The Ideal Supporter

by Myles Wilson
Posted on 1st November 2004

So, what is the ideal supporter like?

What would be in a job specification for the ideal supporter? To get an insight into how the job was viewed at the outset of the church's missionary endeavours, we need to go back to the beginning.

Paul's letter to the Philippians was written primarily in response to a gift they had sent him. In his Thank you letter Paul, amongst other things, outlines what he appreciates about them.

Your partnership - Philippians 1:4-5

Paul didn't see the Philippians as just supporters; he truly saw them as partners. In any enterprise involving partners, be it marriage, business, or, in this case, mission work, success depends on each partner doing their part. Partners may have differing responsibilities, but they are equally important. If one fails to do his or her job, the rest suffer. Paul knew that the Philippians were as vital to his ministry as he was. Do we really think that of our supporters?

Your prayers - Philippians 1:19

Their prayers made a difference - and Paul knew it. He was under house arrest, with few opportunities to share the gospel, not sure if he should go on living. But, in the midst of all this he recognises that their prayers were crucial, right up there with the help given by the Holy Spirit. Paul expresses a high level of personal vulnerability, allowing his supporters a glimpse of the real man behind the missionary. This very personal relationship with supporters both motivates and informs supporters' prayers.

Your joy - Philippians 1:26

What kept Paul going, even when he felt it was time to die, was the hope of meeting the Philippians again. He knew that they would be so happy that their joy in Christ Jesus will overflow. Not all our supporters will overflow with joy about our work, but by developing a strong sense of partnership, more of them will have such an ownership that they truly will rejoice with us.

Your messenger - Philippians 2:25

When the Philippians sent their gift, they sent it with a messenger, Epaphroditus. With no standing orders or cheque books, there was no other option. But Epaphroditus wasn't just a money-carrier. He was an encouragement to Paul, risking hardship, including serious illness, to be with him. Where possible, have supporters see your work first-hand. Not only will they be an encouragement, they will also become an even stronger advocate for you.

Your concern - Philippians 4:10

Paul describes the Philippians' financial support as your concern. It meant a lot more to him than money. He was under house arrest, feeling that he was coming to the end of his life. The Philippians didn't measure their support by the success of his ministry when they sent the gift. It was an act of grace, bound up in a strong personal commitment to
Paul. Pray for supporters who will support you simply because they are committed to you - and avoid those, like the Corinthians, who were so picky about Paul's ministry that they lost sight of the man in the middle of it.

Your account; your needs - Philippians 4:17-19

Twice in this passage Paul says that he didn't really need their gift - risky, when you live on support! But he emphasises that their account got credited and their needs got met. Do we see support as adding credit to our bank account and meeting our needs? Or do we really believe that it is our supporters who benefit, with their account in heaven getting credit and their needs getting met? If we choose the latter, then the whole process of living by the support of others becomes an adventure, in their lives even more than ours.

Myles Wilson advises mission agencies and Christian organisations on communication and fundraising, with a special emphasis on personal support raising. He is author of the book 'Funding the Family Business'.