top of page

The Gospel Patrons of Church Planting

Tim Wyatt

16 May 2024

A growing movement of Christian philanthropists is going beyond simply giving good money to Kingdom causes, but are investing their time, expertise and hearts too. Inspired by patrons from the New Testament and throughout church history, these Gospel Patrons seek to get knee-deep into ministry alongside the ministers they fund, sharing the burdens and encouragements alike.

Every Christian is called to give generously from what God has blessed them with. Mostly, we gladly hand over the money to a local church or a charity and leave them to get on with spending it towards God’s Kingdom as best they see fit.

But there is another way. Scattered throughout the New Testament and church history are people who gave not just their money, but their friendship, their time, their minds and their hearts to a cause. We call these Gospel Patrons, and their model is a core pillar of what the Europe Collaboration is trying to build. John Rinehart, the founder of the Christian philanthropy movement Gospel Patrons, writes that patrons want to give not just to good causes, but eternal ones. “Where philanthropists aim to nourish people’s bodies and train their minds, Gospel Patrons prioritise people’s souls. Gospel Patrons treat symptoms, but ultimately they go after the disease.”


There are glimpses of how this could work in Scripture. In Luke’s gospel, we discover that Jesus’s own ministry was financially supported by three women in particular: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s household manager, and Susanna. All three had been healed by Jesus and all three did not simply give him a handful of coins and move on, but followed him around Galilee, offering support and encouragement as well as finances. Some theologians argue Luke himself was supported by the mysterious Theophilus to whom he dedicated his gospel and its sequel, the book of Acts. Paul too was upheld by the faithful support of patrons in his ministry, such as Priscilla and Aquila, and Phoebe. There were times when Paul self-funded his missionary work, by making tents. But at other times his church planting was made possible by the sacrificial generosity of prosperous people who have come to faith through his preaching and longed to see others’ lives changed. It is clear from how Paul speaks warmly of these people that they were not hit-and-run donors, but true Gospel Patrons, who shared in his ministry and became close friends.


This pattern has been replicated throughout the history of the church. If you examine closely many moves of God, often you find behind the scenes a Christian who has given their money to a gospel-preaching minister or a kingdom-building movement. “The pattern of history is that God raises up preachers and patrons to work together to spread his word,” writes Rinehart. “Some will speak and others will send, some will go and others will give, but they are partners in the work of the gospel.” William Tyndale would not have been able to either complete his English translation of the scriptures or distribute his radical new Bible in the 16th century without the support and funding from a cloth merchant called Humphrey Monmouth. As well as providing cash for Tyndale’s efforts, Monmouth had Tyndale live with him for a time and used his commercial networks to smuggle the English Bibles across the Channel. He was so closely associated with Tyndale he was jailed for a year by the authorities as they sought to persecute the reformer.


Two centuries later, a wealthy aristocratic widow helped kickstart evangelical revival in Britain and North America by pouring her resources into the preacher and evangelist George Whitefield. The Countess of Huntingdon hired Whitefield as her personal chaplain, liberating him from needing to find a parish job so he could travel widely and preach the gospel to whoever he met. As more and more in high society were captivated by Whitefield’s passionate gospel, Huntingdon’s money and connections seeded a movement to build a network of hundreds of chapels and preaching sites, and eventually even a seminary.


One of the richest men of the 18th century, London businessman John Thornton connected with the ex-slave trader turned priest and hymnwriter John Newton first by letter but soon became close friends. Thornton paid for the first printing of Newton’s hymnal – including his famous Amazing Grace – and sponsored Newton to the tune of £200 a year to ensure he could focus his time on ministry. He also used his wealth to become the patron of as many churches as possible, installing evangelical Bible-believing ministers as vicars to spread the renewed gospel across the established church. Later, Thornton paid for Newton to become rector at a prominent central London church, where his testimony and preaching drew in thousands to hear of Christ.


Key to what made these remarkable figures more than just philanthropists was that they gave more than just their money. Each was deeply personally and emotionally invested in what they were funding, travelling alongside those they supported, sharing the burdens and offering encouragement. Today, the Europe Collaboration invites all its donors to step into this kind of Gospel Patronage too.


Neil Smith built up a transport business from scratch in his native Australia, but by the age of 41, a recession and excessive borrowing had wiped it out and left him bankrupt. Scrabbling around for what was next, Smith enrolled at Fuller Theological Seminary in the United States. He could only afford three months before his limited cash ran out, but that short time turned his life upside down. “I initially went there thinking maybe I should rethink going into ministry, now that I failed in business. But actually, by the time I left, it had the opposite effect.” Smith came to see that he could serve the church and in particular the field of theological training via his business acumen, not only by becoming a minister himself.


