Stewardship In Foreign Missions, part 1

feature-article.gifShould Foreigners Support National Leaders?
Much of contemporary evangelicalism embraces the practice of supporting national pastors and evangelists on the foreign mission field. One mission director claims, “More than 140 organizations are now built on the premise of gathering and sending money, not people . . . One of the largest money-gathering agencies reports that it now supports 3,300 full-time workers in over 50 countries.” A popular Christian magazine advertises for donors to help support national pastors on foreign fields, reporting that “thousands of native missionaries in poorer countries take the gospel to un-reached people groups in remote areas that are extremely difficult for American missionaries to go . . . Your church can send 10 missionaries for $500 a month. That’s a mission budget that will amaze your missions committee and it’s good stewardship too.”

Are these examples really a good stewardship of missions money? There is increasing momentum in our fundamental churches towards financial partnerships with national pastors and evangelists. Fundamentalists need to think through this issue biblically, especially with regard to the doctrine of the local church. Care must be taken to avoid unbiblical pragmatism.

We propose that supporting national pastors and evangelists on the foreign mission field is an unwise practice, being both biblically flawed as well as harmful to the national church.

Our Perspective
We are a missionary team ministering in Cambodia, a poor Two-Thirds World4 country in Southeast Asia, where we must regularly address this issue. Though ravaged by the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge, and a Vietnamese/Cambodian Communist regime through the early 1990s, Cambodia is beginning to show some signs of economic recovery. Yet the reality of poverty surrounds us daily. Charitable organizations and social workers fill the capital city of Phnom Penh. In rural Pursat, where we minister, there are more than forty aid organization offices. Foreign money funds most of professed Christianity in Cambodia (less than one percent of the population). It is the rare pastor or evangelist who is not on the payroll of some missionary or organization and many of those who are not on someone’s payroll are trying to be.

We have seen the impact that unbiblical pragmatism has on the ministry of the gospel in Cambodia regarding this matter of stewardship. Many of our missionary friends in Cambodia and elsewhere could attest to the importance of this issue in worldwide missions. We realize that some of the illustrations and specific applications may not apply precisely in every country due to differences in culture and economics. However, we believe that the principles we offer below are biblical, and thus timeless and universal. Therefore they should be normative in any cross-cultural missionary work.

It should not be assumed that we perceive nationals as inferior to foreign missionaries because we are against their sponsorship. On the contrary, we believe very strongly that national men are far superior to foreign missionaries in ministering to their own people, for both linguistic and cultural reasons. Our fervent desire is to pour our hearts into these God-called, gifted men. Our understanding, as borne out in the principles that follow, is that their own people should send and support them.

There are a number of scriptural principles that demonstrate how financially partnering with national pastors and evangelists is both biblically flawed as well as harmful to the national church.

National Churches Have a Biblical Requirement to Care Financially for their own Pastors and Evangelists (1 Cor 9:6–14; 1 Tim 5:17–18; 3 John 5–8).
It is clear from the above Scriptures that local churches must actively support their own pastors and evangelists who minister in their churches. Those who are ministered to spiritually are commanded to return the favor in a material way (Gal 6:6), thus forming a reciprocal relationship between pastor/teacher and the people. It is important to realize that some of these commands were given to the poorest of churches during New Testament times. Whenever a church, individual, or missions organization from abroad supports a national leader in another country, they create a situation where the national believers find it difficult to obey clear commands of Scripture regarding the support of their own leaders. Once this pattern of foreign support is established, it is exceedingly difficult for the national church to recover and assume its biblical responsibility. By funding the national pastor, the foreigner robs the national church of the joy of obedience that comes from giving to their pastor materially for having received from their pastor spiritually. God intended that there be a close relationship between the pastor and his people where both are giving and receiving from each other. Foreign support breaks down this reciprocal relationship that God intended.

Christianity Must Be Seen by the Unsaved as a Spiritual Movement Built by Christ and Driven by the National People Who have Responded to Its Message, Not as Something Driven and Sustained by Foreign Interests (Matt 16:18; Acts 1:8).
The early church began—and remained for a long time—a simple church-planting movement begun in the homes of believers. No “start-up capital,” foreign sponsors, or travel abroad to solicit funds was involved. This raises a question: when we support national preachers with foreign money, what are we communicating to the unsaved about the essence of Christianity? Do they see it as something driven by foreign interests or as a spiritual movement?

