Guiltitude.

The syndrome is very real. It may not be universal, but I think it needs to be addressed. I don’t have the answer or the cure, though I do know I suffer from its symptoms.

DEFINITION:
Guiltitude [noun]

  • Condition blending guilt and gratitude, attributed to a life dependent on charitable giving, and often characterized by self-accusation, fear of judgment and calculated communication. It stems from good, but can lead to harm.

SYMPTOMS:

  • Missionary to Sweden uses boxes as furniture for a decade while living in the land of affordable Ikea.
  • Missionary to Switzerland, while interacting with his supporting church, avoids speaking of the recent purchase of expensive editing software, though much of his ministry relies on mass media.
  • Missionaries to Italy decide, as a family, to return the gift of nice clothing a supporter has given them and use the refund to purchase fewer “fancy” clothes at a cheaper store and donate the rest to ministry.
  • Missionary to Germany relinquishes the old, beat-up Mercedes he was given (for free) by members of his local church and invests his own funds in buying a less “brand-y” car to avoid looking ostentatious.racked with pangs of a ministry-related syndrome called guiltitude.

These people suffer from a seldom-diagnosed, mission-related disease called Guiltitute.
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CONFESSIONS OF A GUILTITUDER:
Since moving into my new digs in the States, I’ve found my elation over God’s provision of this townhouse tempered by strong feelings of guilt.

Though I can document every miracle that paved the way to this new home, I still sometimes wonder if I can tolerate the guilt of “having” when I live in the ministry-universe of “sacrificing.” 

I wonder if visitors will see my flea-market European antiques, bought for $50 but worth hundreds in this country, and question whether they’re appropriate for a missionary’s home. I find myself wanting to explain things by saying “This was given to me by a friend” and “I bought this for next-to-nothing at a charity store” as I give tours of my two-story miracle.
As I look around this home and see the items contributed by the outrageous generosity of friends in this area, I am assailed again by that uncomfortable combination of paralyzing guilt and galvanizing gratitude.

I live in the land of Guiltitude.

Guiltitude is not a uniquely Phoenix notion either. Though it doesn’t afflict all missionaries, it impacts enough of them to warrant this post. I vividly remember talking with a friend in Germany who had, for a year, lived with virtually no furniture in her home. I asked her if she planned on getting a couch and kitchen table, and she said, “My supporters send me money for ministry. Getting furniture isn’t ministry!”

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I’ve heard others relate the discomfort they’ve felt when supporters have come to visit and seen the beauty of their environment or when they’ve gone on a family vacation to places that are accessible where they live but appear exotic to American donors.

What might seem to be missionary paranoia is often rooted in something called donor demand. 

There’s an old-school component to it:

We like our missionaries to look deprived and to live without.  It adds a certain nobility to the minister’s status and to the giver’s sacrifice. 

You might be sadly amazed at the rigid (and sometimes irrelevant) standards by which the validity of a missionary’s work is judged. Owning a Mercedes and living in an affluent location are just two of the numerous reasons devoted financial partners have been known to rethink (and sometimes cancel) their crucial donations. As a result there’s:

  • fear of having (because true ministers, by some accounts, must live in squalor)
  • fear of doing (because some activities may be misunderstood as frivolous)
  • fear of full reporting (because some supporters may misunderstand the value and purpose of what is owned and done)

I’ve seen all three reach irrational levels in MKs who grew up in an environment where financial guilt of some sort prevailed.  Their adult relationship to money and ownership is often irreversibly skewed.

[Note: it goes without saying that there are instances in which missionaries truly have lived in excessive or dishonorable ways and been rightfully removed from their ministry positions.]
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Thankfully, the “-itude” part of the syndrome is much more pervasive in my life than the guilt. Gratitude. Thankfulness. If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you know how central it is to my daily existence!
Oh, how grateful I am for all these years in ministry, for the provision of every practical, physical and spiritual need, and for the donors whose gifts have kept me serving for so long. My supporters have given ceaselessly, sacrificially and joyfully–and I am blessed!
Gratitude pushes me each day be worthy of their sacrifice…but also contributes to the guiltWhy should I invest the funds I receive in a thrift store buffet when others can make do with cardboard furniture?
TREATMENT:
I’m afraid I don’t know what the treatment for Guiltitude is—or perhaps I’m too deep into the affliction to be able to consider it rationally right now.  Something tells me the cure must come from both sides: from those who give and those who serve.

I’d love for you, whether you’re the missionary or the donor, to contribute to the cure.  What do you think is the solution to Guiltitude?

Would you consider leaving your comment in the space below or, if it’s easier, dropping me a note on Facebook or via email (michelesblog@gmail.com)?  I’ll cut-and-paste as needed.

