In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul testifies of the Macedonians that “according to their ability and even beyond their ability, of their own accord, they begged us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in the ministry to the saints.” The Macedonian believers, out of abundant joy (and extreme poverty), gave generously towards the advance of the gospel. Paul also exudes with heartfelt thanks to the Philippians for the ways in which they partnered with him “from the first day until now” (Phil 1:3–5; 4:10–20).
As mission pastors, mission committee members, and church leaders, we often have categories to help us think through our partnership with long-term workers. The annual budget provides a helpful framework for thinking about how rightly to allocate training, trips, and financial resources to sent ones. What happens, though, when that email hits your inbox from a long-term partner and they have a special request or a ministry need arises that they didn’t budget for? Or, as has happened to me on more than one occasion—both as a missions pastor in the local church and even now for a parachurch ministry that helps fund healthy, reproducing church planting work in the 10/40 window—you receive a project request from a ministry you are only somewhat acquainted with? How are we to helpfully sift through funding one-off ministry needs?
I would like to suggest a process whereby you (as the missions pastor or lead pastor) and the elders or missions committee look at the partner first and then the project.
Assessing the Partner
While, hopefully, you are giving consideration to these foundational principles when determining annual budget allocations of local and global partnerships, here are four foundational principles to consider at a broad level when assessing the partner:
Understanding of and Alignment with our Theology, Ecclesiology, Missiology: Does this partner align with our local church’s core theology (i.e., our Statement of Faith), ecclesiology (agreement with what comprises a healthy, reproducing church), and mission values (church planting/strengthening, work among least reached peoples and places, etc.)?
Gospel-Centered Work: Is this partner someone whose primary focus is evangelism, discipleship, and church planting? We want to be about funding those partners and projects for which the accomplishment of the core missionary task is paramount.
Target of Ministry: What is their focus in ministry toward as they engage in the core missionary task? Are they the lead planter, working on Scripture translation, developing a business platform for entry into unengaged areas, etc.?
Relationship to the Individual or Entity: What relationship does our church have with this partner? Are they members? If not, were they referred to us by another like-minded church, missionary, etc.?
There is a lot of good gospel-centered work going on throughout the world, but with only so many resources, as a local church, you must make sure you steward well the resources you have. You want to invest in people and places where you have the most biblically based conviction, and, I might add, you want to invest more deeply with fewer partners who are known most closely by the congregation. These principles will only deepen the trust your members have in your leadership and in who the church is supporting, and adhering to them will likely result in increased giving, whether through the budget or in special offerings.
With only so many resources, as a local church, you must make sure you steward well the resources you have.
Assessment of the Project
Once you have assessed the partner and have full confidence in them and their work, you can more readily evaluate the project. The parachurch ministry I serve uses a funneled approach to process project requests/grants. This is certainly not a one-size-fits-all approach, but it could be a helpful guide to start with and then adjust to your context.
Geography: Is your church focused on a particular parts of the world? If so, then those are likely the places where your missionaries are and, therefore, where your primary missions strategy is pointed. As you assess some peripheral project requests, you can use geography as a grid. For example, here at Lightbearers, we want to support church-planting work among the unreached and unengaged peoples and places and, in turn, strategically support projects led by partners in North Africa and Asia.
Partner: Your church is likely to give most where the relationship runs deepest. Thus, using the above principles to guide your mission partnerships and relationships will serve the church and field well. It might be at this point that you also want to put a timeline on how long you need to be in relationship with a partner before funding them long-term or even for one-time projects. I would advise seeing the work on the field prior to funding. Once you have invested time, dollars, conversation, and boots on the ground to see the ministry first-hand, you can fund future needs with greater confidence.
Your church is likely to give most where the relationship runs deepest.
Need: Assessing needs can highlight many different facets, including country and area, evangelism/church-planting status in that part of the world, and level of persecution, among others. You might be helped by building the partner’s need around different tiers, such that you factor in the timing of the need (one-time vs. ongoing annual project), what other churches/individuals are assisting with this project, whether they have other requests beyond financial assistance (short-term teams, training, long-term support), etc.
Project: This level highlights the actual project itself that needs funding, whether it’s pastoral training, Bible translation, business development, literature distribution, or ministry supplies. Where the partner is in the core missionary task will likely determine the type of projects for which they are requesting funding. This is another area in which the church can hone its mission strategy. For example, if your members are particularly gifted to help provide pastoral leadership or business development, your giving strategy can be centered on such partners and projects.
Decision-Making Process: Who makes the final decision on these projects—elders, mission committee, or another decision-making body? It could be that the missions committee gives an initial vetting of these projects and then provides recommendations that are passed on to an elder board. However your church structures its decision-making, ensure that the flow of receiving project requests, vetting projects, making a decision, and maintaining communication between the church and the field is clear.
Regardless of your church size or pool of resources, this process should be one to get excited about, as it gives the local church an opportunity to assist in unique methods of outreach that will help sow the gospel and establish the church. You can’t fund everything or go everywhere, but every church can play its part in establishing, funding, supporting, caring, and sending among the nations.
Ryan serves as Director of Missions and Operations with Lightbearers Ministries. He graduated in 2022 with a Doctor of Ministry from Southeastern Baptist Theological seminary, where he also serves as a trustee. He has received a MDiv in Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (2008) and an undergraduate degree from Union University in Jackson, TN (2005). Prior to joining Lightbearers, he served for thirteen years as a missions pastor in the local church. Ryan lives in Fayetteville with his wife, Rebekah, and three children: Hudson, Annie, and Hattie.