by Ross M. Clemenger
Missionaries have long defined the indigenous church as one that is self-propagating, self-governing, and self-supporting. Envision the indigenous church as a three-legged stool, with the three “selfs” forming the legs.
Missionaries have long defined the indigenous church as one that is self- propagating, self-governing, and selfsupporting. Envision the indigenous church as a threelegged stool, with the three "selfs" forming the legs.
Three-legged stools are handy implements around the home and farm. We used to sit on one to milk the cows. Sometimes one leg was broken; it could still be used with only two legs, but the milker was then put in a precarious position, somewhat at the mercy of the cow. There is a parallel between such a stool and the indigenous church in the developing world.
Missionaries emphasize making the national church self- propagating. Bible institutes have sprung up around the, world. We have trained thousands of students in theology, the art of preaching, how to win souls and disciple converts, how to get maximum church growth, and how to measure it. Many excellent national pastors, teachers, and evangelists have responded.
We have taught nationals the art of administering the church, or self- government. We educate our converts in how to conduct business meetings, organize an association, of churches (not to say a denomination), and coordinate evangelistic and missionary activity. The churches are well-trained in self- propagation and self-government.
What about the third leg of the "stool, " the leg of self-support? Pastors are usually given minimal support, but there is no money available to finance the evangelistic effort so zealously taught by the foreign founders of the church. Caught between the desire to extend missions and the, woeful lack of funds, the national church leaders wonder, "Why can’t our North American brothers share their money-making ability and know-how so that we can support ourselves and our churches?"
WHAT HAS BEEN DONE
There have been some efforts on the part of some mission boards and missionaries to see this economic "leg" developed. The Moravians and several Brethren groups attempted and, to some extent, succeeded, in supporting their missions with commercial enterprises. In turn, they trained converts to be economically self-sufficient.
Many self-help programs have been organized and started by North Americans: World Neighbors, Heifer Project, Co-Laborers, to name a few. Several evangelical mission agencies have taken an active part in this type of development in recent years. One of the outstanding examples is "Communal Action" under the Latin America Mission umbrella in Colombia. There, missionaries and national workers together have organized a community action group that is doing an effective job of getting the Christians involved in new methods of agriculture, apiculture, and poultry and egg production. This is a grass-roots effort to strengthen the believers and the churches, economically.
Mr. Frank Drown, of the Gospel Missionary Union, has been successful in economic development work among the Jivaro Indians in Ecuador. Many years ago he began to help Indians in their cattle raising projects. With very little capital, about one-half of the tribe became financially independent in fifteen years. Now the Jivaro needs a handout from no one, but proudly says he can sell a cow and pay for plane fare for his wife when she needs to get to a hospital. The dignity of the individual is upheld and the whole tribe prospers. Local churches are able to pay pastors’ salaries and finance their own missionary effort.
LITTLE CAPITAL NEEDED
My personal experience in Colombia points up the fact that little capital is needed. In 1953 1 received a small inheritance of $400 and used that money to invest with one of the leading Christian men in the newly-formed church in the Sierra Nevada of Colombia. This farmer now owns a large cattle ranch and supports the church with his tithes and offerings. Some missionaries could do something like that without jeopardizing capital they might need at a later date. In fact, some of these ventures return very good interest on capital, with little or no time expended in management. Best of all, of course, jobs are created, people without capital or access to it are helped, and the churches prosper as the individual members prosper.
Mission boards often shrug off the responsibility of training, or help, in economic self-support. Many and varied are the excuses: "We aren’t in business"; "We are a nonprofit organization, not geared to economic development"; "We preach, teach and evangelize; anything else means a change in official policy"; "People would misunderstand our motives if we got involved in economic needs. "
These reasons beg the issues of poverty, oppression, and exploitation of our less fortunate brothers. Some missionaries think identification with their national brothers is fine on a spiritual plane, but dangerous on an economic plane. Commenting on this attitude, Dr. Francis Schaeffer says, "We have acted as though giving to missions is spiritual, but using our accumulated wealth for man’s needs is not. " I may add, to use our wealth to help our brothers become self-supporting seems to be unspiritual or aspiritual at best. Thus, the third leg of our imaginary stool remains atrophied.
Many mission boards and missionaries are coming to see the urgency of doing something about this third leg of the stool, but they are at a loss to know how to go about it. There are valid reasons for their hesitancy: (1) The missionary usually lacks the skills to teach management in economic development. (2) Missionaries probably should not take time away from proclamation of the gospel. (3) Mission agencies are gift-oriented. Investment capital help for a national brother requires a different philosophy and practice. (Tax-deductible gifts are a one-time operation, much easier to handle than an on-going business investment, with its continuing accounting and management problems.)
HOW TO GET STARTED
However, here are some suggestions about how to develop the leg of self-support:
1. Mission boards should recruit business/ economicsoriented people.
2. Nationals should search out opportunities for economic development among local business people. North American brothers could then offer a helping hand in business partnership.
3. Revolving funds could be established in developing countries. These funds could be invested or loaned for enterprises managed by committed Christians. This would enable Christians to become self-supporting and thus broaden the base of support for national churches.
4. Missions could utilize agencies already established to promote this type of Christian economic self-sufficiency in developing countries. 1
Time is running out. The church around the world is growing. We rejoice in this. We must help our brethren, but the North American church neither can nor should be content merely to subsidize them. Either they become truly self-supporting, or we abandon the concept of a truly indigenous church body in the developing world. Now is the time to strengthen this vital third leg.
1. For example, Institute for International Development, Inc. 226 Maple Ave. West, Vienna, Va. 22180 and Interlink, Box 832, Wheaton, Ill. 60187.
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