This past Sunday, we wrapped up our church’s annual Missions Conference in a big way. We gave gifts to the missionaries, as well as a love offering, and we prayed over them. Then, I enjoyed the privilege of announcing our Faith Promise for 2014.
What is Faith Promise? (You can skip this section if you know the answer.)
I realize that many Christians are unfamiliar with Faith Promise, and even some who’ve heard about it still don’t get it. (I heard about it for 20 years before finally understanding it.) Many Christians give special missions offerings twice a year or whenever a need arises, or they simply allow a session or denomination to determine how much all the churches give together. Faith Promise is different.
Taking a cue from 2 Corinthians 8-9, Faith Promise is simply a promise made by faith to give a certain dollar amount in support of missions for the coming year. The Scriptures give us the Macedonian Christians as an example of those who gave joyfully “beyond their ability,” trusting God to supply. And he did, for the Apostle wrote that “Whoever sows bountifully will reap bountifully,” pointing out that God supplied whatever we give and that if we give, he will supply more.
So, in our church, we ask our members each year to promise to give towards missions, at whatever amount and whatever interval (weekly, monthly, etc.) the Holy Spirit leads. They write these amounts and intervals (no names!) on promise cards, and then we see how God is leading our church to support missions for the following year.
It’s a joy to do this! Not only to announce the Faith Promise amount, but to give towards missions. Unfortunately, it’s a joy that many of us choose to pass up because we simply cannot imagine the pleasure that God is holding out to us in missions giving.
Why is it so joyful? Again, the answer is found in the Scriptures. Remember those Macedonian Christians I mentioned (in the section you were allowed to skip)? The examples of giving in 2 Corinthians 8-9? Well, the Bible has another name for them: Philippians. (You can trust me on this or just get out an ancient map.) And in his letter to the Philippians, the Apostle once again mentions their giving and the many benefits that come along with it. Giving is a joy! And in Philippians 4:10-23, God tells us why.
(And in true preacher fashion, I offer it to you in an amazingly alliterated arrangement.)
The Partnership with God’s Servants
Now, I know that many Christians believe in taking large offerings, sending the money to a large cooperative pool, overseen by a board of trustees (or something like it), who then distributes the funds to missionaries and other ministries as it sees fit. There are some real strengths to this approach, and some weaknesses. As I said, many churches do missions this way, but it’s not the way our church does it.
Instead, the members of our church give regularly towards missions, and the money is kept in a special missions account. Then, missionary needs are presented directly to the congregation, who ultimately decide which needs to support and at what level. Usually, this happens when a missionary visits our church, meets our people, and shares information about his or her ministry with us. And as the Lord supplies and directs, we are able to help support the missionary, often with long-term, regular gifts. We currently support 15 individual missionaries in this way, together with their other supporting churches.
Obviously, there are weaknesses to this approach. But there are also great strengths, especially in the partnership we have with each of our supported missionaries. We know them, their families, their fields of service. We correspond regularly with them. We pray for them specifically. We fellowship with them whenever they return home.
We enjoy the kind of partnership that Paul had with the Philippians in Phil. 4:15-16. Earlier in his letter, he told them how their partnership gave them a share in his ministry and even in the grace that God supplied for him to continue. (1:5-7) This is part of the blessing experienced when we give towards missions.
I cannot describe the intense joy I experienced last week as one of our missionaries to Honduras described the fruit of his first four years on the field – souls saved, disciples made, ministries started, the glory of God displayed before the world. I have never been to Honduras, but because of missions giving, I had a share in his ministry! I was part of making the name of the Lord great before those souls in that place.
I don’t diminish the approach towards missions favored by my brothers and sisters in other churches, but I would make a comparison. It may be true that the large-scale cooperative approach does offer a kind of partnership in those supported ministries, but it is the difference between buying a small share in a mutual fund that will invest in hundreds of stocks, and personally investing in the business startup of a friend. I will have a far greater personal and financial interest in the latter, and while it may be bad finance, it’s great for missions giving! The joy is special because it is personal!
And even the cooperative approach offers a joy of partnering with missionaries that non-givers do not experience. Methodologies aside, missions giving brings joy because we can share in the greatest enterprise in the universe – bringing glory to God through the proclamation of the Gospel of his Son, Jesus Christ!
But wait! There’s even more in Part 2!