Should You Support People in Ministry Who Live More Extravagantly Than Yourself?

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Generous giving often requires sacrificial living.

What happens when a Christian sacrifices to give to someone in ministry, but the person in ministry doesn’t sacrifice to the same level?

  • What should you do when you cut eating out from your budget to support a missionary who you hear is eating out?
  • What should you do when you stop taking vacations to support a ministry, and the key leader is taking vacations?
  • What should you do when you downsize your home to support a pastor who is upgrading his home?
  • What should you do when you economize your household spending so a church can have the latest and greatest?

From the Perspective of a Missionary

I’ll start by addressing this from the side of a minister and missionary.  Until 2012, my annual salary has always come 100% from the donations of Christians.

People in ministry are put under a microscope and live in houses made of windows.  Everyone sees, judges, and evaluates their actions.

After we had been in Papua New Guinea for a couple of years, we were really looking for an opportunity to take a vacation and recharge our batteries.  We were feeling a lot of pressure from many different sides.  We talked frequently about taking a family vacation to Brisbane, Australia, but our biggest reservation was – what would people think, say, or do?  We knew many individuals were sacrificing to support us, but we also knew that vacations were vital to our emotional health.

In the end, my parents ended up using some of their points to get us a week long condominium vacation in Brisbane.  For some legal work, the two of us had to fly to Port Moresby, PNG to process some paperwork with the government, so we decided that was the time to do the trip as economically as possible.  It still cost us about $3,000.

A part of us felt guilty about it.

To be frank, one of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about working for myself is being outside of the analytical eye, where either everyone is judging me, or I think everyone is judging me based on how I spend my money.

In the end, we concluded that we were living responsibly and frugally.  In light of how we managed our money, we felt comfortable with the expenditure.

From the Perspective of a Giver

We’ve always done our best to support missionaries in the work they do.  We’ve made it a personal goal to divide our extra giving into equal thirds of church, missions, and works with the poor.

I’d be lying if there haven’t been occasions where I’ve felt like we sacrificed more than the people to whom we’re giving.

I’ve known missionaries who bought things I’d never consider buying, and they’ve paid prices I’d never consider paying.  Here I am back home practicing missional frugality, and those on the field sometimes live as luxuriously as the people back home.

That’s the rub. Both parties (the giver and the recipient) have a legitimate concern and legitimate issues.

So, what do we do?

The Two Parts of Giving

I believe that our motivations to give can be broken down into two main categories: personal benefits and ministry benefits.

Personal Benefits

When we give, we are blessed.  I’m not talking about health and wealth gospel, but we do receive a return for what we give.  Another benefit is that we free ourselves from the love and grip of money.  Giving is not just a method God uses to fund ministries, but to allow our hearts to change and to allow us to experience the joy of giving.

These personal benefits can never be taken away from us no matter how the funds are used by others.

Ministry Benefits

We all hope not just to experience the personal blessing of giving, but to help fund an important ministry that ultimately advances the kingdom of God.  The question is – where does my stewardship end and another person’s stewardship responsibility begin?

I’d focus my stewardship efforts on the results and benefits of a ministry.  Some ministries spend money on things I wouldn’t spend money on, but the ministry is effective.  In those situations, I think I use my wisdom to support the ministry, and then trust their judgement as they are now responsible for overseeing the funds.

Thus, I’m happy supporting people and ministries who are doing good work – even if their financial management is different than my own.  Obviously, there is a limit to this allowance.  I would never support a televangelist who owns a multi-million dollar home.  Thus, there is a limit to the financial freedom I give to those I support.

The Poison of Judgment

Our family recognizes that we take this frugal living thing a little further than most people.  We also realized that that could harm our relationships with people if we didn’t openly admit to each other that this is a lifestyle choice we are making, and we won’t hold others to the same standard.

At the root of this is the poison of judgment.

The reality is that we all think we are the prefect center.  People who spend money in ways we spend money are good financial managers, and people who spend money in ways we wouldn’t dare spend money are wasteful.  That seems to be the case with Mary in John 12. According to all their wisdom and sensibilities, the funds were wasted.  Jesus disagreed.

One of my all-time favorite financial quotes is by Elizabeth O’Connor:

Proportionate to what? Proportionate to the accumulated wealth of one’s family? Proportionate to one’s income and the demands upon it, which vary from family to family? Proportionate to one’s sense of security and the degree of anxiety with which one lives? Proportionate to the keenness of our awareness of those who suffer? Proportionate to our sense of justice and of God’s ownership of all wealth? Proportionate to our sense of stewardship for those who follow after us? And so on, and so forth. The answer of course, is in proportion to all of these things.

See what she’s saying?

I’m more likely to spend money on vacations than most people are.  You might like eating out.  Another might like decorating her home.  Someone else might have a thing for fancy cars.

The danger is for me to think I’m the perfect center and judge people who spend money in ways that are different than myself.  Sure, they may spend more on cars, but perhaps there are other ways that they spend less money than me.

I guess what I’m advocating is strictness in the judgment of ourselves and liberty in the judgment of others.

I write about topics on this blog that I’d never initiate in a conversation with a friend or family member.  I think for me to challenge them or question them based on my assumptions would be unfair.  If someone asks for my opinion, I’m always willing to give it, but I try to lean towards being liberal in my judgment of others (but it can be hard at times).

