July 27, 2015

Plundering the Egyptians: Should Unbelievers Fund Missions

by Clint Archer

This material is adapted from the chapter “That Makes Cents: How To Raise Funds for STM Trips” in my book Holding the Rope: Short-Term Missions: Long-Term Impact.

lego hebrew slavesAs the Short-Term Missions (STM) co-ordinator at Grace Community Church, thoughtful questions about raising funds got posed to me frequently.

One young man was in turmoil about our requirement that he send out support letters. He was a fairly new believer, with only a few Christian friends. His whole family were not Christian. None of his school or work friends were believers. He wanted to use the trip as an opportunity to talk to his family and friends about Christ.

He wanted to tell them what it was he would be doing on the trip and why he was driven to do this. His hope was that they would be challenged to consider their own lives, and to see how his formerly selfish existence was being transformed by the gospel—his priorities, his vacation time, his interests had been altered by an encounter with Christ.

So, what’s the problem? Why the turmoil? Because someone had told him that God didn’t want him to use money from unbelievers to do God’s work.

On the other hand, someone else had pointed out to him that God commanded Moses and the fleeing Israelites to “plunder the Egyptians” from whom they were escaping. God funded the nation of Israel’s journey with livestock, gold, jewels, and other valuables belonging to pagans. And the houses they were to occupy in the Promised Land had been built and furnished and developed by the pagan Canaanites.

Both of those approaches are simplistic and unhelpful. God’s command to Moses was not to “fund” anything. It was a judgment on the Egyptians for their 400 years of oppression. God provided miraculously for the needs of the Israelites, and punished the Canaanites for their idolatry. But to say that we can never use money offered by unbelievers to do God’s work is also a bit naïve. That standard is arbitrary and impossible to apply consistently.

A government tax break for non-profit organizations—which most churches accept with relish— is another way of accepting HTRfinancial benefit from a secular institution, populated by unbelievers. The money in the church offering that comes from believers’ pockets was earned selling goods and providing services to unbelievers. Also, all the money in the world is God’s anyway; so whether it comes through an unbeliever, or a fish’s mouth, or a believer who got it from an unbeliever, are all irrelevant factors. God moves the heart of people to give, so that he can use the money for whatever he wants. He did this, for example, with the Babylonian king who funded Nehemiah’s exploits.

Though some people object stringently to accepting cash from unbelievers or using fund-raising activities where unbelievers will contribute (e.g. car washes). But others observe that these events create awareness in the community of a vibrant, missions-minded work of God in their midst. The events can be used as a platform to share the gospel, invite people to church, explain the purpose of the missions trip, and all the while build team unity and raise funds for the work.

Ultimately the decision to accept money from unbelievers is a matter of the individual’s conscience, and should be considered under the guidance of the sending church’s leadership. If the church is going to make a policy about the team not being allowed to solicit funds from outside the congregation, then the church must bear the financial responsibility of making up the shortfall of the individuals, especially those who are new believers or new to the church.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • 4Commencefiring4

    Here’s a similar question: Should missions organizations permit a self-supported person to join their staff as a missionary? I’ve heard of some that won’t permit it, even if someone has the means to go. I don’t get it.

    • Your guess is as good as mine to their reasons. Would you hire a guy in your business who didn’t draw a paycheck? Probably only if you trusted that he would still treat you like his boss despite you not paying him.

      • 4Commencefiring4

        Sure, I would. I think they’re called “interns.”

  • Daniel Leake

    Hey Clint!
    I do have a sincere question/comment to make on the matter. I have wrestled with the issue myself in the past. Recently, I was approached by a man claiming to be a Christian in a grocery store parking lot. He went into this long speech about this drug rehab center that helps share the gospel with people and then helps them to kick their addictions. At the end, he asked for donations. I immediately felt uneasy about the situation. I’m not concerned with the legitimacy of the operation (I checked into it later and it seems he was honest), but rather that he was more concerned with funding the mission than with my soul. I first quizzed the gentleman to ensure he was a genuine believer, and then gave a small rebuke saying that he should not be so eager to solicit funds from people who potentially have no concern for the Gospel changing people, without ensuring those people actually hear the Gospel.

    Would you have handled it differently (given the details I provided)?

    I know that my scenario assumes that the people soliciting funds don’t first share the Gospel, but let’s assume they do share the Gospel first; if the person being solicited rejects the Gospel, should we then ask for money to support a Gospel cause?

    For me, the issue isn’t Christian liberty. I agree that there is no Biblical command against soliciting funds from unbelievers. But is it really wise? For a world that already is inclined to think that all religion is out for money and power, it seems that this will risk assuring them that we Christians will like them so long as they at least give us money. Furthermore, I can’t help but think that God will fund his causes through his own people and that we need not directly solicit an unbelieving world (though I would accept any donation given by an unbeliever without solicitation). I don’t agree with your argument that me earning my money in a secular occupation and giving it to missions it is the same as the church soliciting a secular organization for funds, anymore than I would assume that a non-believer using their talents in the church would be the same as a believer using their talents in the church even though that talent was learned through a secular teacher (i.e virtually every pastor in the world learned to read and write through a secular teacher and these abilities are vital for the use of the gift of teaching). One is empowered by the Holy Spirit and given as a service to God, while the other is just an expression of the common grace God bestowed to all men. Bringing it back to fund-raising, I think that raising money for a mission trip involves asking other Christians to join in the ministry itself and is not simply a means of getting the money. I am afraid we send the unbelieving world very mixed signals when we solicit them missionary financing.

    That might be too much, but I truly do want to hear your response. I hope I haven’t conflated issues that should not be.

    • You make a good point. It certainly seems odd to raise money for a mission to take the gospel abroad…from people who need the gospel right in front of your nose. I think in cases where you are rising funds by having a car-wash for the public, for example, the people involved should also be alert to the opportunities to share the gospel to their customers. Also, in cases of unbelieving family members, I assume you have a long-term opportunity to witness too. But I agree with you that raising funds is always secodary to sharing the gospel.

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