“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-5
Here’s a not so fun fact, in the nation of Iceland, outside of the state church and well established Lutheran churches aligned in many ways with the Lutheran State church there are only 5 pastors that I know of who work as pastors full time in the so called “free churches”.
The reason why they are called free churches is because they are not funded by the State.
2 of those 5 pastors work at our church, and we work full time in ministry simply due to the generosity of churches, mission organisations, individuals and families from outside of Iceland who give of their hard earned money to us… This has not only allowed us to work full time in ministry in Iceland, but also set an example for me personally, and our church, to be generous and participate in gospel ministry elsewhere in the world as well.
Honestly, before we got to be funded to do ministry I did not think that was ever going to be possible, not only because Iceland ranks regularly among the most expensive countries in Europe to live in, but also because I never grew up around the concept that Christians or Christian churches gave their money away to other churches… If you had leftover room in your budget you’d buy a better sound system, lights, or redo the youth room or something else, you would most definitely not give it away to another church, at least that’s the idea I walked away with, perhaps the reality was very different than my experience.
Here we are coming up on something like 6 years where we’ve had full funding due to churches and individuals who gave freely, generously and lovingly towards gospel work in Iceland, to pay me a salary, some of these people have never met me, and have yet to meet the souls impacted by their generosity and partnership in gospel ministry.
When I think of the privilege and honour to not only serve God full time, but to have the trust of people who honour me by trusting me enough to give me money I often think of a quote that came a scenario described by Andrew Fuller, when he was describing the circumstances around William Carey going to India on his gospel mission in 1972, he described the circumstances around his leaving with an analogy this way:
“The mission to India seemed like a few men who considered going into a deep, unexplored mine. It was as if Carey said, “Well, I will go down, if you will hold the rope.” The meeting, in Fuller’s mind, was as if he and the other brethren gave their word that “whilst we lived, we should never let go of the rope.”
First, let me acknowledge that comparing the work going on in Iceland with that of dangerous mine exploration can perhaps come off as a bit extreme, but hear me out here…
One pastor gave me a word of advise when we embarked on the mission of starting a new church in Iceland, it was a word of warning: be careful, Iceland is the preacher's graveyard.
It sounded comically dramatic to me at the time, but then I think of the history, and I look around at the lack of churches, I’ve looked into attempts before to start various churches and ministries and seen the success rate and sometimes the severe failings that did not only leave dead churches but horribly hurt people, and sometimes not only the people in those churches and organisations, but also hurt for the people who started it… Now what seemed comically dramatic to me at the time becomes more and more real to me as I continue on this journey, with each passing year I become increasingly convinced of that truth.
I wonder why I have been able to do it for so long, and truly, all I can come up with is the pastor's cliché, but in reality the great biblical truth: It is all by the grace of God… It truly is, and a part of his sustaining grace has been providing us with faithful robe holders as we explore this unexplored mine called Iceland… Robe holders who have given faithfully, encouraged regularly and prayed continually for God to move, and in turn Jesus builds his church.
Your tight grip on the ropes has been felt, your prayers have been felt, your generosity and your love has been felt and it has left an impact.
It has been evidently seen especially in the darkest of times and the most difficult of times when people flew over when we desperately needed help, and giving that continued even when we were limited in our ability to work because we needed to heal and handle difficult situations in our family, your love has been felt during the darkest valleys and just then a card comes in the mail from a kids ministry with notes of children praying about Iceland and in your willingness to come on over to serve on short term mission trips in some amazing ways leading to some people coming to our church and staying because of it…
I am convinced that the reason we have not been harmed more or taken out of commission in this hard and at times spiritually dangerous exploration can be traced back to faithful robe holders used as an instrument of grace in our lives.
I am blown away continually by tha crazy fact that I get to pastor Jesus’ church, and not only that, get to work full time doing this, and I honestly wonder sometimes if this can actually continue, because we fully realize that getting to self-sustainability in ministry in Iceland can take a long time.
With fluctuations in currency rates, unstable markets, war and inflation the questions again arise, “Lord, will this continue in this way?”, I don’t know, all I know is that If things change, the Lord will continue to provide and do his thing, his grace will be sufficient, and if it does continue in this way I will continue to praise him for his goodness and grace extended to us in this way, I’ve come to realize the Biblical truth that my worries about things do not add a single thing to life or to solve the problem.
However, for those reading this prayerfully considering going down this route in ministry let me give a bit of a warning, because there is a double edged sword here:
I became increasingly aware of a danger when we set out to fundraise and see how this would go… if we did this wrongly we could very well plant a church that became fully reliant on outside support and just expected a constant stream of Americans to pay the bill for our various goals and therefore create a culture in which no one in the church felt the need to give, or the joy of giving towards the mission of God, so my way of trying to mitigate that danger was to make it my aim to almost only fundraise for my salary, and not for regular costs of ministry such as renting a space and so on.
So, if you’re out there, aiming to plant a church, I would warn against the ditches on both sides of the road when it comes to raising funds for a church plant, we started the church with no financial support and then around 3 years in we felt that it was not at all sustainable to have a full time job and to seek to pastor a church as well as taking care of our growing family, so there is that danger of burnout.
On the other hand is the ditch on the other side of the road which is that if you rely purely on outside support for all that you do, it may very well hamper the future ministry of the locals taking on the load of paying for “family expenses” and participating in the joys of ministry through giving.
So to you out there aiming to plant, beware of those 2 ditches, and to those who hold our ropes with prayers and giving, I cannot express with words how thankful and honoured we are, so this will simply have to do:
The reason why I started with the verses from 2 Corinthians 8 is because you guys, in your generosity, although you may not find yourself in the same hardship as the ancient Macedonian brothers and sisters were, continue to express their generosity, and have set an example for us to be generous as well, caring for brothers and sisters, even when it hurts at times, to parter with them in ministry.
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