Missions and Money: A Never Ending Tension

by Chris Lautsbaugh on June 12, 2013

The Bible is full of truth.

Sometimes, the challenge lies in which blend of truth to apply. Many of these tensions surround missions and money.

Let me present three areas missionaries deal with.

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.
2. Being generous to the poor and needy.
3. Saving money for your future, children’s education, and ultimately an inheritance. 

All these areas are supported by a multitude of Scripture. We cannot pick and choose our favorite, but rather find a way to apply an aspect of all these truths.

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Here is a small sampling of the truth Scripture presents in these areas. The Bible talks about money often, we should take notice! (All verses from the English Standard Version)

1. Raising support as a missionary or minister.

“Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”  (1 Timothy 5:17-18)

“In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel.” (1 Corinthians 9:14)

“One who is taught the word must share all good things with the one who teaches.” (Galatians 6:6)

2. Being generous to the poor and needy.

“For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.” (Deuteronomy 15:11)

“Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.” (Proverbs 19:17)

“If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)

3. Saving money for the future of you and your family.

“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children, but the sinner’s wealth is laid up for the righteous.” (Proverbs 13:22)

“Wealth gained hastily will dwindle, but whoever gathers little by little will increase it.” (Proverbs 13:11)

“But if anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)

I realize these verses are but a sampling of the dilemma we face. It would be easy to dismiss them saying, “Yes but…”

As believers and missionaries, we tell people they can’t pick and choose which truths to apply. Neither can we.

As missionaries we need to have a degree of application stemming from all these truths in our life.

I would go so far to say all missionaries need to wrestle with issues of financial support, being generous to the poor, and saving for our future. Neglecting any of these is neglecting a part of the Word of God.

I have witnessed missionaries who ignore truth in these areas. Some are now older and wondering where they will be since they have lived a life of trusting God to provide.

Trusting God is true. But trusting God is one truth. We cannot take it at the expense of others, including providing for our future.

My goal is not to make absolute statements, rather to provoke “A Life Overseas” discussion.

Would you help us learn from each other by answering one or both of the following questions:

For a moment of honesty….which one of these is most difficult for you? (Just because we are in ministry, does not mean being generous to the poor is always our easiest one. True Confession. It is the hardest for me!)

What is your experience in dealing with blending these truths? How do you reconcile them?

Ready! Set! Discuss!

– Chris Lautsbaugh, Missionary teacher and author with Youth With A Mission, living in S. Africa.
Blog: NoSuperHeroes   Twitter: @lautsbaugh   Facebook: NoSuperHeroes

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at NoSuperHeroes.com on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Emily Rinehart

    As a “newbie” missionary, just in my second year of missions & still in the first year of overseas-from-home-country work, I really appreciate the reminder to think about and actively apply all three of these things to my life. I’ve recently been prompted to consider the importance of savings, and I appreciate the encouragement! It’s really easy to pass that one by when you’re just trying to get “on the field” & have the basic necessities.

    I am continually assured that God will and DOES provide for me more than I even ask, but I do need to follow His word on these topics.

    Thanks for bringing up this discussion!

    • Very True Emily. Please save for your future, from one not so newbie missionary to another! Welcome to the field

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  • I have never thought about saving money that comes from supporters. Interesting. Are supporters giving us money to put back in savings for our future? I don’t know.

    • There are lots of ways to do this creatively. We have one church which challenges and expects us to do this. But even if we don’t, when our kids were born we asked people to give to a special fund for their education. People did! Think about some of the people who wrote those verses. Paul was a missionary. Would we rather tell our supporters when we are older, ” I did not plan for my future. Will you bail me out.” That sounds blunt, but it is worth consideration. Thanks Debbie for asking that hard question. This is what a discussion is all about, multiple ideas.

  • I’ve thought of the future too, and wondered what to do about it. Thanks for speaking up.

    • God thinks about our future and values it. It is not unspiritual to do this, or more spiritual to “live by faith”.

  • These are great points to spark some talks, not only here, but between husbands and wives, between missionaries and mission boards, and within the team members in the countries we are serving.

    All three of these areas have bearing on conversations my husband and I have. The hardest for us is the future planning. Reconciling the truths is an ongoing project in our situation. I have a very hard time with too many absolutes. Money is one area that we keep more fluid.

  • Dalaina May

    I am wrestling with #3… do I (or anyone) have a right to retirement? Is that storing up treasures on earth when I have no guarantee of using them and could instead be using them for kingdom work NOW? What is your take on Crazy Love by Francis Chan and Don’t Waste Your Life by Jon Piper?

