The Two-Pocket Theory of Mission Support
In part 1 of this series, we looked at several ways you can bring in extra income to help you fund mission work around the world. For this second part, we will introduce you to the Two-Pocket Theory of Great Commission support. Most Christ-followers are familiar with the one pocket of mission support, where money comes out as a “donation” to the cause. That donation is given with no strings attached and no prospect of future returns. The second pocket is different because the money from it is given with the expectation of a return on investment and the hope of multiplication and replication. These investments—stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CDs, etc.—are usually made to organizations outside the world of Christian activity, and their purpose, as opposed to that of donations, is to realize gains, build capital, increase productivity, hire more people, and extend the market share and reach of an organization. Most people who give from their donor pocket will also have an investor pocket, but many believers have not considered how they can use both pockets to support the advancement of the gospel. What if there was a way to shift some of those funds from the investment pocket away from the secular business world and into Great Commission ventures?
The world of missions is quickly turning toward a focus on using Business as Mission (BAM) to take the gospel to the hard-to-reach/least-reached places in the world and the unreached and/or unengaged people groups who live there. We would like to introduce you to some of the new and innovative thinking of mission practitioners around the world who are using business to fulfill the Great Commission. Let's start by crossing the bridge from donor thinking to investor thinking.
This example may take some time, money, or effort on the front end, but once it gets started, it will produce mostly passive streams of income. Through an inheritance we received, we were blessed with some money that we wanted to invest. We could have just given the money directly to our global friends as a donation, but after speaking with a financial planner, we decided to purchase a rental property. We also hired a property manager who is handling all the little details like finding qualified tenants, making repairs, and then depositing the collected rent into our bank account. Through that income, we were able to increase the number of missionaries we support as well as the amount we regularly give to their work. And by putting the property into an LLC, all the expenses we incur for maintenance, management, taxes, interest, insurance, and other costs become a tax deduction, which leaves us with even more to give.
This property will hopefully increase in value over the years, which will help us build long-term wealth. At the end of our earthly lives, this wealth will be transferred to our beneficiaries, which include our missionaries and other Great Commission organizations. Even though we will no longer be personally sending funds, our missionary support will continue.
Even though we will no longer be personally sending funds, our missionary support will continue.
Thanks to the possibilities that exist in this digital age, there are countless ways to bring in passive income, including:
Renting a spare room in your house or your vacation/second home on Airbnb or VRBO
Renting your spare car on Turo
Renting your camper, RV, or boat on Outdoorsy or RVShare
Dedicating your earnings or rebates from your credit card charges or from sites like Rakuten and Swagbucks
All those extra little passive income sources can be used intentionally and strategically to fund gospel work around the world.
Crowdfunding and Microfinance
While I (Dave) was serving as Missions Pastor in a church, one of our partners in West Africa sent a request for us to help a network of church planters purchase motorbikes so they could do ministry in hard-to-reach places. These men and women felt called by God to take the message of Jesus to people in places that we as North Americans could never go, and, as their ministry partners, we wanted to help them however we could.
In our discussions, we saw two different paths emerge to help them purchase these motorbikes. The first path is common in most Great Commission-minded churches—just send them a donation so they can buy the bikes and then pray everything works out. This path was clear, we had a track record of taking this approach (with limited success) in the past, and it seemed to be the practical option. But after reading the book When Helping Hurts, we wrestled with the idea of just sending money to them for this project. Thankfully, a second path emerged. An entrepreneur in our church had recently traveled to this part of the world, and he noticed while he was there that the taxi companies utilized motorbikes similar to the ones we were considering buying. “Let’s start a Christian taxi company,” he said. “We can set up a microfinance loan and purchase the motorbikes for the company. Then the pastors can use these bikes for work during the week and use them on the weekends for church planting and outreach.” His suggestion was more thoughtful and brought much more enthusiasm from both the church and our missionaries. And besides meeting a very practical need, it also provided a source of income for them so that they would not be as dependent on our church to send money for additional projects in the future.
To finance this project, we used a crowdfunding platform similar to Hope International or Kiva. Our church members began making investments and earning returns, which they then used to invest in even more projects and pastors in the area. It became an energizing experience for our church members to see the real-time results of investing in this kingdom enterprise.
Yes, we could have just sent the money and let them buy the motorbikes while we sat back and waited to see what happened, but this path led to self-sufficiency as well as group accountability. The bikes were well maintained because it was not just a handout; the nationals had “skin in the game” because they knew the business had to succeed for them to pay back the loan; and the job was empowering because it gave them ongoing income rather than a one-time donation.
Hope International claims that 98 percent of these microfinance loans are repaid, and over 2.2 million people have been served around the world through them. They provide training in business, Christian Discipleship, and Stewardship, while at the same time providing loans and building savings accounts for these marginalized people.
Some other ministry investment options include:
A North American church purchased a house for Latin American missionaries to run a bed and breakfast in the Middle East. Since it is a business, the missionaries got into the country on a business visa, so they are legitimately doing business and ministry at the same time. The funds to purchase the house came from a combination of investors and donors.
A business entrepreneur retired early and became a missionary who started a “business incubator” in a restricted-access country. He purchased a building in the city so he can rent office space to new entrepreneurs, which gives them access to the internet, copiers, meeting rooms, receptionist, and other start-up needs. He also does Bible studies with those who are interested and disciples believers who want to serve the Lord through their work.
In 2005, a women’s co-op in Honduras received a gift of $5,000 USD from a church in North America and decided to use it to provide small loans and improve the lives of women in their community. The very first loan was for $25 to purchase ten chickens. That chicken farm grew exponentially over the years, and now it is an industrial scale farm that provides eggs to the whole region. The fund that began with a $5,000 gift now has more than $30,000 in loans and holdings.
We’re praying God will give his people a clear vision for how they can leverage their finances to support their missionaries and help them reach people with the gospel all over the world.
In the coming years, the traditional methods of funding the Great Commission will be challenged, and we are not sure what to expect. The tax reform bill that passed in 2018 took away one of the great incentives for people to donate to charities. The standard deduction of $24,000 that we have as a married couple is more than what we have to tithe to church and missionaries, so we don’t even itemize our donations anymore. We still give, however, because we know our giving serves a greater purpose than getting a tax deduction. There are many motivations and methods for supporting God’s work through his missionaries around the world, and we’re praying God will give his people a clear vision for how they can leverage their finances to support their missionaries and help them reach people with the gospel all over the world.
Perhaps you have a unique story of giving or investing. If so, we would love to hear about it. What is your side hustle? How have you seen the church and other Christ-followers around the world overcome financial obstacles to advance our global gospel mandate?
David J. Wilson (DMin) and his wife, Lorene, have served together in the local church since 1996. David was a missions pastor for over twenty years. They currently live in Kansas City, MO, where David serves as the Director of Church Engagement at Avant Ministries. They have written three books together: Pipeline: Engaging the Church in Missionary Mobilization; Mind the Gaps: Engaging the Church in Missionary Care; and Transforming Missionaries: A Short-Term Mission Guide.