Diwali. Lunar New Year. Cinco de Mayo. Eid al-Fitr. Passover. Christmas. Depending on your personal background and the community in which you were raised or currently reside, some of these words immediately bring to mind joyous gatherings filled with family, friends, and of course mountains of great food. These rich cultural celebrations bring out the best in their communities: a sense of connectedness, inclusion, deep familial relationships, honoring of others, and a recognition of something greater than the individuals who join these festivities. It is from – and into – these communities that we are beginning to see God draw increasing numbers of missionaries to bring the Good News of Jesus. And in identifying the values of our individual communities, missionaries can be better equipped to be “trail blazers” in raising personal support – but it is not without its challenges.
The white middle class in America is, generally speaking, well-conditioned to give to missions and missionaries (even if it doesn’t do it well or consistently). Tithing, giving to missions, and even going on short term mission trips has long been part of the American majority culture church tradition, whether in small rural churches or urban megachurches. Ethnic minority communities, however, are not as used to the concept of giving from individuals to other individuals, as often they embrace a more “collective” view other than the “individualistic” nature of the majority culture in America. In collectivist faith communities, giving is often focused on the pastor or local community needs – and very understandably so, as the key defining characteristic of any collectivist culture is that the needs of the whole are placed in higher value than the needs of the individual.
For missionaries being sent out of these communities, what are some ways we can honor the community and invite them to give to Kingdom work?
Individuals who have grown up in a particular community may have never taken time to understand and appreciate what sets them apart or how these values lend themselves really well to raising support. This list, while not exhaustive, will hopefully provide some first steps toward inviting communities into Gospel partnership in ways that are meaningful.
1. Identify the values of the community.
Invest time in building relationships, asking good questions, listening well, and learning humbly. What is this small group passionate about? Does your mission align with the values of the church? Some things to consider:
- Is this community time or event oriented? Is efficiency in execution more important than the holistic experience of an event? Practically speaking, is it more important to finish your appointment with a potential ministry partner in the time you have allotted, or is it better to stay until all of the potential partner’s needs, questions, and concerns have been satisfied?
- Is communication more direct or indirect? Can needs and outcomes be clearly stated, or is it better to communicate in generalities and allow the listener to draw conclusions? In other words, can you invite someone to partner with you at a specific dollar amount, or is it better to issue an invitation to financial partnership and leave the door open?
- Does the community function primarily from a collectivist worldview, or an individualistic one, as mentioned above? From a partnership perspective, this means deciding if it is better to invite people to give financially as a group (a family grouping, a community group, etc.), or as individuals.
2. Serve alongside churches or individuals with whom you want to build relationships and trust.
See where they are already investing their resources (time and money) and how you can come alongside them even as you ask them to join you in your particular ministry. If possible, invite churches and/or individuals to come serve with you, as well. Allow them to “experience” your vision rather than just telling them about it.
3. Ask members of the community to give in ways they are already giving.
Whether as a group, to the church (who then gives to you), or by supplying practical needs – and graciously accept any form of giving, even if it isn’t necessarily what you are asking for! We always want to honor how people respond to God’s prompting to give, even if it is outside our own cultural or organizational norm or expectation. God’s provision comes in many different forms, be it plates of food sold, frequent flier miles transferred, livestock donated, or a check written. We want to be gracious recipients at all times! (Obviously there may be tax or legal implications to some forms of giving, so know and understand your organization’s tax status.)
4. Show honor.
Taking the humble stance of a learner (even in your own community!), investing extra time, and demonstrating adaptability will go a long way in showing honor as we invite others to join us in ministry. When it comes to asking for financial partnership and requests to be introduced to others in the community (hello, referrals!), use language that is honoring to what you have learned about the people with whom you are meeting. This also means understanding power and influence in a particular community: who holds it and how is it used? Being aware of age and/or power differentials in a community can help us to honor unwritten expectations or processes, such as speaking to the pastor before meeting with people in a church. At the same time, understanding how power or influence is held and used can also help a missionary build more effective partnerships when a “person of power” (a pastor or community leader) advocates on his or her behalf.
Even though this has been framed in the context of communities of color or ethnic minorities, these principles also apply in the majority culture as we look at gender, socioeconomic, or geographical differences. Therefore, it behooves us all to pause before we enter into support raising and consider our audience. As the Apostle Paul stated, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all…. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.” (1 Cor. 9:19-23.) Our desire as ministers of the gospel is to draw people to Jesus, and that process can begin far before we arrive at our ministry assignment – it can start as soon as we begin to build our team of financial partners! We do this by tapping into the uniqueness God has instilled in the variety of people and cultures out of and into which He has called us to minister, making the most of deep connections and creative expressions of communal values that bring Him glory.
This article is submitted by Jessica Wood of Support Raising Solutions. Support Raising Solutions is a Missio Nexus member. Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.