    • I hear you Dalaina on the wrestling! Both Piper and Chan are writing to a culture in extreme self centeredness and materialism. A call to an opposite extreme promotes movement. A call to generosity and other centeredness is desperately needed. The church only gives 2.5%. We need to be challenged.

      Having said that, replacing one extreme with another and ignoring aspects of the Bible is not the right answer either. Our focus should not be on storing up treasure on Earth, but it does not mean we neglect our families, forgetting about the future. Many have done that expecting Christ’s return. So far every generation has expected they were the generation to see it, but so far each generation has been wrong.

      We should care for the poor. We should be kingdom minded, but neither Chan nor Piper would say it is an absolute without regard to future. If that is so, how can we have children’s birthday parties or engage in any form of relaxation or entertainment. Where do we draw the line?

      For me, saving for the future is being kingdom minded, but instead of the now; it is investing in the kingdom of God my children and their children will promote.

  • Linda Funke

    Thank you for bringing this topic up. I recently read the book “Missions and Money” by Jonathan Bonk, and walked away from the book with the feeling that since we’re not living exactly like the locals (i.e. we have a stove, a water tank, and a wardrobe to hang our clothes) we must be terrible missionaries. It was very disheartening. I’m wondering if anyone else has read the book, and if so, what was your take on it?
    I appreciated the Bible texts you quoted, since I don’t recall them being sited in Missions and Money. Those verses have given me more to think about.

    • Linda Funke

      I guess I’m the only one who has read the book?

  • SheShe

    I’m a homeschooling mother of five working in East Asia. The support we are blessed to receive is just enough to live on, and not enough for our large family to go back to visit our home country or to have a vacation. We’ve been serving for almost two and a half years & I’d say that, from my experience. the “church” back home doesn’t care enough about workers on the field.. Also, since we have a large family & are barely making it, we do not have the option of saving up for the future. Call me stupid if you want, but we are just choosing to believer that our furure finances are in His hands, especially the finances necessary for college tuition! He’s never failed us yet, so we’re not expecting Him to let us down anytime soon. I figure that if He has something in mind for us, then He’ll make it happen one way or another through whatever means He sees fit. The inheritance I want to leave to my children & my children’s children is one that surpasses this earth, & not merely treasures (wealth) on this earth. Of course, a financial inheritance would be nice too, but heavenly riches of legacy are worth far more!

    • I hear the difficulty of which you are sharing and no many are in a similar situation. If in anyway you perceived my remarks to be calling you stupid, I assure you this was not the intention. You are expressing the heart of this tension. Thank you for your honesty

      • SheShe

        I didn’t perceive your remarks that way, I was just making a point that some people do think we’re stupid for believing this way. If I had a choice, our family would be in a different financial situation, however we’re right where God wants us to be for some reason & we know that He will make all the difference! I appreciate you bringing this topic to light.

  • I have previously had trouble with #3 – saving for the future with support money. But right after I was married, the church my husband attended came out with their “state of missions budget”. I was shocked to see several elderly retired missionaries still being supported. When I asked about it, I was told these missionaries served their lives and sacrificed their future provision for the Lord, so the church was continuing to support them in their retired years. Some of them were into their 80’s and hadn’t been on the field for 25 years! Obviously I wouldn’t suggest cutting off an elderly retired missionary! But it did make me think about how a little planning could have helped the missionary before he/she retired and helped their supporting churches continue to give to more current missionaries. A good part of the missions budget was going to these retirees but other young missionaries trying to get on the field or already gone were being cut or told no. My husband is so good with financial planning and showed me how little we really need to save starting now, to retire in the future without being a burden to churches and other individuals.

    The organization we serve with began a retirement program for their missionaries in the last few years. So, I’ve learned not to disregard saving for the future… I’m still depending on the Lord completely to provide and planning for my future (and the future of my family) is part of the whole good stewardship package.

    Of course there are still people who would say it’s not right to do this, it’s not full dependence on the Lord, the money should go completely to the ministry…. but we are supported by several churches and many individuals and ALL of them have been relieved to know retirement is in our budget!

    • I’ve had a similar experience. most people who support you care about you AND the ministry. I like the way you put it, “they are relieved” to hear you are planning for the future.

