Does a minister need a sending/sponsoring Church to be legitimate?
We’re addressing this question here because it affects the course the minister will take into ministry. It has great bearing on the mobility, accountability, capability, and flexibility of ministers everywhere. But sometimes it get’s taken for granted and doesn’t get asked out-loud.
So let’s ask this question out-loud.
WHAT IS A SENDING CHURCH?
Before we begin it will help to define what we’re talking about: the term “sending Church” refers to a Church that provides counsel, financial support, and spiritual encouragement to the ministers they send out.
The emphasis on this subject is usually placed on ministers receiving financial support, so we’ll give the topic of financial support its due attention, but I also want to address the other elements of a sending Church as it pertains to the minister’s legitimacy.
So, does the scripture address this topic? Not directly, however, it does indirectly address our questions:
2 Corinthians 11:7-8 Or did I commit a sin by humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? I robbed other churches by taking pay from them to minister to you.
The apostle Paul did actually receive wages from other churches so that he could minister the gospel free of charge to other churches.
This liberty is given in scripture:
Luke 10:7 Remain in the same house, eating and drinking what they offer, for the worker is worthy of his wages. Don’t be moving from house to house.
Where the scripture gives liberty to receive sustaining support from the Church, it is altogether silent on any instruction that would bind ministers based on receiving financial support from the Church, or that would elevate ministers who do to positions from which to look down on those who do not.
But I don’t want to miss the fact that Paul made most of his livelihood from his own tent-making labors; our lucrative financial support system would have been very foreign to Paul and the early Church Christians. The support Paul received from other Churches seemed to be aimed at sustaining Paul and enabling his ministry, not enriching his 401k.
My intent is not to bind ministers in the opposite direction, saying that it is wrong for them to benefit in surplus from the grace and love of their supporting congregations, rather, to caution against an arrogant spirit I have encountered in the Western Church among pastors who look down on other ministers who fulfill their ministry’s without charging the Church; consider that your surplus is reason for lowliness of spirit (James 1:10), not haughtiness.
As touchy as this subject can be, I hope for an open ear from pastors because of how much error has been witnessed in our century with pastors where money is concerned; the haughtiness, pride, and sin that often times follows those who place too much importance on being paid ministers is evident to all.
WHO SENDS MINISTERS OUT?
The blessed liberty for ministers to receive support from the Church for their gospel work settles the question of whether or not a minister can receive financial support from a Church; although there is nothing that requires a minister to be paid, the liberty is given.
Next we want to ask who commissions the Lord’s ministers?
Romans 10:14-15 “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?”
Matthew 9:37-38 “Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest’.”
Matthew 22:2-4 “The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, ‘Tell those who are invited, “See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fated cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’
Fundamentally, it is God alone who commissions and sends out His servants. Unless He raise up and establish His servants there would be no one to work in the harvest; He has to send them out, that is why the Church needs to be praying for more laborer’s!
One of the symptoms of a church that has lost sight of God’s supreme place of sending out laborer’s is that she does not pray to God for more laborer’s but employs other methods of obtaining them for herself.
God gives the grace to appoint ministers to various ministries according to His own will. The Church primarily recognizes that divine appointment and supports the Lord’s work through what every joint supplies.
There is no doubt that Overseer’s were heavily involved as God’s instruments to acknowledge and support the ministers that He appointed; the apostle Paul often directed Titus or Timothy to go or stay in certain cities for work that was needed, and in Paul’s case, he was separated by God for three years in Arabia before he went to Jerusalem to see Peter and James for 15 days; he then went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia and ministered the gospel for fourteen years before he went up again to Jerusalem by revelation with Barnabas and Titus to communicate to them the gospel that he was preaching to the gentiles. It was then, when the apostles saw by the proof of Paul’s work that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to him in the same way that the gospel for the circumcised had been committed to Peter, that they extended to Paul and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship (Galatians 1:11- 2:10).
What the scripture presents to us is a Church in which Overseer’s recognize and acknowledge ministers upon whom the grace of Christ has been poured out and provide appropriate counsel, wisdom, and oversight to those ministers. Sometimes we see prophetic words being spoken about a minister, like Timothy, but we do not see the Church setting up programs to certify ministers apart from the proof and working of God demonstrated in them.
Again, this is not to invalidate the benefit that a minister who has been called out by God can receive from a program that trains ministers in doctrine and builds them up with sound wisdom and counsel, but, it is to point out the great potential for error when we assume that someone who has completed a man-made program is called out and sent by God into ministry. There is no scriptural basis for that, and, the present condition of the Western Church seems to suggest that this approach is wrong.
If you have been called out by Christ and given the grace to minister in some capacity, you may be asking yourself if there is another viable alternative to getting financial sponsorship from a sending Church, and there is; though there are many instances in which a minister needs financial support from the Church to do his work, there are many cases in which it is actually harmful to the Church when ministers seek support for ministries that do not need it because it needlessly ties up resources in places that do not need it.
The most effective option for entering a mission field where little support exists or is needed is for the minister to become self-supporting and start building from the ground up using simple evangelism approaches. As disciples are made the Church’s ability to take on more ministry will grow in a self-sustaining way.
For missionaries with their eye on local U.S. cities, there may be very little support available because the city you feel drawn to is not a priority, or, for missionaries who are looking to some fields abroad where employment opportunities for U.S. citizens are abundant, you may be able to free up Church resources by supporting yourself. It’s part of being a good steward in the Kingdom of God to discern whether or not it is appropriate to tie up Church resources in the work that you are doing.
LIBERTY ABOVE FORMULA
My conclusion is that we need to gladly live within the liberty God’s word gives to us rather than bind formula’s on those who are trying to do God’s work.
During different seasons I have been “salaried”, “unpaid”, and “love offering” based, and in every season I have seen the fruit of God that endures.
I also want to encourage those brothers and sisters out there who have experienced an outpouring of Christ’s grace for a ministry but who are already meeting resistance from people who want to require you to meet human standards before you do the Lord’s work; do not be discouraged when you meet people who are more concerned with the appearance and titles of ministers than with the fruit of God’s Kingdom- set your hand to the plow and do not look back. Guard against arrogance and pride, and never grow weary in doing good!
May the grace, peace, and mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ abound to you all, amen!