Making a difference as a Christian: advice on fundraising, ministry, and missions

Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek
Ratio Christi event at Ohio State University featuring Frank Turek (10/12/2015)

What’s the ideal balance between work and missions? In this post, I will argue against going abroad to do full-time missions.

Do apologetics ministry in your spare time, and work full-time

A full-time job and part-time ministry makes the most sense from a cost-benefit point of view. I have friends who are software engineers who studied enough science, history, and philosophy part-time, who are able to do public debates with atheists, which influence many more people than one-on-one interactions. One of my friends has several Masters degrees, and is in a PhD program, but his full-time career is in software and network management. He is 100% self-funded. He has worked in a successful apologetics career with a full-time career in technology, and he is debt-free. This is the best option . Your debts get paid off. Your resume stays gap-free. You bring a nest egg to your future spouse. You can afford to have children. You can afford a stay-at-home mom. You can afford either homeschooling or private schools, should you decide to go that route.

You have to start saving and investing early if you want to be independent in your old age. With full-time work and part-time ministry, you still make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom over time, while avoiding a financial crisis that could cost you your family, your friends, and even your faith. This is an especially wise way to proceed, given the economic struggles we are likely to face from housing bubbles, student loan bubbles, rising interest rates, entitlement crises, state pension underfunding, environmental regulations, the ever increasing national debt, demographic crisis, etc. Read the culture and be cautious about the future.

Use the Internet to make a difference in other countries for free

One cost-effective way to make a difference is by using the Internet to reach other countries. You can work full-time, and then use your spare time to blog. This blog gets an average of 24,000 page views per week. About 45% of that traffic comes from NON-USA countries. If you keep working full-time and just start a blog for free, then you can maintain your gap-free resume and have a much easier time marrying and raising children.

The university next door is a great place to have an influence

I do think full-time ministry is OK in two cases: if you don’t go abroad, or if you go abroad with a full-time job or full-ride scholarship. My friend Eric Chabot was able to host Frank Turek at Ohio State University last night (see photo above), for example. He got a great crowd. He is donation-driven, but he runs a lean operation since he lives near the campus where he serves. When it comes to having an impact, the American university is the place to make a difference. We have enough trouble in our own country, especially in the universities, where so many young people lose the faith of their childhood – there’s no need to travel and incur heavy expenses.  I think it also makes sense financially to go abroad for missions, if you get a scholarship that pays your way or if you have a job offer where you can work full-time and do missions part-time. What does not make sense is sending an unskilled missionary to a foreign country at the cost of tens of thousands of dollars that could be used much more efficiently in smaller, effective Eric-Chabot-style operations.

Your feelings and desires are not God speaking to you

Now some people who want to go into overseas missions will tell me that they feel led to go. This method of decision making is not Biblical, as I explained in one of my previous posts. If you believe the Bible, then feelings are a pretty poor way of determining what God wants from you. In fact, left to themselves, humans typically choose what feels best for them, not what does best for God. If God really calls you to do something, like he called Jonah, then you probably won’t feel like doing it. Missionary work is especially suspect when God is supposedly calling you to go to a country that you always dreamed of traveling to while you were a non-Christian. Normally, conversion causes you to have different desires – not the same desires you had as a non-Christian. Unless you hear an audible voice, like an Old Testament prophet would, then it’s best not to think that God is speaking through your feelings and desires. A good book to read on this is “Decision Making and the Will of God“, by Garry Friesen.

Don’t go into missions in order to have fun or go on an adventure

I am suspicious of people who try to turn Christianity into a mechanism for achieving the same goals that non-Christians want to achieve. These days, it seems as if everyone wants to travel to exotic places. If there is evidence of hedonistic, fun-pursuing, thrill-seeking behavior in your past, then consider that you may just want an “adventure”. I have a friend who went to Russia for a year just after graduating college, and she admitted to me that she just went “to have an adventure”. To me, that’s not a good reason to spend thousands of dollars, and put gaps in your resume. It’s not a cost-effective way to make a difference, given the other alternatives. Your goal should be to make yourself defensible so that you can put out a sustained effort that lasts, not burn out and then be ineffective for the rest of your life. Think about what J. Warner Wallace says about living wisely and prudently so you position yourself to make a steady contribution in the second half of your life. Don’t wreck your long-term impact for short-term fun. God will not honor that.

