Stewardship In Foreign Missions, part 2

Continued from the Previous Issue

feature-article.gifThe New Testament Preacher is to Maintain a Blameless Character, which includes the Primary Qualification of Freedom from Covetousness (1 Tim 6:6–11; 1 Pet 5:1–3; 2 Pet 2:2–3, 14–17; Jude 11, 16).
One of the most important qualifications for the preacher of the gospel is a blameless testimony concerning money. American churches should realize that receiving foreign support, especially in the Two-Thirds World, often results in a covetous desire for money and power. These wrong desires lead to number of problems in the national church:

Improper Envy of the Pastoral Position
In the Two-Thirds World, most people who are poor cannot simply “climb the ladder” through hard work and extra hours as many do in America. The “American Dream” is just that—American. Hard work can pay off and lead to more prosperity in some cases, but this is definitely not the norm. Most people do not have a steady income. Praying for one’s “daily bread” is a necessity for believers in most of the Two-Thirds World. Salaried jobs are few and much sought after, even if the pay is minimal, because with a salary comes a degree of security. In many places, the only people who have salaried jobs are government and charity organization employees. Therefore, when a foreigner provides a salary to a national pastor or evangelist, even though it appears to the foreigner as a meager sum, it is a BIG deal to the national, even if that sum only covers part of his family’s needs. Those who obtain connections to foreign money often find themselves suddenly becoming important people, able to control and influence people through their ties to money. When this happens, it creates resentment among the saints and often between believers and unbelievers as well, regardless of the national preacher’s purity of motive.

Pragmatism and “Easy-Believism”
A poor national who gains foreign sponsorship will most definitely face the temptation to do whatever is necessary to maintain this sponsorship (Prov 28:21). He is faced with the need to prove his worth to his donors abroad. What best proves to the donors that the national preacher is a good deal for their money? Large numbers of converts and churches planted prove they are a wise investment. Thus pragmatism, with its inseparable twin, “easy-believism,” often becomes a normal practice in their ministries because of the financial partnership abroad.

Deception of Foreigners
Receiving funds from abroad often leads the national preacher to deception to maintain this money. To many nationals, deception is acceptable behavior because the foreigner appears to suffer no financial loss if lied to. That is one reason why, for instance, when a foreign donor comes to visit one of his client preachers or churches, impressive crowds gather. The foreigner, who does not know the local language, culture, or maybe even the true character of the national preacher, does not realize (nor is he told) that of the 150 people in the service, only 20 are active church members. Nor does the national preacher point out that 40 of the hearers are members of the Seventh Day Adventist Church across town. All the donor sees is smiling faces, rapt attention as the translator speaks on his behalf, people singing about Christ, and the obvious disparity between his life and their own. Impressed, the typical sponsor takes pictures for his presentations, gives large gifts, and promises future support. Deception also happens when national preachers move from one missionary or organization to another in order to follow the money. Many of these national pastors and evangelists lack biblical convictions concerning doctrinal and holiness issues.

Strife among National Pastors and Evangelists
Financial partnerships from abroad often cause infighting among many of the national preachers as they strive for positions within the various groups. Believers in the national churches as well as unbelievers see the hypocrisy in these leaders, thus causing great harm to the testimony of Christ. This foreign funding fuels an unhealthy competition among national leaders who desperately need fellowship and unity around God’s truth.
By pointing out the four problems above, we are not questioning the motive of every national pastor and evangelist, but we are stating a generalization that is true more often than a Western pastor or missionary might expect, especially in the Two-Thirds World. Covetousness and its effects are such a problem among ministers in Cambodia that it is a source of ridicule among the lost and many believers assume it to be a necessary evil. Much of the blame lies not with national preachers but with Western believers honestly seeking to spread the gospel around the world.

We must realize that receiving foreign support is not just a matter of obtaining resources, but also one of prestige and power in the mind of the national. Western pastors and missionaries need to realize their limitations in understanding the power and influence that sponsorship from abroad can effect among the poorer classes in a corrupt society. Financial partnerships from abroad provide great temptation for men to enter the ministry for the wrong reasons. Some men with a pure heart start receiving foreign funds and covetousness begins to take root. Many good national men have been destroyed by this practice. We must guard the gospel by helping the national preachers to guard their testimonies. Any system that breeds covetousness among preachers is fundamentally unsound and unworthy of being followed by God’s people.

