Why We Should Support Non-American Missionaries

What Steve Davis posted above coincides with what I posted on Jeremy’s blog: support for nationals becomes problematic. I have seen that happen personally time and again, and I have never seen it work well. “National missionaries” are often national pastors who have found a way to raise support from the States to go back and do what dozens of other men are doing without Stateside dollars. I have never seen that end well. And I don’t see why one pastor should be supported by money from the States (often at a much higher rate than what other pastors around him make), while other national pastors are working and being supported by their churches. Beyond that, the problem of accountability has been raised here, and is valid. How many Stateside pastors are making calls to other English-speaking pastors and missionaries in that country to find out what that pastor’s reputation and work is known to be by others who work near him and/or with him? How many are visiting the country to provide accountability, encouragement, and discipleship to the “church-planting pastor”? While this may be a solution that some pastors can pursue with a clear conscience, I don’t agree with Jeremy that it is a great or even a long-term solution to the many problems that do plague our missions programs in fundamental Baptist churches.

[Steve Davis] Most national “missionaries” that I have known are in fact pastors with their salary provided by American churches. Most national “missionaries” I have known live way above the standard of those around them because they have dollars.
Fair enough, Steve. We can all speak to the prolific abuses that we have observed. But please allow me to weigh-in on this discussion from another vantage point. By the way, I need to disclose up front that I am the Chairman of the Board of Directors of International Partnership Ministries, based in Hanover, PA. One of the men referred to IPM in his comments. I am also a former Financial Director of Biblical Ministries Worldwide. So I have seen the inner workings of both types of mission boards, those that send U.S. missionaries overseas and those that partner with national church planters.

Steve Davis makes some valid comments, but he also admits that he is speaking from his own experience: “most national ‘missionaries’ that I have known …” Let’s consider a broader perspective.

I personally know and have ministered alongside MANY national, cross-cultural church planters in Asia and the Middle East whose vision and practice are indeed missionary-level and not merely pastor-level. In other words, they are truly church planters, starting multiple churches, training nationals, and turning over the pastoring of those local works to other national men. Furthermore, they live on the same level as the people to whom they minister, not above them. Based on my testimony, can we all agree that this is a possibility, even if some haven’t experienced it firsthand? Steve admits that “there is something to be said” for this.

Assuming we are able to identify some valid national missionaries, then why would it be improper for American churches to support them and for those national missionaries to become dependent on American dollars? After all, American missionaries are dependent on American dollars!

Perhaps what we need to be discussing — rather than the question of whether or not we should be supporting national missionaries — is the real issue of how to root out abuses. Like Steve and some of the others who have commented, I have also experienced abuses by foreign nationals claiming to be church planters, when in reality they are using that term as a means by which to obtain American support dollars. But, frankly, has that not also happened with American missionaries? I have seen plenty of Americans go to a foreign field, plant a church, and then remain as pastor of the church indefinitely. Is that a true church planter, worthy of our missions dollars? Or is that an American simply pastoring overseas? When that happens — and it happens plenty — are we not creating a dependency by providing the national church with a free pastor, all expenses paid? Worse yet, I have seen plenty of American missionaries go the field and NEVER get an indigenous church established. Is that any better? We would all agree that those are abuses of the model, but it should not suggest that the model is broken.

We need to apply the same logic with national missionaries. Certainly, there are going to be abuses, but is it not possible to minimize the abuses through extensive accountability and proper training? IPM does this and does it well. For instance, we have an entire Field Ministries Department, with men in the home office as well as on the field, that keep in regular communication with the missionaries through email, financial reports, phone, etc. Not to mention that we require a rigorous candidate application and evaluation process before ever taking on a missionary. IPM also has an entire Education Department focused on establishing Bible institutes and colleges with the goal of nationals training nationals. Furthermore, we make numerous visits to the field — pastors (myself included, on many occasions), Board Members, Executive Staff, and godly laymen. This is yet another form of accountability, especially when our Education Department staff will typically remain with a national missionary for 2-3 weeks at a stretch.