Comments

Comments(23)

  1. From Josh via email: Growing up in [a country in central Asia], I didn’t really feel the pressure (or maybe wasn’t aware) of how our family spent the money given to us by supporters back in the States.
    My parents were good stewards of our money, but living in [a central Asian country] was cheap and wasn’t really an issue.
    Things changed though when my family moved to London. My parents had been voted in as Deputy International Directors of our missions organization (WEC) which was headquartered in London at the time. They didn’t mention it much, but I know they struggled to explain to supporters that we needed their support more than ever, now that we were living in a country where the dollar was worth half the value of what it was in [my previous country].
    My parents were never worried about God providing for us, but I guess I unconsciously felt the pressure, especially since I was attending BFA where the tuition ended up
    costing more than my college education did. My first year at BFA, I wore a pair of shoes until there were two holes in each shoe, big enough to fit a quarter through. My parents
    had given me some spending money, but I felt obligated not to spend it as I believed it was money meant for missions work and my parents, not for my shoes.
    I thought if I spent less, my parents would have an easier time with finances. So I wore those shoes for 3/4 of the school year; I tried everything from stuffing plastic bags in the soles of my shoes to duct taping them every morning. And with the constant rain during the winter at BFA, it was a good day if my feet were dry by the end of the day. I also cut open my toothpaste tubes to scrape out what I could, and when that ran out, I borrowed my roommates until he forced me to buy some (good old Ben Merrill). I checked the exchange rates somewhat obsessively, hoping the dollar would gain on the euro (this never happened) at which point I told myself I would exchange some dollars and buy what I needed.
    While I did all this, I didn’t realize that I had put an enormous amount of pressure on myself, where I felt like every dollar/euro I spent was money that could have gone towards missions. I can’t remember if I ever bought a bag of candy at Hiebers during my three years of BFA. Anyhow. All this pressure eventually got to me the summer after freshmen year of college. I exploded at my parents, asking them why they couldn’t have just made some money like normal people and not have to depend on others for everything. Thankfully, my parents were patient with me and helped me to understand that I was as part of their ministry as the mission field was. I still didn’t feel comfortable spending money on food, candy, or other “perishable” items, until I got my first job. I still remember the amount of relief I felt when I got my first pay check and was able to go out and buy dinner for a friend without feeling guilty.

    • sally phoenix

    • 10 years ago

    There is also the guilt that keeps me from sitting down with a cup of coffee and a good book because I feel I should be “doing” something. After all supporters are giving for me to be “doing” something. Even after semi- (I even feel the need to say semi-) retiring, I find it difficult to spend time doing something not connected directly to ministry.

  2. From David, an MK from France: This one strikes a nerve; but not for the reasons you cite in your blog…
    Based on your description of “guiltitude”, it seems entirely rooted in the horizontal rather than the vertical. This is a heart issue, for the giver—as an act of worship and obedience to the Great Commission—and for the missionary—as a recipient from the Great Provider. If both parties reduce those acts of worship and service to a transaction, then they might as well be a “lender” and “mortgagor” rather than a “giver” and “doer”.
    Giving in support of mission work—including living expenses—is an opportunity to partner with God where He is moving. Receiving in His name is an opportunity to honor His provision as He moves peoples’ hearts; it’s about Him and His glory.
    Of course, you can’t tell people how to feel. But, you can redirect their focus on the One who sits on the throne of your heart and He will lift the “guilt” and replace it with “grat” to restore His purpose.

  3. From Markus: I am an MK whose parents served in Cameroon. Your example of the missionaries who gave up plane tickets to visit their kids in the States broke my heart and made me angry.
    I am grateful that my parents were excellent stewards of the money given in support of their ministry in Cameroon. And I think it was awfully prescient and wise of them never to make their five boys feel like we had to “go without”. It might be heresy to some, but my parents knew that the call to the mission field was their call, and not necessarily their kids’. On top of that – my dad and mom both took extraordinary care to ensure that we had the opportunity to experience life to the fullest – vacations were meticulously planned and judiciously taken – sometimes far afield, to the exotic black sand beaches of Cameroon, or up north to the game reserves. They demonstrated to us that taking time off from ministry was an extremely valuable thing to do – for them as people, and for us as a family. Recharging the whole person is vital to the success of any endeavor, and I think it is the ultimate in misplaced pride and arrogance to assume that those called to ministry should be forced to relinquish that in order to maintain some sanctified illusion of extraordinary sacrifice – for both donor and recipient.
    Maybe it’s because of the terminology used – we ask donors to give in support of someone’s ministry. I MUCH prefer to think that my support is for the person involved in that ministry. And supporting that person means supporting the whole person – including rest, relaxation, enjoyment of some of the things which we donors have no problem owning, (even flaunting), and at the very least, not having to worry about whether the cardboard furniture is going to hold up, or the shoes last through the winter. Dictating where and how a gift should be used removes any trace of value from the gift – and I believe donors should consider their donation a gift to be used by the person in ministry. Furthermore, Paul is quite sternly specific about our role in ensuring that we pay our teachers and preachers what they are duly worth. If we truly believe that the work they do is of everlasting value, then we should not hesitate to ensure they live without a trace of guilt.
    As for the recipient – there are no doubt one or two who don’t live in gratitude, but I must say that I have never, ever come across any missionary who takes their support for granted in any way. What makes me really mad about the plane ticket story is the theme that you have eloquently and graciously addressed on this blog in the past – what kind of ongoing damage does it do to that family, and those kids whom, knowing that their folks could have taken a very generous and openhearted gift, reluctantly felt they had to give it up because some donor other than the plane ticket donor wanted the pride of knowing that their “gift” was having the desired effect of keeping these servants in comfortable bondage to “the ministry”?
    I am a bit passionate about this one because it continues to this very day. My wife had the privilege of organizing an annual conference and retreat for western Canadian pastors, for about five years. The conference continues to this day, and thank God it does. Here’s the kicker, though – it’s held in a hotel, a nice one, in Banff, Alberta. The most beautiful town in the Canadian Rockies, and an international tourist mecca. AND – (wait for the horrifed intake of breath) – the pastors are actually sitting together in session with a speaker for less than half the time they are there over a three day weekend. The rest of the time, they are firmly told that they must spend time with their wives (who they are strongly urged to bring along to the event), shopping, eating, sitting in the Hot Springs, and relaxing with not a soul monitoring what they are doing with their time.
    I have sat with these soldiers of Christ at breakfast in Banff, and heard them say, one guy after the other, after the other – “Thank God for this time. I could not make it through my ministry if this went away. This is the one time when I and my wife can just be US, without guilt, and the time together with the other guys be just about knowing that we are all in this together”. And yet, Michele – there is always at least one who shows up, ostentatiously booking a room in a cheap motel outside the national park, not participating in the meal package where everyone sits in the same room with the fabulous buffet, and leaves early, not taking the time to relax for the last half-day. Whether they do that out of their own pride of frugal ministry, or to satisfy some gimlet-eyed cheapo Church Board (some of whom never budget to let their guys even attend this in the first place) – the result is the same. It’s sinful, and it’s corrosive, and achieves the exact opposite of what this weekend is for – building each other up, and preserving and celebrating the uniquely powerful unity that a pastor and his wife need to have in order to keep their effectiveness (and sanity) in their ministry.
    My prescription for guiltitude? Be human, for a change – and treat your fellow servants like you treat yourself.

