Missions Consulting International



From Sponsorship to Stewardship

From Sponsorship to Stewardship

An Overview for Direct-Support Churches


by Bob Waldron

Your church’s success or failure in missions is directly linked to the mission role your church assumes, whether as sponsor, supporter, sender or steward of God’s mission.


When congregations opt to send their missionaries directly, without the services of a missionary society or agency, they must take on many of the responsibilities of those agencies—responsibilities like screening, preparing, financing, assigning and overseeing their missionaries.


Before World War II, most independent missionaries were largely on their own because, for the most part, very few well-equipped direct-support congregations had developed.  That meant that independent missionaries were forced into self-determining their fitness for overseas ministry, choosing their field of service, raising their own support—generally from individuals and a few churches—and choosing a trusted friend to serve as forwarding agent to receive the funds and forward them as needed to the missionary. 

Many of our church heroes of the 19th and 20th century served under this unfortunate situation.  With the local church sidelined, one does not have to wonder why missions was not high on the churches’ agenda.


Sponsoring Churches


Though there were some notable exceptions, only a handful of American congregations were seriously involved in world outreach prior to 1945.  Most of the churches, if they did anything at all, served merely as sponsors of a particular missionary, adding the strength of their name to provide credibility to the missionary.  They gave their name, but not their funding, not their involvement, not their prayers. 


A handful of churches in those early years did more, sometimes providing a forwarding agent from within the congregation to collect and send along small donations from individuals or Bible classes toward the salary or expenses of the missionary, but generally no funds were provided from the church budget.


Under these circumstances, despite the courageous effort of a few, the emotional and spiritual casualties among our missionaries were high and, to put it mildly, the American mission movement did not exactly flourish.





Many churches are still in this early stage of development but they can, like the recruiting slogan for the U.S. Army encourages, “Be the best you can be.”  Sponsoring churches can increase their missions influence by two simple decisions:


·         Pray for the missionaries you sponsor—not just mentioning them in a sentence or two at an occasional worship service, but by serious down-on-your knees kind of praying.  Ask the Lord to bless them with perseverance and insights into the culture, to protect them from spiritual harm, to keep them safe physically, to help them find hearts that are hungering for the good news of salvation by grace.  Pray your heart out for them.


·         Don’t settle for just being a funnel through which funds pass from donors to missionaries; hold the missionaries accountable for those funds, as well as for their spiritual growth, moral behavior and ministry on the field.  Make certain that the missionaries send regular reports to all their partners.


Supporting Churches


After the War, local churches began taking a more active role in missions, largely because the 16 million men and women the military had sent across the waters saw desperate spiritual need in the countries where they served.  When they returned, they joined with those who had stayed at home, but whose eyes had been opened and whose hearts had been touched by newspapers, magazines and newsreels that had brought distant peoples and exotic places much nearer.  This was the Great Awakening of modern missions.  More churches began sponsoring and supporting missionaries, some even taking greater responsibility for the success their missionaries were experiencing on the field.  The number of missionaries quickly mushroomed.




If your congregation supports missionaries, make the decision to excel at it:


·         Be an informed supporter, researching answers to questions like How much support is needed?  Where can you find the COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) for the country where your missionary is serving? What about housing and transportation allowances?  What kind of benefit package is needed?  What about funding during home leaves? 


·         Your missionaries need more than financial support.  In addition to your monthly checks, they need your encouragement and prayers.  Shower them with your loving concern.


God wants more than local churches that sponsor and support his frontline warriors.  The burgeoning population reinforces this need for something more.


Sending Churches


More than sponsorship and support are needed by our missionaries.  They need to be sent out, not merely let go. God calls his church to commission and send missionaries, often from their own congregations.  That’s what makes the Antioch congregation such a role model:  it was a worshipping and fasting church, a church that listened to the Holy Spirit, an obedient church that realized the immensity of what they were about to do, who therefore fasted and prayed over their new missionaries, laying their hands on them to set them apart to the work, then sending them out (Acts 13:1-5).  


