by Jim Reapsome
If you think a moratorium on nuclear weapons production will be difficult to achieve, what about the partial moratorium on sending Western money and missionaries to Third World churches?
If you think a moratorium on nuclear weapons production will be difficult to achieve, what about the partial moratorium on sending Western money and missionaries to Third World churches? Bruce Reichenbach of Augsburg College makes such a plea in his article in this issue. It is vital to notice that tied to this plea is a call for assessment of the consequences of our present strategies.
That assessment must go beyond statistical reporting, it must include the effect of our personnel and money on the attitudes of national church leaders. Some of those effects are described in the article. It is not pleasant reading, nor will his experiences necessarily be those of all missionaries everywhere. Nevertheless, we all acknowledge the existence of the problem, and in some places it is worse than he pictures.
While we acknowledge the problem, are we so quick to admit that part of the solution is to back off and take a hard look at what we have fathered in the Third World churches by our present policies of sending all the money and people we can raise and recruit? I think not.
For one thing, we are locked in to an unlimited sending policy. That’s what sells missions. If we didn’t send, we wouldn’t have anything to sell to our churches. Nothing chills money and recruits faster than moratorium talk. The only thing that will stop unlimited sending is a choke on the giving throttle of both individual and church donors. When they stop giving, something of a moratorium will of necessity take place.
But individuals and churches are not likely to cut back their missions giving (barring a really serious depression), so long as fund-raisers and recruiters keep pleading for money and candidates to meet critical needs overseas. Every mission board has its list of projects and fields that are in desperate need of help.
Therefore, we get back to asking, Who is going to take the first step and admit some of the damaging consequences of our unlimited giving and sending policies? So far, it does not appear that the initiative will come from the sending agencies. Is it then not time for the donors, both individuals and churches, to rise up and demand an accounting? Can they not ask what, in fact, has been the impact of their money and their missionaries on the attitudes of leaders in the churches, institutions and relief and development agencies overseas?
If they do demand such an accounting, how will it be done? If Pastor Smith, for example, decides that such a study is necessary as part of his church’s wise stewardship, and for the ultimate health and vitality of the church overseas, how is he going to go about it? He doesn’t have the time or the expertise to do the evaluation.
However, he should look for capable lay men and women to do the job. Churches today have competent people with wide experience in research and reporting. Could they not dig into the situation, both with the sending agencies and the receiving churches, and provide guidelines for future disbursements of funds and recruiting of candidates? Too often these lay men and women are dismissed as uninformed, as lacking experience, so the present pattern is maintained by the resident professionals in the business of missions.
Not only should local churches demand what Reichenbach calls a social evaluation of present policies toward Third World churches, but so should the boards of trustees of the denominational and independent missions agencies. The chief responsibility of such boards is to request and expect accountability from their chief executive, and through him, from other managers and administrators.
When it comes to board business, most of it involves money and personnel, but the wrong questions are asked at the meetings. Usually, a request comes from the field for a building, or equipment, or for more missionaries. The missionaries are sent when they get their support. The buildings and equipment are okayed if the money is available, or if it can be raised or borrowed. Rarely, if ever, does the board discuss with the mission’s executive the likely effects of the building, equipment and missionaries on the receiving church.
If missionaries, building and equipment I are needed, and if we can secure the candidates and the money, isn’t that sufficient reason for the home board to give its approval? Not necessarily. It is time to make decisions only after we have discussed the criteria cited toward the end of Reichenbach’s article. (See also Chapter 11 of the recently published Mission: A World Family Affair, by Allen Finley and Larry Lutz.
Such a discussion will not necessarily mean an end to the flow of support from Western churches to Third World churches, but it will result in a much wiser use of our resources and a much stronger Third World church in the end. Perhaps moratorium is not the best word to use, because we all know of critical needs overseas. Perhaps a better term would be selective targeting. In some cases, it will be better in the long run to withdraw Western support. When that is true, we must have the courage to tell our donors and our churches. At the same time, we will have to do the rugged investigative work, to find out where our resources can be used to pioneer new advances for the gospel, to fertilize seedbeds where the gospel is just taking root, and to give temporary relief in critical emergencies.
At any rate, it is time to look not only at the places where our unlimited provision of money and missionaries has stifled the Third World churches, but also at places where our provision has been like a temporary blood transfusion. The need has been met, the "blood" is flowing and doing its job, and the national church is doing very well on its own. It is not the time to accept failure and to make lame excuses, but to acknowledge it and to try to do better in the future. We must confess our need of God’s help and learn from those sending-receiving relationships that have given birth to strong national churches.
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