  4. I did not grow up as an MK, but did grow up as a PK whose parents were (by necessity) quite frugal. When I became a full time missionary, I met “guiltitude” head on. One room apartment, hand-me-down dishes, storing things for others at no cost, drinking my tea w/o sugar or milk, sometimes skipping meals…I had to use every penny the most wisely that I could. I kept track of the exchange rate DAILY so I know how much the pencil or carrots I bought that day cost in real time. I was afraid to ever use more than one square of TP, because I didn’t want to waste the money that my generous supporters had given so freely. I purchased nothing for myself except the bare necessities.
    After a few years on the field I began to realize that part of the money that was given was for my salary (not just ministry) – so I began to live a little less frugally, but still well within my means (and what some would still consider “bare necessities”) so as to save money to use as needed in ministry. For the first 9 years of my overseas service I didn’t own a vehicle, choosing instead to live as the poorer local people did, taking public transportation everywhere. (Which really eats into how much time you have available for other ministry!)
    The guiltitude didn’t affect just money issues, though. I felt like I had to use every moment of every day to be doing something aMAZing for God and for the advancement of His kingdom. That’s good in many senses: I studied the language HARD, made myself (an introvert) get out to meet with people, and REALLY overdid it with preparations for English classes I was teaching. But I also ate poorly and didn’t get enough sleep. I felt like my prayer letters needed to be chock full of the astounding accomplishments of God in my town/area/work so that my supporters would continue to support me, and feel that I was earning the gifts they were sending. Anyone note the pride creeping in here?!? THAT’S what I need to have – and do – ‘guiltitude’ about – shame on me!
    Regarding financial guiltitude (regarding what furniture I use, whether I buy candy, whether I keep the heat above 60*F in the winter, or even *gasp* have a pet [which I don’t, but it’s a valid example])…I have come to terms with the fact that my churches and supporters aren’t expecting me to live as a pauper. I want to be a good steward of the resources that they send, and try to be, but I allow myself a meal out once in a while. I don’t buy clothes here (much more pricey) or go on expensive vacations or stay in fancy hotels when I’m out of town. In fact, I usually stay with a friend or fellow believer in the town where I’m traveling. I live frugally within the culture where God has me. (I finally broke down and purchased a car, but it’s not a fancy one, and is nearly 10 years old.)
    Regarding those who have moved back to their home country and feel like they have too much, I can imagine how that feeling would work itself into their psyche after living on so little for so long. But I would encourage them to say, with Paul, “I have learned how to live with plenty and in want”, and rather than feeling guilty about it, use those things for His glory in their new context. (Hospitality, or maybe housing a student, or something.) God doesn’t call us to live in plenty or in want, but rather to live with our eyes fixed on Him, grateful for all He gives us (whether that be plenty or want).
    I do think that guiltitude is something that we (the church culture) have created for ourselves, though. Sure, Jesus lived among us as a financially poorer person, but does that mean that the church has to expect that of all its members and/or workers? (e.e. pastors, missionaries, Christian school teachers, and rescue mission type workers are all expected to live on income well below the average, often right at the poverty line, and to make do on that income and joyfully serve and give. Which we do, but this tight budget and the church’s expectation for us to live on minimum wages is part of what leads to the feelings labeled in this blog as guiltitude.)
    But God. God is worthy of our all, and we joyfully serve Him. He provides for what we need even when the budget doesn’t…a neighbor brings by fruits and veggies from their garden or something they’ve canned, someone finds a bag of groceries at their doorstep, another receives an anonymous donation that meets exactly what the need is. In my experience, often our guiltitude is based on our fear of not having enough rather than on whether we have enough.
    God is bigger than us and finances and guilt, and He calls us to live for Him, keeping our eyes and hearts and minds focused on Him, not on ourselves. Guiltitude puts the focus on me, which increases my tendency to be either selfish or proud (usually both). May I choose moment-by-moment to live my life God-centered, not me-centered, ’cause the ministry is all about Him, not at all about me.
    I look forward to reading other responses, hearing other viewpoints/input.
    After a few years on the field I began to realize that part of the money that was given was for my salary – so I began to live a little less frugally, but still well within my means (and what some would still consider “bare necessities”) so as to save money to use as needed in ministry.
    The guiltitude didn’t affect just money issues, though. I felt like I had to use every moment of every day to be doing something aMAZing for God and for the advancement of His kingdom. That’s good in many senses: I studied the language HARD, made myself (an introvert) get out to meet with people, and REALLY overdid it with preparations for English classes I was teaching. But I also ate poorly and didn’t get enough sleep. I felt like my prayer letters needed to be chock full of the astounding accomplishments of God in my town/area/work so that my supporters would continue to support me, and feel that I was earning the gifts they were sending.
    But regarding the financial guiltitude (regarding what furniture I use, whether I buy candy, or even *gasp* have a pet [which I don’t, but it’s a valid example])…I have come to terms with the fact that my churches and supporters aren’t expecting me to live as a pauper. I want to be a good steward of the resources that they send, and try to be, but I allow myself a meal out once in a while. I don’t buy clothes here (much more pricey) or go on expensive vacations or stay in 5* hotels when I’m out of town. I live frugally within the culture where God has me. (e.g. I own a car, but it’s not a fancy one, and is nearly 10 years old.)
    Regarding those who have moved back to their home country and feel like they have too much, I can imagine how that feeling would work itself into their psyche after living on so little for so long. But I would encourage them to say, with Paul, “I have learned how to live with plenty and in want”, and rather than feeling guilty about it, use those things for His glory in their new context. (Hospitality, or maybe housing a student, or something.) God doesn’t call us to live in plenty or in want, but rather to live with our eyes fixed on Him, grateful for all He gives us (whether that be plenty or want).
    I look forward to reading other responses, hearing other viewpoints!

