When the apostle Paul had help from congregations, he worked what we call full-time in preaching the gospel. When he didn’t, he put his hand to making tents to provide for his needs. See what happened in Corinth.
After this Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to depart from Rome. Paul approached them, and because he worked at the same trade, he stayed with them and worked with them (for they were tentmakers by trade). He addressed both Jews and Greeks in the synagogue every Sabbath, attempting to persuade them. Now when Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul became wholly absorbed with proclaiming the word, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. Acts 18:1-5 NET
The text seems to indicate that when Silas and Timothy arrived, they may well have brought with them help from Philippi (see chaps. 1 and 4 of that letter). Then Paul “became wholly absorbed with proclaming the word.” That probably means he “devoted himself exclusively to preaching” (NIV) since he no longer needed to take time out to personally earn his living.
Paul went on his journey expecting to have to work with his hands while he preached. He never once thought that he couldn’t embark on a missionary tour nor that he’d have to return to Antioch because he didn’t have the funds.
It’s one thing to make plans and moves based on strategy for the gospel, another entirely to withdraw from a field for lack of funds.
Having been rabbi-trained, Paul had learned an occupation and put it to good use for the kingdom of Christ. Like the apostle, today’s workers do well to consider vocational ministry, if support is not forthcoming.
The state of the American economy and the world situation present an opportunity to reconsider the need, on the side of missions personnel, for self-support.
On the side of congregations, it is a call to greater, not lesser, involvement, to more significant investments of financial resources, not fewer.
Last year, until the last moment, our family faced this option of partial self-support, and we actually began a small business to that end. We know a number of missionaries who work to stay on the field.
And the story in Corinth? Scripture says that “many of the Corinthians who heard about it believed and were baptized” (v. 7). The Lord promised many, many more people for the kingdom.
Might that not have been thanks in part to churches who released Paul for exclusive dedication to the preaching of the word?
Lacking that possibility, however, doesn’t mean the word shouldn’t be preached. As always, there are options. And in either, the Lord will bless.