  • Stacey

    These are three great points and a reality for those of us serving overseas. Our mission organization requires a percent of the support that we raise to be put away for retirement, the same as any secular organization would offer. On top of that, they have said that for us to be “financially smart”, we would have a month’s worth of salary in our savings account–something that we could live on at moment’s notice in the case of an emergency or other spontaneous hardship. I do feel that if we were in the corporate world, we would be saving and putting away for retirement, in my opinion that is being a good steward of our salary and finances, regardless of where the money comes from. The difference between the amount we have to raise and the amount that actually reaches our pockets is vast, but I think most supporters realize that when they support you, they are supporting the big package (retirement, savings, vacations, education, etc.). I would encourage missionaries to wrestle with, pray about, and talk about all three of these things you mentioned…just because we are serving the Lord overseas and not in the corporate world doesn’t mean we need to disregard stewardship or try to provide for others through our resources–as little as they may be. 🙂

  • Samuel John

    There’s a lot to consider in this post.

    Is retirement even biblical? An inheritance is biblical, but storing money up so you can live easy when you’re too week to work, I don’t know. In biblical times, Jews all lived in the same house so children took care of their parents. No retirement funds or nursing homes to retire too.

    Another point to consider is there were no ‘missionaries’ in the bible. Just Christians. So we can’t categorize ourselves differently than someone who’s not serving overseas. We can’t say we deserve something just because we’re serving overseas.

    And one last point is there isn’t an easy answer to this because it’s different for everyone. When considering all this stuff you must listen to God. Missionaries shouldn’t save money because of a fear of not having money to retire in a few years. They should save money because God is telling them too.

    Does this all make sense?

  • Allyson

    Two thoughts…
    1. A few mentioned, “Storing up treasures on earth”. I personally don’t think saving for retirement fits that category at all. It is not saving millions of dollars that you will never spend and will be “left behind to rot” after you die. Saving for retirement is simply setting aside for the future money which will be spent on your later years. Unless of course you are making more money in support raising in missions than I am and are hoarding it all for yourself! If we belive having money to take care of ourselves is “storing up treasures on earth” then we should believe the same about our current income to take care of ourselves.

    2. After 16 years in missions my biggest struggle is still the tension between the view of “prosperity gospel” (God will provide, just name it and claim it”) and poverty mentality (we don’t need all this stuff, stop being greedy and be content with the bare minimum). I don’t believe EITHER! But still struggle in situations with knowing when to be content and when it is a time that God is sincerely challenging me to trust him for more. By more I mean things like, a house with two toilets instead of one! (which God recently provided for our family of four). Anyways… I wonder how many others struggle with the same tension?

    • Britney

      I struggle with this tension too. You are not alone!

    • Maureen

      I just want to give a little testimony here to God’s generosity and faithfulness. I am a 59 year-old MK whose parents went home to heaven in the last 4 years, one at 89 years and the other at 84. All my childhood in Africa, we trusted the Lord for our living and traveling and schooling expenses. We had no mission board, no churches that supported us, and no retirement plans at all. My parents were trusting God alone. (They are brethren and wanted to emulate George Muller.) Mysteriously, He did indeed take care of us. We never went hungry, nor wanted. We had many good things throughout all the time my parents planted churches for 25 years. When they came “home” to the U.S. they continued to trust the Lord. And He continued to provide through the changes, moves and different work they did. My sister and I also got the education we wanted although in a more roundabout way than some others. (I have an M.A. and she has a B.A. We are both teachers.)

      Since their decease, I have dealt with their paperwork and been very interested to see that with an income in the 30K range, they paid their taxes–in fact, Dad was over-scrupulous and gave more than he should I have been told– they gave over 30% each year to other missionaries, the poor, and the local church, and were taken care of financially in a rest home for their last three years. To our GREAT surprise, my sister and I inherited (!) over 30K each. We had never expected (nor wanted) to inherit even a silver spoon!!! Our inheritance is in heaven! Yet our gracious Father showed us once again, that when we simply trust Him, He provides.

      We should not short-change God. He owns everything, and He can certainly provide for our retirement when we get there, just as he provides for us each day right now. Do not fear for the future. Be anxious for nothing.

      I really recommend reading George Muller’s life. It is very encouraging. God bless you all.

      • Sarah R.

        wow, sounds like very wise stewardship!

  • Celanie

    The disciples and all Christ-followers were commanded to be “missionaries” by Jesus Himself in Matthew 28:19! How could anyone actually believe that there were no missionaries in the Bible?? If there weren’t, none of us would know anything about Christ unless we lived in Israel. I would like to know what Bible they’re reading. The Great Commission is the reason why we are preparing to move over-seas to be full-time missionaries. We really are focusing on having the missionary mentality wherever we are and wherever God sends us.

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