Funding Missions in the Local Church
A local church's heart for the lost in its community directly relates to its burden for a lost world. A church that commits to supporting missionaries and praying for the lost around the world will have an increased vision for reaching its immediate surroundings.
Jesus said, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).* Some have mistakenly interpreted Acts 1:8 to imply that we must first reach our Jerusalem, then Judea, Samaria and the remotest parts of the earth. That is not the wording of Scripture. Jesus did not say, "First....then" but "both...and." Our commitment to reaching the lost must be not only far-reaching but simultaneous.
As we approach the close of the millennium, we are afforded an increasing variety of means to spread the gospel around the world. The availability of fast and affordable travel has provided thousands of American church members the opportunity to personally visit the mission field and take part in building projects, literature distributions, and other support ministries.
The heart of our missions force is (and always will be) our resident foreign missionaries with life callings and our national brethren in fraternal fellowships throughout the world. These people live in those countries to fulfill the vital task of reaching the lost and then conserving the harvest by building churches that endure.
Like frontline soldiers in war, resident missionaries have a critical dependence on the support ministry of the home base. Here at home we "hold up their hands" with faithful intercessory prayer. Through our giving we enjoy (as the apostle Paul beautifully describes) the "favor of participation in the support of the saints" (2 Corinthians 8:4, NASV).
A major reason the Assemblies of God was formed in 1914 was to facilitate the coordinated support of missionaries around the world. The great strength of our missions support has not been a centralized missions fund but designated giving by local churches to missionaries called of the Spirit to go into all the world. In recent decades other sources of funding have surfaced, such as legacies and missions-funding organizations, but these entities remain minor in comparison with the primary Assemblies of God missions support base....the local church.
Possibly the most vital tool in our missions funding has been the missions faith promise. Two ongoing major missions events that facilitate and interrelate with faith promise giving are the missions convention and Missions Sunday.
The Missions Convention
The number of churches in our Fellowship who hold missions conventions is steadily increasing. In the past 8 years, 2,040 new churches have begun annual missions conventions. A growing number of churches are having two missions conventions each year, one in the spring and one in the fall. A missions convention focuses a congregation's attention on a worldwide missionary vision and reminds believers of their responsibility in fulfilling the Great Commission.
The highlight of most missions conventions is Faith Promise Sunday, when each church member is given the opportunity to make a commitment to the missions program of the local church. From these combined commitments, churches provide ongoing support to missionaries. This regular, faithful monthly support is the lifeline of supply to the missionary living on the foreign field.Missions Sunday
For many years the Assemblies of God has designated the first Sunday of every month as Missions Sunday. Many churches choose this day to receive monthly faith promise offerings and keep the needs of missions before the people.
Some useful tools are available to help inspire a congregation's missionary vision on a monthly basis. The first Pentecostal Evangel of each month is devoted to foreign missions. Missions videos, available on a subscription basis, provide missions updates in two formats. Missions World Newsbreaks are 2-minute segments of inspiring, up-to-date news from around the world designed to enhance the Sunday morning service on Missions Sunday. Missions World Reports are 4- to 5-minute video segments featuring Assemblies of God missions events and ministries throughout the world. These are designed for evening services, Sunday school classes, and missions conventions. Choir arrangements of missions songs with video and soundtrack accompaniment also are available from the Foreign Missions Communications Department.
While these items are very helpful, I believe the most effective, and inexpensive, means of keeping faith promise giving coming in was taught to me by Pastor Charles Crabtree (now assistant general superintendent) when I served with him as youth pastor in Des Moines, Iowa. Whenever we received Sunday morning tithes and offerings, he taught me to say, "Now it's time to receive God's tithes, our offerings, and faith promises." Having faith promises mentioned every time the Sunday morning offering is received keeps the concept before the people at a cost of only seconds per week.
The Faith Promise Concept
The faith promise concept was born in the heart of Pastor Oswald Smith of the People's Church in Toronto, Canada. When Pastor Smith was a young man, the Lord dealt with his heart in a missions convention to promise more than he thought he could give. As a step of faith, he obeyed the Lord's voice, and shared a great testimony about God's miraculous provision that enabled him to keep that financial commitment to missions.
While Pastor Oswald Smith popularized the term "faith promise," the concept is taught in Scripture by the apostle Paul. In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, Paul shares the inspiring testimony of the sacrificial faith giving of the churches in Macedonia.
Occasionally, the principle of faith promises has been taught from a limited perspective that misses certain aspects of giving as well as a scriptural balance. While testimonies abound concerning God's divine supply to people who have made faith promise commitments, not all faith promise giving involves God supplying "something extra" beyond what He has already put in our hands to give.
Paul's teaching concerning the Macedonian churches is clear. They gave in two ways: according to their ability, and beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:2,3).
Because of their joy and liberality, the Macedonians gave according to their ability, even though they were in deep poverty. Their values and priorities were demonstrated by their commitment to the needs of their fellow saints. Paul emphasized that the reason God provides "sufficiency in everything" is so that believers may have an abundance for "every good deed." We should always be ready to give and work so that we will have resources to help those in need.
Faith is demonstrated not only in believing God for "something extra," but in giving what we already have in obedience to God's Word. Because of our faith in the power of the gospel, we give to send workers around the world.
Paul also says that the Macedonian Christians gave "beyond their ability." How can people give beyond their ability? Very simply, because God is personally involved in their finances. While we are repeatedly warned in Scripture not to test God, the opposite is true concerning our finances. Instead we are told, "Test me in this," says the Lord Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it" (Malachi 3:10).
Obedience concerning tithing and giving is one of the most powerful ways people can observe God's divine activity in their personal lives. Certain aspects of this vital biblical truth have been abused and exploited in recent years, especially by some parachurch ministries. But perversion of the truth does not deny its reality. God's Word is true. "Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously" (2 Corinthians 9:6).
Pastor Crabtree often said, "God will give much more through you than He will ever give to you." This truth echoes Paul in 2 Corinthians 9:10,11: "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion." Notice that what is multiplied is not our bread for food (for our own consumption), but our seed for sowing.
A farmer sows seed in the springtime with faith for a harvest in the fall. He trusts the soil, the weather, the seed, and God's natural laws to bring a harvest. We do the same with the seed of the gospel. As we do what we can to personally have a part in fulfilling the Great Commission, we demonstrate faith in the power of the gospel to bear a harvest in this world. God will use our faith and obedience to increase His kingdom and glorify His Name.
*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.