Why should a church support an American missionary family at forty, sixty, eighty or even a hundred thousand dollars per year when a national pastor–who already knows the culture and language–can live on just a small fraction of that?
Among the chief proponents of foreign support for national pastors is KP Yohannan and his ministry Gospel for Asia (GFA). In his best-selling book Revolution in World Missions Yohannan writes: “The primary role for Westerners now should be to support efforts of indigenous missions works through financial aid…” (147). He bemoans the untold millions of dollars being wasted on Western missionaries and structures.
On the surface, supporting foreign nationals appears to be the cheapest, most efficient way for the West to use their missionary funds. Beneath the veneer of this plea, however, are a number of dangers that may make this method more destructive in the long run.
1. It discourages personal responsibility.
When a Chinese cow plows a Chinese field, it is not the responsibility of the French to give it the feed bag (1Tm. 5:18). When a Zambian pastor shepherds a Zambian congregation, it is not the duty of Brazilians to support him (5:17). Except for extreme circumstances (like funds for famine relief, Ac. 11:27-30), it is a sign of an unhealthy church that expects others to support the pastor that labors for them in preaching and teaching.
2. It could hinder the gospel.
Paul evangelized “free of charge” (1Cor. 9:18) and never used money as a worm on the gospel hook. Since the hypocrite of the third soil (Mk. 4:19) left the faith due to money, wealthy churches must be cautious in giving away funds for preaching the gospel to those in other lands who would otherwise be unemployed.
3. It opens up the missionary to charges of deception.
Paul wasn’t a “peddler” of God’s Word (2Cor. 2:17). He wasn’t a missionary huckster that handed out funds to buttress his message. Despite this, his enemies still slapped him with charges of being “crafty” (2Cor. 12:16). They accused him of having “corrupted” and “taken advantage” of others (2Cor. 7:2). If the Apostle, who steered far away from paternalism, could still be accused of such things, how much more should the Western church be careful on these matters?
4. It lacks accountability
Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose the pastors that your church supports begin to lose awareness of the Hebrews 13:4 command to keep themselves “free from the love of money.” Suppose they begin spending less and less time on hospital visits and coffee shop Bible studies and more and more time washing their new boat and laundering their silk suits. In time, the church is going to see this, right? It will be evident in their preaching, their children’s behavior and their pulpit prayers.
But when money comes from overseas to foreign nationals, accountability is mostly absent. Who can really provide them with the intense level of accountability that all Christian ministers need? This is a problem with missionaries too, but at least there is the flesh and blood connection and the frequent visits home reporting on the work.
Remember Yohannan in the opening paragraph? He was the Baptist seminary grad from Dallas and the channel through which millions of US dollars flowed to Asia over many decades. Years ago he changed his name to Moran Mor Athanasius Metropolitan. “Mor” is a title of lordship. US churches should have been concerned decades earlier when he often used the title “Dr”–though it was an honorary degree from an unaccredited school in India. Now he wears fancy hats, uses flashy titles and caries golden sceptres–all of which Jesus condemned (Mt. 23:3-7). There has been several accusations of fraud too. Big endowments + small accountability = trouble.
5. It discourages going
Why should I go to the mission field myself when it is so much easier to pay a national? Bob Finley, founder of Christian Aid, writes:
We must no longer misdirect the young people of our churches by trying to motivate them to go live and work in foreign cultures. Rather, we must challenge them to take up the cause of our Savior NOW by living simply and sacrificially, and using their awesome power to earn money as a means to supply the needs of some of the thousands of God’s servants who are out on al the mission field of the world with little or no support” (p. 483, Discovering the Mission of God).
Get that? Don’t urge the Western youth to go. Stay, but give. Yes, Americans ought to live simply and be generous with their money (which they are more than any other nation). But isn’t the first command of the Great Commission to go? Exchanging funds for flesh is always dangerous to the church.