Paul K. Williams
Republic of South Africa
For some years I have been thinking about our usual approach to supporting preachers. It goes something like this. The congregation receives a good many appeals to support preachers near and far. As the elders feel it possible and good, money is given to various ones. However, it is unusual for the church to send more than $50 per month to any one preacher, and the outcome is that over a period of time the congregation builds up a roster of five or ten preachers which it is supporting.
One of the reasons for this practice is that seldom does much more money than $50 per month become available at any one time. An active congregation with a full budget simply cannot squeeze out more than that on any one occasion. So when an urgent, worthy appeal comes, the congregation is doing the best it can when it budgets an extra $25 or $50 per month for this work.
Another reason is not quite so noble. There is a feeling among some that a church "cuts its losses" by scattering its money among several men. If one of these men turns sour or does a rather lackluster job, the fact that the other men are doing reasonably well means that only a minor portion of the money laid out has been "wasted." I say that this reason is not so noble because it indicates an unwillingness to find a man in whom real confidence can be put. And this attitude results in superficial investigation of a man and of his work with the result that some good men are turned down and some not so good may be supported.
A possible third reason occurs to me. It looks quite impressive to see a map of the world on the bulletin board with pins stuck in several places. "Here is where we are preaching the gospel" is the caption. If all the money sent to ten men were sent instead to just one, the map wouldn't be so impressive. I am afraid we like to brag about "our" work a bit too much sometimes.
The result of this method is a certain amount of wastefulness. The hardest part of preaching the gospel in a foreign nation is the work a preacher has to do before he leaves the U.S. He has to go through a grueling and exhausting fund-raising campaign. Letters by the score must be mailed. Speaking appointments with thirty or more churches must be made and kept. Everywhere he must beg, knowing that he can expect only a small portion of this need to be met by any one church. If he is a little bit retiring about "begging," he may not be successful. He has to be shameless and aggressive. Even then, the issue may be in doubt even to the last month. Some evangelists have left the U.S. without having secured adequate support. This fund-raising process is unfair to the evangelist and puts a premium on the one who can make the best "presentation," often discouraging abler men who are not quite so flashy. In other words, it gives an advantage to the type of man who may not be the best for the job. And it is wasteful in time, energy and money.
A second result is that no congregation has a really close feeling of fellowship in the preacher's work. I think this is a very grave loss to the churches and to the men in foreign fields. The whole process is too impersonal and mechanical; the personal involvement is too little. In my case, sixteen congregations are sending monthly support to me. I am thankful beyond measure for every one, and I know that those churches are all concerned about me and the work here. But I really long for the close relationship which could be built up between one or two or three congregations and me-the close fellowship and love where brethren are really striving together in the work of preaching the gospel.
So my suggestion is: Let the churches which are now sending $300, $500, or $1,000 per month to preachers in other places give serious thought to consolidating that support behind one or two gospel preachers. As commitments to various ones expire, use the funds released to go to the man chosen. Let the congregation choose a man in whom they have confidence. If necessary, encourage him to undertake the work. Then put plenty of support behind him.
The results will be salutary. The preacher will be chosen with care, helping to insure that a qualified man is sent. He will not have to spend months raising funds. He can spend time with the congregation working with them before he leaves, thus building a strong personal relationship with the congregation. And when he is preaching in the foreign field, the prayers for him will be fervent, the support for his needs will be generous, and the sympathy and help in times of emergency or disappointments will be quick and genuine. Because there will be trust and understanding between the church and the preacher, advice can be sought by the preacher and good counsel received. An altogether healthy relationship will help all concerned.
Finally, I think such a practice will encourage more preachers to go to needy fields. One of the biggest things holding men back from going is the ordeal and uncertainty of raising funds. I have been through the ordeal twice -- once unsuccessfully, once successfully. The unsuccessful attempt nearly caused me not to make the second attempt. And many men, good men, are reluctant to have to be beggars on such a scale. (I don't have any qualms about it, but I can understand those feelings.)
If, instead of facing such an ordeal with such an uncertain outcome, the preacher were approached by a church requesting him to go and promising him the major portion of his support, he would many times jump at the chance. Thus I believe the result of this suggested practice would be more men and better qualified men preaching the gospel in needy areas.
Brethren, give it serious thought.
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XVI: 8, pp. 3-5