Why We Should Support Non-American Missionaries

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J Ng's picture

I find it interesting that yes, the apostles were sent forth from Jerusalem, but when churches had been founded overseas, they were exhorted to "remember the poor" in Jerusalem and collections were made--not in Jerusalem for the churches in Asia Minor and Greece but--in those church plants for the saints in the "parent" church.

Wouldn't it be great if churches in Seoul and Singapore started sending support to the needy brethren in Anytown, USA?

Chip Van Emmerik's picture

Comparatively speaking, can we really call people in the U. S. needy.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

Jonathan Charles's picture

I have asked all the missionaries we support about supporting nationals; none think it is good idea if the commitment is open-ended. Maybe support his education, maybe support the getting a piece of property or the building of a building, but none I have asked thus far think it is good for the national pastor or for his church to be dependent on American funding in the long-term. On the other-hand what I've heard from ministries that channel money to nationals is that their churches are too poor to support a pastor, or that the pastor has to be bi-vocational, thus limiting his time dedicated to the ministry. Do poor countries need to learn stewardship? Is it ok for a pastor to be bi-vocational?

Jim's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:
Is it ok for a pastor to be bi-vocational?

If it was good enough for the Apostle Paul it is OK with me!

  • 2 Thessalonians 3:8
  • Acts 18:1-3
  • Acts 20:33-35
  • 1 Corinthians 9:12

You could for example have 4 tentmaker elders .... each sharing the ministry

Jeremy Wallace's picture

There are two things I think need to be stressed about my post. First, it is a short-term commitment. The concern about basing a foreign ministry on American dollars is valid. I would not be a proponent of a national pastor building his entire ministry on American money. But, if there is an upfront commitment for a strategic period of time to help get the national on his feet, I think that is a good partnership that will reap great results.

Second, this kind of partnership has the potential to have a greater impact on the American church than it does on the national church-planter. I think missions will come alive for our church. For too long missions has been about nothing more than throwing a few dollars in the plate so that we can send missionaries to another country. I think doing something like this will help our people gain a greater understanding of world-wide missions. They will see that there are people all around the world that have the same desire that we do; to make disciples. I think the benefits for our church (and any church that tries this) will be significant.

Steve Davis's picture

There is something to be said for finding a way to provide support for nationals to do effective ministry in their countries who speak the language, understand the culture, and plant contextualized churches. And there may be some cases/places where this would be wise with proper candidate evaluation and accountability.

However I have rarely seen that happen, partly because we lack the competency to evaluate a man’s giftedness, partly because we lack the mechanisms to provide accountability. More often than not it seems that short-term commitments actually lead to dependence (after passing through stages of appreciation, anticipation, expectation, and entitlement).

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. I can’t tell you how many times I have seen national pastors “called to missions” in their own country because it worked out better for them in so many ways.

More often than not it would be best for nationals to be bi-vocational (just as many are here) and look to the Lord to supply their needs rather than looking to the USA. I’m sure there are exceptions where American funds make a difference. Yet most of the time it may make little difference in actual ministry getting done.

What’s really ironic is how difficult it is for church planters in the US to raise support because they’re not really missionaries. Many churches will support something exotic overseas but won’t support church planting efforts here because its not really mission.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Steve's response hit the nail on the head!

Jeremy Wallace wrote:
There are two things I think need to be stressed about my post. First, it is a short-term commitment.

The problem is that a short-term commitment becomes a long-term commitment. Take Haiti, for example. The country is very, very poor. Now, you support pastor X with the understanding that this is a five-year commitment until he gets a church "on its feet." Five years from now, I guarantee you that whatever mission he is working through in the states, they will tell you that he still needs your support. Then you feel like a heel for pulling support from him. Steve is right about "national missionaries." One national pastor ministry in Hanover, PA calls them "national church planters," but they are, in fact, just pastors like you and me. And if you've ever been to Haiti, it doesn't need anymore church planting, there are churches EVERYWHERE. It needs training for men called into ministry, good college-level stuff. I prefer to support educational ministries because the help given to each man will be limited to the time it takes for him to get his education, and once he is educated, having been called and gifted for ministry, he will go on and do what you and I do, even if he has to be bi-vocational.

J Ng's picture

Jonathan Charles wrote:
The country is very, very poor. Now, you support pastor X with the understanding that this is a five-year commitment until he gets a church "on its feet." Five years from now, I guarantee you that whatever mission he is working through in the states, they will tell you that he still needs your support.

