Have you ever thought of Paul’s letter to the Philippians as a missionary prayer letter? Of course, it is far more than that, but it does have all the hallmarks of the letters that I, and countless missionaries, send on a regular basis. Paul gives the Philippians news of his personal situation and his ministry, he gives them prayer and praise points, and he thanks them for their prayer and financial support. Philippians is an incredibly rich letter, but it also gives a deep insight into the relationship between a missionary and the people that support him. As such, it can help us think through what it means to give to mission and missionaries.
Reading Philippians, the thing that strikes me is the depth of commitment between Paul and his ‘supporting church’. Chapter one overflows with statements about Paul’s affection and commitment to the Philippians and his knowledge that they care and pray for him. The financial gifts that are mentioned in chapter 4 verses 10-19 are a tangible expression of a real and deep relationship. This, I believe, is the key to giving to mission: we should give because we care, because we are involved and because we are committed to the particular people or cause.
In truth, it has never been easier to give regularly to mission work. A few clicks on a smartphone app are all that is required to set up a monthly standing order. It is so convenient that we can give money without ever really thinking about it and without a conviction beyond the initial effort that goes into getting the process set up. I’m not saying that standing orders are wrong, they are a great idea (and don’t forget the Gift Aid), but they can breed a level of detachment that we just don’t see in Philippians.
Give generously to support mission, but don’t just stop there. At the very least, pray for them, too. Why not go a step further? Send them a Christmas card with your yearly family newsletter, so that they can know about what’s going on with you, just as Paul knew about the Philippians, and ideally, they will pray for you, too.
How should you set about giving to mission?
Find a ministry or individuals that you can commit to over the long-term.
This might be mission partners supported by your church, it may be friends (or friends of friends) who are on the mission field, or you might have an interest in a particular type of work or region.
Seek to build a relationship which goes beyond finance.
One of my favourite stories is of a church in Surrey which started supporting an African church through a Wycliffe project. They built such strong relationships that when the original Wycliffe project ended, they continued partnering with the church. Finance led the way, but real, deep fellowship followed. It doesn’t always work that well, but our support shouldn’t stop at money alone.
There are, of course, situations – natural disasters, earthquakes and the like – where it is appropriate to give generously without any sense of seeking to build a friendship. However, even in these special situations, we need to realise that our money should be a sign of something deeper than a purely financial commitment.
Our gifts to support mission are a ‘fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God’ (Phil. 4:18) and we need to consider them in those terms.
Next in this series: Ministerial Pay »