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Promoting Polycentric Participation By Dr. Gary G. Hoag

A Polycentric Approach to Christian Mission

In recent years, Christian workers have used the term “polycentric,” meaning “many centers,” associated with the Christian mission to proclaim that it should not be understood as “from the West to the rest” but rather “from everywhere to everywhere.” But what has not been discussed as widely has been the funding side of this polycentric vision.

This post aims to locate biblical insights for this modern conversation. Rather than call it fundraising, I will use the NT term “participation,” which implies “people freely giving what they have.” This fresh research surfaces patterns the first Christians followed. It reveals a model for promoting polycentric participation in Christian mission today.

Participation Patterns in the Early Church

Paul, Silas, and Timothy describe the cost of engaging in Christian mission as a “burden” they would bear through work when planting churches like the one in Thessalonica. We see them using their skills in making tents. They also urge readers to follow their example. This pattern reflects part of an NT model: Missionaries bear the burden.

“For you yourselves know how you ought to follow our example. We were not idle when we were with you, nor did we eat anyone’s food without paying for it. On the contrary, we worked night and day, laboring and toiling so that we would not be a burden to any of you.”

2 Thessalonians 3:7-8

While planting the church in Corinth, another pattern comes to our attention. Paul reports that he also received support from “brothers” in Macedonia. This implies that he welcomed funding from believers in established churches to help spread the gospel to new places. This reveals another part of a NT model: Believers share the burden.

“And when I was with you and needed something, I was not a burden to anyone, for the brothers who came from Macedonia supplied what I needed. I have kept myself from being a burden to you in any way and will continue to do so.”

2 Corinthians 11:9

Notice that Paul and his companions both worked and received outside support. It came from the Philippian church in Macedonia. He portrays their involvement not as personal support but as participation in the gospel.

“I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”

Philippians 1:3-5

Why would the first Christians bear and share the burden of mission? After his first missionary journey, Paul wrote to the Galatians. There, we find a last piece to this NT model: Christ declares that Christians carry each other’s burdens.

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” Galatians 6:2

Promoting Polycentric Participation in Christian Mission in Modern Times

Christians everywhere do well to bear the burden of Christian mission through work. Established churches may also share the burden of spreading the gospel through giving. If we do the former and not the latter, we miss the benefits of collaboration. If we do the latter and not the former, we fall into an unhealthy dependency on external support.

When we combine the three parts of this NT model, as Christ desires that we carry each other’s burdens, we see prayer, service, and giving flowing from everywhere to everywhere. Our bearing and sharing demonstrate obedience to Christ and offer a model with the key components for promoting polycentric participation.

Consider how this played out for the first Christians. Their collaboration, generosity, and faithfulness reflected a consistent Christian witness. It sparked a movement not sustained by fundraising but rather by hard work and sacrificial giving in obedience service to Christ. Imagine this happening again today from everywhere to everywhere!


Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D., is the President & CEO of GTP. In obedient service to Jesus Christ, GTP multiplies faithful stewards and mobilizes peer accountability groups (like ECFA in the USA) to build trust and to grow local giving to God’s work.

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