This summer, I am engaging in support raising for my second year of campus ministry at CU-Boulder, and I thought it would be interesting to reflect upon my personal experiences, as well as review some of the Biblical rationale for raising support, and also take a look at how it is becoming an increasingly widely-accepted means of mobilization within the Southern Baptist world. From my own standpoint, it has truly been a blessing to be able to raise support. Sometimes people will ask me if it doesn’t feel somewhat like a burden, or if I am envious of ministers in church staff positions who don’t have to raise money. Of course I can always wonder about what it might be like to be in a salaried position, and can certainly acknowledge some of the benefits that such a setup might provide. But on the other hand, there are genuine benefits that come from raising one’s own support. The term used by the North American Mission Board for what I do is “ministry partner development”, and although that may be a bit of a mouthful, it comes closer to accurately summing up the totality of the approach as opposed to merely “support raising.” Because ultimately my goal is not just to receive financial gifts from people, but to connect on a deep level with like-minded men and women who have a heart for Kingdom-building work, specifically in the context of campus ministry. To develop ministry partners means to connect with people who will pray for our ministry, feel a heart affinity with our work, and support it financially. I in turn pledge to be in prayer for my supporters, and stay connected to them with as we share how God is mutually at work. So many times over the course of this past semester, I have found my spirit uplifted by an encouraging call, letter, or email from a supporter!! That personal contact goes so far beyond monetary support, and it enables me to have a ministry that is founded upon the relationships I have built with dear friends and fellow Kingdom servants. One of the other unique aspects of support raising is that you become connected with a network of people from all over the country. Many of my ministry partners are still based in Alabama, and connected with my church there—First Baptist Montgomery. But I also have partners in different places where I have lived, such as Waco, Texas, and increasingly I’m starting to connect with more supporters in and around Boulder, where the ministry is based. I am grateful for each and every ministry partner, and I treasure the chance to continue cultivating these relationships that God has blessed me with. As I have shared before, the motto of Christian Challenge is “changing the world through God-honoring relationships” and from my own personal perspective, ministry partner development fits perfectly into such a vision!
There are numerous Scriptural passages which I could cite in relation to support raising, but I want to concentrate on just a few in particular which illustrate the mutual blessings which are cultivated through ministry partner development. So often, we think of these relationships as a donor/supporter blessing a recipient, who then goes forth to do ministry. And certainly this is true, but the Bible also clearly cites that both parties in such a relationships are equally blessed. One foundational theological principle which underlies the whole idea of ministry partner development, and I would assert, tithing in general, is that of “vertical giving.” The idea is simple enough—rather than giving to a church, ministry, or individual directly, the donor is first of all giving to God. Psalm 24:1 succinctly states this great truth: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness.” Starting from this premise then, and recognizing that everything belongs to God anyways—whenever we give to the work of the Lord, we are, first and foremost,t giving to the Lord Himself. This spiritual concept is also expressed by Paul in 2 Corinthians 8:3-5, where he cites the example of the Macedonian churches who have supported him: “For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing, imploring us with much urgency that we would receive the gift and the fellowship of the ministering to the saints. And this they did, not as we had hoped, but first gave themselves to the Lord, and then to us by the will of God.” Here, Paul highlights several important points—the sacrificial giving of the Macedonians, the spirit of fellowship that such giving prompts, and most importantly, the idea that their gift was first offered to God, and then to Paul. In other passages, Paul attests to the rich spiritual blessings that come uniquely through raising support—blessings for both the giver, and recipient. For the giver, Paul notes in Philippians 4:16-17: “For even in Thessalonica you sent out once and again for my necessities. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account.” The apostle here seems to be clearly insinuating (in the spirit of Acts 20:35) that there are certain spiritual gifts which are best appreciated through the process of giving to others. Thus, by raising support, I am offering other Christians the opportunity to experience God’s blessing in a unique and unrepeatable manner when they partner with me and the ministry! At the same time, I can certainly identify with Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 9:8–“God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” Developing ministry partners makes one very aware of how God’s providential grace abounds in so many situations, and having been a recipient of such grace, I believe, makes me all the more enthusiastic about spreading God’s grace to others. Support raising provides a ready testimony too, and when students, especially those who are non-Christians, ask me when I have seen or experienced God’s tangible provision, I can freely share with them from my experiences in ministry partner development!
