by Paul Johnson
This article is a response to “When the Mission Pays the Pastor” by Wayne Allen, April 1998 EMQ.
THE GROUND RULES
Wayne Allen’s case study and thoughts about financially sustaining national workers from outside sources reveal a common practice and raise many concerns. Seems to me the "yardstick" to measure this topic, or any other for that matter, is the following:
1. Education, training, and personal experience are valuable teachers. However, human experiences, perceptions, and conclusions vary greatly. The only constant that is unchanging and completely dependable is God’s Word, the ultimate grid through which all matters should be processed.
2. I love M&M candy. But biblical "M&M’s" are even sweeter-mandate and model. My opinions and those of others seem just a wee bit insignificant compared to "Thus saith the Lord." Yet so much of our Christian practice and so many of our ministry decisions are based on tradition or opinions, derived from the influences and experiences of life. But what does the Word teach regarding an issue? What are principles that apply to a given situation? Are there models in Scripture we could follow, especially when it does not seem to directly address an issue? What did Christ do? What can we learn and apply from Old Testament figures and early church saints?
CONFUSION IN THE RANKS
I believe there’s often a lack of delineation between pastors and missionaries. As Wayne points out, they are two distinct entities. Evangelists and missionaries carry Christ to where there is no church, with the objective of establishing one. Pastors or elders minister where a body of believers is already established. Biblically it seems the ways in which they are sustained also differ.
SUSTAINING THE FIRST WAVE
Obviously a missionary cannot be sustained by a nonexistent church in an unreached area. The initial messenger should be approved, sent, and at least partially sustained by the existing church, if our biblical models mean anything. Although you can’t find a nickel in Acts 13, one would imagine the sending church at Antioch assisted Paul and Barnabas. We know that throughout Paul’s ministry he received sporadic gifts from churches. It seems the spiritual qualification and the quality of a messenger’s work took precedence over his nationality, race, color of skin, and geographical location. The message is dear. The body of Christ must respect its members and learn to work together as a singular unit with a common cause. That was God’s original plan. We are the ones who have invented the institutions and structures that have divided the family of God, creating territorialism, competition, and self focus.
Interestingly, Paul did not throw in the towel when the church’s support waned, as is common today. Why? Because all his eggs weren’t in one basket. He had learned a skill and paused to work with his own hands making tents when necessary or when deemed best for the ministry. However, I believe Paul was sustained primarily from a third source of supply, one we never hear of-recent converts.
Wouldn’t it be radical and revealing today if all missionaries, to sustain themselves, had to depend primarily on the quality of their service among the people they minister to, instead of being completely sustained from outside the context of their ministry? How many of us would lose weight or simply disappear, essentially sent home by a local community we’re not really relating to or in any way dependent upon? Think of the much needed changes in attitude and relationship with national churches and leaders that would result from such a move. It might be a serious wake-up call for some of us.
We need to teach the emerging Two-Thirds World missionary task force to deploy a combination of these three Pauline sources of supply as they equip and send messengers to the nations. It would be tragic if they believe our traditional system of "conducting missions" and sustaining missionaries, which is the only model they’ve ever seen, is either sacred or necessarily the most effective way for them. Let’s set them free to listen to the Spirit of God and help them as they contextualize and apply the Word to their growing God-given assignments. It seems both biblically acceptable and expected for a missionary, or sent one, from whatever culture or race, to be sustained at least partially from outside sources. But what about pastors or elders?
SUSTAINING THE SHEPHERDS
Throughout history, earthly shepherds have sustained themselves from within the flock-milk, wool, fertilizer, and even a few mutton chops now and then! I’m not suggesting pastors become cannibals, but the principle remains. Wayne has clearly articulated the many negative results of sustaining a national pastor from outside sources. It just won’t work. While this approach may appear successful at first, in the long run it’s doomed, possibly because it may not even be biblical. I simply cannot find where Scripture teaches that pastors or shepherds of a local congregation should be sustained from outside sources. Do any biblical models support this practice?