By the grace of God, the model has been highly successful and has been in full swing for 30 years. The end result is that many more people have been reached with the Gospel and many more good, indigenous churches have been planted with godly leadership who have been taught in the Word and ways of God. It is exciting to see those first generation national churches now multiplying and starting second and third generation churches — all led by nationals! That is the heart of the Great Commission at work in a practical sense. In a nutshell, that is the stuff of Acts 1:8. I should mention that IPM is not the only board doing this. Even some of the American-sending mission boards are beginning to establish a partnering-with-national-missionaries department, because they are starting to see the wisdom in this and the biblical basis for it.

I would urge you not to throw out the model of supporting genuine, national church planters simply because of bad experiences or past abuses. Rather, I would urge you to take the position that, if it is done right, then supporting national missionaries can be a highly effective means by which we can help to reach the uttermost parts of the earth.

Pastor James Hollandsworth Tri-City Baptist Church www.tri-city-baptist.com

What ever happened to missionaries like David Livingston? Who went to preach the gospel without even so much as an extra walking stick or coat? Why do they even need our money? Can’t they live the way others in those country live? A while back I read a book that discussed missionary work in other countries. It explained that the best way to do missionary work in foreign lands, was to not disturb the native culture, and to leave as small a footprint as possible. Instead of relying on American money and products(chairs, TV’s, building materials, etc.), it recommended that missionaries use whatever resources were already available in those countries- thus making it easier for the natives to transition to a native/national led church, rather than an American church on foreign soil.

Remember, you are trying to convert people to Christianity, not Americanism. If you are not willing to live as the Africans do, then stay out of Africa.

Livingstone might not have been the best example; they are reports that he was kinda racist.

I’d probably pick Hudson Taylor, who was willing to dress funny like the natives and live like one of them. Or possibly Lottie Moon, who dressed civilized, but was willing to give her food and her heart and her life away to the starving kids over there.

Then again, why not St. Paul, whose missionary journeys provide the most complete template of overseas evangelistic endeavours in the inspired text. I think there’s some merit to studying his methodology as normative exemplar.

Paul lived, worked and ministered in his “home” culture, the Roman Empire. He wasn’t ministering in “foreign” lands. So, his example is not normative for an American called to serve outside the USA.

As for not having outside support, unless you tent making (which is restricted by many countries), try immigrating with out financial backing. Further, India, in particular, does not allow foreigners to stay longer IIRC than six months.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

On the matter of dependency, we need to be very wary about what can create the worst dependency of all: giving the impression to other national believers that there is no such creature as a “national missionary.” When we give such an impression, we are telling them that only believers and churches in America can or should be doing missions. When we send such a message, other national believers will depend on us and miss the blessing of their participation (sending, supporting, serving) in reaching the regions beyond their own locale. Such an impression also sends the wrong signal to American believers and has the potential to feed pride and prejudice. Fundamentally, it might be good for us to remember that we who are Ameircans are nationals also. Every good missionary, regardless of his nationality, is dependent upon the Lord to lead and burden churches to support his missions work. In that respect every missionary is dependent, first and foremost upon the Lord, and then upon those believers He has burdened, that they will be dependent upon the Lord and faithful toward Him. The same is true for every called preacher/teacher (again, regardless of his nationality) who receives support from others for the fulfillment of his calling (1 Corinthians 9, 3 John 5-8). Regarding agencies, any good missions agency (regardless of the nationality mix of its missionaries) must help churches — as those churches send and support their missionaries. The agency must not replace the church. A worthy agency exists to help the church by providing careful scrutiny in the acceptance process, real accountability in terms of work and finances, actual supervision to give help and correction, and on-site fellow-laboring for the furtherance of the gospel. This can be done, by grace, if we remain dependent on the Lord and diligent in our practice of Biblical missions. And whenever there are problems or abuses, we must deal with them — regardless of one’s nationality.

Thomas Wolfe