Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Supporting National Pastors

Though I have addressed this subject before, last week I received a message from a church asking my advice on supporting national pastors. The congregation has been going to the Dominican Republic for several years as part of their short-term missions project. The DR is one of the most popular destinations for short-termers as it cost very little to fly there, the weather is good and the population is Christian, though nominal and mostly Roman Catholic. One of the DR youth pastors is starting a church in a remote village and the U.S. congregation has been asked to take on his support. The leadership of the American church is willing, but the mission committee is hesitant. On the surface it seems plausible. We support North American missionaries for thousands of dollars a month to plant churches, why not a national for hundreds instead?

My advice to the congregation was not to support national pastors. Why?

The primary issue for me is one of dependency. When the national church receives outside funding there is no incentive for the local congregation to support their own church and no legitimate reason for the national pastor to teach stewardship to the new congregation. In the fourteen years I worked in Kenya we did not have an open-ended support program for pastors or evangelists. Though I worked with some of the poorest people on earth, when it came to starting churches I was very careful that they were started by men who:

(1) Felt a calling or leading to be a pastor. If there is a financial incentive for being in the Lord’s work, in a country where 50% of the population is unemployed, you run the risk of having people entering into ministry, not because of their commitment to the King, but a commitment to a 1,000 Rupees, Shillings or Pesos a month.

(2) Trusted God for their daily bread, not the foreigner. Missions, missionaries, churches in the states come and go, along with their pocketbook, but God, their true resource, never takes a furlough, never changes policy, never gets kicked out of the country for political reasons and never has an economic downturn. Nationals who trust in God for their resources also do not have to trust in both God and mammon, just God.

(3) Recognized that stewardship is not just for those who have disposable income, but even for the widow who just has two mites. The argument that the national church is too poor to do God’s work is not legitimate. Maybe they are too poor to have a nice building; maybe too poor to support their pastor, but that does not mean they are too poor to serve Christ. Some of our churches in Africa met under a tree for a year before they found the means to build a mud building. All of our pastors were bi-vocational who worked for a living but served God as pastors. Part of spiritual growth is stewardship, whether the person is living on a dollar a day or $75K a year.

Did I ever help the Kenyan church? Certainly. I helped pastors with their bi-vocational projects, helped churches with their physical needs such as buying corrugated tin for their roofs and helped start schools. However, I only helped in some projects after the fact, not as an incentive. I didn’t do it perfectly and made a lot of mistakes. But, after nearly 20 years of not being in Kenya, many of those poor churches and pastors are still serving Christ, growing and starting other congregations.