Financing Missional Experiments

In the beginning it all seemed so obviously a ‘God-thing’ that it would have been faithless to doubt that all necessary material provision would follow. Commitments were made, bridges were burned, the adventure began. Now you are well into your missional experiment. There are signs of progress, small yet significant. But the fact is it’s getting hard to make ends meet.

You took the financial planning side of things seriously. You knew that any worthwhile plan has to address the issue of money:

“Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it? For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’.” (Luke 14:28-30)

You counted the cost but, as always, things changed. Unforeseen and uncontrollable variables. You’ve reined in expenses as far as possible – there is no ‘fat’ left anywhere. To keep the experiment alive, you simply have to look again at the income side of the ledger.

And that’s when you think, ‘How on earth did Jesus do it?’ Jesus and his band of disciples kept things pretty simple, but they still had costs that had to be covered. He drew on four key income streams. 

  • User pays – Jesus sent the disciples out without protection, luggage, food, money or change of clothes or shoes so that they had to rely on hospitality.  

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, he gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra tunic. Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town.” (Luke 9:1-4)

  • Key supporters – Jesus and his journeying community were substantially supported by a group of women who had significant financial resources. In addition, Jesus relied on support bases in Capernaum in the North and in Bethany (the home of Mary, Martha and Lazarus) near Jerusalem in the South. 

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means. (Luke 8:1-3)

  • Common purse – Each of the disciples came with various means at their disposal. It appears that they pooled their resources, with Judas Iscariot as the treasurer. 

Judas was keeper of the money bag. (John 12:6)

Since Judas had charge of the money, some thought Jesus was telling him to buy what was needed for the Feast, or to give something to the poor. (John 13:29)

  • Windfall provision – There were times when Jesus wanted to do more in ministry than he could afford to do, such as wanting to feed the five thousand. He trusted in his Father’s provision. On another occasion he was caught short financially over a much more mundane matter – tax. Even when questions could have been raised about the validity of this obligation Jesus did not shirk it. 

After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes–from their own sons or from others?” “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the sons are exempt,” Jesus said to him. “But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.” (Matt 17:24-27)

Considering these might spark some ideas that you could try.

  • Many of us love the idea of offering our ministry to others at no cost to them as a demonstration of God’s grace. But Jesus had no difficulty receiving hospitality from people like Zacchaeus who he was trying to reach, and he recommended his disciples to do the same when they went preaching and healing. When Jesus asked the woman at the well for a drink, putting himself in the position of needing her assistance opened up an opportunity for a spiritual conversation. The people you seek to serve may be put off by your self-sufficiency and disarmed by your need of their help. 
  • You most likely already have a few people who have been prepared to back you, some of them financially. Keep them in touch with your missional experiment as Jesus did with the women; involve them in what you’re doing. In the past I have been unwilling to approach people close to me for financial help for fear of damaging our relationship. It’s wrong to badger people for money, but being open about your needs can, in fact, strengthen the relationship and possibly lead to significant personal growth. I discovered that my sense of dignity was too much tied to being self-sufficient. Becoming poorer for the sake of mission and being honest about that broke my pride, taught me how to ask for help and turned out to share the joy of mission with a wider group.
  • Just how the Twelve pooled their resources is not entirely clear. It’s hard to imagine Jesus being extortionate about it but he clearly had no trouble with members of his cohort chipping in to make the whole thing work. If you have started to build a team, don’t be afraid to ask key team members to make similar material sacrifices to the ones you have made for the sake of the missional experiment. Do this without coercion and always provide a way for people to be involved in a less intense fashion without stepping up to this level of financial commitment – Jesus had the 70 as well as the Twelve.
  • Peter was told to go about his usual work, and expect a windfall that would meet both his need and his Master’s. What we’re looking at here is the miraculous way in which God can bring along financial resources at just the right time to meet a specific need. Windfalls do happen and, when they do, be ready to recognize it as God’s provision for mission rather than an opportunity to splurge. Here is a reminder to bring our financial needs to the Lord in prayer. It might seem terribly obvious, but are you praying specifically and steadily for the material needs of your missional experiment?

At the risk of ending on a negative note, it’s important to address the scenario in which the finances don’t come in and you can no longer pay the bills. Take it on the chin, friends. Make the call to close things down promptly and with dignity. This is how it is with experiments: some work and some don’t. There are no guarantees of ‘success’, whatever that is. One thing is for sure – we must not stop engaging in bold experiments that run the risk of going broke. Huge value can come from ventures that look like financial failures but actually plant seeds of the kingdom that will bring returns in years to come.