The New Testament Preacher Must Guard the Purity of the Gospel Through His Testimony and Message (Matt 6:24; 10:32–39; Luke 14:25–33).
Jesus spoke clearly that believing on Him would require taking up one’s cross, loving God more than people and things, being willing to lose all, even being willing to die for Him. He summarized false religion as serving the god of money as opposed to the one True God. The prosperity gospel, on the other hand, promises physical health and material prosperity to those who believe on Christ. This extremely dangerous heresy runs rampant in many Two-Thirds World countries. Its message basically makes Christianity appear to be no different from the other religions of the world, which keep followers by promising the “faithful” what they desire most—prosperity and good luck. Knowing the thirst of the unbelieving world for material prosperity, national preachers are often tempted to promise physical blessings (health and wealth) to those who believe. We have even heard national preachers use their foreign support as a proof of God’s blessing on those that believe!

When national preachers and churches are perceived as benefiting financially from their decision to follow Christ, unbelievers question their motives. In Cambodia, national believers are frequently asked, “How much are the foreigners paying you to do this?” Unbelievers assume that the reason why the believers have professed Christ and are witnessing is material gain, the very opposite of Christ’s teachings. This distorts the message of the gospel by encouraging the prosperity gospel heresy.

National Believers Need the Opportunity to Show the Sincerity of their Faith before the Unsaved (2 Cor 8–9; 1 John 3:16–18; 3 John 5–11; Titus 3:13–14).
Before conversion, the nationals willingly gave to their pagan gods and religious systems. Now that they have converted to the One True and Living God, they ought to give to God’s work as a demonstration of the sincerity of their faith in Christ. In the early church, giving financially to their pastors and evangelists was a test of the reality of their faith.

When foreigners come and work on the assumption that the poor nationals are unable to obey God apart from outside aid, these saints are hindered from experiencing their full calling in Christ. By supporting national preachers, we unknowingly limit the potential of the churches to fully experience the grace of God. Dependence upon foreign sponsorship results in the national believer’s loss of joy in learning to give biblically in obedience to the Word of God. Shall we rob them of their joy and dull the brightness of the light of their testimony in their communities?

Both the National Pastor and the National Church Must Have the Freedom to Follow their Conscience before the Lord (Acts 24:16; 2 Cor 1:12; 1 Tim 3:9; 1 Pet 3:16).
The apostle Paul clearly esteemed the national believers as equals, not as inferior to himself. He did not see them as spiritual weaklings but rather expected great things from them, knowing that they were indwelt by the Holy Spirit and gifted for service (Rom 15:14; 1 Cor 1:4-8). The same Holy Spirit who empowers Western churches for ministry will empower the national churches for ministry as well. They are fully able to obey the Great Commission where God has put them and with the resources He has provided.

Effective and enduring ministry partnerships between foreigners and national believers occur when people are treated as equals. When the foreigner is the patron and the national the client, then an employer-employee relationship is always present. The national pastor’s moral sense is bound to the foreigners who are his patrons. He must be loyal to him, even if he disagrees with his patron or senses that his patron is in error. He is restrained from following his conscience before the Lord, violating the priesthood of the believer. Local church autonomy is further violated as foreign sponsorship invariably involves foreign control. Will we, by supporting national preachers, withhold from the national church two very important doctrines of Scripture—the priesthood of the believer and the autonomy of the local church?

Concluding Thoughts
Since this practice of supporting national pastors and evangelists is becoming increasingly accepted in our fundamental, separatist circles, this matter calls for serious discussion. Short-term successes often hinder long-term progress in fulfilling the Great Commission. While trying to have an effective influence for the gospel globally, many of our churches are hindering the influence of the gospel locally on the foreign field.

To be fair, many believers who support nationals are properly motivated to be good stewards of their resources. Filled with the love of Christ toward the lost and also toward their Christian brothers abroad, they are right in seeking ways to give, but we must consider this issue biblically rather than simply following others. It is possible to have proper motives but an inappropriate and debilitating methodology. American business principles and pragmatism often guide well-meaning people into the practice of financial partnerships with national leaders.

It is our conclusion 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. Thus financial partnerships with national leaders are not good stewardship.

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

July 2007

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