    • Dan Getz

    • 10 years ago

    I wasn’t a missionary long enough and my fundraising situation was different so I didn’t have guiltitude. I do remember hearing the story of one family who bought a more expensive, less reliable car instead of a mercedess so that they wouldn’t have to tell supporters they bought a mercedes.
    I wonder if part of the problem on the donor side is that at least some missionaries have two accounts. The one is their tax deductible ministry account and the second one is the non tax deductible gift account. It sends the message to both donor and missionary that regular funds are just for ministry and the gift account is for “luxeries”.
    Another part of the problem is that many churches seem to support a large number of missionaries instead of focussing on more fully supporting fewer missionaries. One of my previous churches printed a book of all the missionaries they supported. I think it had about 100 to 150 missionaries! While I had met some during missions weeks, many I had no clue who they were.
    My current church supports only a few missionaries (partly due to size and partly due to philosophy). As it is, we are more invested in our missionaries. I would like to think that as a church we’d understand the need for vacations, etc.

    • sally phoenix

    • 10 years ago

    Then there is the couple who had been serving for many years in Germany. A supporter visited and when he saw the beautiful AREA in which they lived and served, (the Black Forest is undeniably beautiful!) he dropped their support. What’s wrong with that picture? Even my own father-in-law never considered us missionaries because God called us to Europe instead of to a remote jungle outpost.

  5. From Heidi: Living on both ends of the spectrum…receiving and giving. I understand ‘guiltitude’ and its pervasive power to second guess everything you do and where you go. I also know how hard I work and how I sacrifice to give and wonder if there was some way to make both feel equal. The whole idea of ‘doing’ the Lords work as if that is different than any other work just puts my teeth on edge. I work hard which is the Lords work to help someone do the Lords work…we are all in this together. We are all doing full time Christian work if we follow Christ. If a Christian who works in areas where they cannot be paid in the normal way maybe they can see themselves as contract workers. Doing work on behalf of the church in another area… Take away the ‘better than because I do full-time Christian work’ mentality may take away the guilt or unnecessary groveling in gratitude. Maybe I am becoming a bit weary of everyone thinking that there is a body and an extra body that does the better work. When my husband works night shifts for weeks to be able to support us, put kids through college etc. and I see on Facebook another trip, vacation, trip home, wonderful college every MK gets to go to because their parents are ‘poor’ here but ‘rich’ there….I get weary.
    When I taught in an MK school and was paid by friends to be there…it seemed a wrong way to go about being a teacher. My family, friends understood but it made us stop after one year…Asking for money from friends when churches should contract it out if necessary.
    I am rambling…probably making no sense…I usually have so many opinions about these areas I … I rarely get asked. J. Thank you Michele for asking..

