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Money and missionaries

By January 27, 2015
Photo Credit EFCA

(Photo credit EFCA)

North America (EFCA/MNN) — [EDITOR’S NOTE: We’re sharing the following report from EFCA’s in-house blog as it relates to important trends in world missions.]

There is a quiet but very important debate taking place regarding the place of western missionaries in today’s expensive world. There are some who argue that the day of long-term missionaries from the West is over and that we should simply support indigenous missionaries across the globe at a much lesser cost. The implications of how we answer that question are significant.

Let me say up front that I lead ReachGlobal, an international missions organization of the EFCA. Let me also say that I believe that the vision for reaching the world does not lie with organizations but with the local church. The best missions organizations, in my view, are those who exist to serve the missions vision of the local church and provide structure, long-term strategic help and best practices.

Price tag perspective

It costs around $100,000 per mission family to be on the field in our and similar organizations. That sounds like a lot, but it is not that much different than the cost of pastoral staff for a local church, if you add in the hidden costs above salary such as health insurance, retirement, staff administrative help, and perhaps the most expensive cost of all: the expensive church facilities that staff work in. The difference between missionaries and local church staff is very small when you consider the hidden costs that churches must cover in order to staff their ministry.

Do your job

It is true that missionaries who are not productive do not belong on the field. It is equally true that this applies to church staff in the United States as well. The fact that some ministries don’t deal with unproductive staff in both arenas does not negate the need for staff. It makes the case for the right staff who are engaged in the right work.

Get clarity on roles

The question of value for that money is an important one. If missionaries are simply doing what local believers could do, one may have an argument for funding locals rather than Western missionaries. However, that misses a massive shift that is taking place within the missions world today where missionaries are increasingly not the hands-on doers but the mentors, equippers, and releasers of local, indigenous workers. In fact, in ReachGlobal, the central job of our staff is to develop, empower, and release. This is something that local believers are not as capable of doing: they need and ask for help in raising up equipped workers for the harvest and increasingly that is the role of personnel from the West.

Money can damage ministries

In addition, simply sending money rather than personnel raises another very important question: dependencies on Western money that fosters dependence rather than independence and control (through our dollars) rather than the development of equal ministry partners.

A book every church in the West should read is, When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself. Indiscriminate financial help is often a terrible gift with unintended consequences that the West does not understand. One of my colleagues at the Lausanne Conference in South Africa is a leader from Liberia. His observation is that money has done more to ruin ministry in countries like his than almost anything else.

Two errors of the same coin

In years past, the west often had a paternalistic attitude toward missions. We had the money, we had the education, and we were the experts. Too often we carried that attitude with us rather than developing, empowering, and releasing indigenous personnel. Now, some would compound that error with an equal error. Western missionaries are not needed, so we will just fund local ministries globally. Neither of these answers is biblical, and it is not an either/or dichotomy but a both/and. The missions mandate Christ left the church will only be met when all believers, those from the majority world and those from the minority world join hands to share the gospel with over five billion people who don’t know Christ.

The Church is a sending church

From the inception of the church, it has been a mission sending church. Paul and Barnabas were simply the first in the hundreds of thousands of missionaries who have gone from one culture to another with the good news of Jesus. My parental family was in that line of faithful missionaries. The day we stop sending people and simply send our dollars is the day that we have abandoned the call of the church to “go and make disciples of all nations;” and the inevitable result will be a quick decline even in giving for missions. What we tell our partners internationally applies to us: No church group is mature until they are intentionally reaching across ethnic, economic, political and culture lines to share the gospel.

The question of whether Western missionaries are needed is really the wrong question because the New Testament does not give us the option of sending missionaries. The real question is: what should long-term missionaries in today’s world be doing?

One thing we know they should be doing is raising up workers for the harvest in all parts of the world, doing formal and informal theological training, training church planters and pastors, and doing everything we can to see multiplication take place where the gospel is not well known. In many places, this means the hard work of evangelism and the making of disciples because there are none present. There are still vast tracts of our globe where the church is small, struggling or non-existent.

The mission will be accomplished

Ironically, just as some in the west believe that long-term workers are no longer needed, believers in other parts of the world are increasingly sending their own missionaries. Missions has become all people reaching all people, and many of our own teams are made up of personnel from different parts of the world. The question will be whether the Western church loses out on the blessing of being a player in the world wide missions efforts in the years to come.

Missions does not win when missionaries do not partner with indigenous believers. Missions does not win when western missionaries are left on the sidelines. Missions wins when there is a synergistic relationship between missionaries from wherever they come and local believers wherever they are.

10 Comments

  • Nicole says:

    Excellent article. I’ve gone around in circles with people on this topic ever since “Revolution in World Missions” was published, and your points are right on.

    I would just add a little more. As a long-term worker myself, I often get questions like, “Why should we support you at $XXX when we can support a national worker in Africa for $X?” A couple observations:

    1. When someone asks, “which one is better stewardship of the $ we have?” it’s often the wrong question. God’s economy does not operate like a business. Typically His criteria is centered around, “Are you being obedient to what I’m asking you to do?” Sometimes His directions cost less, sometimes they cost more.
    2. As you already mentioned, it’s not an either/or, but a both/and. There are still several thousand unreached people groups in the world. Unreached meaning there are NO churches or national believers in their language/culture group to spread the gospel. That means someone has to come in from outside, whether it be a Westerner or someone from a neighboring group in their own country. There will still be language or cultural barriers to overcome no matter who does it.
    3. There are occasionally times when Westerners have a better platform than national believers to spread the gospel. This isn’t super-common, but in some of the groups I’ve worked with, it’s a reality. Tribal barriers, economic limits, and even warring language groups (yes, that’s a thing apparently) create barriers that locals cannot overcome easily, while an outsider doesn’t have those limits put on them. Strategic missions calls for an awareness of these limits and a partnership between indigenous workers and expats that will support both.
    4. Finally, is it really godly to tear down one person’s ministry for the sake of building up another’s? I’ve actually heard radio ads from a certain ministry (not this one) that raises funds for national workers using the simple argument that people shouldn’t give to Western workers because they are expensive. To add to the confusion, they compare the budget of a worker in somewhere like Europe with a national in Africa, where the cost of living is much lower. That’s just plain deceptive, but I hear it all the time! 🙁

    Ok, I’ll get off my soapbox now. 😉 I’ll just leave with a quote that John Piper gave us at Urbana a few years ago. “When God calls, if we send our dollars and not our sons and daughters, we have ceased to be obedient. If we send our money but do not go ourselves, eventually we will do neither.”

