by Wade Coggins
Sending dollars to substitute missionaries creates the dangerous misconception that missions equals money alone.
Obviously, I agree that we need to work out ways to form new partnerships with emerging missions in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. (See the article, "Non-Western Missionaries: Our Newest Challenge by Gary Schipper in this issue — Eds.) We must find constructive relationships between "older" and "newer" missions. But if all we do is transfer money from Western missionaries to those from other countries, we are in danger down the road. Here’s why:
If our churches give only their money, and not their sons and daughters, our missionary vision will be dead in a generation or less. We can’t substitute money for flesh and blood. A generation ago, some churches pretty much stopped sending missionaries, and decided to assist their overseas churches in other ways. Many of these churches consequently have lost their missionary vision.
We keep our missionary vision alive by biblical teaching and by sending and supporting missionaries. Friends, relatives, prayer partners, financial supporters, and home churches keep the worldwide challenge fresh before American Christians.
These churches and believers are the reservoir from which we shall have to draw future missionaries and their support. To them, the representatives of overseas needs make their cases.
On the surface, it appears cheaper to send our money for less expensive workers from Asia, Latin America, and Africa, but in the long run this strategy will be far more costly, because it will destroy missionary vision and there will be no support for either foreign or local missionaries.
We have to get beyond the immediate concern about the high cost of supporting our missionaries and consider our obedience to the Great Commission. Has God suddenly decided to exempt thousands of Western young people from the missionary call? If the Great Commission still applies to them, how can we talk of not supporting them? Surrogate missionaries do not fulfill the obligation to obedience put upon our churches.
Sending dollars to substitute missionaries creates the dangerous misconception that missions equals money alone. Think how spiritually impoverished our churches would become if we did not have to meet the risks encountered in sending our own people. "Leanness of soul" would result and we would find ourselves cut off from God’s worldwide family.
Without for one moment discounting the need for all the missionaries we can get – ”from whatever continent" – and that in many places they are more effective, let’s remember that Western missionaries do serve the world church with significant gifts and skills, and that God continues to stir up gifted young people in the West who want to serve overseas.
Failure to send them out, on the simplistic notion that non-Western missionaries are cheaper, would be a loss to the universal body of believers.
Somehow, as we seek to build strong ties with emerging missions, we must do so without creating dependency. Assistance that creates dependency, or that tempts to corruption, is counter-productive. Of course, it is right and necessary to help some, but they must be accountable to their peers. If we’re not careful, people who receive our support can soon find that our money has cut them off from their own people and from those they are trying to reach.
At the same time, our financial assistance can rob local believers of the blessing of sacrificial support for their own missionaries. We must not pour out so much money that they feel that their contributions are either not needed or are insignificant.
We must work toward fruitful partnerships, while at the same time rejecting the notion that it’s now time to channel our support away from Western missionaries and toward non-Western ones. In addition to maintaining and increasing our Western efforts, we can find sound ways to support reliable and effective emerging missions in Latin America, Africa, and Asia.
Strong, effective partnerships exist in many places, where Western agencies have agreements with local churches about church planting, medical work, literature, schools, and so on. The Missions Commission of the World Evangelical Fellowship connects "older" and "newer" mission agencies, because each part of the church has needed gifts for world evangelization.
We must not allow ourselves to decide our support policies on the simplistic basic of cheaper non-Western vs. more expensive Western missionaries. New arrangements can be developed that avoid stripping Western churches of their missionary vision and obligation and at the same time do not foster dependency and paternalism.
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