The influence of godly leaders of the past is immense and George Mueller’s practices as regards his support is no exception. In fact the impact of his life style and that of his colleague Henry Craik on Brethren mission work (and far beyond) has been profound and still touches us 150 years on. Many of us have been brought up on the principle that the Lord’s servants should ‘look only to the Lord’ for their support, not making our physical needs known to any except the Lord himself. For many of us it is not a mere theory but has been our constant practice. The Lord has not failed!
Yet a study of Scripture will show that this model of support for full time workers is based upon Paul’s personal conviction to meet certain circumstances. There is no doubt he was lead by the Holy Spirit to this conviction, that whilst church planting in a new area he would not expect nor ask the new believers to support him in supplying his material needs. His fear being not so much doubts of their ability but that no excuse may be given for some to view Paul as one of those who peddle religion or philosophy for material gain and that he may lay no burden upon those he sought to win for Christ. Hence the following principle.
“Preaching the Gospel free of charge”. (1 Cor 9:15-24) Whether because of personal conviction or due to specific circumstances, a full or part-time church worker or missionary chooses to forgo the rights and privileges of the Lord’s servant. He or she makes it known to those among whom they serve that they will not expect to receive anything in terms of material help, but will be “trusting the Lord” for their support. (It goes without saying that concurrent with this is the understanding that material support will however be forth coming from somewhere!)
This is the step that Mueller took and many of us have followed in his footsteps. It is a valid NT step to take but we should remember that it is not the general model as taught by the Lord (see under “salaried”!). Also for those serving on the foreign mission field, whilst we do not ask or seek material support from those among whom we serve, we do anticipate it from those who have commended us to the work!! In that we follow Paul too who, at the very time he asked nothing of the Corinthians, received (and expected!?) material help from the Philippians and others.
Further this model of declining to receive material help from the target area of work cannot be turned on its head by the local churches, as has been observed in some areas. It would be a twisting of New testament teaching if some elders and church members were to say to their own serving full time workers, ” Don’t look to us but to the Lord, you are His servants. Like Paul you shouldn’t receive anything from us”! The personal decision by the Lords servant to lay down and forgo the right to material support doesn’t excuse any local church or individual believer from their responsibility before God to support that worker.
However, when all is said and done, if all believers are called to “live by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 4:13-18, then even more so those who take a step out of everyday salaried employment (or self-employment business) in order to devote most of their working week to serving a local church or in other mission and ministry. We need to grow in trusting God to supply what is needed both for personal support and for the resources needed to carry out the ministry. If other believers commit themselves to support us regularly, then great, for that is God’s normal way of provision for his servants. But essentially the worker’s confidence and trust must be in God to supply our every need (Matthew 6:33ff; Philippians 4:10-20)