To What Church Should A Missionary Tithe?

This is a confusing topic which most every missionary has contemplated and almost nobody has been prepared to address. In all my time being trained for the mission field, training other missionaries, serving on the mission field and studying missions I can safely say I have never heard this question properly addressed.

Biblically, a missionary is sent by his home church. Missionaries remain members of their sending church. While the missionary is on the field, the sending church continues to be responsible for the missionary’s spiritual growth and wellbeing as well as responding to causes for discipline.

However, daily, the church the missionary spends the most time with is the one they are attending on the mission field. Regular worship, administering sacraments, and theological growth all occur within the context of the host church. This is the church the missionary may grow close to and spend most of their time.

The difficult question for the missionary is, who receives his tithes? Nothing in Scripture says a missionary should stop tithing. Should a missionary tithe to the home church or the host church?

Biblical Tithe
joyful-givingAll we have comes from God. The air in our lungs, our possessions, and our family are all gifts from God. We are only stewards of that which Christ has entrusted us. He asks us to avail all to him and be willing to surrender all. As a mere symbol and starting point he commands his disciples to freely return a tenth of all we have for his service (Gen. 14:20, Lev. 5:16, 27:30, Num. 18:25-32, Deut. 12:17, 14:22-29, 26:12, 1 Sam. 8:15, 17, 2 Chro. 31:5, Neh. 11:1, 13:12, Ezra 2:68, Eze. 20:37, Mal. 3:6-12, Luk. 11:42, Heb. 7:4-10). This symbolic offering is asked of all Christian disciples no matter their vocation, geography or financial status. Missionaries are nowhere excluded from tithing.

Some have rationalized since a fulltime minister of the gospel (missionary, pastor, etc.) is giving so much of their time and earning power to the service of the Lord they are exempt from the tithe. Nothing in Scripture makes this point, nor supports this rational. A fulltime missionary is to tithe as is every Christian.

american-churchHome Church
Many consider the sending church back in the home country as the appropriate entity which the foreign missionary should tithe. On returning to his sending church Paul gathered the church to report on how God had been glorified by their combined efforts of sending and going (Acts 14:27). Missionaries are sent by their home church (Acts 13) and are responsible to them. Every local church is responsible to care for all its members (Ezek. 34:1-16, Gal. 6:1-2, 1 Tim. 5:17, 2 Tim. 4:1-5) no matter how far away they may live. It then makes sense for a missionary to tithe to their home church.

Host Church
african-churchOn the other hand, the host church, in the missionary’s country of service, is the body where he is spending most of his time. A missionary is actively serving and spiritually growing in the host church. The missionary is reaping the benefits of the labors of the local pastor and church members and is deeply invested in the local congregation. Local resources (paper, electricity, rent, etc.) are contributing toward the care and feeding of the missionary’s soul. It is the people of the local congregation who are investing the most day-to-day sweat equity into the lives of the missionary and his family. It would not be inappropriate for a missionary to tithe to his host church.

Both Churches
Both churches are investing in the life of the missionary. The missionary should not ignore what either church does for his sanctification. Hopefully, both churches are praying for, spiritual feeding and carrying for the needs of the missionary. Both congregations, even though they may be on separate continents, are part of the same body of Christ and both require tithes to function. It appears to be a rational alternative for a missionary to divide his tithe between the two churches who are carrying for him.

hoardingNeither Church
Tithes are given to the church as a way of facilitating Christ’s ongoing mercy and grace through the church. Not tithing to any church is hording for oneself that which Jesus freely gave to you. A disciple of Christ must be willing to joyfully give all back to the Lord. Not being willing to give even a fraction says something profound about a missionary’s heart. This is not a biblical option and should not be considered.

The Answer
The missionary must go before the Lord in prayer and seek his guidance. As long as a tithe is given by the missionary, a profound argument can be made to tithe to the home church, the host church or both churches. Consult your church leaderships for wisdom and guidance. The missionary is ultimately responsible to God and is called to avail all he has for the work of Christ’s Bride. The church of Jesus is a huge, multi-ethnic and diverse entity. Prayer and Christian prudence will reveal the correct destination for a Missionary’s tithe.