Should Pastors and Missionaries Depend on Our Financial Support?

Missionary

Have you ever wondered why full-time pastors, ministers and missionaries depend so much on your support?  Have you ever wondered if that model was even biblical?  I have.

As someone serving in full-time ministry, my conscience was pricked early on to wrestle through this question.  If you don’t serve in ministry vocationally, maybe you have wondered about this question as someone regularly receiving those financial requests from pastors and missionaries.

Where does this model come from?  Are there New Testament examples?  What does Jesus say about this?  There are a lot of bible verses regarding money, so let’s dive right in.

Where did this model of support come from?

Early in the Old Testament we find this intriguing passage about an encounter between Abram (later Abraham) and Melchizedek:

After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High, and he blessed Abram, saying, “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. And praise be to God Most High, who delivered your enemies into your hand.” Then Abram gave him a tenth of everything. – Genesis 14:17-20 NIV

While there is much to unpack in a passage like this, I want to bring our focus on the last sentence (verse 20).  Here we see a minister of God being provided a tenth by Abram before the formal institution of the tithe under The Law.  Later, under The Law, we see a direct command from God to the Israelites as it pertains to their care for the Levitical Priests:

“I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’” – Numbers 18:21-24 NIV

The Tent of Meeting was a transportable place of worship where the Ark of the Covenant was located and other holy items that the Israelites used in their worship of the Lord.  God called the nation of Israel to give a tithe (tenth) to support their full-time spiritual leaders.  There was no other inheritance for them, nor any other way for them to make a living, because they were called to be dedicated fully to serving at the Tent of Meeting.

Many years later, we can see that God never changed His design for provision of His laborers, but that the disobedience of His people is what led to this stern rebuke in Malachi:

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. – Malachi 3:8 NIV

From these Scriptures we can see that the idea that missionaries and pastors are to be supported by God’s people came directly from the Bible.  Not only do we see godly people living this way in the Scriptures but direct commands from God Himself; He is not silent on this topic.

New Testament Examples

In Matthew chapter ten we see Jesus calling out the twelve disciples. They were sent out by Him to proclaim the message that “the Kingdom of Heaven has come near”, to heal the sick, raise the dead, heal those with leprosy, and to drive out demons.

As we look at this New Testament example, note that the twelve Disciples were called and then sent out by direction of Jesus, not by their own choice, to minister.  This matches the same situation the Levitical Priests were in, as they were also called and set aside by God for their work.  As someone who financially supports full-time ministers, I think it’s important for you to learn if this is true about your spiritual leaders.  Are they called and sent by the Lord?  What’s their story?  Do you see any spiritual fruit that would confirm this is the case?

What model of personal financial support did Jesus give them?  We find this model later in verses nine through eleven.  Notice that they were to give themselves fully to ministering and were not to be focused on earning a living.  They were not allowed to take food or money for operating expenses, rather they were to depend on God’s supply and God’s plan for that provision was through His people.

“Do not get any gold or silver or copper to take with you in your belts–no bag for the journey or extra shirt or sandals or a staff, for the worker is worth his keep. Whatever town or village you enter, search there for some worthy person and stay at their house until you leave. – Matthew 10:9-11 NIV

Later in 1 Corinthians 9:14 (NIV), Paul once again affirms this model stating, “In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.”

We have already seen support from the Scriptures in both the Old and New Testament that full-time ministers are to receive their support from God’s people.  Yet, when I stumbled onto Luke 8:1-3, it was a watershed moment for me personally and solidified that this model of providing for full-time vocational ministers was in line with His will and Word:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. – Luke 8:1-3 NIV

There is much we can glean from these three verses at the beginning of Luke 8, but I would like to draw your attention to the very last sentence.  The last sentence states, “These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” 

What the Lord is pointing out in the three verses above is that He and the twelve disciples were serving in full-time ministry, preaching the kingdom of God, and that they could continue each day because of a small group of faithful women who gave out of their own means to sustain them.  Jesus allowed others to minister to him physically by providing what was needed and He wasn’t embarrassed or ashamed to receive their support.

As a side note, I find it interesting that Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the One who owns everything and made everything, allows Himself to receive support from a small group of women to continue His earthly ministry.

Jesus’ example here supports the idea that ministers are to receive their provision from those they minister to.  This verse also shows that the 12 apostles were with Him and were fully dedicating themselves to the work of the Gospel.  They too were dependent upon the provision from the small group of women.

How about you?

So who ministers to you?  How are you spiritually fed on a regular basis?  Where do you find yourself able to exercise your gifts and abilities for ministry?  Are you faithfully supporting those ministers and helping them to focus full-time to minister and to advance the Gospel?

Leave a comment! We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic.