It is also exciting to reflect upon recent developments within my own denomination that are leading towards an increasing openness towards support raising as a mode of ministry support and mobilization. Already, there are tens of thousands of other individuals like me, serving with the North American Mission Board, who are raising their own support to work as campus missionaries, and church planters across the United States and Canada. But under the new leadership of David Platt, the International Mission Board is now beginning to consider a groundbreaking new pilot program that would allow more missionaries to enter into the field. It involves adopting a hybrid model whereby missionaries would receive some funds from traditional sources such as the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Offering, but then would independently raise the remaining amount needed. An August 2014 article found on the website of the Baptist Press had this to say: IMB leaders briefed trustees on a pilot funding program to allow for greater numbers of short-term missionaries (who serve two- to three-year terms) while forging deeper partnerships with churches. Under the initiative, based on the model established in 1977 by the Southern Baptist Convention’s Mission Service Corps, more than 50 percent of short-term missionaries’ financial support will continue to be provided by Southern Baptists through the Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The remainder, set at $15,000 per person per year, will be raised by the missionaries themselves. Jay Wolf, chair of the trustees’ administration committee and pastor of First Baptist Church in Montgomery, Ala., noted, “The objective is simple: We want to put more people on the field. We want to attack lostness, and right now we don’t have the financial resources to do that. So we need to be creative and do more with less.”
It’s pretty exciting to see my home church pastor, Jay Wolf, comment on these new developments. They are also right in line with the overall vision that David Platt has for Baptist missions moving forward. In February of this year, he outlined some of these goals, related to his understanding of what the nature of the IMB should be, and specifically how local churches should partner with mission organizations. According to Platt: “I don’t want the IMB to be a funnel that … only a few people can squeeze through in order to get involved in God’s global plan. Avenues are wide open for people going and spreading the Gospel to people who have never heard it…When you look at the New Testament, the local church is the agent that God has promised to bless for the accomplishment of the Great Commission. It’s the churches sending out missionaries…Mission boards have their place, but it’s the role of every local church pastor to stand and proclaim God’s global glory in that local church.” The agencies of Southern Baptist life that we are all familiar with, including the Cooperative Program, the International Mission Board, and the North American Mission Board have all done great work, and there is no doubt that their collective strength has allowed Baptists to accomplish so much more than would have been possible otherwise. But the local churches will always be the true heartbeat of our denominational life. And as Platt observed, borrowing directly from the New Testament model, what could be more natural than local churches equipping and mobilizing individuals to enter the mission field? I love having a direct connection back to each of my ministry partners and I think they feel the same way. One of the most important things with missions is to put a “face” on it. People certainly trust and appreciate our Baptist organizations, but they also like to be able to give directly to an individual, who is then empowered and supported by a larger organization to go and do the work they have been called to. More than ever before, both here in America and abroad, we need to mobilize as many people as are able and willing to go and share the Gospel. Churches working with organizations can do this in such a way that individual missionaries like me feel connected not just to organizations, but primarily to friends and partners, while still being able to benefit from the training and support provided by an entity such as the North American Mission Board. So in closing, ministry partner development and independent support raising have not only been the means for me to enter into the mission field on a college campus, but in years to come they may provide an ideal means of mobilization for many other men and women who are responding to God’s Great Commission call in their lives! The resources are here, and it’s just a matter of us being able to envision how we may use them in the most effective and creative way possible. I’m glad to be part of a denomination that is forward-thinking in this regard, and that gives missions mobilization the highest priority. And just as Jesus did with the Fishes and the Loaves, we know that whatever resources we give to the Lord will be multiplied, and expanded for the glory of the Kingdom!!