Indigenous missions – the ultimate goal of the church-planting missionary. Every missionary-in-training has learned to describe an indigenous church as self-governing, self-propagating, and self-supporting. The question is not so much, “What is our goal?” The question is, “How do we reach it?” There are about as many answers to that question as there are missionaries. In fact, how we answer that question will describe our philosophy of ministry.
If one of our primary goals is to establish a church that is self-supporting, how much resources should the foreign missionary provide? There are missionaries who advocate no financial involvement whatsoever – the nationals should do it all. The idea is that the nationals should learn to support the work and carry the full responsibility from the very beginning. On the opposite end of the spectrum are missionaries who build an enormous enterprise of churches and/or national pastors, which relies almost exclusively on foreign funds (primarily from the United States).
Surely the answer lies, as in all areas of life and ministry, in a balance of both extremes. Missionaries at times have misspent valuable years of ministry waiting for nationals to “learn” something they have been taught in principle (generosity, sacrifice, giving, faith), but have never seen or witnessed in their “pastor.” At the same time, there have been large ministries that crumble when the foreign missionary and his funds are no longer present.
There are definitely no “pat answers” or rules that apply to every ministry, culture or circumstance regarding this issue. So what do we do? How should we approach our ministry? When should we “pay the bill” and when should we abstain? Here are some questions to consider as you seek to answer these questions in your ministry context:
What example am I setting to my church members (I Peter 5:3)? King David sacrificed greatly and personally to build the Temple before asking the Israelites to take part and follow his example (I Chronicles 29:2-5).
What example am I setting to future national pastors? The missionary is often the only example they have of personal sacrifice and commitment.
Does my involvement lead my church members to look to me or to God when they face a financial challenge (I Corinthians 2:3-5; II Corinthians 4:7)?
Am I just teaching about faith or am I demonstrating it (I Corinthians 11:1)? Our greatest influence will be through what we model, not what we teach.
What would the long-term repercussions be if my financial support were no longer available? The adjustment will always be difficult, but it should not cripple the work.
Only the LORD can help us answer these questions in our particular circumstance and ministry. May He give each of His servants wisdom and discernment. The indigenous work depends on it.
How have you faced these challenges? What have you found to be a healthy balance? Take a moment and share your thoughts in the comment section below.