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11 Comments
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  1. Rob Reasoner

    There are many people who view missionary support as begging. It is not. We are all part of the Great Commission to reach those across the street and around the world. It is a good reminder that Jesus received support and had a treasurer keeping account for various ministry projects even though He could have opened a mouth of a fish and hit the jackpot at anytime. Jesus is our model and He is the One who gave the command to take the Gospel to all the world those whom He did commission were to receive from the ministry provided. Paul was so convinced he went under the support of the Antioch Church and received support from some of the Macedonian churches he planted. He also became a tentmaker to support himself and the project costs he was faced above the support already granted. Take it from an experienced missionary, in today’s world governments severely restrict or absolutely do not allow tentmaker ministries nor offerings from nationals to foreign missionaries – they view it as taking their jobs and income away from them. Instead they impose heavy fees for entry, make the missionary prove his/her own support with insurance and in many cases tax the money the missionary brings into the nation. Yet, the commandment to go to all the world still exists? So what to do? Some agencies or churches were hiring missionaries and paying them as staff offsetting those costs from groups of supporters. That model of support has almost entirely vanished from the world in favor of “faith missions” (each missionary unit raising their own support and project costs with the agency merely approving the candidate and making sure all insurance and visa requirements are met along with prayer support and stateside funds management with some emergency costs if need be). So, we are faced with this choice to fulfill the Great Commission in foreign cultures, raise support and go ourselves OR pray and send someone else. Many of us even if we were called would not leave the comfort of America and the security of our lifestyle and income risking physical known dangers and conditions beyond our comprehension for the sake of the Gospel. That is a very sad statement but true. So, we take the easy way out writing a one time offering wishing them well as they go and tell ourselves that we did something. When the next one comes along we complain about people asking for money. Are they worthy of being supported? Yes, they are heroes of the faith by choice worthy of double honor. Do they need the money? Yes, if you do not cover costs of showing you care enough to send someone to meet both their physical and spiritual need, then you really don’t care. The missionary will be promptly rejected by the nationals first, then the government will step in removing and locking out the opportunity to reach anyone for a long time. Should we give funds to everyone? No. We, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, we are required to be personally involved, praying, seeking an opportunity to effect our world and advance the Kingdom here at home and around the world. When we open ourselves to being used (not abused) by the Holy Spirit, doors will open for reach into places that we never had thought possible? When it is our hand to do so and the Holy Spirit has spoken to us, we need to act faithfully without grumbling. As a result, whether it is going ourselves or pray & send we can rest assured that when we stand before the Lord to make an account we did our utmost and fulfilled our potential with what is in our hand to do and not the contrary. Until our work on earth is done and we graduate to Glory being right with God and man should be our goal.

  2. I totally agree and love the biblical backup. I understand that full time ministers need to devote themselves fully into ministry and not worry about a job, living by faith and dependent on God and allowing the rest of us an opportunity to serve. But it seems as if today’s fundraising model has many ministers and missionaries spending a lot of time and resources on marketing themselves to potential donors.
    Also, I was wondering how “tent-making” fits into this.
    Just wanted to know your thoughts.
    Thanks!

  3. Jerry McArtor

    In old testament times, the spiritual leaders were also administrators of the government for the Jewish people, and care for orphans and widows was also handled by the church. In our day, governmental affairs are no longer handled by our spiritual leaders, and our taxes also go to support many entitlement programs which take care of needs the church was formerly handling. I am curious what folks think about how this division of responsibilities should be factored into charitable giving.

    A thought provoking book on this subject and other “ways we do church” is, Pagan Christianity ~ By Frank Viola and George Barna http://www.paganchristianity.org They discuss the issue professional pastors at length, and they make some very good points.

  4. Thanks Chris

  5. While I agree with the traditional reasoning behind supporting professional pastors, as well as keeping in tact traditional biblical values and customs in general, this particular topic is one I have difficulty with as the world moves further into the digital age. Pastors certainly deserve compensation for the immense sacrifices they take on. They selflessly devote their lives to God and their church followers, and are somewhat recognized for this selflessness through church offerings and donations. They commit to a humble life of low wages and limited personal freedom.
    Which is why I beileve, as a church goer, that additional monetary compensation from within their own church is not the most effective way for a.) churches to allocate their limited funds and b.) to create incentives for young people to become pastors. Instead, pastors livelihoods should be fully subsidized, which in some cases they are. What this would entail is churches providing for their pastors: a house to live in, health and life insurance, and other basic necessities that those who have not put forth similar sacrifices struggle to afford. Much in the way that military veterans and professional athletes receive tremendous benefits for their service and sacrifice, religious leaders should receive the same. Offerings should not go directly to their pockets, but instead to the church as a whole where it is that church’s responsibility to properly compensate their devoted workers.
    The reasoning behind this switch is that pastors deserve the same elevated treatment that veterans and athletes alike receive. Due to their innate selflessness in becoming pastors in the first place, monetary rewards (though beneficial to any person) are not the proper means of rewarding pastors. Additional money received by the church should go into promoting these pastors, to the extent that they can become celebrities in their communities where for the most part, religious values are dying rather than being universally promoted. The digital age has seen increasing numbers of the “nones” party, or those people who respond to questions of their religious with “none.” To combat these trends, pastors need not increase their own monetary wealth but instead the platforms where they speak on. Funding for pastors must go to them further continuing their message, to becoming figures of change in society. If they do become figures of change, monetary support will follow, and if their celebrity is able to increase, traditional incentives for people to become pastors will increase as well.