I know I just suggested overseas churches supporting American pastors, but just to reflect on this Haiti scenario, would it have been a problem if it had involved supporting an American missionary past five years, past language school, past deputation, who's still not on his feet?

To hark back on the first century, and you can call me naive, but I don't see any exit strategy or limitation on setting money aside and remembering the poor saints in Jerusalem, no?

J Ng's picture

Chip Van Emmerik wrote:
Comparatively speaking, can we really call people in the U. S. needy.

Depends. I'm not sure where Fundamentalist pastors stand, but the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(PPP)_per_capita ]per capita GDP (PPP) of USA is 6th and 9th worldwide , ranging between $47,000 - $48,000 per year. I have a hunch it might be a little below that number.

In Asia, Qatar, Singapore, Macau, Brunei, and Hong Kong are in the neighborhood, with S. Korea and Japan a few rungs beneath. Qatar and Brunei, being Islamic countries, are unlikely to have substantial numbers of churches or Christians, and Macau is tiny in terms of an evangelical presence, which leaves Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, and perhaps a few churches in Japan.

At least anecdotally, I understand that ministers and ministries are comparatively well-supported by churches in Singapore and South Korea. No indictment on them at all, and thank God for touching the hearts of their supporting churches, but I remember some of those pastors studying for the ministry being endowed with IBM PS/2s (that was back in the 1980s!), a decent car, and a townhouse, while the rest of us were on manual typewriters and living in trailer homes.

Would it make sense perhaps for some of the more financially blessed churches overseas to share their wealth with those American pastors who might be bivocational and struggling with home schooling and stuff? Or maybe I'm mistaken about how well Fundamentalist pastors in North America are doing.

===Follow-up ========

O never mind ... my bad.

The http://www.baptistbulletin.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/02/janfeb_09_20-2... ]"average compensation in a Baptist church" has the following annual salaries:

  • Full-time Senior Pastor $79,855
  • Full-time Solo Pastor $54,456
  • Full-time Youth Pastor$52,043

All of whom, and most of the others listed, well above the GDP (PPP) per capita figures!

christian cerna's picture

Is it hypocritical and short sighted to be sending money overseas, when our next door neighbors are without jobs and unable to support their families? Might our money not be better used to create jobs for these men, and to feed the homeless in our own communities?

What better way than this to demonstrate the love of God, than to help out our neighbors in their time of need.

Jeremy Wallace's picture

I would suggest that if churches are neglecting the needs you mentioned and sending all available resources overseas, then they are missing the point. However, we are attempting to build our missions/outreach program around Acts 1:8 which requires a focus in 4 key areas; local being one and foreign being one. We are striving to equally focus on all four areas.

christian cerna's picture

Jeremy Wallace wrote:
I would suggest that if churches are neglecting the needs you mentioned and sending all available resources overseas, then they are missing the point. However, we are attempting to build our missions/outreach program around Acts 1:8 which requires a focus in 4 key areas; local being one and foreign being one. We are striving to equally focus on all four areas.

In the New Testament, gift giving is always seen as something organic and voluntary. It took place as a result of needs that arose at the time. I don't have a problem with raising a collection to give a gift to another believer or a church in need. But we must be careful not to create a situation of dependence- where they are expecting money on a regular basis. It is better to help them to find ways to support themselves.

Jonathan Charles's picture

With probably hundreds of thousands of pastors in the third world, it is unrealistic to think that an effective missionary strategy is to give those pastors financial support, even on a short-term basis. American churches will never scratch the surface of the "need." Nevertheless, I'm sure that those that never get financial support will go on preaching and teaching anyway. I'm not suggesting not helping in other ways, mainly in supporting educational institututions that train pastors, but the idea of a "national missionary" is a misnomer, and the idea of supporting what is, in fact, a national pastor on a short-term basis is misguided since his financial situation will be no better off X years down the road than what it is right now-especially in the third world.

We support American missionaries in the third world. They all evangelized communities, started churches, found nationals called to ministry who they have or are training to take over the church when they leave. What's wrong with that???

christian cerna's picture

i agree with jonathan. there is always a big risk when sending money overseas, to men that we are not personally acquainted with. there would seem to be better accountability in sending the money with an American missionary. And i believe that is the biblical model. when the NT churches send gifts to another church in need, they would send it with Paul or one of the other apostles, or someone of good reputation, to manage the distribution of the money.

MClark's picture

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.

Jim Hollandsworth's picture

Steve Davis wrote:
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

christian cerna's picture

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.

J Ng's picture

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.

Rob Fall's picture

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..

THWOLFE's picture

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