Don’t George Muller Me: A Missionary’s Plea for Understanding

Many greatly admire Muller and urge all missionaries to live by his private standards.

Muller’s conviction was that he ought not to have a fixed salary, nor should he ever communicate his financial needs. My conviction is that missionaries, unless specifically and powerfully called otherwise, should strive for a predictable and relatively consistent rate of support. This includes striving for clear, direct, and frequent communications about all pertinent matters regarding their missionary labors (and one such relevant matter is, indeed, finances) with supporters.

 

George Muller (1805-1898) is a model of faith for many. Moving from Prussia to Bristol, England, in 1832, Muller ministered as a pastor, started schools and orphanages, and sacrificed unceasingly for others. Many of the sins of his early life were associated with money. After conversion, however, a marked change occurred, and Muller developed several strong convictions about his own use of funds.

Some of Muller’s convictions were to (1) never have a fixed income, (2) never appeal for funds, (3) never have any savings, but to spend all his extra on the poor, and (4) owe no one anything.

Muller never made an appeal for funds, but prayed to God for the means to support the orphans under his care. And, the funds came in! His lifestyle greatly impacted missions so much so that Hudson Taylor and C.T. Studd, among other missionaries, adopted his principles as well. Today, as missionaries train and prepare to go out into the missionary harvest fields, many become acquainted with George Muller’s name.

Even more, many greatly admire Muller and urge all missionaries to live by his private standards. Some missionaries even exhort their peers in a similar manner.

While quite a few are not aware of all the details regarding Muller’s convictions (but merely desire to see Muller’s model of faith emulated), others assert that his methodologies and convictions ought to be made normative for all—or at least for all who really trust the Lord.

I love and admire George Muller, but I have this to say: Please, don’t George Muller me! Allow me to share a number of things concerning funding and support that it would be helpful to remind ourselves of.

1. We shouldn’t produce false dichotomies in the name of trusting God. I have no doubt that many people are very well-intentioned in taking a Muller-like stand in their ministries or in urging others to do so. However, in advocating their stance to others, they often draw a number of false dichotomies. Consider the following statements:

  • We are not going to raise support; we are going to go on faith!
  • We are not trusting in the means of people; we are trusting in God, who gives us our daily bread.
  • God is enough; we are not relying on people.
  • When we receive unsolicited funds, we give God all the glory.
  • We should seek God alone in financing this ministry.
  • We do not make our appeals to others; we appeal to God alone.

If the above statements are to believed, then

  • Planning and budgeting imply distrust of God.
  • Informing others with regard to needed funds equals disbelief in the sufficiency of God.
  • Receiving funds based on stated needs or budgeted pledges means that we fail to give God all the glory.

2. Often, not soliciting funds can become conspicous. I know several ministers who make much of the fact that they never solicit supporters for funds. And they remind you of it. Often. So frequently, in fact, that it becomes a sort of solicitation in itself.

One pastor I know took a short vacation with a follower of Muller’s methodology. At every stop which cost money, this person lacked the funds and often mentioned something to the effect of, “If the Lord wants me to go [to this park, event, etc.], then he will provide the means.”

His traveling buddies ended up being this man’s “means” at every stop. The pastor remarked to me later that, “I would have much preferred that this man receive a set salary that was sufficient and enabled him to pay his own way instead of constantly needing to remind us, ‘if the Lord wills for me to go, he will provide a way’ at every stop.”

3. Sometimes, it really is helpful to have your own store of cash. A few missionaries and pastors I know have had many ideas for new projects, but no savings to initiate any of them. Their methodology of work was as follows: as they mentioned their plans to supporters (being careful, of course, not to make any solicitations) they then occasionally received particular funds for a particular project.

This was then taken as God’s way of affirming which projects gained priority and which got set on the back-burner. “If the Lord wills it, then the Lord will support it” was one pastor’s favorite justification for this practice of prioritizing projects.

However, I have observed that many less visible but seemingly more effective projects often were delayed or cancelled as more visible projects gained quicker support from supporting churches. Whereas the missionary ought to have been setting the priorities based on his or her knowledge of the local context and conditions, instead, he or she prioritized based on designations from churches operating thousands of miles away. This is not a good strategic move.

Perhaps a better way would have been to prioritize, and then raise support and monies based on these prioritizations—or at least set aside undesignated savings for such projects. To limit one’s actions on the mission field by never soliciting funds, and never betraying a designation (and never properly informing would-be supporters which projects should take priority) is to be a poor steward of time and funds.

4. A good relationship means full disclosure, including needs. A missionary-supporter relationship should never be primarily about funds. But financial giving does play a part. Each partner has a role; the missionary goes and the sender sends. Therefore, to be sent well and to send well necessitates a lot of communication that is direct, clear, frank, and frequent. Financial support and financial needs are topics which should not be hidden.

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