Fine-tuning Financing: Principles of Giving and Receiving in Missions Partnerships

Daniel Rickett
Six years ago I walked with my friend David Kitonga through the mud streets of a slum outside Nairobi, Kenya. Children clambered on garbage heaps foraging for food. Sewage collected in open ditches with dozens of children crowded around. “These children are so quiet and well behaved,” someone commented.

“They are quiet because they are sick,” David said.

As we moved forward toward rows and rows of dark, clapboard shacks, several men hurried toward us. They were not there to greet us; they came to chase us away. The economy of that slum was based on prostitution and the production of illegal liquor. Even the police seldom ventured there.

Today in the heart of that slum stands the Huduma Church, a congregation of 300 adults and countless children. Drunkards, drug dealers and prostitutes have come to Christ. Men are learning basic carpentry and women are trained in sewing. Children are fed once a week and given basic education. Many other programs are underway to grow the church and help the slum dwellers escape the grip of poverty.

Huduma Church is a tree of life in a field of despair. It exists, first, because local Christians had the compassion to work in the slum and, second, because a few outsiders had the humility to follow their lead.

Would the Huduma Church have come to life without outside support? I do not know. Perhaps not. But of this I am certain: the people of God are designed for each other and the Kingdom of God advances when we work together. “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body... Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:12, 27 NIV).

“From him the whole body, joined and held together by every ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16 NIV).

How do we go about sharing financial resources in the work of the gospel? Rather than attempt to go into the broad principles of partnership (for that I refer you to my book, Building Strategic Relationships) let us focus specifically on the giving and receiving of money in missions partnerships.

Advising someone on the use of money in such an endeavor is like forecasting the weather. It is a huge challenge. Both are affected by factors that do not always behave the same way. Where I live in the northeastern United States, the combination of wind and humidity from the Great Lakes, the jet stream and the Atlantic Ocean keep weather forecasters guessing. Anticipating the impact of money in missions partnerships is less predictable than the weather. The best we can do is advise one another about biblical principles and general patterns of success and failure.

Should Christians share resources in the global community of Christ? Absolutely! The Bible is very clear about how Christians are to care for one another. The Apostle Paul encouraged the Galatians to do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (6:10). This was not merely a nice sentiment. It took Paul nearly ten years to organize a large collection of funds from the Greco-Roman cities he evangelized to be sent back to Jerusalem. The event reveals many important principles for sharing resources in the body of Christ (Acts 21:17-19; 24:17; 2 Cor. 8-9).

The Apostle John wrote, “If anyone of you has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in you? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18). If a person who has the ability to help and is aware of acute human need—particularly within the Christian community—yet refuses to act in any way, the love of God simply cannot be in that person. Sound harsh? If these passages are not enough to guide us, there is much more in the Scriptures.

The following charts identify twenty principles that can help us think biblically about the giving and receiving of money. These are organized into two lists: Ten Laws of Receiving and Ten Laws of Giving. Admittedly, these lists are far from complete. For a comprehensive study I recommend Craig Blomberg’s book, Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions.

In these lists you will find a tension between generosity and responsibility, between what we should do for others and what they should do for themselves. This is epitomized in Galatians 6. On the one hand, believers are admonished to carry each other’s burden and so fulfill the law of Christ (v. 2). On the other hand, it is said that each one should carry his own load (v. 5). But do not be too quick to assume it is a contradiction. Rather, it intentionally sets up the tension between doing for others and others doing for themselves. Those who would share resources in the work of the gospel must learn to navigate between the need to care for others and the need of others to care for themselves.

As you can see, the giving and receiving of money in ministry is full of hazards. Ignore the tension between generosity and responsibility and there will be problems. Allow the Holy Spirit’s control to be replaced by pride, selfish ambition or greed, and there will be still more problems. The sweep of Scripture suggests that if we err let us err on the side of generosity. Let it be said that we are too loving, not controlling; too generous, not stingy; too sacrificial, not self-serving. Let it be said by the people of the world, “Look how they love one another.”

Should local ministry be funded from the outside? History and experience answer with a definite maybe. In some cases it might be the right thing to do. In other cases it might be the wrong thing to do. There is no formula that will work in every situation. One thing is clear: giving and receiving foreign funds in the work of the gospel requires careful attention and much prayer.

In Indonesia. When churches began to spring up among the Dani people of Irian Jaya, Indonesia, missionaries John and Helen Dekker were careful to encourage biblical stewardship and the use of local resources. Although the Dani had no “money” except small sea shells, they supported their own pastors and sent dozens of missionaries to neighboring tribes. It was not until the churches had become well established that outside funds were used to help students going to Java for seminary education.

In Brazil. When Jim Orr and Marcio Garcia began to reach out to the isolated villages along the coastline of Brazil, few Brazilians were willing to support their ministry. In the early days World Partners of Canada provided 80 percent of their entire support. Today they receive 20 percent from Canada and 80 percent from Brazilian churches. Because of this partnership more than 4,500 people confessed Christ, and 100 churches were established.