  6. My wife observes that this seems to mostly afflict older and long-term missionaries and probably MKs who themselves end up in ministry. It does not seem to be a problem to the (mostly very young) missionary teachers we see here at the International Christian School of Vienna, most of whom are here for two to four years, some up to ten, and who are very keen serve God but also to make the most of the cultural and geographic opportunities of living in Vienna for a spell, seemingly with no pangs of conscience. Don’t know why this is, and whether or  how it could help those afflicted with guiltitude.
    It also is not limited to missionaries, and it definitely is related to donor expectations. When we lived in the States 25 years ago the church we attended was financially helping a member who had lost his job and seemed headed for a longer stint without income. As a condition for the financial aid he was made to sell his nice new car and replace it with a banger because it was deemed inappropriate for him to be driving a nicer car than most of the folks who gave the money that supported him. Economically it was a foolish thing to do because by selling the car when he did he didn’t recover anywhere near the actual value of the car — it was all for the sake of experience.
    And finally, from my own experience, sometimes it afflicts those of us in paying jobs too — for example in times like these, seeing people laid off who had poured their hearts into their job, while I still have mine …

  7. Oops – just noticed a typo in my comment above — that should be “all for the sake of appearance” at the end of the second paragraph.
    Another thought: this isn’t just a money issue, cultural expectations enter into this too. I remember my pastor in the 70s, who had served in France before coming to Austria, recounting how they would hide the wine glasses and the playing cards before US supporters came to visit because it would be too difficult to try and explain the cultural differences which made it acceptable in France to have those. Sally, you might know who I am talking about.
    So, Michele, I think you are spot on, the cure has to work on both sides; and David is right,too — the problem would not be as huge if both donors and recipients were more rightly related to God, but that’s often more easily said than put into practice, for us fallen folk or “cracked eicons”.

  8. From Amy: My response to your article is primarily this: We are all called to be stewards, and if we call ourselves Christians–followers of Christ–then we are all missionaries. Regardless of what country we’re in, or what our income is, or how we earn our income, we are ALL accountable for 100% of our time, talents and resources–all that God has entrusted to us. It’s not the “missionaries” who should EVER feel guilty . . . if there’s any guilt to be had, it should first lie with the upper or middle-class people who call themselves Christians, and think that giving a meager 10% of their paycheck and then keeping the rest for their chosen lifestyle, and never giving of their time or other resources is an appropriate response to the Gospel. It’s not.

  9. From Donna: I just read your most recent blog and felt compelled to comment. After struggling with guiltitude throughout our years in Spain, we had some folks from our home church in the States come to visit us. I suppose it was that my kids were different from theirs (we raised four terrific TCKs), but the fact that we sent them to boarding school (BFA) caused our church to eventually label us as having an entitlement mentality, and thus discontinue our support.
    My husband and I were, needless to say, devastated, and left the field in February of 2009. We continued to sacrifice by keeping our youngest daughter in the school she loved until her graduation in 2010.
    Our mission sent us to Toronto for a year, in 2010, which was wonderful, but we were never able to recover our lost support.
    Last September my husband took a job in the engineering industry which he had left fifteen years before to follow the Lord’s call to missions. We loved our work, and felt so privileged to serve God in Spain. Finances were a struggle as we dealt with exchange rates, and the rising euro. We always watched our pennies, like all missionaries do.
    I could have easily become bitter, but the Lord was with us in our disgrace, saw us through over a year of unemployment, and provided us with a loving, supportive family, mission, and several churches who showered us with His love.
    Churches have no idea the power they can exert over the life of a missionary. Nevertheless, God is faithful. He will be there even when our guiltitude comes to it’s worst end. Although I miss Spain dearly, and now Toronto too, I can trust that I am in the center of His will.
    I wish the system for the financial sustenance of missionaries was different. I wish we not under the scrutiny of supporters who, though they see us in the fishbowl, never join us to live in it. Still, I have no regrets. My four TCKs are a delight to me and my husband. They are all successful young people who see the world in living color, and bring a wide range of experience to their studies and work world.
    Thanks for your blog! I always appreciate your perspectives .

    • Jocelyn

    • 10 years ago

    You have described the syndrome well Michele. As a Pastor’s wife, for a number of years we enjoyed a conference in Chicago at Moody Bible Institutes Founder’s Week (The Windy City in February no less!) . It was paid for completely by relatives donations to the church thus designated, but nevertheless, there were rumblings that we got an all-expenses paid trip – holiday. We told our relative to stop donating for the conference – we would just go to the church denominational conference in a shared vehicle with other church members in Ontario instead. Oh . . . how we really needed that time away from congregation members and ministry!! I am afraid sometimes the unfortunate judgements and jealousies dictate our actions – and gratitude can become either resentment or martyrdom at the unfairness of it all – humanly speaking. I had attended Moody because of a wonderful trip I took one summer to Chicago, with a family on home assignment (furlough in those days). Guess who. It gave me helpful insight for years to come . . and Oh how I have held members of that family in high but perhaps distant esteem over the years. It impacted my life, and although I became the wife of a pastor and not a missionary, I became an avid advocate in our churches for missions. I still believe that if you take on the support of a missionary – its a committment for the duration of their ministry. Oh how it boils my blood to hear of the excuses why support is dropped.
    That guiltitude strikes me too in another area. From a workaholic background, I feel guilt if I am not busy doing, and scratchng things off my to-do list. And not having the stamina to physically keep the pace my mind wants to – I can reach the point of discouragment and exhaustion – and its my own doing. I am still learning to give myself permission to chill out – but that niggling guilt likes to seep in.

