In part one of this article, I gave consideration to both the benefits and unpleasant surprises of fully funded missions. Mostly for fun, I described it as “the Land Cruiser” because it appears to have all the bells and whistles. But what’s it like outside the Land Cruiser?
Well, I have also been a support-raised missionary, and it’s pretty awesome too. I like to refer to it as “the rickshaw” because, to Westerners, it seems unimpressive and even risky.
Here are some of the challenges of being a support-raised missionary, along with a few pleasant surprises.
This is the definitive factor that naturally comes to mind, and it's why I'm using financial categories to distinguish between these two approaches to missions. But it is actually less central to many support-raised missionaries than you might expect. Yes, in most instances, very little is covered by a partner organization. Thus, support-raised missionaries have to tackle the pre-field task of determining how much support needs to be raised to cover all the expenses of a term overseas (and must take into consideration dynamics like the country’s standard of living and the economic disparity between teammates from other countries). Then comes the work of raising that support, not simply in the form of one-time gifts, but also securing commitments from ongoing supporters. This is inevitably bound up with the missionary’s relational network, and in some regards, their ethnicity as well (as minorities tend to have a harder time raising support).
Raising support can be a heart-wrenching and exhausting process, especially while trying to meet the normal demands of life. Once they're on the field, support-raised missionaries have the task of maintaining a certain level of support and seeking more support for unexpected needs. Then there is the post-field task of reevaluating and renewing support for the next term. Coming from Western culture in general, and particularly from the fully funded perspective, this sounds like a path that lacks real financial insecurity.
Heart-wrenching, faith-building dependence on the Lord for their daily bread is a part of the journey that they may not always enjoy, but the fruit that results from walking this path is a benefit they would never trade.
But if you talk with support-raised missionaries, they rarely see it that way. Heart-wrenching, faith-building dependence on the Lord for their daily bread is a part of the journey that they may not always enjoy, but the fruit that results from walking this path is a benefit they would never trade. And it may be more reflective of the humble neediness of New Testament Sent Ones (Luke 9:58; 10:2–8; 2 Cor 6:3–10; 8:9).
What the support-raised missionary loses in terms of financial security, she gains in terms of organizational flexibility. Of course, depending on the sending church and partner organization, this may not always be the case, but in general, support-raised missionaries experience less intensive oversight. In fact, they may even be able to go without a sending church, partner organization, or team, which means they can more fully lean into their own sense of calling, gifting, and experience to determine their location, values, objectives, and strategy.
They also more likely have the freedom to choose submission to a church, organization, or team independent of financial considerations. In some instances, they even have a place at the table in leading those entities. However, lack of oversight can also result in a lack of clear direction or accountability. The forsaken Western value of financial security may just end up being replaced with the Western value of individualism, which is not necessarily reflective of the triune God’s communal mission. Plus, severing oneself entirely from a sending church is not reflective of New Testament missiology. Support-raised missionaries would do well to check their motives for taking a more independent route.
Many support-raised missionaries choose to partner well, and when they do, they can get the best of both worlds: a sense of collective identity within the partner entities and a sense of collective identity with other support-raised missionaries. Sure, they may not share in the same application procedure, interview process, pre-field training, and financial regulations, but they do share the common experience of the rickshaw (and if you’ve ever ridden in a rickshaw, then you know it can be a powerful shared experience!). Thus they more naturally relate to and co-labor with missionaries outside their doctrinal or strategic streams.
Unfortunately, not all support-raised missionaries choose to partner well, and this can lead to an isolated identity. It’s often not clear how you’re part of something much bigger, and you can eventually become satisfied with only focusing on your own thing. I know there’s a stereotype here, but it’s a stereotype for a reason. Be wary of being a lone ranger.
This may seem like a repetition of the characteristics above, but the nuance is this: a support-raised missionary is not as much of an employee as a fully funded missionary. There is no Land Cruiser to clamor into and stay inside of, so they can more naturally choose to honestly assess their strengths and weaknesses in the application process (I say “choose” because the opportunity remains to “prove” oneself).
They can also more easily choose to avoid a “performance” mindset on the field (again, I say “choose” because they can still carry the burden of “producing” for their financial supporters). Being faithful and fruitful certainly still hovers overhead, but employment does not. Although it may be counterintuitive, that kind of autonomy for missionaries can be freeing.
If you’ve been in the Land Cruiser, then you know what you’re missing out on. If you’ve never been in the Land Cruiser and you encounter those who are in it, then you become aware of what you’re missing out on. Some support-raised missionaries may be glad that they’re missing out on certain things, but many find themselves embittered by what they don’t have.
This can be especially true if they have been rejected by the Land Cruiser at some point. Some missionary candidates never recover from this rejection because they assume the Land Cruiser is the only way (or the superior way) to be a missionary, and they give up on the whole process. The bitterness that grows from these scenarios may include, on one end, an inferior sense of identity or, on the other end, a superior sense of one’s faith. As we are warned in Ephesians 4:31 and Hebrews 12:15, we need to watch out for unchecked bitterness.
Support-raised missionaries are more naturally inclined to be church-centric, which opens the door to move from just financial support to strategic partnership.
Finally, being a support-raised missionary usually means your relationships with partner churches are narrow and deep. Unless your budget is fully funded by individuals, you will likely seek financial partnership with as many churches as possible, since they have the capacity to be bigger givers than most individuals. And if you are being financially supported by a church, then in most cases, you have developed a relationship with it and will want to maintain that relationship long-term.
Because partnership with churches involves visiting them, communicating with them, praying for them, being open with them, and depending on them, support-raised missionaries are more naturally inclined to be church-centric, which opens the door to move from just financial support to strategic partnership. And it widens the impact of your ministry, both “over there” and “back home." True, it requires more time and effort, but if the Bible teaches the centrality of the local church in God’s global mission, then it ought to be reflected in missionaries’ relationships with local churches—and especially their sending church!
Now for a disclaimer: throughout this series I have made many generalities. If you’ve been reading thoughtfully as a fully funded missionary or a support-raised missionary (or simply as a strong proponent of either), I would imagine that you have noted many exceptions to the rules. You may even have been outright offended. Please know that was not the intent of this article. Ultimately, my desire was to communicate what I laid out in part one:
Premise: To Westerners, it’s natural to think that being fully funded is superior to being support-raised.
Reality: Most of the world’s missionaries, however, are (and have been, and will be) support-raised.
Thesis: Being fully funded is not superior to being support-raised. Both are unique. And God is in them both.
So, fully funded missions or support-raised missions? Well, either way, it’s still missions—even if it comes in different shapes.
Bradley is a missiologist, pastor, and trainer. He has been at Upstream since 2014, producing blog and social media content, authoring The Sending Church Defined and Receiving Sent Ones During Reentry: The Challenges of Returning "Home" and How Churches Can Help, and serving as a board member. He is also the lead pastor at Antioch Church. As a former global sent one, Bradley reflects on missions and formation at Broken Missiology.