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Supply-Side Faith

I was talking with a friend of mine just a few weeks ago. He’s a Christian missionary and, as a result, he receives his salary through the charitable support donations of many churches and families that want to enable his work.

He shared with me that it’s interesting to look back over life. He has previously worked jobs that had a more traditional salary, where he wasn’t so obviously in need of soliciting donations from others.

It would seem to me that having a regular salaried position would in every way be preferable to living with the uncertainty and burden of enlisting donors and hoping that they send in their checks each month.

But his reflection was otherwise.

When he had his regular salary, he knew exactly how much he would get paid each month. Some months, it was obviously enough to support him and his family, and even to enjoy some non-essentials in life. But in other months, huge expenses loomed on the horizon, or unexpected emergencies arose, and all of a sudden that fixed salary was no longer sufficient. He knew how much he was getting, and he knew how much financial demand there was, and the two did not balance out. It took faith. Given his amount of salary, God would have to do something to decrease the demand, or the expenses couldn’t be covered.

Now, in living on support, he saw a different dynamic. He could never guess exactly how much would come in each month. Some people committed and gave faithfully each month. Others sent in larger donations less frequently. Still others had the best of intentions but the funds rarely appeared.

And the burden on his faith shifted. Whereas before he felt the income was guaranteed and the expenses were a challenge of faith, now he found himself having to trust God for the supply-side of things. He knew that rent was due. That visas would have to be renewed. Taxes would have to be paid. Would the funds be there? Would they come in this month? Next month? Next year?

Whether it’s supply-side faith or demand-side faith, it’s a question of faith either way. Whether the direct deposit amount from our employer seems solid and trustworthy, or whether our commission check or the charitable donations of others remain an open question from month to month, we all live in a place of needing to trust that God will provide.

Sometimes, He provides extra funds. An unexpected gift. A timely bonus. A rejoicing raise.

Sometimes, He reduces the demand. The kid gets a scholarship. The hurricane leaves the house untouched. A car warranty kicks in.

I find myself currently in a situation of needing to exercise some supply-side faith. God has recently, several times, demonstrated His ability to reduce the demand. His provision in this way has been good, lavish, and timely. But now, I feel the question of supply-side hanging over me. Where will the money come from? Will it be enough? What else should I do? Where else can we squeeze the budget?

I’m not alone in these questions. The economy of the last few years has been hard on many. Some people that never felt much pressure for either demand-side faith or supply-side faith are suddenly finding themselves needing to grow in both.

And I’ve been down the supply-side faith journey before. But God has brought me back to it again. Time to learn some more lessons, I guess. Time to experience His goodness once again, to grow in seeing just how big He is, how He truly holds all things–both my bills and my bonuses–in His hands.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2012 in Life

 

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Salary vs. Support

I have a number of friends who are Christian missionaries.

They live outside of their home countries and dedicate their lives to telling people about Jesus Christ and God’s love.

As you may expect, unless you’re an off-base televangelist, there isn’t much money to be made in ministry.

So, my friends have to raise financial support in order to do what they do. They get sponsored by churches and individuals who contribute donations to enable them to invest all their labors in ministering to others.

It strikes some people as a rather odd way to live. Perspectives range from seeing such people who live on support as lazy free-loaders to looking at them as spiritual heroes who should be well taken care of.

The truth, I think, is somewhere in between. And the financial realities are really not that unique.

Most pastors in developed countries live the same way. They work in a church full time, and their salary comes from the donations (offerings) that are contributed by members of the congregation. It’s not that their preaching “generates” income, but rather that they are freed up from the necessity of working yet another job to pay their costs of living. By receiving support from the church, they can invest all their time in fulfilling their role of service. Now, I do know some pastors who work at a church and also have a “normal” job, like being an electrician, but most pastors in the U.S. live solely on the support of their congregation. But they call it salary.

This is the same kind of support that my missionary friends have to look for–except that they usually have to make connections at many different churches in order to raise sufficient funds.

Non-profit groups around the world work the same way. They look for foundations and individuals who are interested in their cause and then they ask them for money. From these funds, the operating expenses and also the staff salaries are paid.

The model for this kind of living goes back to the Old Testament of the Bible. There, God instructed the people to make contributions (tithe) so that those who are serving in the Temple (the Levites) would have something to eat, so that they wouldn’t have to try and tend their own fields and flocks while also serving the nation’s religious needs (Num 18:21-32, 2 Chron 31:4-10, Neh 10:32-39). In fact, when the people became remiss in making these contributions, they were rebuked (Neh 13:10-14).

None of this is really all that different from anyone else who works a “normal” job and gets a “regular” paycheck.

If you get a paycheck from somewhere, you are receiving support to live on. In some cases, we think of people “making money”, but as far as I’m aware, only the U.S. Mint has the ability to do that. The rest of us simply circulate money.

Now in some cases, it appears that we are doing something–producing a product or providing a service–for which we receive financial compensation. Let’s take a store cashier, for example. The cashier provides the  service of ringing up customers’ purchases, and the store gives him or her a paycheck. There is a sense of earning this paycheck for the work that was done.

True, but also there is a sense in which the store provides support to the cashier so that the cashier has the time and energy to be involved in the work and mission of the store. Otherwise, the cashier would have to go out and farm some land to raise food, grow some cotton and weave some material to make clothes, and cut down some trees to build a place to live. Instead, the cashier gets a paycheck and can pass that money along to others who have done the work of food, clothing, and home production.

The paycheck that the cashier receives frees him or her up from having to attend solely to basic physical needs; the financial remuneration provides an avenue so that the cashier can be involved in other kinds of work.

So, I look at missionaries living on support. They are certainly laboring. They may not be manufacturing a product, but they are serving others. Living in foreign countries, spending long hours traveling, meeting with people, teaching the Bible, praying–many of them also involved heavily in humanitarian and development projects, not to mention raising families, and yet a number of them work local jobs as well.

But as I look at these folks who are raising support, I realize that none of us are really operating under a different economic model. The salary we receive is just like the support they receive–except that, in addition to doing their work, these missionary folks also have to go around and spend time finding donors, writing thank you notes, and constantly living with the uncertainty of whether enough money will come in each month. People under a more traditional salary structure rarely have to spend so much time and energy assuring the existence of their next paycheck.

So, salary vs. support: I really don’t think there’s much of a dichotomy here. Each of us is to live with intentionality in our work, striving to be excellent with whatever occupation we have. And each of us should be intentional about how we use the financial compensation that’s circulated around to us. That doesn’t mean that we can’t take vacations or buy some things which are non-essential, but it does mean that we should realize that the funds we receive really do free us up from having to spend more time providing very directly for the basic needs of ourselves and our families. It’s the same for us as for the missionaries.

How are you using the support that you’re receiving? Are you living with gratitude? Generosity? Intentional in how you pass along the money that’s been passed along to you? Are you living with freedom, able to invest yourself in your occupation–and also other pursuits–because you are freed from tilling soil, knitting socks, and mounting rafters for your own personal use?

Are you contributing to others, helping to free them up from these same necessities, enabling them to invest their labor in serving and caring for others?

In some way or other, we’re all using our salaries to support the salaries of others.

 
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Posted by on December 28, 2011 in Life

 

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