The Indigenous Church: Self-Supporting (PART 1)

Introduction

Use of foreign funds on the mission field can help facilitate and stimulate apostolic revival or become a point of bitter contention. We learned first-hand in the mission field that we can never separate money from missions. We learned that money matters can build bridges between missionaries and nationals, or create misunderstandings, distrust, hurt feelings, and even jealousy.

Knowing how to talk about money (both with supporters back home and with nationals in the field) can lead to many successes in the field. Ignoring the subject, both with potential supporters or with those we want to help, closes the channels of blessing that God has designed for his people. Understanding money matters in missions is to understand God’s design to transfer blessing to the field and, in turn, bless those who give to missions.

Money has a close correlation to heart matters. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It follows then, that when we deal with money and folks in the church, whether at home or abroad, it is bound to get personal. People can become offended quickly if money is at the center of misunderstanding.

Money Can Empower or Hinder

Gailyn VanRheenen, in a reflection on money and missions, says, “The use of money is like a two-edged sword: It can empower missions on the one hand while hindering or destroying it on the other.” [i] VanReehan has listed the positive and negative influences of money on the mission field:

Money can empower missions by:

  1. Supporting effective missionaries to open new areas of the world to the Gospel
  2. Partnering with developing national churches to train and oversee effective national leaders
  3. Developing media and materials to strengthen specific local ministries

Money can hinder missions by:

  1. Creating unhealthy dependence
  2. Controlling churches that should be self-supporting
  3. Creating jealousy between those supported by the West and those not supported
  4. Unknowingly attracting leeches and con men who hope for benefits
  5. Over-support of missionaries who physically separate themselves from the people among whom they hope to minister

Melvin Hodges, author of The Indigenous Church, observes, “The New Testament includes no hint that the Gentile churches were supported by the Jewish congregation.” [ii] The apostolic church “headquarters” was in Jerusalem (cf. the council of Acts 15). Those who first carried the message of New Birth had the duty to be witnesses in all nations; they did not have financial responsibility to “prop up” the churches that would be established because of their message.

Roland Allen, in his book Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours?, adds the following: “There is not a hint from beginning to end of the Acts and Epistles of any one church depending upon another, with the single exception of the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem.” [iii] Allen alludes to the quiet reality that mission churches were all self-supporting. When special collections were made, they were specific to meet immediate needs.

Apostle Paul understood that a missionary can stunt a worker’s spiritual growth by depriving him of the necessity of depending upon God. [iv] He taught the churches to rely on God, not a larger, wealthier church. Paul taught his converts the value of giving, accepting personal responsibility for local needs, and the necessity of personal and corporate sacrifice to support the work of God.

Apostle Paul maintained the policy that his converts in the mission field should not have to support him. [v] This was his personal choice. Surely he understood “they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel” and “the laborer is worthy of his reward” (cf. 1 Cor 9:14; 1 Tim 5:18). Yet, as a missionary, explains Soares, there are “circumstances which render it inadvisable to exercise such right.” [vi] We see this is the path Paul took regarding wages. He himself worked to supply many of his needs, even telling the church at Corinth, “I will very gladly spend and be spent for you,” thus demonstrating his unceasing willingness to give to his converts, and never take from them.

Tithes and Offerings

The Bible teaches tithing and giving of offerings. Tithing is not limited to Ancient Israel’s Law of Moses. Abraham, the father of the faithful, and his sons, paid tithes long before the institution of tithing was a law in Israel (cf. Heb 7:1-2; Gen. 14:20; 28:22).

Tithing is also not limited to wealthy American families that can “afford” to tithe. It is a universal system of honoring God with our “first fruits” of increase. Whether we are members of a missionary-sending church or a newly established mission church with a struggling economy, tithing is right.

God has always had a plan for financial support among His people. The world of the Ancient Near East where tithing was introduced was what we would consider “third world” or a developing region. There was an over abundance of material poverty. Much of the 1st century church was, by modern comparison, very poor. Nevertheless, God taught them to tithe, support religious workers, and bring offerings for the work of God.

Mission churches in every nation can operate according to the same apostolic pattern, regardless of the economic context in which they live. Missionaries and national pastors must teach tithing and giving of offerings. In fact, giving is the way out of materiel poverty. It is the biblical answer to financial hardship. Jesus plainly stated, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” In Luke 6:38 Jesus explains,

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full–pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”

Consider, when there are ten tithe-paying families in the local church, the pastor (ideally) should receive 100% of an average income. [vii] Ministers are worthy of receiving wages. The earning they would receive from secular employment is non-existent when they devote their time to the work of the ministry. Receiving the tithe from the local church keeps the national pastor’s standard of living on par with members of the local church, instead of potentially living much higher due to a salary from the missionary or church organization.

Conclusion

The sum of the matter is simple. Missions efforts can and should be involved in money matters. The fact that many individuals and churches are prepared to give provides a great resource for national churches in need of material goods, properties, building materials and more.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, the mission churches must receive good teaching in addition to financial help. They need to hear about tithing, giving to the local work, supporting their ministers, and sacrificially contributing to missions. This leads to self-supporting churches in the mission field. Self-supporting churches become mature churches that not only increase financially, but numerically. Self-supporting churches multiply and are able to start new works, thus evangelizing, teaching, and making new disciples. This is the Great Commission. This is missions.

 

Works Cited

[i] Gailyn Rheenen, Monthly Missiological Reflection #2, “Money and Mi$$ion$,” https://www.mrnet.org/system/files/library/money_and_missions.pdf

[ii] Melvin Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 75.

[iii] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands Publishing, 1962), 51. (cf. Rom 15:25-26; 1Cor. 16:1-3)

[iv] Hodges, The Indigenous Church, 79.

[v] Theodore Soares, “Paul’s Missionary Methods,” The Biblical World 34, 5 (1909), 331.

[vi] Soares, “Paul’s Missionary Methods,” 331.

[vii] Allen, 76.

One thought on “The Indigenous Church: Self-Supporting (PART 1)

  1. Good post, Nathaniel. Thank you. I first became aware of the need to more fully support the raising up of indigenous ministers decades ago in part because I saw how one particular missionary our church was supporting required a high living standard in comparison to those in the country he was ministering to. He also appeared to be insistent on transporting an American church and ministry model into a poor non-American country.

    Later, as I became more aware of this subject to a greater degree, I discovered excellent arguments for the indigenous minister for many reasons, only one of which was in regard to money, which demanded relatively large outlays for Western ministers compared to comparatively very little from the indigenous ministers who often act very sacrificially and are usually much more effective.

    As you have stated very well, we have the New Covenant model used by the Lord Jesus and the early Church ever before us. All one has to do is appropriate it the way our incredibly spiritually successful forebears did. It is the most effective model for sharing the Gospel for what should be obvious reasons.

    Be Blessed.

    Like

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