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I am sitting at my desk with five tidy form letters that I have been trying to avoid all day. Each letter is from a young person from my church or from our local Christian community. Uniformly the letters begin with the past – ‘what God has done in my life’ over the years, followed by the plans each person has for the summer – short-term missions, time at a youth camp, joining a local para-church organization – and finally a plea for prayer and ‘if God puts it on your heart’ a donation.

As I read these letters my heart is wrenched. Some of these young people have graduated from my Sunday school class! They are all very dear to me. Each has a valid claim that, given the chance he or she will make an immense impact on our world. Given the right environment, coaching, and yes, financing, each will be a positive participant as we work together to ‘make disciples of all nations’.

The heart wrenching begins when I realize that, for these young people to meet the requirements of their organizations or mission boards, they will send out hundreds of these letters to members of their Christian families. Once a letter is received, the potential donor has two possible choices to free up funds for the new request: decrease his donations to others or reduce his personal spending. (One young person suggested to me, ‘you should work more, make more, and give more!’) Barring these options, the potential donor must make an uncomfortable call to the young person and explain why he cannot make a donation.

I was brought up in a church that really believed in ‘faith missions’. When I wanted to go on mission trips to the northern regions of Canada, I would work, save my money and go. Occasionally an individual would quietly slip me a few dollars but there was never any formal fundraising. Today, however, there is a startling shift in the way that things are done and it has spawned an alarming attitude among our young missionaries. Along with the strong and sincere desire to share the Christian gospel with the world, there is a sneaking sense of entitlement that suggests that all requests should be met with an immediately outpouring of abundant funding.

Of course there is scriptural precedence for the sharing of funds. Paul is profuse in his praise for the generosity of the church that has given to other churches to meet the dire needs of some of their members, and for the donations they have made for his personal needs (2 Cor. 8:10). At the core of the Christian message is the theme of love that demands sacrificial giving. Christ is our example and He sets the high standard for each of His followers. However, I am having a hard time finding a platform in scripture for the fundraising structures that seem to have become pillars in our Christian churches.

I have interviewed countless Christian youth workers who will spend up to 60% of their time ‘raising their support’. This means that some of the support raised is being spent on raising support! When I suggest that the young person take on a part-time job that would occupy them for the 60% of their time allowing for the balance of his time to be spent on his desired mission, I am told that this is not permitted by the mission organization.

Another alarming attitude is that work is being divided into secular and missional. Young people who earn salaries at city pools or in local fast food restaurants are perceived to be less spiritual than those who raise their funds and work in Christian organizations. This calls into question the command that we are to be ‘salt and light’ regardless of our location or occupation. Is it possible that the Christian burger-flipper will make a greater impact for God’s kingdom without taxing the members of his or her church than the young person who raises funds and goes on a missions trip to a far away land?

Most of our large North American cities find themselves sitting at a crossroads of humanity – much like Jerusalem at the time of Jesus. There are people from almost every country of the world within walking distance of our homes. I find it curious that occasionally young people who have shown little interest in the foreigners around them are suddenly drawn to developing countries to share the gospel. I learned from my time in West Africa that it is much easier to share the gospel there than it is at home in North America.

Because of these various challenges and due to the increasing number of request we have received, our family has developed a policy that has permitted us to filter some requests and to redirect others. The four points include:

1 – We will match funds put up by an individual. If a person is truly committed to the mission, he will not be averse to investing some of his own resources.

2 – It must have a humanitarian element. The gospel has not changed but the way it is delivered should be adjusted. There are real needs in our world; some are medical, educational, nutritional, and judicial. It is important, now more than ever, that Christians present themselves not as proselytizers but as purveyors of hope.

3 – It must be a sustainable enterprise. Too many short-term projects are abandoned before they are completed. The funding that was poured into these projects is a waste of resources and is a bad example to those we are trying to help.

4 – It must be a project that is a continuation of the individual’s life mission, (e.g., a doctor who is going to practice medicine in the developing world, a social worker who wants to start a women’s shelter, a student who is studying teaching who wants to continue the development of her skills in a foreign land …)

There is no doubt that God has His ways and purposes and that His ways are so often beyond our understanding. However, in the areas where He has given us understanding and with the resources He has entrusted to us, we must act prudently and as goods stewards.

The followers of Jesus all became missionaries. Wherever they were scattered, they preached the Message about Jesus. Acts 8:4 (The Message)

James Watts is the principal of Education Plus High School in Montreal. As a teacher he won the Prime Minister of Canada’s Award for Teaching Excellence. He is the parent of two young adults, a regular contributor of articles to the Montreal Gazette and author of two books: Happy Parent – a novel about parenting teens and 99 Grandparents – A story about family and adoption. He and his wife Kim lived for two years in West Africa. In his spare time he runs marathons and competes in triathlons!

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