    • DaveBuechler

    • 10 years ago

    Markus’ comment from above: “Maybe it’s because of the terminology used – we ask donors to give in support of someone’s ministry. I MUCH prefer to think that my support is for the person involved in that ministry. And supporting that person means supporting the whole person – including rest, relaxation, enjoyment of some of the things which we donors have no problem owning, (even flaunting), and at the very least, not having to worry about whether the cardboard furniture is going to hold up, or the shoes last through the winter. Dictating where and how a gift should be used removes any trace of value from the gift – and I believe donors should consider their donation a gift to be used by the person in ministry. Furthermore, Paul is quite sternly specific about our role in ensuring that we pay our teachers and preachers what they are duly worth. If we truly believe that the work they do is of everlasting value, then we should not hesitate to ensure they live without a trace of guilt.”
    As a family preparing for overseas ministry, we are experiencing this firsthand. We are surrounded by potential donors who are balking because our budget seems so high. Some can’t believe we’re actually planning to buy furniture (after all, we’re only going to be there for a couple of years…). Others don’t want their money going to another country when there is so much need in their own country / city / neighborhood. And if I’m being honest, I have to admit I sometimes wonder if we couldn’t survive on less, despite the team we’re planning to join confirming the cost. There are days when I wonder why we couldn’t indeed live with cardboard furniture and recycled tea bags.
    David, the MK from France, also makes a wonderful point. While there is Scriptural basis for leaving behind the trappings of this world when you serve (aw heck, does that mean the Wii?), there is no Scriptural basis for “Give, but demand an accounting of the use.” There is no Scriptural basis for “Gee, I’d love to take a day off and play golf, but please don’t tell the donors.” The gift – ultimately – is to God. And ultimately, it is a giving back. God is the one who has provided every blessing. Giving and receiving are both acts of worship and acts of faith. Neither worship nor faith should have restrictions placed upon them. Both are to be done with abandon.

  10. From Bev: You are always tackling the tough stuff, aren’t you? My take on this has been alluded to be a few others, but perhaps not stated outright. For background on where I come by this perspective – my husband and I have served for 15 years in Europe with a mission where fund-raising is not necessary; support is assured by the denomination through its churches. Now we are back in the US, have changed missions and are now aligned with a group whose missionaries are supported “the old-fashioned way” – through fund-raising. It is a new journey for us, but necessary to return to the work, the country and the people that we still feel God has called us to.
    My first comment is this (and it’s just to get it out the way before I forget it and move on to what I really want to say!) — anyone who thinks missionaries “have it easy” by living off the gifts of others has obviously never attempted to raise their own support to live and work. I think most missionaries would join me in saying it’s not something you would choose to do; rather it comes as kind of an “occupational hazard” when you are following God’s call to work in another country. Raising support is many things, the top two that come to mind are HARD WORK and EXTREMELY HUMBLING! It is, of course, not without its positive aspects (like developing stronger relationships with those who support you financially and a stronger trust in God) but it is a lot of blood, sweat and tears. Anyone who thinks missionaries are “lazy moochers” just ought to try it out for themselves sometime!
    Secondly, and more importantly, I think that refocusing on God (as others have said) and placing our trust squarely in Him is the only way to cure guiltitude. From the missionary side of things, an attitude of guilt is essentially self-focused and, as such, has its root in pride. When I make decisions based on how it will make me look to other people I am setting myself at the center of the equation, not only because I am concerned about how others view me, but also because I am assuming it is my responsibility to ensure that donors are content enough to continue to supporting me. As someone has rightly stated, a missionary should receive their support as provision from God’s hand (just like any Christian in any line of work no matter how they are paid). As such, I am accountable in my decision-making to God alone – he has provided and I am to make financial decisions that will allow me to stand tall before him as a wise steward. If I am obediently following Christ’s call on my life HE will provide – not the donors, but God. That is an important nuance I am afraid many of us miss, or frequently forget.
    So what happens if I get my priorities lined up properly but an “unaligned” donor cuts me off because of how they view my financial decisions? That is where we go back to our trust in God – do we trust him to provide for us? Regardless of the circumstances? Is God providing for us or are the donors providing for us? Our own fund-raising is taking way longer than we hoped or expected. We have to keep reminding ourselves (almost on a daily basis) that GOD knows how to put together just the right support team for us – not negating our own hard work in the effort too. But ultimately he is the one who will call people to come on board with us – we cannot muster Holy Spirit conviction or calling for someone else no matter how hard we work!
    So if I receive my support as from God’s hand (he is my provider and not the donors) and I trust Him (not the donors) to provide for my work and ministry, is everything always going to be hunky dory? Probably not. Donna’s story (and my own, which is too long to share here) illustrates that even when we have our ducks in a row, our circumstances can sometimes be affected by donors whose ducks are swimming all over the pond. We live in a fallen world and every day our lives are marred by sin, both ours and others’. But I go back to the question of trust in God – when things take a turn I didn’t expect, can I trust God? is He good? Was he surprised by what happened to me? Corrie ten Boom said, “Never be afraid to trust an unknown future to a known God.” That is wisdom that comes from the crucible. It was Job who said, “Shall we accept good from God and not accept adversity?” Regardless of the circumstances of our lives (good or bad, as viewed through our human eyes), God is sovereign and He WILL accomplish His purposes in our lives as we submit to him and follow him whole-heartedly over the mountains and through the valleys of life. As Donna noted, bitterness is an option, but only if we see our lives as being directed by the donors. If it is being directed by God then thankfulness and joy is our only right response.
    From the supporter standpoint . . . well, I think it should all function just about the same for all of us. Everything we have comes from God and should be governed by him. Those who give, give to God, not to us. If it is a gift given to God then we can trust him with how it is going to be used. Do I trust God with my resources or do I need to pull all the strings? When I give to the church is it so that I can have a say in what color carpet is purchased for the sanctuary? when I give to a missionary, is it so that I can dictate what kind of a car they drive or how many hours a week they sneak off to sleep?? No, a gift given to God is given with an open hand for GOD’S use. When my husband and I approach a potential donor, we go against some of the well-meaning teaching we received at a “fund-raising boot camp” – we tell them that their giving is between them and God. We view God’s work as a huge multi-faceted thing, some people will be led by Him to join our team, others will not. We simply ask that they take the information we provide and pray about it. We tell them that we trust God to put together exactly the right team of partners for us and they only have to respond to what He tells them to do. It is freeing for everyone – we don’t have to worry about whether they will give or not (tho admittedly, being human, sometimes we do anyway) and they don’t have to worry about what our expectations are.
    A last thought – I, too, am outraged by the supporters gifts that were refused (the plane tickets, the new clothes, etc). I wonder if those doing the refusing ever thought about the feelings of the donor whose gift was rejected? or were they only thinking about what the other supporters would think? Finally – supporters who got it right and were rebuffed! How unfortunate!! It makes me wonder how much we missionaries have contributed to the problem over the years – actually encouraging the “ministers must live in poverty” myth rather than trying to turn everyone’s attention to a healthy focus on God and wise stewardship of everything He gives?
    This might all sound “too easy” . . . . and admittedly, money and how others view me are not near the top of my list of “issues” (trust me, I have plenty of others!!). Perhaps growing up in a low-income pastor’s family as a kid, with parents who viewed everything as a gift from God and never complained was a great classroom for me. I saw my parents making memories with us kids without money (and never griping about how little they were paid), life was simple but good and gratitude was a huge part of their lives. People were always more important than things, but things were not bad in and of themselves when the little we had allowed for “extras” (a 99-cent whopper sale at Burger King caused great excitement in our home during those years!). I only hope, now that my children (one of each – a spender, a saver, and an in-betweener) are launching into their young adult lives I have been able to pass on some of those same simple but eternal values to them! Give generously, receive graciously, and trust God with everything you have!
    thanx for the voice, Michele!
    Bev

