The question that forms the title of this post, or permutations of it, has been asked to me in a variety of ways and in a variety of contexts over the six years I have served with InterVarsity. Sometimes it has an accusatory flavor (either against me or InterVarsity for making me do it). Sometimes there’s an undercurrent of pity (poor fool, out begging for your dinner). At other times it’s asked in bewilderment (are you crazy?) or in awe (you must be very holy indeed).
[Note: for those of you not familiar with InterVarsity, you can read a little about us here. Like many evangelical mission agencies our staff raise financial support to the cost of providing ministry to the campuses we serve].
It’s a fair question when asked honestly. And I want to answer it personally (why I raise support). Here ten reasons I raise financial support:
- Raising support has deep roots in Scripture. Philippians is a prayer letter, let’s be honest. Paul partnered with congregations he had started or ones he had served, to provide the financial resources to send him to new parts of the Empire.
- Raising support has deep roots in the evangelical movement. The first foreign missions societies raised support to send men like William Carey and Hudson Taylor to parts of the world where the Gospel had not yet been preached.
- Raising support reminds me that I am missionary. The emerging generations of college and graduate students are largely post-Christian, even in the Southern United States. This is missionary work.
- Raising support creates a community of Christians who are invested (both in terms of financial investment but also in other ways) in the ministry God has entrusted to Anna and I. I need others to help me, guide me, and hold me accountable to do good work that is faithful to the Gospel. Donors are one way that I am able to remain rooted and centered. They help remind me that I am not the center of what God is doing on campus.
- Raising support enables me to be free and faithful in expressing the ministry God has entrusted to me. I work on a university, but I don’t work for the university. This is critical. While I love and care deeply for the Wake Forest, I am not an employee of Wake Forest University. My ends (purposes) and the university’s ends are not the same. To be sure, there are many points of overlap and where these exist I am eager to help advance the university’s mission. However, at the end of the day I am about the work of building witnessing communities that will purposively influence the culture of the university.
- Raising support enables donors to find joy in giving of the resources God has entrusted to them to advance the kingdom on campus, both at Wake Forest and across Virginia and the Carolinas. Giving to support ministries, missionaries, and churches ought to bring joy. If it doesn’t, ask why.
- Raising support enables me to work with a mission agency that advances mere Christianity. Don’t get me wrong. I take theology quite seriously and, as a Presbyterian minister, I’m committed to the Reformed tradition as expressed in our Presbyterian confessions. However, Jesus emphasized in John 17 the unity of the Church. That unity isn’t a cheap or minimalist one. It is a unity based on the historic, Catholic creeds of the church: the essentials. Such a Christian expression can be quite compelling to people outside the faith who often see Christianity as marked by innumerable squabbles.
- Raising support means that I get paid to do the work that God has called me to. Scripture says that the worker is “worthy of his hire.” Anna and I have been called and equipped to serve graduate students and faculty. We’ve followed God’s summons by getting a graduate theological education and entering service with InterVarsity. I have been ordained as a minister in the Presbyterian Church. I could work in a church if God so called me. As yet, he hasn’t. And since we need food to eat, clothes to wear, a house to live in, and to finish paying for my portion of those two graduate theological degrees, I don’t feel bad about the modest salaries we’re making.
- Raising support is soul-altering work. There are a number of experiences that God often uses to make us more like Jesus (to sanctify us). Being a husband for seven years has been one of those experiences as has being a father. Raising support as a missionary can be a profoundly sanctifying task. It can be. It can also ruin your life if you lack the pastoral support or wander far from God’s gracious care. It will expose your deepest insecurities and force you to your knees in prayer. It is a severe mercy in many ways.
- Raising support brings great joy to me.
So. There it is. What are your thoughts about missionary support-raising? I’d love your feedback.