By Josh Summers, Contributing Author
Josh Summers is a ministry worker and business owner who lives and works in Thailand. His company utilizes remote workers around the world to help him with a number of brands, including a Scripture memory training.
Many westerners are familiar with the tradition of funding overseas missions in some capacity. Either we’re members of a church that supports a number of missionaries around the world or we use part of our tithe to support missionaries we’ve met. We give out of the abundance that God has given us to reach the nations with the gospel.
Our financial support of the Great Commission has set an example that the global church admires and desires to emulate as they continue to mobilize their own people toward a missions mindset.
One of the many challenges we’re facing, however, is that this financial support model isn’t always replicable in countries where resources are severely limited. Churches around the world are raising up godly men and women who have a passion to see the gospel preached in places many westerners have a hard time going, but they’re left wondering:
How are we going to pay for this?
The answer thus far has been to rely on support from western churches. In some ways, this beautiful tradition of sacrificial giving has limited the ability of the church to consider non-traditional forms of missions funding, but that is slowly changing.
There are three historical approaches to this kind of non-traditional funding and a fourth emerging trend that is exciting.
1. Global Professionals
Those who are educated doctors, engineers, accountants or other professionals have a unique opportunity to use their skill set as an access point into global missions. Their work adds value to the community where they live and it often pays a salary that can fully support their family.
Mobilizing these professionals doesn’t mean convincing them to quit their jobs to be a missionary. On the contrary, it means giving them permission to use their God-given talent to work outside their home culture for the glory of God.
Professional Christians living overseas is nothing new, but the idea that we can and should intentionally mobilize this group of local believers is far less common.
There is another category of people who have the ability and tenacity to turn ideas into businesses. They have the vision to see opportunities where problems exist and are able to serve a community by creating a viable solution.
For those with an entrepreneurial spirit, there are numerous options to fund these ideas beyond traditional church giving such as grants, micro-funding or outside investors. It’s not easy, and the failure rate for startups is high, but it is possible.
3. Business Owners
We also have the business owners. Perhaps you’ve heard of “BAM” (Business as Mission), but this movement focuses heavily on using business as a means of access and identity in foreign countries, not necessarily funding. However, there are plenty of examples of businesses around the world whose foreign owners live off the salary the business provides.
Running a business in a foreign country has many challenges, to be sure, but it also provides opportunities to share the gospel to people and areas that a traditional missionary simply wouldn’t have access to. Employees, vendors, partners and customers present unlimited opportunity to combine work and ministry in a place that (hopefully) can pay the bills.
Global professionals, entrepreneurs and business owners.
Historically these have been the only alternatives to traditional missions funding, but they’ve also not been attractive options when mobilizing the global church because:
- It usually requires educated individuals;
- It usually requires experienced individuals;
- It requires humble individuals who have ambition coupled with an indifference to personal wealth;
Thankfully, there is one more option that has emerged over the past decade that has accelerated since Covid.
4. Freelance / Gig Worker
While remote work has gained in popularity throughout the west, it has led to a democratization of outsourced labor. A freelance designer in the United States is now competing for work with a similarly talented but much cheaper worker in Africa. Virtual assistants in the Philippines can earn a living wage by working for companies and bosses that they will never meet in person.
This kind of gig work allows missions-minded individuals an opportunity to earn a wage, even if it supplements the support their church already gives. They retain control over their time and they present an example to the people with whom they minister what it means to be bi-vocational.
What’s most exciting is that this kind of gig work usually doesn’t require a high level of skill or experience. Examples of both high- and low-skill freelance jobs include:
Some of these jobs have language requirements but many can easily be trained.
As with any non-traditional funding option, this isn’t a one-size-fits all solution. There are still hurdles to overcome related to training individuals, finding these gig jobs, accountability and establishing a healthy work/ministry balance.
But the western church may not always have the abundance to fund global missions. I believe it is critical for those who are mobilizing workers around the world to be open to the possibility and importance of non-traditional funding.
Just as God used manna to feed His people as they wandered the desert, He can use creative ways to sustain those He calls overseas.
“He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth…”