  11. From a missionary: We can relate to guiltitude syndrome. It is real and we have had to consider our choices and lifestyle in light of those who pray and give. While we live a simple life here and in a very humble place, its hard to tell supporters that we are going on vacation to a nice beach in an exotic place. I am close to tears because we have chose to save money and not run an aircon in our home. We are at the end of the hot season -thank God, but our rooms get so hot that we sweat during the day and night. Many times it is so hot at night that it is hard to get a comfortable rest and when we wake our bed and pillows are damp from sweat even when we have fans running full blast. I think there are so many things people at home don’t ever see or realize and those of us who are long-termers never share because we don’t want to be seen as whining. Well, don’t get me wrong. We are so blest and the Lord provided so many wonderful things to us through His people. We are very grateful.

  12. From Chris: We have always viewed our partnership in ministry as a mutual trust relationship cultivated (key word) between friends and family.
    Principally, our relationship is built on an understanding of one another’s passion for the glory and honour of The Name, and a shared mutual respect for one another’s credibility and integrity of heart to make honourable life choices, investments of time, talent and treasure, notwithstanding.
    Those who choose willingly (freely, without compulsion) to partner with us, do so with a clear understanding of who we are and what we are about (and that is where it is left). At the end of the day, they trust us and we consequently are not glancing over our shoulders every five minutes thinking we may have offended someone, because we ordered a new shirt from Land’s End, instead of opting for a hand me down from the Mission’s Barrel at the Free Will Baptist Church in Drum Stick Junction, off the Interstate. With such a trust relationship in play, we are secure in ourselves to minister with freedom of heart and mind.
    I think a number of the guilt ridden friends in your forum will spare themselves needless frustrations and agonizing soul searching in this matter of having appropriate resources if they will attribute guilt where and when appropriate, which would be to any quantifiable area of abuse or misuse of resources, and not to base it solely on what someone else may or may not have (or think). Upshot? Begin cultivating meaningful, long-term trust relationships with a trust worthy corps of friends with shared values for the glory of Christ.

  13. From Wilma: 2 more examples from co-workers in Austria during the 1990’s:
    One got a dog, specifically so she could get to know her neighbours who also had dogs. Austrians were much more likely to speak to someone’s dog first, and that allowed for many conversations she would never have had otherwise. Some supporters dropped her because she got a pet – supposedly a “needless, frivolous expense”.
    Another couple, married over 40 yrs were invited by Romanian believers to travel to Romania and teach about marriage and healthy family relationships shortly after the Iron Curtain fell. They began to do so, and fully enjoyed the opportunity to guide believers into viewing their marriages from the Biblical perspective. They also had supporters drop them because the supporters “weren’t sending them money to travel in Europe when they were supposed to be doing ministry in their posted country”.
    Thanks for allowing additions. I hope you’ll hear from people on other continents besides Europe.

