We have a big week ahead on Christmas related themes. But we start the week talking about fundraising, something that happens a lot this time of year. A couple, Luke and Katie, write in to ask you this: “Dear Pastor John, I know you are familiar with men such as Hudson Taylor and George Mueller. Should we ask our brothers and sisters in Christ to help fund the work we feel God has called us to do, or should we believe that He will fund the work as we seek Him in prayer without making our needs known to men?”
Two clarifications about George Mueller and Hudson Taylor. Both of them — and they knew each other — had resolved that they would never ask anyone for money. That’s true. But they most emphatically did make their needs known in general. Both of them published monthly records of what had come in to the mission and what it had been spent on, and where they were in the big picture financially.
So it is misleading to give the impression that the donors to the orphanages and to China Inland Mission were kept in the dark about the overall needs. It is true — and I don’t want to sell these men short; they were incredible — it is true that from day to day there were specific needs that were not made known except to God in prayer. This is where the miracles became most evident. But it would not be accurate to say that there were no regular communications to the donors about the general financial situation or what had been given. That is the first clarification.
Here is the second one: Neither George Mueller nor Hudson Taylor prescribed this approach of theirs as the only biblical way. Neither of them. George Mueller was especially explicit about this. He said that his main motive in starting the orphanages and running them this way was so that the Christian church in his day would have some fresh evidence that God answers prayer. It was, he felt, a very special calling, a calling on him that was appointed for him and not necessarily for everybody else to glorify God in this extraordinary dependence day-to-day without telling everybody that the breakfast for tomorrow morning in the orphanage wasn’t on hand. So he saw remarkable things.
Now with those two clarifications, my answer is that neither Mueller nor Taylor would say it is sinful for a Christian missionary to write a letter to possible supporters to explain the mission, to give vision, and to invite people to join them in financial support. In fact, I would go beyond saying that it is permitted in the Bible. I would say it is modeled in the Bible as the normal way of doing missions. And I would base that mainly on 2 Corinthians 8–9. I think every Christian who hopes to receive gifts of money or to support some ministry should become a master of these two chapters.
So let me just show you what I mean by walking quickly through. You could say 2 Corinthians 8–9 is a ministry support letter, because he is trying to raise money for the offering that he with others are gathering to take to the poor saints in Jerusalem. You can read about that elsewhere in Paul’s letters. So he says in 8:7, “As you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also.” Now that is a virtual command: Get on board with the giving.
Or consider verses 8–9. He softens it, but doesn’t remove it. He says, “I say this not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others [namely, the people up in Macedonia that I have just told you about] that your love also is genuine. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” And the implication is so clear: Since they have done so well, and since Jesus did so well, you are going to do so well in the giving when I arrive.
Or verse 12. He encourages them that the willingness is what counts. And yet here is what he says: “For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” In other words, he is saying: Look, I am not expecting any particular amount from anybody. I know you are in different places financially. What matters is your heart. So if you have a little, give a little. If you have a lot, give a lot. Because it is your heart that matters.
Or verses 19–20. He puts his own financial integrity on the line. He says, “We carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. We take this course so that no one should blame us about the generous gift that is being administered by us.” In other words, you can give to us, because we have got all the safeguards in place for the integrity of those who are handling this money. Or in verse 24 where Paul returns to an explicit exhortation. “So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you.”
And then in chapter 9 — this is so amazing to me — he goes so far as to say that the reason he is sending someone ahead with this letter is so that their giving would not humiliate him when he gets there. He says, “I am sending the brothers so that our boasting about you may not prove empty in this matter, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be. Otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you were not ready, we would be humiliated — to say nothing of you — for being so confident” (9:3–4). I mean, that is incredible the way he is motivating them to give. He says: Look, I have boasted about you guys. I have told them you are generous. If you are not generous, I am going to look like an idiot and you are going to be shamed and I am going to be shamed because you are generous in Christ.
Become what you are now.
He goes on and gives arguments that we should have great generosity in the freedom of giving. It’s a real familiar passage. “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (9:7). And so maybe just one more: 9:12 says, “For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings.” In other words, get on board with this, because you are going to meet the needs of saints and God is going to get a lot of thanksgiving.
So unless Luke and Katie feel an unusual calling from the Lord to demonstrate his extraordinary need-meeting power along the lines of Mueller and Taylor, the clear biblical pattern for the support of Christian ministry is to enlist Christian churches like the Corinthians to be part of it. And how to go about it, I think, is laid out about as clearly as it could be in 2 Corinthians 8–9.
Really the issue comes down to: Where are Katie and Luke going to put their trust? Will they put it in glossy brochures and fancy websites and cleverly written letters, or will they have a brochure and have a website and send their letters and put their trust in their heavenly Father, who promises to meet every need as they seek the kingdom first?