by William J. Kornfield
This article is a response to the article “When the Mission Pays the Pastor,” by Wayne Allen, April 1998 EMQ.
Wayne Allen’s article is must reading for anyone involved in worldwide missions. Several years ago I wrote an article warning my missionary colleagues about the danger of Western funding of national pastors and workers in the Two-Thirds World.1 I pointed out that the history of the church over two millennia has consistently proven that the strongest, most vibrant, reproducing churches with missionary vision were self-sustained. The remarkable growth of the church in China-completely cut off from Western aid for over two generations — is more evidence.
As much as I had studied outside funding or financial paternalism over 20 years, I did not have a comparative case study such as Wayne has provided. My own observations, based on my experience in Bolivia and my traveling to a good number of mission fields, concur that the growth of the national church plateaus, even halts, when the mission begins to subsidize national workers.
What can we learn from this potent case study of the Land Dayaks of Indonesia? Sincere, dedicated leaders of all funding agencies and churches throughout the world, and especially those from the West, need to be challenged regarding the long-term effects of supporting national works and workers. One example that could be multiplied many times over: The Bolivian director of a Quechua Bible institute in Bolivia found himself in serious trouble with his national church board over insufficient finances. Why? One of his expatriate missionary professors decided to leave for another ministry. With him went significant funds he had raised from overseas.2
My research reinforces Wayne’s observations as to the long-term effects of subsidy. A leader from Mozambique reports:
The missionaries failed to empower the national leaders. The missionaries were advocating the theology of poverty. They were preaching the crippled Gospel which-has to do only with the spiritual. Then in 1975 Mozambique became independent and all the missionaries left and the Church saw herself abandoned like chickens without a mother. My church faced hard times, she did not have an educated person to stand up and did not have even one cent in the bank. So the government ordered her closed. But thanks be to God, the Church began to organize herself in a new atmosphere and made up a budget so that it might survive from this trap. It is an amazing thing that the Church began to grow in quantity and quality. Today, my church has got 10,650 members and 52 full time pastors. The progress of the Church consists in being free from paternalism and the Western cultural transplant. It is very interesting that the same Church in South Africa, Zimbawe, and Malawi is almost stagnant. Financial paternalism appears to be a major factor which hinders the Church of Christ to grow. It causes dependency which engenders laziness and hinders church growth, along with a lack of missionary activities.3
What are some of the other results of long-term financial subsidy? As Wayne Allen’s article so well demonstrates, subsidy was a cause of frustration and tremendous tension within the mission team itself. Giving cross-cultural communication seminars in many parts of the world, I have also found that subsidizing national workers is a source of continual tension and frustration for a number of my expatriate colleagues.
Is there a solution to the problem? I believe there is. A Brazilian seminary principal has concluded:
I’ve personally decided that foreign money should not underwrite the operational costs of any national ministry. Foreign money discourages the Brazilian churches’ sacrificial giving. Our seminary has received a few offers for support, and I turn them down. I welcome them to be a part of a specific project to buy a van or build a new dorm. But if they want to support us on a monthly basis, I tell them, "don’t send us money." 4
My experience training pastors in Bolivia confirms his outlook. I found by getting local churches excited about giving for the training of future pastors, charging realistic, but modest prices for a student’s room and tuition, the seminary in Cochabamba, Bolivia, could support nine Bolivian professors part time, and still end up with money in the bank.
Outside funding tends to stagnate church growth. It transfers genuine or psychological ownership from the national church or entity to the outside funding agency. Tim Michell, a Western missionary, faced this reality in his financial backing of a local Bible school. He found that he "slipped into the age-old mistakes Western missionaries have so often made in Africa…. Much as we longed for the local African leadership to take full responsibility and ownership, it just never happened. We found ourselves increasingly responsible for all the financing of the program. Our students graduated, but invariably went back into secular work. Eventually the school closed down and joined the long list of Western models in Africa that never worked." Then Tim attended a seminar on self-reliance, which forever changed his way of thinking. "We came to see that local initiative can come only from local vision and ownership. We teamed up with a man with the same thinking as ourselves and have seen in the last three years a highly missions-minded local church being established which is fully self-funded." That same church consequently sent out two locally trained African missionaries with full support to Mozambique.5
I would like to suggest several practical steps for consideration by all expatriate missionary colleagues, whether they be from the West, or other affluent countries such as Korea or Singapore.
