If my ministry funding dries up, is this God’s sign that I should leave the ministry? Wow. It’s a good and important question from an anonymous missionary couple. Here’s what they ask.
“Pastor John, my wife and I are in our early sixties and have responded to the call of God we both sensed and confirmed together in his word (via Isaiah 61). We have now been on the field in the battle of human trafficking for almost three years. Our work seems effective in programs that lead to prevention while building the localized reputation of the local indigenous church. Pastors, once marginalized in non-Christian villages, are now sought for wisdom and guidance and viewed as important messengers. The word is being preached and heard. That is the good part.
“We are donor-supported missionaries, and we use every means available from day one to remain connected with our support base — blogs, newsletters, email, prayer cards, etc. All has gone well for two years. Then, in 2017, our support dropped like a rock. We cannot sustain the work we do and have never ‘pressed for funds.’ We have always believed we would describe our mission and let God do the compelling. Should we respond to the lack of provision with the view that God is lifting his call for us here and now?”
It seems to me that there are three possible interpretations, at least, that these friends could put on this season of inadequate funding. I’ll mention each of them with a biblical example that’s more or less applicable. Then I will urge them to pray with us for God’s guidance.
Time of Testing
One interpretation is that this is a season of testing and not a season of ending. Every ministry faces seasons of testing, sometimes pretty severe.
“Every ministry faces seasons of testing, sometimes pretty severe.”
In my own ministry, there was an extended season of about four years where there was no growth whatsoever. It seemed as though the blessing had been removed. I am so glad that I didn’t leave during that time.
Remember what God said to his people in Deuteronomy 8:2–3:
“And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”
So, in this first interpretation of what this season means, it might mean a season of testing, where God lets this precious couple, who seem to be doing such an amazing work, hunger for a season in order to see what is in their heart.
Change in Strategy
Here’s a second interpretation. This is not an ending or a testing, but a call for adjustment in strategy. I’m thinking mainly in terms of strategy for fundraising.
Many great missionaries have taken the approach of simply expressing what the ministry is rather than asking for money. But I want to stress for our friends that there’s no biblical mandate for that strategy. There’s a clear biblical example of forthright, honest, humble asking for financial support. Read especially 2 Corinthians 8 and 9. Those are perfect chapters for fundraising among Christians.
Paul is clear in his straightforward, honest request that the churches give money to support the poor in Jerusalem. So it’s not unbiblical or fleshly or humanistic or unbelieving to ask God’s people to support God’s work. That may be a change in strategy that God would want our friends to consider. I don’t say it’s required. I just say it’s permitted.
Though it’s not exactly a one-to-one correspondence — clearly not — here’s an example of a change in strategy. Here’s what it says:
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. So, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. (Acts 16:6–8)
The point is simply that Paul himself planned two or three specific avenues of ministry that he expected God to bless, and God said, “No.” He turned him back from that, and so there had to be a change in strategy for Paul when he discerned God wasn’t going to prosper that particular avenue.
Here’s the last possibility of what this season might mean. It might mean the ending of this form of ministry for them. While it’s not an exact parallel, Jesus sent out his disciples, and he said, “And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them” (Luke 9:5). In other words, there is a time when you leave a work and move on to another town.
“It’s not unbiblical or fleshly or humanistic or unbelieving to ask God’s people to support God’s work.”
Now, of course, I don’t at all mean to say these situations are the same, because our friends clearly are involved, not in being rejected by a town, but having a fruitful ministry. In that sense, they’re not similar at all. I’m simply drawing attention to the fact that those folks went into that town with the full intention of doing fruitful ministry, and lo and behold, they have to skedaddle because things aren’t going well for them.
So God says, “No. Don’t stay. It’s okay. You can change your strategy here. You can move on and let that ministry in that town, for a season, stop.” That’s the point I’m making. It may be that there are stoppings that have to be considered.
I would simply say that that interpretation of ending is something you should be very, very slow to take up and conclude that’s what God is doing. I think we should always think of a change in ministry rather than the end of a ministry.
In other words, if God is in fact saying, “That was a great season; that ministry is over,” he’s not calling them to go home and vegetate on their couch watching nice videos. He’s calling them to do something else really significant with their lives.
That call should (I think) confirm the ending of the ministry, if that’s the case, which I hope will be a last resort and that God would show them a way to stay the course in what they’re doing.
Let me just close with this practical suggestion. Meditate on Psalm 25. It is a precious psalm of guidance, and may speak directly to your hearts, especially verses eight and nine: “Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Psalm 25:8–9).
I pray, and I will pray with you, that he will make your way clear.