Missionaries Are Not Second Class 2

In Nehemiah 13:10 we see that the tithe was distributed by leadership to everyone who was doing work as a Levite. Nehemiah says, “I also learned that the portions assigned to the Levites had not been given to them, and that all the Levites and singers responsible for the service had gone back to their own fields.” This was a very sad note, actually. This was Nehemiah realizing that both the Levites and the rest of the tribes had broken their contract. The Levites no longer claimed the tithe, but went back and worked at the banana stand to earn a living. The people had quite giving the tithe (I am sure this was justified by a dozen cynical judgements) and no longer had any sense of needing to honor their leaders and receive equipping. I could say the same thing today about so many people who are set apart to do the work of the ministry both in our fellowships and in other places around the world. Here is an excerpt from a previous post:

“On some occasions these full-time workers may serve in a place so poor or so devoid of spiritual life that almost no provision is available to them in their own “fields” and so we may share with them the tithe, not just random offerings, so that they may continue their work. This enters into what we refer to today as missional giving, or fund raising for those who do mission work of some kind, and it is our sincere desire that each one understand how to claim and receive the tithe as their portion for their work. The tithe would support their salary to live, and many other kinds of offerings could support the special projects they are involved in. This keeps everything personal and accountable, and we can always give strategically when presented with giving options in this way.”

Missionaries, classically defined, were never meant to have to come home an beg for scraps from local fellowships tables. They are to receive the tithe, in full measure, to do the work of the ministry, and therefore are to be fully accountable to the leadership of the greater Church to function effectively and to steward their provisions with integrity. Just as we should require of any local minister. The only difference here is that they are equipping the family in other places, and not directly equipping me.

I realize this opens up a much broader discussion about who we send where to do what. It begs for a lot of structural and relational rethink about missionary organizations and Christian service that goes on around the world. That being said I still think it is clearly time as local elders and as believers in general to make sure we are sharing the tithe, and distributing it to those we oversee and partner with in the work of the ministry. I will include in this post the final bullet-point from that unfortunately overloaded post on kingdom finance, “Now, To Put It On the Stove” since it is very closely related and works together in this conversation:

“There is a lot of wiggle room when believers are presented with choices from people who are doing special ministry works as well as working in ministry as well. If a person is going to do mission work for 6 months with an organization then you might give a tithe for them as a very person oriented gift, or you might, as the Holy Spirit leads you to, give an offering as you see it as a short term project in which they are involved. Some in ministry are prone to promote their special projects, some just come and say, “Can you help me with my salary needs?” In either case, we are free to hear God on how we are to give to them. Even at the local fellowship level we don’t require any changes on a giving envelop before we can change our hearts and give as the Lord directs knowing the “what” and the “why” even better than those who might be receiving it. In any case, it is important to choose to enjoy honoring our leaders and being generous to God’s unique works around us, and it will be up to each believer to do as his conscience allows.”

To clarify I will cut and paste here the summary from the post immediately before this one in understanding the simplest fundamentals of tithing:

  1. We must know who is set apart to serve us all
  2. Those in Ephesians 4 ministry must receive the tithe sharing in order to be healthy
  3. Tithing can be given personally or organizationally toward our leadership
  4. The storehouse must be overseen by trustworthy people

I don’t believe there are two classes of ministry divided between local fellowship and missionary organizations. Therefore, I apply the above 4 principles to everyone who receives money to do ministry work. I see no reason to separate the local and the trans-local as though they are two economies. There is only one ministry work economy, and it is built solely on the tithe. Now, I do believe there are two classes of leadership, if I had to use that word, and they are first, the five-fold ministries that work at large to serve the whole, and second, the local elders who oversee believers who meet and function together at home. They both receive the tithe, and they are all under authority. They must all show that they have been commissioned to the work of the ministry, and they must all receive the tithe. They must all serve the whole Church, as whole as their grace will allow, and must not be reduced to institutional affiliations or prejudicial world views. We are set apart, after all, to build up the saints, not to build up organizations and to this end we make our appeal, “Saints, we are committed to you and to your spiritual equipping. Honor us with your tithe, and we will humbly submit to the authority of our brothers and live carefully accountable and focused on serving you as God directs. We will serve you both near and far, and we see no other goal in our life but to love you, the people of God, the apple of his eye, the bride of Christ, the Church whom he loves. Thank you.”

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2 thoughts on “Missionaries Are Not Second Class

  • Paul Victor

    Hey Ben ,
    This is Paul victor, we met in Santa fe in 2002 and i played the Djembe with you for one of the 100 portraits concert @ an art Gallery while i was doing my school of music in missions , currently i pastor a urban church in Bangalore India (capstone) you truly are an inspiration, brilliant article , keep up the good work
    thank much

    • benpasley Post author

      Paul, what a great note! Thank you for taking the time to write. We love India and we loved that event way back when in Santa Fe, it was very memorable!