When unbelievers, particularly foreign governments, see that the propagation of Christianity is linked to foreign monies, the conclusion is often made that Christianity is not merely a foreign religion, but also a foreign tool. In cultures that define national identity by its religion, especially among Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists, the propagation of a new religion backed by foreigners becomes an issue of nationalism. It appears to be a foreign attempt to change their culture. Although nationalism will always be a difficult factor in missions, it is increasingly so if national preachers are funded with foreign money. Many preachers around the world have been persecuted, not for the offense of the gospel, but for the obvious foreign patronage of their ministries. We must avoid adding this stumbling block to the preaching of the gospel.

National Believers Must Understand that the Fulfillment of the Great Commission Depends on the Power of God, Not Foreign Resources (Luke 24:48–49; Acts 1:8).
The Word of the Lord can run and be glorified among any people at any time under any circumstances. The national church does not need money from other peoples in order to obey the Great Commission or to see God bless their ministries. Consider the missionary churches in the Book of Acts: Antioch, Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi, Corinth , Rome, Galatia, etc. These were all born of God’s Spirit apart from foreign funding. They did not wait for foreign partnerships to fulfill God’s command but depended only on God’s Spirit to empower them.

In contrast to the New Testament example, many national leaders in Two-Thirds World countries are convinced that God cannot work through them unless they are supported by foreign gifts of money, land, or buildings. Did they arrive at this way of thinking by meditating on the Word of God or through foreigners seeking to fund them? It is the latter, as borne out by the number of national men within our Fundamental circles who travel back and forth between their countries and the States soliciting funds for preachers of the gospel as well as other things such as church buildings, camps, seminaries, etc. Cambodians, both believers and unbelievers, have told us that churches cannot be started, much less sustained, apart from financial assistance from abroad! We are told that unless we provide material benefits, such as medical services, English tutoring, computer skills, etc., we will be unsuccessful in gaining and keeping converts.

What do these statements imply about a national’s faith in God or the power of the gospel? The current impetus to financially partner with national pastors and evangelists undermines the national believer’s faith in the power of God and His ability to use them to fulfill the Great Commission. It also contributes to a weak view of the Holy Spirit. An embarrassing reality is that many of the churches on some of the oldest mission fields such as India, Thailand, Brazil, Mexico, and the Philippines, still require foreign support. Why? They believe they cannot fulfill God’s commands with their own resources.

The Role of a New Testament Preacher is a Spiritual Relationship with His Flock, Not a Material One (1 Tim 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9; 1 Pet 5:1–3).
Financial partnerships with national leaders commonly shift the national pastor’s spiritual authority in the local church to a material/financial authority or an unbiblical mixture of the two. The national pastor with foreign funds often becomes the patron of his church members as the people become his clients, raising him to an unbiblical position of power. Instead of church members giving to him, he gives to them. Many are loyal to him because of his ties to money abroad, tempting both the pastor and people to cover sin to maintain this partnership abroad. One of the biggest problems of all is the distortion this brings to the role of a pastor as a spiritual leader. He is unable to effectively do the spiritual ministry that he is called by God to do for his flock.

As foreign missionaries, we must guard this spiritual relationship with the national believers at all costs. Once we start providing jobs, giving salaries, or using money carelessly, we will be seen as patrons and not spiritual leaders. If this were to happen, it would become impossible to gauge the success of the work or to know the true spiritual state of the people. On the contrary, what a joy it is to teach the Word of God and see people respond to the gospel, knowing that the only reason they did so was the power of God! National believers must obey God and follow the leadership of their pastors because of their commitment to Christ alone. Neither the missionary nor the national preacher must be put in a position where his hearers are pressured to profess Christ or be loyal to him because of material benefits that could come from having connections with him.

Continued in the Next Issue

Forrest McPhail and Chris Seawright are missionaries to Cambodia with Gospel Fellowship Association Missions. They can be contacted by e-mail at

June 2007


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