Going from sender to sent

By Steve Panayiotou  ·  May 19, 2023

A few years ago, I shared with readers of this newsletter how I was able to turn my life around metabolically so I could finish my life on Earth strong physically.

This was done through feeding my body properly and committing to weight-bearing exercise to build and maintain lean muscle mass. The goal was to live a life where I would be in good enough health to play with my future grandchildren and serve my church and neighbors.

Mission accomplished and ongoing. I’ve been able to become metabolically healthy and build muscle in my journey to finish strong physically, but it wasn’t until the COVID-19 pandemic that I considered what finishing strong spiritually looked like.

Pandemic growth

On March 7, 2020, I was able to enjoy my daughter’s wedding, which was immediately followed with two weeks of full societal lockdown. The pandemic forced many people to consider their lives in a different way. By April 1, I began asking myself, “How can I take this time in quarantine to grow as a person and not waste this opportunity?” Thinking this time of lockdown and social distancing would last only a month at most, I wrote out the following questions:

How do I come out of April (2020) noticeably better than when I started the month?

  • How do I fall more in love with Jesus?
  • How do I trust God’s sufficiency more?
  • How do I focus on the divine Provider?
  • How do I serve my wife better?
  • How do I serve my grown children better?
  • How do I serve my team at work better?
  • How do I put systems in place to make the most of this month?

Little did I know how this desire for more of God would change the trajectory of my spiritual life.

Becoming a better sender

Like many of us, I was a bit shaken by the world’s reaction to the pandemic. Providentially, I became aware of books and talks by some Christian leaders that reshaped my thinking, not just about what was going on in the world, but about what was going on in my life.

  • Coronavirus and Christ by John Piper reminded me of God’s sovereignty, even in the middle of a pandemic.
  • The late Bob Buford’s book Halftime: Changing Your Game Plan from Success to Significance helped me to understand the need to reset priorities later in life.
  • John Rinehart’s Gospel Patrons made me aware of how great Christians in past centuries prioritized the support of evangelization.
  • Talks on YouTube by Randy Alcorn of Eternal Perspective Ministries helped me to realize the importance of storing up treasure in heaven.

As a result, I became a better sender of contributions.

At the start, I strategically looked for people and ministries I could support. With so many kids across the country at home during the pandemic, social media was going crazy. I felt a burden to get the Gospel better represented to teens on networks like Instagram and TikTok. I knew Dr. Sean McDowell was a guy who had great impact with middle-school, high school, and college kids. I didn’t know him, but I got his email address and reached out, telling him I’d like to support his effort to have an impact on these social media sites. Shortly after, he graciously responded, and we spoke on the phone. I told him I was a “Gospel patron,” described what that was, and sent him a copy of John Rinehart’s book. I then began supporting Dr. McDowell.

I was also introduced via email to a godly Ugandan man who had been supported by Compassion International while he was growing up. I told him about my passion to help people. He told me about and emailed pictures of a village in Uganda that had recently been swept away by a flood. The Kasese tribe were in desperate need of food and resources. We found a way to get them food and resources.

My heart was filled.

There is no better investment than giving to His Kingdom here and for the betterment of our future eternal life in His presence.

Steve Panayiotou

I was then introduced to Agape International Children’s Ministries and an orphanage in Uganda and started to support them. I began a relationship with them and told them about my friend who had helped the Kasese tribe. We later started a sustainable poultry project at the orphanage to train women to raise chickens for themselves and their community. After a season of developing the chicken farm, 100 women were successfully trained and graduated from their poultry program for a sustainable source of income.

My heart was full.

Locally, I knew there would be shortfalls in support for those in the ministry field. So, I started asking the local director of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) how I could help. He shared who needed help and what was needed to fill some shortfalls. I couldn’t say no. What an opportunity and an honor to glorify God and join in God’s work. My affections for God were heightened when I gave.

I was intoxicated with giving!

Diversified giver

Here’s what was happening: Instead of diversifying in the stock market, I was diversifying my giving portfolio by strategically picking different types of ministries I thought could have the most impact for the Kingdom. Besides giving to my favorite online podcasts, I began supporting a prison ministry, skateboard ministry, campus ministry, veteran’s ministry, the Bible Project, and a few other ministries.

I desperately wanted to be used by God and diversify my giving. It’s truly hard to describe the joy it brings to give, to be a conduit of God’s resources. It gave me a new outlook on work: the more I can make, the more I can give. This result has been humbling, especially when people would say to me, “You’re an answer to prayer!” Oh, that God would use this broken vessel!

I feel I have been in a special season of grace the Father has bestowed on me. There is no better investment than giving to His Kingdom here and for the betterment of our future eternal life in His presence when God calls us home. I long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your Master’s happiness!”

But God wasn’t done changing me.

Becoming sent

With the economy in a severe downturn in 2022, the company that provided all these funds through my paycheck laid off the entire sales force, including me. At first, I was shocked and saddened, knowing God had taken away my giving source and my identity as a Gospel patron. I thought I could find a similar position so I could continue to be used by God as a generous giver, but the opportunities weren’t nearly the same. I was forced to really reconsider my life at 61 and how I wanted to finish.

It didn’t look like God was going to continue using me as a Gospel patron in the same way, so I started to look for a different way I could make the most impact for the rest of my life. I read Bob Buford’s book Halftime. This, too, was me, wanting to find the most significance in the latter years of my life.

If the Lord wills, I will continue to spread the message of generous giving, what it did for my life and my eternity, and what it does for the Kingdom and culture. I hope to inspire others to finish strong spiritually for the glory of God!

Steve Panayiotou

Now, I had supported FCA for the past 13 years, served as a local board director for them, and for the past three years had been a major donor, a “Tom Landry Associate.”

Needless to say, I loved this ministry. They reach kids who wouldn’t normally come to church and give them the Gospel in a sports setting. FCA wasn’t on my radar as something I could be a part of because positions I knew of were campus-based and I am too old to be effective on campuses. But after networking with several of the FCA reps I had supported, word got back to the vice president of the Pacific Southwest Region. He approached me with a position of regional director of board and donor advancement and asked me to pray about it. This position would allow me to share my experience, joy, and passion as a major donor and board member as a way to inspire others to do the same.

Like most faith-based nonprofits, this meant raising my own support. Having never raised support to make a living, my wife and I prayed hard. We were at a crossroads, wondering, “Do we take a safe route and get a salaried job elsewhere or trust God for supplying our needs through generous donors?”

I had always been on the other side. I had been “the sender and not the sent.” But, with my passion for sports and Jesus, and many confirming my calling to FCA and this position, my wife and I took the step to trust God. If the Lord wills, I will continue to spread the message of generous giving, what it did for my life and my eternity, and what it does for the Kingdom and culture. I hope to inspire others to finish strong spiritually for the glory of God!

Samaritan Ministries member Steve Panayiotou is the founder of Finishing Strong and can be found on Instagram. Besides being a clinical nutritionist, he is the Pacific Northwest Regional Director of Donor and Board Advancement for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.