In South Africa. When Richard Makunyane began to preach on the street corners and bus stops of South Africa, he was completely alone. Richard had no church or mission to support him and he was constantly limited by apartheid government policies. To support his ministry he kept a small kiosk where he sold food and household items. His wife Setty worked as a nurse in a local hospital. Although Richard was barely able to read he began winning many people to Christ. When the crowds got too large for street corners, he borrowed an old tent and continued preaching. When the tent wore out, Partners International purchased two large preaching tents. Since Richard preaches mostly to very poor people, he and Setty teach a variety of self-help skills. Although Richard and Setty work to pay their own expenses, Partners International gives them funds for their feeding programs, health clinics, literacy programs and water development projects in remote villages. Through Richard’s ministry more than 10,000 people have become believers and 16 churches have been started.

In India. When God began to move among the Khond people of India, Southern Baptist missionary Calvin Fox recognized it as a spontaneous expansion of the church. He knew it was not something the missionaries had caused, nor was it something they were required to control. But they were responsible to nurture it. They did this by providing training in discipleship and in agricultural self-help. Since the Khond people are among the poorest of the poor, the mission subsidized the school for master trainers and radio programs that teach both farming techniques and Scriptures. For the Khond, the cost for those would be insurmountable, but for the mission it is very little—just $33 per Khond church per year. Today there are some 900 Khond churches and over 100,000 believers.

Although each story is different, involving different people in different parts of the world, there are definite similarities. First, the churches did not receive direct outside subsidy, nor were the pastors paid with outside funds. This is a well-established principle of church growth, as exemplified in John Nevius’ work, Planting and Development of Missionary Churches.

The healthiest churches grow out of their own indigenous resources. That does not rule out all forms of outside support, however. The Khond churches were aided in leadership training and agricultural development. Dani churches received help in training their top leaders. South African churches were assisted with a variety of self-help programs. Second, missionary work, by definition, requires outside support. Marcio Garcia’s church planting ministry still requires outside support, though now it comes from churches within Brazil. Richard Makunyane’s evangelistic ministry was similar although he accepted help with major capital expenses and specialized development projects. Third, in every case outside support came only by invitation and after careful assessment of the impact it might have.

Because there is no formula for the effective sharing of resources across national, cultural and organizational boundaries, each new situation requires individual judgment and discernment. But much like the stars help the navigator steer a ship, there are biblical principles to guide us.

When is it wrong for outsiders to fund local ministry? If you can answer “yes” to any of the following questions, it may well indicate a problem. If your answer is “yes” to more than one, it is a distinct possibility. If your answers to several questions are in the affirmative, it is almost certainly wrong to fund the project.

To evaluate a particular situation, work through the following checklists. Have the local ministry work through Checklist A, and you, as the outside agency, work through Checklist B (see box).

The giving and receiving of money in missions partnerships requires judgment in changing circumstances. Yet there are constants, such as the doctrine of love, the unity of all believers, the fact that we are members of the same household of God and of the one Body of Christ, and that we share a common call to glorify God and make him known.

In Christ we have all we need to build relationships of mutual respect and trust. The body of Christ is designed so that each part has both something to give to and something to receive from others. When we respect the giftedness of each part and the responsibility of every believer to steward what God has given, we will have partnerships that are complementary and mutually beneficial. Together we will proclaim Christ, grow in faith and show the world the God we serve.

I will long remember the first global conference hosted by Partners International. It was 1987, the week following the ground breaking COMIBAM conference in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Ministry leaders gathered from all over the world to discuss the nuts and bolts of partnership. The most enduring result of the meeting was a covenant drafted by the leaders of partner ministries. The purpose of the statement was to establish the common ground on which our partnerships would stand. Here is what they said: As those who share in God’s grace with each other (Phil. 1:7), who have been qualified to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light (Col. 1:12), who share in the heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1), who share in his holiness (Heb. 12:10), and who will share in the glory to be revealed (1 Pet. 5:1), we as partners in the work of God affirm:

1. We are called to invest our lives and resources in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18);

2. God has given his church a variety of gifts to complement each other in the ministry of equipping it to fulfill its mandate for the glory of Christ (Eph. 4:11-13);

3. In seeking to fulfill this mandate, we recognize that our ability does not depend on human criteria such as wealth, education, experience, and so on, but on the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:6);

4. It is both an honor and an obligation for Christians to assist one another in the work of Christ (2 Cor. 8:1-15);

5. Any God-honoring service should be carried out in a spirit of mutual respect, trust and submission in the Lord (Col. 3:23-24; Gal. 5:13);
6. Mutual accountability is an integral aspect of Christian stewardship (1 Cor. 4:2; Rom. 14:12); and

7. Our motivation should be that of a servant in keeping with the example of Christ (Phil. 2:1-11).

Let us be done with the debate over dependency. Rather, let us resolve to bathe our partnering relationships in prayer, and to reflect together on our standing in Christ. Let us commit to our mutual call to the work of the gospel, all the while being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose (Phil. 2:2).
Only then will we gain the discernment and courage to act like true brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Blomberg, Craig L. 1999. Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Material Possessions. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans.
Nevius, John. 1958. Planting and Development of Missionary Churches, rev. ed. Phillipsburg, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing House.