We are all very unique members of God’s creation.  Not only do we have different dispositions, we also have very different experiences.  Those things shape us.

I believe in something called conditional judgment.  That means that we will all be judged differently.  James 3:1 says we shouldn’t all strive to be teachers because teachers are judged more strictly.  Matthew 7:2 tells us that in the way we judge others, we too will be judged.

God knows all our experiences.  All our lessons. All our personalities.  Everything.  And he is going to responsibly judge us based on what he’s given to us and allowed us to experience.

When it comes to giving, focus the majority of my effort on my home because that’s something I can control.  Outside my own home, my thoughts are merely judgments (usually based on my own unique experiences and beliefs).

If I support a ministry where someone uses money more liberally than myself, I believe I’ll still be blessed for that gift and that ministry will be blessed as well.

How do you deal with situations where someone in ministry lives more extravagantly than yourself?

Comments

  1. RMG says

    I found this article to be very interesting and enlightening. I am really glad that you included these statements “Our family recognizes that we take this frugal living thing a little further than most people. We also realized that that could harm our relationships with people if we didn’t openly admit to each other that this is a lifestyle choice we are making, and we won’t hold others to the same standard.”

    You stated that you wouldn’t support a televangelist living in a multi-million dollar mansion and for the record, I fully respect this decision. Just wondering – does it matter, if the person doesn’t take a salary from the ministry and through books, music, teachings, etc. he or she makes their living?

    I know from personal experience, I can sacrifice spending on myself to support ministries, organizations and even individuals only to see them spend their own resources on what’s important to them. I listen to the voice of God and sow where he directs and place my expectations on Him, because we will all answer to God for our stewardship.

    • says

      RMG,
      Great question about how the tele-evangelist earns his or her income.

      If a person didn’t take salary through any form of ministry, but through product sales then there would never be an occasion for me to support him or her.

      I’d definitely struggle with my conscience if I lived in a multi-million dollar house. For me it would be inconsistent with my call to frugal and generous living.

      Our stewardship responsibility does extend to others. We all have the responsibility to stop supporting ministries that are no longer honoring God.

  2. Bill says

    This makes me think of some good friends whose daughter and son-in-law are missionaries in eastern Europe. They were in the States itenerating for their support and needed transportation while here. The parents offered them the use of a several year old Mercedes while here. The daughter explained, “No, we need the old station wagon. Our supporters would never understand us driving a mercedes, even if it was a loaner.”

    I guess we are all judgemental, at least at some level, without really thinking about it.

    • says

      Bill,
      We definitely do judge people based on what they drive. I would rather be in an old beat up car than a nice one when fundraising.

      We probably all do more judging than we should.

      • says

        I concur with you. If the money is from others, you better give back to them in terms of services. If they donate for a ministry, invest all they donate there. You better ride an old car from your money than riding a new car with money from others. they will always be saying ‘S/he bought it with our money’. The best and sweet money is the one you have worked for, not got or given by other people.

        • says

          Joshua,
          For those in ministry I think it is virtuous to live off of the money that people have given. Most ministry couldn’t happen without people living off the contributions of others.
          Indeed, we are all accountable (on one level) to those who have helped to support us.

  3. says

    Thanks for visiting my blog “wordimagery” and thank you so much for this insightful and very well-written article. Finances have never been my strong-point in almost 28 years of marriage. Really appreciate the advice of someone whose understanding extends far beyond my own.
    Blessing to you, your family, and your excellent ministry!

    Your brother,

    Stephen

  4. Roger says

    This is a good article written with wisdom and grace and one I can relate to, not so much with missionaries but with local ministries/church and how money is spent and allocated on activities and things that I think may be a waste of money – such as funded overseas church conferences for the ministry team (a free holiday?) that most in my congregation would never be able to afford or furnishing/building a church that has considerably better decor and furniture than my home. But as stated we must learn not to judge, but its hard not to be cynical.

  5. says

    Although I don’t consider myself to be a judgmental person, this post helped me realize that I judge others more than I should…I tend to question not only those in ministry, but any believer who I see spending money which, by my standard, is wasteful. This is, no doubt, why Jesus admonished us to “Judge not, that you be not judged”, because I am quite sure that most of the world, who lives in extreme poverty compared to me, would question how I spend money.

  6. says

    Craig, this is a beautiful and thought-provoking post. I love your comment that “we all think we are the perfect center … (we perceive) people who spend money in ways we wouldn’t dare … are wasteful.” Personal finance is personal, and people tend to spend money (whether consciously or not) in ways that align with their priorities.

    That issue, of course, gets trickier when you’re donating money. I suppose the most a person can do is to donate in ways that align with your own priorities. If that means giving to a charity for the disabled rather than a ministry that makes you uncomfortable, I think that’s okay. And if that means supporting a ministry despite the fact that its spending choices are different than your own, that’s okay too.

    The bottom line, I believe, is that the giver is aware of his/her own priorities and values, and is giving in alignment with those.

    • says

      Paula,
      There definitely is a need to balance wisdom while we trust others to do good. Sometimes wisdom does say we should stop supporting a charity. Sometimes trust says we continue to give even if they operate differently than we would.
      I’m not sure I know where the line is, but I think your comment helps us identify the importance of our values and priorities in giving.

  7. says

    Excellent article Craig. My practice is to tithe to where I’m spiritually fed. If I learn a great lesson from a stranger, I give them some tithe. If it’s from church, I tithe there.

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