Don’t go into missions to make up for an immoral past

Anyway, if you look in your past and see lots of wild behavior – drinking, drugs, premarital sex, cohabitation, abortions, gambling, divorces, etc., then consider that you may be interested in missions for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to go on a missions trip to dramatically declare to everyone that you are now completely reformed from your wild party days. I actually managed to talk a friend out of a short-term missions trip who felt that it was a good way to do something meaningful to “make up” for her past. By being responsible with her job and saving money, she’s managed to avoid burning out, and to instead put out a steady stream of effective activities. And she was financially stable enough to get married and have children, as well – another excellent way to make a difference.

Do not go into missions if your resume and balance sheet do not demonstrate maturity

We already talked about the need for sound planning in the Bible study we did with Wayne Grudem.  The Bible praises hard work, stewardship, prudence and wisdom. And this is especially true for people who are getting older and need to be thinking about marriage, children and retirement. It’s not a good witness for Christians to be financially unstable. When you are able to stand on your own two feet financially, and help others from your earnings, you gain credibility with non-Christians. We don’t want people to think that we are doing this for the money. The best option is to be self-funded, like Paul and his tent-making-funded ministry.

By the way, if you’d like to read a related post by Eric Chabot, this one is a good one.

8 thoughts on “Making a difference as a Christian: advice on fundraising, ministry, and missions”

  1. When I was younger I made many foolish decisions before and after becoming a Christian. Many of those were based on following my feelings which I mistook for God’s leading. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any father around and my mom was not the most responsible person, so it was hard to get guidance from her.

    I really wanted to make right, solid decisions, but with nobody to show me how, I floundered around, following feelings and thinking they were God’s direction. Sadly, the churches I attended didn’t do a great job of combating that inclination, but rather seemed to encourage it.

    Thankfully, God is gracious and I believe he answered me when I prayed repeatedly for wisdom that I knew I lacked. I began to see the error of my ways and start to work out how to be wise. (I’m not done yet! Still working on it!)

    Eventually I met my husband and he was so very grounded in practical Christian living, and he was able to start to fill in many of the gaps for me. (I don’t say this to advocate for looking for a spouse to fix what you’re missing, but just to point out that God is good to give us what we need.)

    This advice here in this post is something I would have gobbled up as a young woman. Certainly there is room for grace and flexibility when applying these principles, as real life isn’t so black and white. But the principles are sound ones, and well worth considering if you’re *feeling* called to anything.

    1. I think it’s a better idea to look into Bible for principles and work within the framework it provides, than to let our feelings override the principles laid out there. The Bible is replete with praise for wisdom and stewardship. I agree there is room for flexibility in applying the principles, though. I agree with you that feelings should not override the principles.

  2. Great post, WK – agree 100%. Two points:

    1. The authentic Christian life IS an adventure, but only in the same sense that storming the beaches at Normandy was an adventure. (Or parachuting behind enemy lines.) Certainly it should never be a vacation-type “adventure.”

    In fact, I think that all vacations should have a LOT in them for God. It is very easy to witness to others and spread Gospel and pro-life brochures around wherever we go, including on vacations. To me, a vacation that has nothing in it but fun or family time is a waste of God’s dollars. Many disagree with my stern assessment.

    2. As for foreign missions, they should never be short-term, because those are little more than photo-ops and excuses for vacations. (Not that they do no good at all, just that the cost-to-benefit ratio is near-infinite.) Americans should support foreign indigenous missionaries through organizations like Gospel for Asia for the highest benefit per dollar. And, lets face it: given the abysmal state of Western Churchianity, our presence is sorely needed at home. America is a great and increasingly hostile mission field, where the wolves mingle with the sheep to such an extent that the authentic Christian knows not where the fire will be coming from next – the atheist down the street or the “Christian” sitting next to him in the pew.

  3. I am from a country where many of the churches are fed up of American missionaries without real call. Probably about 90% of those who have come here for the last 25 years have not been sent by God, but by their own desires. There is a good book on this topic: We are very thankful to all the others – the real American missionaries.