General principle and key text

1. It is better to trust in God than in money (Ps. 34:9-10; 107:9; 111:5; 127:2; Matt. 6:24; Heb. 13:5).

2. It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:34-35).

3. Christians are to work to provide for themselves and their families and to have something to share (Eph. 4:28; 1 Thess. 4:11-12; 1 Tim. 5:8).

4. Christians are to manage their resources as stewards of what belongs to God (Ps. 24:1-2; Matt. 25:14-30; Luke 12:48; 14:28-30; 16:10-12; Acts 17:24-28; Rom. 14:12; 1 Cor. 4:2; 2 Cor. 5:9-10; 1 Pet. 4:10).

5. Christian workers have the right of support (1 Cor. 9:3-14; 1 Tim. 5:18).

6. Christian workers should be grateful for financial support but not depend on it (Acts 18:3; 20:33-35; 1 Cor. 9:15-18; 2 Cor. 11:7-10; 1 Thess. 2:7-9; 2 Thess. 3:6-9).

7. It is important not only to keep financial integrity before God but also to be perceived as doing so by others (Deut. 25:13-15; 2 Cor. 8:16-24).

8. Christians can be content and thankful for God’s supply (Phil. 4:10-19).

9. Some Christians may be more impoverished than others, but that gives them no right to be idle and to depend solely on “welfare” from others (1 Thess. 5:14; 2 Thess. 3:6-15; Titus 3:14).

10. Improper motives for getting money can lead to all sorts of trouble ( 1 Tim. 6:9-10).

General principle and key text

1. The Lord honors the generous and withholds from the miserly (Deut. 15:10-11; Prov. 19:17; 22:9; Isa. 58:7, 10-11).

2. Christians should beware of giving with mixed motives (Luke 14:12-14).

3. Christians should give according to what they have, not according to what they do not have (2 Cor. 8:12).

4. The surplus that some Christians have should be used to make up for the deficiency of others (2 Cor. 8:13-15).

5. Whoever sows generously will also reap generously (2 Cor. 9:6-11).

6. Christians are to do good to all people, especially to fellow believers (Gal. 6:10).

7. Christians are to have Christ’s attitude of self-sacrificing humility and love for others (Phil. 2:1-5).

8. Inappropriate giving can excuse others from taking responsibility (1 Tim. 5:4, 8, 11-13, 16).

9. Christians should beware of favoritism in their giving (James 2:1-10).

10. Love demands that a Christian never deny a brother in need when it is in his power to help (1 John 3:16-20).

Checklist A: Local Ministry
Yes No Don’t Know

—Does the outsider set up programs without consulting with or relying upon the local Christian community?

—Does the outsider insist he/she knows best what needs to be done and expect local Christians to follow his/her lead?

—Is the outsider’s ministry strategy characterized by dependence upon expensive technology which is intended to be hands-off to local Christians?

—Does the relative affluence of the outsider tend to distort the effective communication of the gospel?

—Does the outsider exploit the local situation to promote his/her own ministry?

—Does the outsider launch funding programs without establishing the trustworthiness and capability of a local ministry to receive and handle outside funds?

—Is the outsider unaware that outside support can potentially destroy the selfhood of the recipients?

—Does the outside support dampen reliance on local funding?

—Does the outsider recruit local Christians and pay them salaries far above local standards?

—Has the outsider taken on so many projects that he/she cannot provide satisfactory attention and accountability to this one?

Checklist B: Outside Agency
Yes No Don’t Know

—Are local Christian leaders generally opposed to the idea?

—Does the outside support undermine or hinder the recipients’ capacity to make their own decisions and chart their own course?

—Does the outside support limit the recipients’ ability to collaborate with other local Christian communities?

—Does the outside support chip away at the recipients’ sense of selfhood and dignity as co-laborers in the work of the gospel?

—Does the recipient ministry constantly act as if the only thing they need is more money?

—Does the proportion of outside support far exceed the level of support from within the region?

—Does the recipient ministry show partiality in their stewardship of outside support? Do they favor certain ethnic groups, churches or individuals?

—Does the alliance implied by the outside support alienate Christians from their local community?

—Does the recipient insist on sending money directly to an individual rather than to the overseeing body of a church or mission?

—Are the program and the money for the program both from the outside? If the outside program were not in use would the flow of outside money stop?

—Did you spot some potential problems—some uncertainties, perhaps? Then you have more work to do. Search for a culturally appropriate way to address those troublesome issues.


Daniel Rickett is director of partner development for Partners International Spokane, Wash., which provides consultation and specialized services to Two-Thirds World missions.

Copyright © 2002 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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