the collection and distribution of financial support for our denominational foreign mission labors may easily go unnoticed, it is worthwhile to examine the biblical principles and benefits of this Reformed practice. This denominational practice has well served the stability and continuity of our foreign mission labors, and the continuation of this orderly practice needs to be encouraged.
A brief survey of how financial support is raised by some foreign missionaries shows that a variety of methods with a common theme have been used. One basic method for financial support is a letter campaign to churches, acquaintances, friends, and others for donations to the mission work. For success with this method, some have even hired the services of a professional consultant in order to improve fundraising outcomes each year.
A modern adaptation of this method can be seen on mission field blogs or in electronic newsletters distributed by email. Besides giving updates about the events and development of the mission work, blogs display a donation “button.” Those who read such blogs can “poke” the donation button, if they wish, and make one-time or repeated contributions.
Finally, another common method has been used in close connection with missionary furloughs. Some foreign missionaries, during their scheduled furloughs, have provided presentations of their labors to supporting churches, groups, families, and friends in their passport countries. However, during these public presentations, pleas for support were made and then forms and envelopes were handed out by which those in attendance could provide their financial support.
The troubling thing that all these methods have in common is that the missionary bears the responsibility to raise his own financial support. That problem may be the just consequence of some missionaries having been self-appointed to their work. That problem may be the consequence of an independent church sending out a missionary to a foreign field without sufficient finances, and by default improperly shifting the responsibility of the shortfall to the missionary. Whatever the underlying reason may be, the missionary nevertheless bears a weighty and distracting financial responsibility.
In contrast, the system of financial support by our churches for our foreign mission work takes a biblically healthy approach. Certainly, the missionaries should continue to provide information to the churches about the developments, significant events, hardships, struggles, blessings of the work through the means of Internet blogs, newsletters, and in-person presentations. By these means, they ought to continue their expressions of hearty thanks to the churches for the love and support provided. Yet, the work, the responsibility, the burden, and the oversight of the collection and disbursement of financial support belongs on the shoulders of the churches in common through the direction and decisions of the synod, denominational mission committees, and calling churches.
As it works still today, this responsibility has been and continues to be fulfilled through a weekly denominational effort that does not make headline news in the world, and maybe goes easily unnoticed by us, too. When giving our offerings to the Lord in the cause of the General Fund each Lord’s Day, a portion of our weekly General Fund offering is set aside for the support of our denominational labors in common, including foreign missions. Every week through our General Fund offerings and our prayers, we are supporting actively, regularly, and systematically the work of the Lord in foreign missions. Certainly, this is nothing earth-shaking by men’s standards; but for the cause of the gospel of Christ in these last days it is a significant endeavor for a small denomination.
According to the decisions of Synod 2016, the synodical assessment for 2017 that PRCA families and individuals promise and oblige themselves to provide for our synodical work is $815. Of that amount, $161 has been designated for our foreign mission labors. The weekly amount for our foreign mission labors is about $3 per family. Through the regular, weekly giving to our local General Funds, $3 is set aside for the support of our two, and soon, the Lord willing, three foreign missionaries and their families in the Philippines. Additionally, if members desire to give more than the synodical assessment amount, other opportunities for that giving are provided through the periodic “FMC” special offerings in our local congregations.
According to that approved plan, then, the treasurers of our local congregations expect to forward the correct funds each month to the synodical treasurer, from which an appropriate portion is placed into the “foreign missions” general fund. From those accumulated funds, our foreign missionaries are given their monthly salaries and their approved reimbursements for various mission work expenses.
In other words, from the hearts and hands of the families and individuals of our churches in Sunday worship to Jehovah, through a very orderly system of collection, distribution, accountability, and oversight, our missionaries are supported in their mission labors.
As long as we remain free from great persecution or other unusual events that may interrupt our denominational life and work, this present Reformed, church-orderly practice needs to continue. This needs to continue because the Lord calls the churches faithfully to support their ordained and sent ministers of the Word in their work, including the missionaries. The Lord speaks of that duty to the support of the ministers of the Word, including missionaries, in several places in Scripture, such as: “For the scripture saith, Thou shalt not muzzle the ox that treadeth out the corn. And, The labourer is worthy of his reward.” While the minister of the Word provides the spiritual food for the people of God in the preaching of the Word weekly, the people of God must provide for him the earthly food to continue in that noble calling.
This principle of, , , and is summarized in the first part of Article 11 of our Church Order as follows: “On the other hand, the consistory, as representing the congregation, shall also be bound to provide for the proper support of its ministers….”
This Reformed understanding regarding the financial responsibility that our churches have also toward our missionaries in our denominational work is embodied in the call letter that our missionaries receive, where it states: “Convinced that the labourer is worthy of his hire and to encourage you in the discharge of your duties, and to free you from all worldly care and avocation while you are ministering God’s Holy Word…in the [specific foreign field], we…do promise and oblige ourselves to see that you are paid, on behalf of our churches the sum of….”
Thereby the missionary is relieved of the burden and work of the procurement and care of the funds that support his mission labors. Instead, that work is carried willingly by the hands and hearts of the calling and supporting churches, so that the missionary may devote all of his time and effort in his mission labors to preaching and teaching the Word.
This orderly system of financial support for our foreign missionaries needs to continue. Its continuation is maintained locally, where families and individuals of our congregations contribute regularly and willingly according to the synodically approved assessments for their local General Funds. Thereby not only are the needs of the work of the local congregation met, but also the needs of our extensive denominational work in common are met, including foreign missions. Families and individuals are encouraged to maintain the duty of the giving of the firstfruits of their income to the Lord () for the work of our local congregations and for the work of our denomination. These regular assessments, and any amounts beyond them as the Lord has prospered us, let us offer with thankfulness to the Lord because He loves a cheerful giver ( ).
As we continue in this duty, we will also enjoy some benefits. First, there will be proper oversight and stewardship of the finances needed for the work. Occasion for distrust and suspicion and occasion for temptations are avoided. Through the oversight of many elders, proper stewardship, accountability, and care of the Lord’s money for missions are promoted. This watchful care and transparency promotes stability and continuity in the mission work from year to year.
Secondly, as the earlier quote from the missionary call letter indicates, the missionaries and their families receive the financial support as a clear token of the love of the churches for the Lord of the harvest and of their loving care for His harvest laborers. By that token, they will understand that the churches stand behind their full-time labors in the Lord’s harvest. Such faithful support has been and continues to be an occasion for much thanksgiving to the Lord, and a source of great encouragement for our missionaries to press on in the demanding work.
Finally, the members of the churches may be encouraged in this work. It is true that we can feel rather disconnected from a mission field 8,000 miles, or even 1,000 miles distant. It is true that the giving of $3 a week to our foreign mission work does not seem like much. It is true that the manner in which it is collected is hardly noticeable because of its regularity, discreetness, and simplicity. It is true that according to worldly standards of giving, such simple and discreet giving does not bring great praise and notoriety, which is as it should be (). Nevertheless, in this discreet, steady, and orderly activity of financial support for our foreign missionaries our members—young and old alike in the local pew—remain directly connected and directly involved with the weekly preaching and instruction in the Word of the Lord on our foreign fields. With our financial support and our accompanying prayers, we do stand with our missionaries in their demanding labors.
It would be a tragedy if our foreign missionaries were forced to raise their own financial support in whole or in part because we shirked our duty. May the Lord protect us from such error and preserve us in this duty so that, being freed from worldly cares and jobs, our foreign missionaries may devote their time and energy fully to their work for the gathering of believers and their seed out of the darkness of idolatry and unbelief.