    Blessings!

  • Brother Addington,

    Thank you for clearly defining the biblical role of missions and missionaries. Your thoughts were refreshing!

  • Joshua Baker says:

    Thank you your article brings balance. As a missionary many people in the Church ask me why do you go to those nations and some are even hostile about it. I have found that the need for missionaries is great in many countries and the local Christian leaders are very eager to work with us. We do exactly what you say in the article we come along side and help them to be self sufficient. Ministry is about team work. Partnering to bring in the Harvest.
    What many of the people who propagate only supporting national missionaries don’t tell anyone is that they have offices in the west and salaries which cost a lot of money which comes from donors

  • Thank you Bro. Addington for your piece. This topic has created a lot of confussion for a long time now. thank God some one is privileged to set the record straight and I could not help agreeing with him. God bless you dear brother

  • Thank you for the article it is a needed discussion and a challeging one but necessary to seek God for clearification. I have pinballed these same thoughts around my own head having a heart for missions, should I go or should I give? There are seasons for both and to box myself in on one side or another causes limitations I tend to super impose on Gods’ ultimate work. I don’t believe creating a dividing line of western church and the rest of the world is being very helpful though, money and past/present world influence should not be the issue, kingdom perspective should be.

    Do we truely believe that we (the born again around the world) are one body in Christ, and do we truely believe that individuals have specific callings directed by God through his Holy Spirit to build His kingdom or not?

    When we start making distinctions because of our past or present roles in the kingdom then we distract from God’s ultimate goal, to use us for His glory and build His kingdom; who He uses and how He uses them then becomes a mute point. The real questions of roles then must be taken to the Father in prayer, requesting how we may then best be used by Him for His specific plan and purpose in the present time. I find that when I split hairs in my mental debates or personal discussions with others then my kingdom focus tends to become grounded and limited and the door is open for division.

    We all have been called and unified as one body by one Spirit, let us not loose our heads over our greatest calling to make disciples, how that is done and where that is done rests squarely in the Father’s hands.

  • Mike Croslow says:

    Jesus placed great emphasis on the Kingdom. Discussions about missions philosophy that focus primarily on evangelism, harvest, and the role of western missionaries certainly are valuable, as is this article. There is, however, so much more to the Great Commission than church development and a the gospel of salvation. As critical as spiritual transformation is, the dominion of Christ must impact all spheres of society.

  • This is so well written and so refreshing. We work with a large mission agency in South Sudan. The church here is definitely not ready to just receive funds to do the work of missions. They themselves are still in great need of being discipled and transformed. They desperately need capacity development. And on top of that, we are surrounded by 130,000 refugees that come from a M’slim background and who are now coming to Christ. How could they ever do the work of the church until they understand what it means to be THE CHURCH? We have been in South Sudan since 2006 and planted lots of churches but have never taken on any pastoral role. We have always believed that our place was to mentor and disciple and allow the local church to evolve as they grew in the word. This has been highly effective and now our “children” in the Lord are planting churches and they didn’t need us to tell them how to do it. It has freed us up and the church does not come running to us for money or other things all the time. They want the word. Thank you so much for writing this much needed article! I was greatly blessed to read it.

    • Awilda Ruiz says:

      I am doing a paper and searching topics that have to do with the comparison and dilemma of sustaining national missionaries for my final presentation and saw your comments. I clicked on your name and saw your ministry website and just was moved by the same. My husband and I are candidates for missionaries with the Christian and Missionary Alliance and we are doing our internship or “home service” in Asheville, NC as Church Planters.. I just wanted to thank you and your husband for how God is using you in South Sudan and how you guys have encouraged me to not give up with all of the things have taken place. This article and your ministry has made me reflect a lot into not giving up and just to continue to be obedient in Gods no matter the circumstances. I don’t know you, but God surely allowed me to know about you and the ministry he has placed in your lives for me to see that all things are Possible through Christ who strengthens me.. God Bless

  • Donna Jeanne says:

    Thank you so much for this amazing article! I love the both/and comment, as we have seen the same in short-term/long-term synergy, God using ALL of the above to build His kingdom, when we work hand-in-hand with the church in both locations! I also know the reality of working in Europe with the high cost of living, and we felt we were being obedient to go, learning much from the local/national church as we worked with refugees from many nations. The greatest “answer” to this question was given to me by a speaker from India who said, “You Americans are so concerned with numbers! What is the price of ONE HUMAN SOUL?” May the Lord open our hearts to give freely, to give MORE, to give to BOTH Western and national missionaries, and may He find us faithful wherever we are serving Him, in praying for missionaries, giving to missionaries, going as missionaries, or letting our sons and daughters go as missionaries. Thank you again for this article!

  • pst francis says:

    MISSION IS GREAT and it not funds only that are need, but the sending mission must always pray for the missionary in field so that God will give favor among the people, otherwise it be business and wastes of Godly resource and time,,,,

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