Friday, July 17, 2009

Missionary Support in the Bible (Part 2): Secular Work

The last post may have introduced some Biblical facts that surprised you. Mind you, working in a secular job for a missionary is not a doctrine. However, it is something that should be considered as an option for every Independent Baptist missionary. It should be considered by all and sought by many, seeing that it has such significant Biblical precedent in Paul, our primary missionary model. There is no Biblical or practical reason to maintain our extreme aversion to it.

That being said, just because it was a viable option for Paul doesn't automatically make it a viable option for us today. Having explored its Biblical implementation in the last post, it is still necessary to explore the possible modern implementation.

Like with Paul, there are many reasons why we should consider working on the field:
  • There are some instances where living on full support would hinder the spread of the Gospel. Perhaps it would bring accusations of laziness, covetousness, or mixed motives from the locals (though these accusations would most likely be false, as they were when directed at Paul). This could especially be true in nations where native ministers are already seen as greedy and corrupt. These nations are not few in number. In some of these countries it is said that, "Full-time ministry is not the highest calling, but the last resort." It is only a money-making scheme in the eyes of the natives (sometimes a just accusation!).

  • It provides an opportunity to be an example to new pastors you are mentoring. Without this opportunity new pastors may seek to receive more than to give. How else could Paul have given the exhortation that he did to the Ephesian elders with any legitimacy (Acts 20:32-35)? Could you?

  • It provides an opportunity to model work ethic and a normal Christian life to all new converts. How else could Paul have given the admonition that he did to the Thessalonian believers (2 Thess 3:7-12)? Could you?

  • Having a job or business can provide a legitimate means of remaining in a creative access ('closed') country.

  • Doing so can relieve some of the current missionary crisis by decreasing the amount of money you need to raise.

  • Doing so is a means of dying to ourselves and our rights, which is good for all of us.

These and other factors make it desirable to consider secular work on the field. However, there are several unique characteristics of Paul's trade that should be considered when making a decision about working on the field.

Think of Paul. Paul was very mobile. He had no family to care for. His trade (tentmaking) was mobile and laws did not restrict him from practicing it. He could set up shop about anywhere he went. Not only that, but his product was surely always in demand. Further, it was something that he could stop and start without much difficulty. Not only did it provide a large portion of his income, but it allowed him to avoid criticism and to be an example to the believer, all while allowing him enough mobility and flexibility to continue ministering as he needed to.

This brief picture of Paul's work reveals some good guidlines to use when deciding whether or not to work on the field.
  1. Is it legal for a foreigner to work for income in the country/state?
  2. Would being an employee make your schedule so unflexible that your ability to care for new believers and churches is rendered nearly impossible?
  3. If so, would having your own income-producing business be a better way to go, giving you more control over your schedule?
  4. Would the job significantly detract from or contribute to your overall purposes?
  5. Would the type of employment or business make your position in the country more or less fragile, socially and legally?
These questions should help you to weigh your options when considering working.

Now, I have heard plenty of objections to working on the field. Here are some of the more significant objections:

Objection 1: The missionary's time must be totally dedicated to the work at hand. If he is working, his effectiveness in the ministry will be significantly diminished.
  • Answer: Paul worked nearly everywhere he went, yet he was perhaps the most effective church planter the world has ever known. In fact, his willingness to work while planting probably increased his overall effectiveness. The new believers, leaders, and churches not only heard his teaching concerning the totality of the Christian life, but they saw his teaching as he lived out his doctrine before them in ways they could relate to. However, in order to maintain Pauline effectiveness while working, the missionary must have a job or business which is both mobile and flexible. High mobility is often less of a concern today though, since most missionaries (due to having families) move around much less on the field than Paul did. Fortunately, the modern world market along with communication and internet technologies allow the creative missionary many options that are both mobile and flexible.
Objection 2: The missionary working on a foreign field may be 'stealing' a job from the often impoverished locals, making for a bad testimony.
  • Answer: This doesn't have to be the case. In fact, his business may provide jobs for the locals, or it may do nothing to change local unemployment one way or the other. Again, the internet and modern communications could allow creative modern missionaries business opportunities that have little to no affect upon the local economy. However, it may be best if his job/business contributed to the local economy and workforce.
Objection 3: If the missionary lost his job or business it would devastate his income, whereas he could tolerate losing the support of one or two churches.
  • This is a risk that every employee and businessman takes, no matter where he is or what he does. While there needs to be extra care taken when a foreign missionary enters into the marketplace, I believe many stable options could be found. In the end, he could always trust God to be faithful!
Let's review: In light of the multiple benefits and significant Biblical precedent every missionary and prospective missionary should consider working on the field to provide for his own needs and the needs of his team. He should do this:
  1. To teach native pastors to work with their own hands in order to be in a position to give to those in need, rather than just receive, and to avoid the appearance of covetousness.
  2. To be an example to the believers.
  3. To not be burdensome to the new believers who are yet obligated to support you.
  4. To be able to provide the Gospel 'free of charge' in a way that the natives can see (rather than providing it free merely through the agency of 'unseen' churches).
  5. To avoid the appearance of greed or mixed motives which often comes upon workers in underdeveloped foreign fields.
  6. When it is feasible to do so in the location you are in (considering geo-political-cultural factors).
  7. When doing so will not endanger your ministry legally, hinder your ability to minister to the needs of new believers in terms of flexibility, or hinder the spread and reception of the Gospel in the long term (it may seem to in the short-term, but the long-term results may prove the wisdom of working).
This has just been a brief and scattered look at an important issue in missionary support. Sadly, it has yet to receive serious consideration by Independent Baptists. May this discussion prompt more thinking concerning the benefits and viability of missionaries working secular jobs on the field.

Leave your comments below.

1 comment:

Debtor Paul said...

By the way, for those who are wondering how all this might work out with both partial church support and partial secular job support, I am going to deal with that in a later post that will pull together all of the possible solutions to the crisis into several scenarios.