The care and sustenance of local church leaders should be provided by local believers who are shepherded and led by these leaders. Of course, this does not preclude churches helping other churches, as this relationship is the most fundamental in the New Testament. Neither should it discourage us from sporadic, timely assistance to pastors in need. Some national and many tribal pastors I’ve spoken with feel abandoned and neglected. They’ve seen little evidence that they are part of a global "family." Balance is a great biblical word that applies to this topic as well.
Unfortunately, paying salaries to national pastors, and thereby acquiring their services and apparent loyalties, sometimes appears to be the product of thinly veiled but disgraceful competition between denominations or mission boards. At times the pastor simply becomes the mouthpiece or hood ornament for the highest bidder. The Westerner often finds no conflict with this tactic, because the roving "hired gun" system of transient leadership is pretty much the norm at home, an arena he’s familiar with. As a longtime missions conference speaker, I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve listened to disillusioned Christians whose pastors had just evaporated. So why should we be surprised that we have reproduced the same thing in the church overseas? Two hippos can’t produce a giraffe. Spiritually we reproduce after our own kind.
Raising up leadership from within, sustained by that local body, is too often a foreign concept for us, even though it is clearly biblical. Both Jesus and Paul clearly modeled the practice. But how do Western missionaries reproduce something they’ve rarely if ever seen? Besides, we’re often in a hurry to get God’s work done for him, aren’t we? We find it hard to wait for the church to learn and grow in its stewardship and care of its leaders, so we pay them from somewhere else. If we don’t, we might "lose them" to some other aggressive, well-financed entity. Worst of all, the Holy Spirit might "lead" them to a "competitor" down the street!
Now throw into the mix the well-known reality that our teaching on giving and missions in the emerging church generally has been weak. Now we’re playing catch up. We must ask forgiveness from our Two-Thirds World brothers for failing them in these areas, and then begin or continue to teach and mentor God’s biblical counsel. The Word dearly taught will evoke and produce much needed changes. Genuine partnership with our brothers will be the product. For the most part, the global church is only now coming to learn the joy and responsibility of giving, and only recently has it come to realize its God-ordained role in world missions.
PROBLEMS AND PRINCIPLES
Wayne’s assessment of problems and especially his four principles are right on. The loss of lay involvement, focus, and ownership will certainly stymie the growth and well-being of the church. Human, financial, and technological resources must be applied wisely, strategically, and cooperatively. All can and should financially support expanding the reach of the gospel. Local bodies of believers must learn to sustain their leaders, and missionaries must release new congregations to local pastoral care. Wayne’s conclusions stimulate two modem day challenges.
First, what is the fundamental basis and rationale for decision making in the church and the missions cause today? Do we want the politically correct answer or do we speak the truth in love? After 25 years of full-time involvement in missions and the church scene at most levels, I’m convinced that the basis for most decisions is simply what’s best for us, for our church, or for our mission board. What will enhance us? What will sustain our interests, our growth, and our popularity? Determining what will most greatly enhance God’s global church and the reaching and teaching of all nations has, sadly, been replaced by well-intentioned but self-serving agendas. These divide the family, sterilize the message, and confuse new believers in the Two-Thirds World. It is time for a change of spirit and practice. It’s time to put God’s cause and not our own organizational agendas at the top of the priority list.
Second, how big is our God? Can we trust him to provide resources and the wisdom to use them? Maybe he’s getting old and feeble. He’s been around a long time now. Was he still on the throne the last time we looked? Or did he die and leave us in charge? Is it still "his church, his work, his harvest," or is it now "my church, my ministry, my tribe, my people group, my money, our denomination, our Bible school, our mission board"?
Oh, that God would increase our vision and stretch our faith in greater ways than we have ever known. Let’s continue to strengthen and exhort one another to love and good works. Thank you, Wayne, for helping us again focus on what will produce eternally relevant, long-lasting fruit, for his honor and glory.
Paul Johnson is founder and director of ENVOY International (Florence, S.C.), which involves churches in international partnerships.
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