1. Raise the awareness in churches about the inherent dangers of financial paternalism,6 especially when it comes to never-ending financial support of national leaders, whether they be pastors, evangelists, or seminary professors. The Canadian Baptist Mission in Bolivia has recently given notice to its leading seminary that it will be cutting out its large financial subsidy. Over a 20-year period the mission has seen that outside funding has not strengthened the national church.7
2. Raise the awareness of Two-Thirds World churches about the dangers of financial paternalism as it relates to the Western cultural transplant. So often "he who pays the piper calls the tune." There is often a close dependency relationship between financial donations from the West and Western imported programs which, in most cases, are not contextualized. An example of such Westernization is the use of "The Four Spiritual Laws," often translated verbatim with no understanding of the receptor culture. Thus the intended message is misconstrued (e.g. in Asia the number four is identified with death, and "ordered dots" among Andean Aymaras are identified with something "man-made," whereas the "disordered dots" are "like the stars of heaven that God made").8
3. Raise the awareness of Western missionaries so that they will be more willing to live out an incarnational lifestyle. Working with disadvantaged, economically depressed peoples will require for most expatriate missionaries a reduced standard of living. It is difficult to encourage self-reliance when the expatriate missionary is living in apparent luxury.
4. Raise the awareness of churches in affluent countries as to how they can help with specific projects such as properties, vehicles, and buildings- without absolving the national church of its responsibility. For example, in helping construct Quechua church buildings in Bolivia, Pioneers requires that a significant part must already be built by the nationals. Then Christian voluntary construction workers from North America come and work beside the Quechua believers to complete their own church building.9
5. Encourage mission leaders to develop definite "Principles and Practices" for their missionary colleagues so that all will know how to act in a consistent, responsible manner regarding the material needs of Two-Thirds World individuals and churches. Each missionary "doing what is right in in his own eyes" is almost a guaranteed way to create long-term dependency and pit one missionary against another, as Wayne Allen’s article so well demonstrates. When I was in West Africa recently, one of my SIM colleagues mentioned the financial frustration she experienced in following a paternalistic missionary colleague. The national worker could not understand why my colleague did not continue giving generous financial gifts as her predecessor had done.
I hope and pray that Western missionary agencies as well as entities and churches in the Two-Thirds World will see the vast spiritual benefit of self-sustaining churches. I also hope and pray that they have the courage to face the cross-cultural problem of falsely thinking that "Western ways and finances," or any other affluent ways, are the best means to evangelize andpland the church of Jesus Christ by the year 2000. Fortunately, today missiologists such as Ralph Winter10, Ted Ward11, and Glen Schwarts12, clearly see the hazards of supporting national pastors and workers by outside Western funding agencies. Wayne Allen’s excellent case study summarizes his own doctoral dissertation on this subject. Mission leaders need to take seriously the implications of perpetually subsidizing national programs and pastors. This could well be the most important issue facing missions in the next decade. We would all do well to remember, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord" (Zechariah 4:6).
1. Kornfield, W., "What Hath our Western Money and Western Gospel Wrought?" Evangelical Missions Quarterly, July, 1991.
2. Hansen, J. SIM, personal communication, 1995.
3. Jeremias, O., Cross-Cultural Communication ms., Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 1992.
4. Lima, D. "Don’t Send Money," Moblizer, February, 1990.
5. Michell, T., "One Missionary’s Encounter with Self-Reliance Thinking," WMA Perspectives, November-December, 1997.
6. Financial paternalism is defined as an unbalanced dependency relationship, in which the recipient feels controlled by the outside Western agency, even when the Western agency had no intention to control.
7. Personal communication from the director of Seminario Teologico Baptista, Cochabamba, Bolivia, November, 1993.
8. Personal communication from Napoleon Sempertegui, an Aymara pastor, Cochabamba, Bolivia, 1980.
9. Sutherland, T., Pioneers, personal communication, Cochabamba, Bolivia, July, 1996.
10. Winter, R., Editorial Comment, Mission Frontiers, January-February, 1997.
11. Wart, T., "Acts of Kindness," unpublished ms., 1977; MAP Conference, personal communication, Brunswick, Ga, 1992.
12. Schwartz, G., "A Champion for Self-Reliance," Mission Frontiers, January-February, 1997.
William Kornfield is a missionary anthropologist who has served for 35 years in the Andean area of SIM us a church planter and seminary professor, He has also traveled widely and given cross-cultural communication seminars in 22 countries.
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