    I agree with you. I am just not sure if it is a good advice to do apologetic if it will be without real call and abilities. At least from an economic perspective this option is preferable. The money collected from American churches must be for the Kingdom of God, not for adventurers. And, for sure apologetic is harder for them. They will face the consequences of their unsuccessful attempts immediately. But they will not feel it as a good idea. Doing apologetic, they could not think that they have a message from God just because they are Americans on a mission trip.

  4. A lot of people my age (30) and older grew up learning in church about all the poor, un-churched people in other countries. The 10/40 window, the poverty-stricken in Africa, the masses of China – these we were taught to view as the ones most in need of our time and attention in sharing the gospel. That’s what “missionaries” did. They went to exotic foreign places and won native peoples to Christ. It was all so spiritual and sacrificial to leave your homeland and go to another country on God’s business. And it is. But, that’s not the only way to be a missionary or to do work for God.

    The reality is, the country we’re in now has as much need of missionaries as any foreign one. America is no longer the strong bastion of Christianity it once was. The culture is not only thoroughly secular, but we’re even losing the influence of Christianity and Christian morals and the culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity.

    Of course, we should certainly send missionaries to other countries where it’s needed, but a lot of those missions-minded people are needed here at home, where they already understand the language and culture and can be more effective. Most countries now already have Christians and the most effective way to spread the gospel is to help train and equip the people already living there to share their faith effectively, plant more churches, and train more pastors. It’s a bit prideful to think that they need an American to tell them about God when there are people already living there who can do it and just need the resources to spread their message.

    Rather than having American Christians going to foreign countries and other countries (like South Korea) sending missionaries to the USA, with all the travel expense and learning curve that entails, it’s far more efficient for the majority of Christians to spread the gospel right where God has already placed them. If God moves them to another country via a job or family, they should win people to Christ there. If they stay in their small hometown because they don’t have a job elsewhere, they should win people there. If they move to the big city to find a job, they should win people there. Wherever they are, they are called to spread the good news about Jesus. But, like the apostle Paul, most people are called to cover their own expenses by working.

    Back in the day, it was worthwhile to send full-time missionaries to other countries and have them give up working and be supported by those who gave to their ministry in order to focus on spreading the gospel to people with no other way to hear. It was, in many cases, the most efficient option because there weren’t many options for reaching these people.

    Today, it is different. The internet reaches almost every spot on the globe and we can have an influence without the expense and the extensive language and culture training that is necessary to send missionaries there in person. Plus, many people move around the globe for work in an increasingly global economy. So there are often plenty of Christian Westerners already there and working to support themselves who can also influence those in their surroundings. It isn’t always the most efficient use of resources to send a missionary when we could, for far less money and a bigger impact, send a radio broadcast, a television program, or a website.

    I’m not saying we should just abandon any idea of sending missionaries abroad, but I am saying that we need to update our thinking about missions and not see it primarily as Americans going to exotic countries to reach people who have never heard of Jesus. There is definitely need for that, but there are many other ways as well that are often a better use of resources. The goal isn’t to travel to new places but to win people to Christ.

    1. Yes, see it makes more sense to me that we who live in a wealthy country should take advantage of our situation and focus on being prudent and diligent with our choices in education and career, eschewing fun and thrills, and preferring hard work and stewardship. With the extra money we earn by not following our hearts, we can then give to people who are on the ground in the countries we care about OR have the skills and experience to be deployed to the countries we care about in an organic, sustainable way. All while making our own difference here at home for minimal cost (e.g. – Eric Chabot ops).

      Draining out tens of thousands of dollars from other Christians to fit a square peg in a round hole in a foreign country does not strike me as practical, efficient or effective. Those who do so cannot be choosing such plans based on a desire to do what works best for God. There has to be some other motive, because it simply is not the smart play.

  5. Great Post! I appreciate the honesty. I have seen many churches waste thousands of dollars sending youth groups that are fundamentally unprepared for the task of missionaries. You are correct in saying that God’s calling on your life will most likely be something you dont want to do.

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