Returning home, he built up another successful business and by 2007 had begun spending some of the money generated by his company on developing theological colleges in poorer African nations. Just before covid hit, Smith sold his firm, now the largest transport business in Australia. “Basically, I built up a good business, I sold it for a good price. And that's given me the resources to really follow the ideas that were triggered by those three months at Fuller back in 1995.”


Now fully devoted to giving what he regards as God’s money away, Smith said he decided to have an ironclad focus in his philanthropy. “If you've got a million dollars, you've got a choice. You can give one dollar to a million causes or a million dollars to one cause. The first achieves almost nothing, the second can bring transformational change.” His charity spends almost all its cash in the poorest countries in the world, and in particular in theological training.


And he does not just give these African churches and bishops money but gets involved personally. Smith now regards himself as a patron of around 30 Anglican bishops in Africa, with whom he has built a deep relationship. On top of his financial support, he also advises them on strategy using his business experience and connects them with the wider church. It was this work which led him to support three French church plants as part of the Europe Collaboration. This came after he identified a weakness in Francophone Africa, where evangelical denominations do not have a thriving ‘mother church’ back in France to help resource them.


It is this attention to detail that marks out a Gospel Patron from ordinary philanthropy. He and his team regularly travel to Africa to follow up on their donations, examine buildings and talk to students. This personal investment pays dividends, not just in accountability but in encouragement. “This can be as significant as the money,” he said. “Helping these churches know that they're part of something bigger. Knowing there is someone out there who is praying for you, thinking about you.”


Looking back on his move towards Gospel Patronage, Smith says it has been “extraordinarily” beneficial for him personally too. His non-Christian business friends tend to now be richer but sadder than him, he observed. They defined themselves through their business success – making huge sacrifices in relationships, health and family life – but when that inevitably comes to an end, what is left? “When you give it up, who are you? I've been saved from that. I feel I've been caught up in a chapter in church history, as the church moves from north to south – I’ve been part of that. And it's just been extraordinarily satisfying and healthy.”


Jacko van der Stege is another EC Gospel Patron, with a special focus on a church plant in Amsterdam. The business development director for a large multinational company, the Dutchman said he had learned much about how to blend business and ministry from the Christian family which still owned his firm. “We feel called to have a good impact in all the ways that God gave us resources,” he explained. Treating employees and business partners well, providing excellent service for customers, being reliable and trustworthy, and being careful not to harm the environment through their activities.


But he had long felt that this business ethos could have something to offer to church leaders. “They are also developing organisations, they also need to have inspiring visions and sound plans, to train and coach people. And that's an element of church planting that's often a bit neglected,” he said. And so when he came across the EC it seemed like a natural fit. As well as giving money to the EC to redistribute to its church plants, van der Stege also acts as a patron to the CityKerk in Amsterdam. This looks like getting alongside the church planter to offer advice and encouragement, but also to listen. “I'm actually amazed how eager people in churches are to spend time and to have questions and to learn [from businesspeople],” he said. Planters have plenty of sounding boards locally for questions about how to run a service or do evangelism, but they often lack mentors who could advise on higher-level topics. For leaders wondering about how to build high-performing teams or execute a multi-year strategy, having a trusted outside voice with business experience but no other agenda could be invaluable.


It is common for businesses today to flout their environmental, social and governance (ESG) credentials and shift some of their profits into socially responsible investments. But his Gospel Patronage was fundamentally different to this kind of philanthropy, van der Stege observed. Before he did good in any other way, he was committed to building local Christian community in the places he served. Unlike standard philanthropy, his aim was “nothing less than bringing people to Christ and making sure we are an instrument to promote the kingdom of God come into being”. “We're not here to fix a specific problem, we are here to bring people to God and help to build good Christian communities.”


But this was not just church-focused charity, but investment, he added. Learning from a core principle of his business, van der Stege believes in “no investment without involvement”. Of course, he does not expect a financial return from his donations to church planting, but remains deeply personally involved. “I’m informed, I pray, I can give counsel and feedback, without owning it or giving any direction.” He took his inspiration from Paul, who lived alongside those he was ministering to and understood their struggles as he built churches with them. “It is very encouraging for me to be a patron, to know there are small but growing churches in Europe and promising seeds for the next generation.”


Both patrons said they felt, as Christians, the privilege of wealth and the importance of giving it away keenly. And both said they had been blessed many times over to be able to support vital kingdom work through their money. But it is not always easy to be a rich businessperson in the church. Smith said he had learned not to talk about what he considered to be “the most important thing I do” in church contexts because it created division or sent the wrong message to others. The Gospel Patrons movement was an extra blessing for him in creating fellowship for rich believers to talk about their ministry of giving without discomfort or awkwardness. And, as for others like him, considering how best to use the resources God has blessed them with, Smith’s advice was simple: “I’d try to encourage them not to see things in terms of guilt or responsibility, but to see it in terms of ministry. I don’t get worried about being rich and a Christian – because I know what I’m meant to be doing with it.”

bottom of page