It’s that subject again — giving. But don’t misunderstand me. I am not appealing for money. However, as I indicated in this column last month, I am declaring a personal concern, yet one that is shared widely by church and mission leaders throughout the UK.
Why return to the subject again? You are entitled to ask. I have several compelling reasons for continuing with this theme. Here are three of them.
The work hindered
One sad reason is that financial needs continue to overshadow, restrict or even threaten the Lord’s work. I am free to share one example in some detail and can vouch for the information given here.
A family working strategically in a ‘closed’ country is currently considering seriously the possibility of returning home within a few months. The sole reason? A growing shortfall in financial support.
They are bewildered and brokenhearted about it. Having mastered the language and integrated well into the culture over several years, they are reaching many with the gospel and helping to disciple the few national believers there. In my view, it is a vital work.
This example can be multiplied many times over. Hopefully, you can understand my concern a little better now.
The same kind of need applies to some pastors and evangelists in the UK — especially, though not exclusively, in small rural situations. In many countries overseas the plight of pastors is even more desperate.
A second reason for returning to the subject is that mission leaders themselves continue to share their frustrations and heartache over the increasing gap between income and expenditure — despite carefully controlled budgets and reduced spending on gospel work. I must confine myself to one example, although others are known to me.
Society ‘A’, which I referred to last month, returns to the subject in its current magazine and does so with a frankness that is responsible and refreshingly honest.
Their director confesses that ‘we have … accumulated a steadily growing deficit’, a state of affairs that ‘is not sustainable’. As an immediate response, this society is not going to consider any new applications for service and it has ‘reluctantly put a temporary freeze on allowances’ to workers.
Concerned? I hope so, because society ‘A’ works in sixteen countries and on a continent of 800 million people, ‘most of whom have never heard the gospel’. Once again I must emphasise the point — other mission agencies are in a similar or even greater financial need.
But there is a third reason why I pursue the subject of giving. It relates to the younger generation.
Older generations of Christians have born the burden of financing mission for decades. That is a widely-recognised fact. Society ‘A’, for example, acknowledges that ‘our support-base … comes in the main from a very faithful, but ageing constituency’.
Societies ‘B’ and ‘C’, referred to last time, are in a similar situation. Both find it difficult to attract prayer and financial support from younger people — but also struggle to engage the interest of secularised middle-aged (often middle-class) Christians as well.
The faithful support of mission by older Christians has given rise to generous legacies to the Lord’s work, and many missionary societies, and not a few churches, have depended on these legacies year after year. But now the legacies are beginning to slow down (for example, society ‘A’ reports a significantly reduced legacy income for 2005).
However, over recent months a number of younger people have shared with me their own thoughts on this matter. They need to be listened to. They themselves are sacrificing for the Lord in various ways. Their discipleship, commitment and desire to please as well as serve the Lord (when, where and how he indicates) is heartwarming. I am often humbled in fellowship with them.
Now these are young people in their early twenties to early thirties. Are they a minority among their peers? Possibly so, but these individuals encourage me and here is one reason why they do so.
Why are we indifferent?
They encourage me because of their concern to be involved sacrificially in mission. But they are discouraged by what they observe within churches. Here are some of the questions they ask.
‘Why are older Christians so indifferent to evangelism? Can’t we give more sacrificially and imaginatively as churches to support mission?’ Then follows an oft-recurring remark: ‘We need mentors and examples in churches, older people we can respect and who can encourage us in this and in other ways’.
I do not have definitive answers to give them. However, there are answers and I would like to share some of them with you next month. But a word of warning: it could be uncomfortable reading and it could affect your lifestyle and your pockets