The salaries of Wycliffe missionaries are made up of charitable gifts given in preference for their ministry by a team of financial partners that includes friends, family, churches and other groups. We call it “partnership development” (PD). Before new Wycliffe missionaries start their official roles, they receive extensive training, coaching and help to develop a full team of prayer and financial partners.
For many people, the thought of giving up a traditional salary in exchange for a faith-based team is unsettling at best and utterly terrifying at worst.
Mike Osborn, one of three associate directors of partnership development with Wycliffe USA, has worked with hundreds of new missionaries, helping them tackle their fears and stresses about PD. He and his family have lived on a faith-based salary for over 22 years.
Read on as Mike discusses five common misconceptions about partnership development.
One common misconception is that building a partnership team (sometimes called “raising support”) is unbiblical. But throughout the Bible, we see numerous examples of the church providing financially for people in ministry. For example the tithe met the needs of the priests and workers in the tabernacle (Numbers 18), and ministry partners provided for Jesus and his 12 disciples as they traveled (Luke 8-9). When Jesus commissioned the new disciples, he told them the community should care for them (Luke 10), and the new church gave generously to provide resources for apostles and missionaries (2 Corinthians 9).
Throughout Scripture, we see evidence of people building partnership teams, from Nehemiah and David to Jesus and Paul. The early church was built on a system of interdependence. We are simply the managers of the wealth God provides us.
“It’s begging people for money.”
Talking about finances and asking people for money is generally frowned upon. But Wycliffe’s version of partnership development is not built on begging or demanding. Instead it’s all about educating the church and Christian community about Bible translation and inviting people to be involved in what God is doing.
“We don’t ask people to give specific amounts,” Mike said. “We just share stories of what God is doing through Bible translation and Scripture engagement.” He continued: “Partnership development is one of the ways God is spreading his name among the nations … and we believe God is alive and active to inspire people to join him.”
Partnership development is a relationship between a missionary, the church and Christian individuals with all parties providing prayer, resources, investment and ownership.
“It’s too hard.”
Presenting your ministry needs to people can feel risky. What if people say no? No one wants to feel like a failure or be embarrassed. But you don’t have to feel that way. “Our responsibility is simply to share our testimony, share our calling and be dependent that God will provide our needs,” Mike explained. “The audience’s responsibility is to be discerning in how they should use the resources God has given them. Some say yes and some don’t. And we bless them either way because God might be calling them elsewhere.”
If God uses partnership development to stir the hearts of believers to join him in the work he is doing among the nations, then a “no” is no longer a personal rejection. By letting go of pride and allowing God to bring the right people in his timing, you’re freed from feelings of shame or embarrassment.
It’s powerful when God brings the right team of partners together. Mike said: “PD produces real relationships — partners who will cry with you and pray with you. In times of tragedy, we’ve experienced the joy of a broad network of partners … who’ve provided an outpouring of love, encouragement and prayer support.”
“It’s not adequate for my needs.”
Because some missionaries serve for the long term (40 to 50 years), Wycliffe is committed to caring for people financially through their entire ministry lives. This includes providing necessities like retirement, health insurance and children’s education. Wycliffe ensures missionaries are adequately supplied for their entire ministry through healthy budgets and support systems. Thousands of Wycliffe missionaries have been blessed by this, growing their faith and trust in God exponentially.
“Really your salary is a small thing for the Lord,” Mike said. “If you really believe that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills, then he has all the resources that he needs to reach the nations. If God is our Jehovah-Jireh, the Great Provider, why don’t we test him in this … and experience his great provision?”
“It’s an unstable source of income.”
Because a faith-based salary isn’t dependent on turning in a timesheet or completing a certain number of projects, it can feel like it’s out of a person’s control. How can you trust a paycheck based on other peoples’ generosity? Because it’s based on a trustworthy God.
“No matter if our source of income is traditional or faith-based, we’re all dependent on God's faithfulness, grace and provision,” Mike said. “By building our ministry team and the gifts that come from God's grace, we release our dependency on the world and align ourselves with God's promises and his Word,” Mike observed.
Mike knows this from experience: He left a successful and financially secure career in software development and project management to serve in church ministry and then later in Bible translation. His colleagues questioned his shift to a faith-based salary: “What are you thinking?” one person asked. “You can’t take care of your family that way!”
Shocked and hurt, Mike paused for a moment and then said: “I don’t know how big your God is, but I know my God is big enough.”
Over the next few days, Mike and his family received multiple major financial gifts. “God just confirmed his direction and care,” Mike said. “It’s a rollercoaster ride of faith. If you’re up for the challenge, you’ll experience firsthand the divine providence of God.”
More Than a Salary
Partnership development is more than just a system by which Wycliffe missionaries get paid. It’s about the Christian community coming together in obedience and joy to serve the Lord. It’s a powerful tool which God uses to educate and strengthen the church, inviting people to further his Kingdom through the work of Bible translation.