By their sacrificial support, prayers and the missionaries they have sent, modern sending churches have blessed the world in countless ways.  Disciples have been made, churches have been established, hospitals and other humanitarian works have been inaugurated.  Lives of entire nations have been transformed.  





But, as with sponsoring churches, sending churches sometimes tend to operate at minimal performance levels.  Instead of initiating proactive steps by deciding beforehand the kinds of mission work the church wants to support, the kinds of missionaries it wants to send and the geographical locations in which it wants to invest, too many sending churches make reactive decisions based solely on what the missionary candidates bring to the interview. 


God wants churches to have a vision and to be more intentional about what they do. 

Sending churches can maximize their investment by doing the following:


·         Carefully screen the candidates you hope to send.  The screening process should include psychological assessments, a review of their basic Christian beliefs, a history of their past successes in school and employment, an assessment of their marital and family health, and questions relating to their hobbies and recreational/relaxation activities.    


·         Require your missionary family to do a six-month to one-year internship at your congregation prior to departure.  This will cement a strong relationship between your members and your missionaries, as well as allow senior ministers and church leaders to shepherd the missionary family and sharpen the missionary’s ministry skills. 


Stewarding Churches


Churches that are stewards of God’s mission can be easily identified.  They are the churches that create a congregational environment where spiritual growth and the concept of a God-formed vision can take place and who act in obedience to that vision.   


Scripture passages dealing with godly stewardship are important to such congregations.  They never want to be guilty of squandering God’s possessions (Luke 16:1), but always to manage God’s resources of people, finances, time and opportunities responsibly.






Stewarding churches send out their missionaries with spiritual care and nurture that is ongoing and accountable.  They collaborate with other churches and resources in seeking God’s provision for the mission effort and seek fruitfulness in every endeavor for God’s glory.

Stewarding churches take ownership of the mission God has given them and they prayerfully seek his guidance.  They study best practices in missions and keep abreast of the world situation.  They often select the field first, then choose a person or a team who will help them accomplish their vision for that field. 

If the missionary comes home before the task is accomplished, the stewarding church finds another missionary to complete the goal.  They stay with the task because they know God has given it to them and that they must give an answer to Him concerning how well they have fulfilled their responsibilities.




No matter where your church is on the continuum from sponsorship to stewardship, it can grow in its missions capacity.  Some of the responsibilities we have mentioned may not be as important for congregations that rely on a missions agency, but for direct-support churches—churches that accept the biblical responsibility for recruiting, screening, preparing, supporting, sending and stewarding their missionaries—these responsibilities are essential.


A good missions church will move from sponsor to steward as its capability in world evangelism increases.   


The Church of Christ in Juneau, Alaska where my wife and I served in the 1960s is a good example:


With fewer than 70 members at the time, it was inexperienced in world missions and incapable of stewarding missionaries and their works.  So they began where they could by sending $50 a month to a missionary in Peru about whom they had read.  But they didn’t stop there.  They sent me as their short-term missionary to India and, because we were part of the congregation, they knew me, prayed for me, and looked after my wife and three young children during the three months I was gone.


They continued to grow in their mission experience and knowledge and later provided all our operational funds for fulltime mission work in Guatemala.  They prayed for us, loved us by long distance and even visited us onsite during the years we were there.


They went on to support a national preacher in India and to send one of their own to be trained as a gospel preacher.  That man and his family later served in Santiago, Chile.


A single congregation regardless of size can prepare itself to wield significant.  The congregation at Antioch was such a church.  The Christians at Antioch were faithful to the vision given to them concerning God’s global mission.  As a result, in partnership with the Holy Spirit, they sent some of their most qualified members as missionaries and impacted the entire Mediterranean world.  The church at Antioch became a steward of God’s vision for the world.  


Imagine what could happen if there were thousands of congregations like Antioch!