  14. From Laura: I’ve developed [guiltitude] in only 5 short years of being a missionary. Mostly – I feel guilty sharing about vacation trips (as if all my friends never take vacation and don’t go to Disneyland several times/year!). And they don’t realize how cheaply we can travel over here nor how relatively close things are. We do have one person, former Missions pastor from our church, who “looks after us” and asks us if we’re taking vacations, getting enough rest, etc. He understands! I feel like I have to explain that we stay in 2 and 3 * hotels and pack a lot of our own food and that off-season prices (Easter vacation) are quite low. Anyway, I totally understand what you’re talking about. It’s especially hard now that we’re in Member Care because people want to know what we “DO”?!

  15. From Sheryl: I have been there. I’ve driven the 12 year old Volvo while on home assignment and explained (because of comments) at every stop that a church was lending it to me for the year. When it died and I bought a 2 year old Ford, not a single person made a comment about my car. I know what it’s like to explain away a purchase or a vacation or any other choice, but I haven’t really done that in the last few years. I’ve learned a different way of looking at things.
    I think David is right—when we look at support as a transaction, when we see our partners not as partners but as donors, everything is skewed. When we’re partners in ministry everything changes. Yes, some of my ministry partners are part of the TCK ministry I’m involved in because they want to support me. There’s no way around that, and it doesn’t diminish my gratitude for their participation. Most of my ministry partners are true partners in the ministry I get to be involved in every day. They give, that’s for sure, but they participate in so many ways. Some of them show up and join in with what’s going on when it’s appropriate. Most pray regularly for me, for the TCKs I tell them about and they know, for the families serving cross-culturally that they know or I make them aware of. Just this afternoon I wondered what the battle in the heavenlies they wage while I interact with TCKs looks like. We are truly partners; I’m just the one with the stage presence.
    This shift from transaction to partnership really changed the way I consider money, possessions and the rest of the stuff in my life. I don’t live lavishly, but I do live comfortably. I’m learning that self-care is an important part of ministry, too. If I’m not getting sleep because of environmental factors that I have some control over, I’m not being a good partner because I’m not bringing my best to the table the next day. If an afternoon of a cold coffee drink and a book for fun in a trendy coffee house once in a while provokes criticism, we can deal with it like grown-ups.I love a good cup of coffee. I love reading. I like to get out of my house and office once in a while. It’s not indulgent; it’s self-care. I try not to criticize my partners and the way they spend their salary, and I’m pretty sure they don’t criticize me. (If they do, we need to talk!)
    I think so much of our guiltitude stems from either a wrong view of the relationship between those who give and those who go (It grates on me to write it that way) or from wrongful expectations we place on ourselves. We often fall into the trap of false guilt. We too often assume someone’s criticism is always valid. I can be wrong, but so can another.
    Now I’m rambling and wondering if I can use my comment as a blog post . . .
    Thanks for a thought provoking post, Michele!

    • MercyMech

    • 10 years ago

    My issues with churches, support-raising, and “calling” are far too numerous to delve into here, but I believe that even one such as I have felt some of this, I think… I was regularly reminded by my parents of just how much it was costing them to keep my brother & me @ BFA; funds that came directly from the hands and wallets of churches far, far away. My folks had enough to support a family of 7 in Czechoslovakia with some careful budgeting, but they had to sacrifice a lot to send us to a boarding-school. I knew it then and am supremely grateful for the opportunity afforded by them which granted me an unforgettable experience and 2 of the best years of my life, but… whether intentional or not, I came back to the States with the distinct impression that I needed to be a real success-story before I could meet those people in those churches again ~ to demonstrate the profits of such an investment.
    I have successfully avoided all of them so far…

  16. From Gerry: It’s amazing how easily our spiritual enemy can mess us up! If we have urgent need of something, he tries to tell us that God doesn’t care and isn’t going to help us. On the other hand if God allows an unexpected blessing to come our way, the enemy tries to take away the joy by making us feel guilty that we have something special. That trick can work equally well on all of God’s children if we fall for it. I think Paul had it right when he said he had learned to be joyful whether he was in need or in abundance. Personally, the only missionaries that I would be inclined to drop are those who embarrass their children by dressing them in outdated/misfitting clothes as evidence of the family’s “frugality”.

    • Kevin T

    • 4 years ago

    I think part of a solution is for pastors and leaders in sending churches to refocus givers in their churches on proper attitudes. Books like Serving as senders by neal Pirolo can help churches take on a better perspective. The challenge is that it is hard for the worker to help with attitude adjustment unless we see part of our work as ministering to our financial partners. Because they sometimes are both hypocritical and idolatrous regarding money. “The missionary life is completely for God , but I get to give a little and then spend the rest how I like.” Reminding them that their giving is to the Lord, and not a transaction with us, is good . Finding a pastor and other partners who get it, and who will stand by the worker can really help. But also accepting that we do nothing wrong when we self care, when we get furniture, when we vacation, and If some have a problem, it’s THEIR problem – just as we trust God to provide for us, that includes the times when people walk away from support.
    I know we wish partners always understood, but they don’t. We must live our life to be faithful before the Lord, and then trust the rest into His hands.

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