Should American Churches Support National Projects on the Mission Field?

Striving for Indigenous National Leadership—Part 1

There are many issues churches need to address concerning modern missions. Should churches in the U.S. support national pastors on a monthly basis? What are the positives and the negatives? Is it good to fund national projects? There are many churches and individuals who have a heart as big as Texas and have a desire and capacity to help, but are we, in fact, helping or hindering?

Let me first start out by saying that each mission field is going to be a bit different. The way we do things in third-world countries will be much different than “second” or “first” world countries. The impact of these questions may not be as important in other countries as they are here in a third-world setting.

Although there are principles of missions in the Bible that definitely work for every missionary in every field, there are also philosophies that will differ from field to field. I think sometimes pastors and missionaries get a philosophy from one field and expect it to work in another field, and it just doesn’t work that way.

In addition to the practical difficulty of maintaining accountability when supporting a national work on another continent (I once knew of a ministry that claimed to be helping hundreds of orphans, but that help consisted of giving them pencils), the danger that comes with a church in the U.S. supporting a national here in Africa on a monthly basis is that America is seen as the gravy train. America is where money grows on trees, where no white man works, and where everything is handed to a person on a silver platter. This is imbedded in the national’s thinking.

When nationals start receiving funds from the U.S., often, they no longer feel the need to teach their people tithing or to give at all. I have even seen national pastors quit soulwinning and discipleship ministries in their church because they are not motivated to continue building their churches.

The national pastor needs to teach his people to give and to take care of him as the Bible instructs. If need be, he can work a side job until the church can fully take care of him. Their motivation must be to reach souls and build the church, and as a result of that, the church can take over his support so that he does not have to work outside the church.

Some men, who receive more and more stateside support, begin elevating themselves, wanting the surrounding pastors to look up to him as their “pope.” Sometimes when the support increases from the States, the money is used to support his friends and family members outside his immediate family. Accountability is vital!

I believe national projects should be supported on a partnership basis. A project fully funded from the States will never really become the nationals’ project or building. We must understand that foreign nationals do not think like we do. When they do not have to sacrifice to get something done, there is never a feeling of national ownership. When problems happen or repairs need to be made to the building or the project, normally they will not fix it, but they will call the missionary or the church that built it for them, so that they can fix it. I have seen this happen personally, and it destroyed the church.

We are currently helping a church here in Uganda on a partnership basis. Here is how we do it: we helped them buy the land through the generous help of believers in the States. Land here can be quite expensive, so they need that start to at least get them going. They then made and burned 40,000 bricks. They also sacrificed to buy the sand and stones as well as half of the timbers for trusses and rafters; a church in the US bought the other half. When they finished making the bricks, we bought them nineteen bags of cement as they were needed.

They will pay the roofer to put the iron sheets on, and we will buy the iron sheets to cover the roof. They provide all the labor from the members in their church. Through this process, the people understand that the missionary is only helping them, and it creates an attitude of ownership and gratitude, not of entitlement.

It is their building, with their sweat, blood, and tears in it. And they are doing amazing! Other churches have and will want us to help them obtain a building, but we always expect them to put the first foot forward. I think we learn this principle from God Himself. Many of His promises are only applicable if we do what He has commanded first.

Nationals with special needs should be supported on a case-by-case basis with the oversight and accountability of the missionary in the area. The national will need help just like we do; they just need to understand that they should go to God like we do to get our needs met.

There is not an American God who can and an African God who can’t. As a stateside pastor, I would listen for special needs the national pastor may have, consult with the missionary for the best way to meet that need, and then, with counsel from the missionary as to how to proceed, help as you can. That way everyone involved will enjoy the blessings of God through that help and know that God can and has answered their prayers.

This is part one of this article. Please click here to read part two.

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