  6. Chris, thanks for laying out the biblical foundation for giving and supporting those in full time ministry. Each one of us as committed Christ followers need to ask ourselves the question, but the question is not “should we support”? but, “who do we support,why and how much do they really need”?

    I have tithed “plus” supported missions since I started working at age 11. Now as a middle aged husband and father I still tithe “plus” support missions. I struggle, like many, month to month to meet my financial obligations. I am self employed and don’t have a retirement package, health insurance, a travel allowance or even cable TV. Don’t get me wrong – I am richly blessed. Yet, I have to confess my attitude toward full time missionaries from the U.S. has become jaded because of the amount they “require” to do full time missions.

    I have had many missionaries I supported, and have been asked to support, whose support “requirements” reach $100,000 per year. This is nearly twice what I support a family of 5 on with a U.S. cost of living. I have a friend who recently decided to start raising support to go into full time foreign missions. I love the ministry he plans to work with, I support them monthly, I have taken out of my resources to go and serve with this ministry on short term teams. Yet, he needs $98,000 per year to take his family to minister full time. I would guess this is also nearly twice what he is currently living on here in the U.S.

    Is it good stewardship for me to give to someone who needs that much money to go into missions? Or, should I give to one of the Nationals who minister full time in their home country? Should I give $500/month to one missionary who “needs” over $8,000/month in support? Or, Should I give that $500/month for one year to a national who not only can live off that amount but build a church building too? Is our American Christianity really worth that much more?

    Is it good stewardship for those who want to go into full time foreign missions to go with the expectation that they will require as much as twice what their supporters live on? Is it good stewardship for sending agencies to request this much money? Maybe this is just the cost-of-doing-business in missions these days but maybe we have the wrong business model.

    Then there is the cost of supporting those American pastors, youth pastors, music pastors, CE pastors, administrative pastors etc, etc. Many of them are worth their weight in gold!!! However, on the other hand many of them can’t find their way out of a wet paper bag yet collect significantly above average American wages. Is this good Stewardship?

    Mathew 25:14-27

    • Roland – You are asking the question that many of us ask. As someone working fulltime for the Kingdom, working 1/2 with nationals and 1/2 time in the states, you have asked the question we should all be asking of ourselves. I believe God makes it clear to us what is the best use of our resources, but there is a huge imbalance of what American Mission Agencies require to place a family in the field compared to what most nationals require to be in the field. Find what God is asking you to support, and then give time, money and your talents to further His Kingdom. We can and should be an encourager to all those who are introducing people to Jesus and a changed life.

  7. Yikes! Nothing like money to make us ask questions! What else can spark a discussion like money? Maybe predestination! I remember hearing somebody say the gift we give pastors and missionaries is not really money but time. We gift them the time to do what we cannot always do. Now, that doesn’t mean they do the ministry while we fund it. But it does mean they have the time to equip us to do the ministry!

  8. Becky bratcher

    Chris, thank you for your insight and the references from the Word. I totally agree. Our God-fearing Pastor is on call 24/7 without ever complaining. He does not ask for monetary reward, but requests prayer for God’s wisdom and leading in his life.

  9. Praise God for this article! I was really struggling & a bit discouraged with our situation as a missionary appointee. With my husband & two kids, we were set for the mission field to Thailand since 2010. We started to raise the funds we needed. But until now we were 50% of our support, we still need to raise 50% to complete it and be sent out to the field. We really pray hard that God would provide what we need as soon as possible. Especially when we get to visit the place last year, our passion to reach out for the UPG was really there. And we’re praying that this 1st quarter of the year we’ll be deployed . We made some presentations to invidual people & group, but oftentimes i feel that I was begging for their money to support us. Since not all of them really had that passion to support. For almost a month now I am asking God to give me encouragement …. His word to lift me up this time. I’m really thankful that there are really people who catches the vision & support the vast work of missions. Please include us in your prayers. That we will raise $850 more for our monthly support.Or if you could recommend churches or anyone we are so much willing to give our ministry presentation anytime. Thnk much everyone…. – bhing

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