The Indigenous Church: Self-Supporting (PART 2)

Introduction

Money matters is a touchy subject. Interject language barriers, and it becomes a rather difficult, if not impossible issue. Add to that the social, political, and economic differences between the individuals working together, and we have a complex situation. Let us not forget the countless cultural nuances that vary from one people group to the next. Now, mingle in the unique dynamic of Christian faith and self-less service. Well, now the fine line between business relationships and personal relationships has been stretched to a breaking point. The least miscalculation could snap the relationship and cause many to miss hearing the gospel of Christ. Yes, it is that serious.

We’ve seen potential plans for a new church project quickly disintegrate because of misunderstandings about money. We have witnessed as emotions took over conversations because of hurt feelings, over money. Planning for a Bible school could be put on hold for months, even years. Why? There was some miscommunication about who does what with the money, and when, how, and with whom. Yes, it is good to look into money matters on the mission field.

More important than projects and plans are the individuals who are behind these. When money matters are handled wisely, then leaders on the mission field can become the leaders that God can bless. They can become the kinds of individuals who will oversee projects and plans—and money—with godly hands.

The Link Between Self-Support & Leadership Development

National pastors have a better rapport with the people under their leadership when they are not “in the pocket” of the missionary or an organization. Some will consider the faith to be a foreign religion if the worker is on payroll with a foreign agency. However, when he does it solely as his Christian service—as he loves the Lord and souls—many will be receptive to his message.

When local members financially support national pastors, national pastors will feel more personal responsibility towards their congregations, creating closer bonds of fellowship and a healthier atmosphere for ministry. National pastors become leaders who serve the Lord and the people in their care, rather than serving the missionary. This dynamic encourages more personal responsibility from church members to care for their pastors, knowing they are serving them and not doing it for material gain.

We have witnessed how some national pastors began fellowship with the apostolic church because they thought there would be some financial benefit. Later, after realizing they were not going to get a salary, or funds for other things, they left the group. Another church organization (with a different doctrine) offered to purchase them bicycles. So, they left. They traded truth for bicycles! True leaders believe and preach apostolic doctrine whether they are paid or not.

Self-Support & Church Initiative

Hodges uses the example of the butterfly to demonstrate national initiative. [i] If an outside agent pokes and prods the cocoon, helping the butterfly with every difficult task, it will come forth weak, underdeveloped, and likely die. But if the creature must struggle and strain for its very life, it will break forth strong and mature, ready for personal responsibility. When no one else is there to help, nature itself teaches us: “I must do something or die.” “Churches do better,” says Hodges, “when they learn to depend upon their own resources.” [ii] If outside funds provide for every need, it will become a welfare church, sapping it of the initiative also necessary for self-propagation and self-government.

“Management of all local funds should be entirely in the hands of the local church,” says Allen. [iii] Any other financial arrangements would pauperize the nationals and make them dependent on someone other than God. Outside funding is not unbiblical, but should meet immediate needs that can produce visible results, and be temporary. Missionary funds should go towards projects that can be quickly, if not immediately, turned over to the nationals. This helps to facilitate a work already being done by the nationals, without “taking it over” or doing it for them. This is partnership.

The very gospel message—the message of the Cross—is anchored in the concept of sacrifice. The Church belongs to Christ because he purchased it with his own blood. He sacrificed more than anyone for the life of the church. In the mission field, believers need to hear the message of the Cross—not only for salvation, but also for emulation. New converts and national pastors who receive new things continually from the missionary will learn dependence rather than the interdependence of partnership.

Interdependence means the workers and churches on multiple fronts work together for the same cause. There is not a “rich church” and a “welfare church.” The welfare church mentality expects the more affluent, foreign church to give everything needed, just because they can. Does this not create a weak, dependent, welfare mentality? What people can rise above their circumstance and become mature when they don’t have much invested in the process? This is why sacrifice must be taught, and modeled, and expected as an inherent element of the Christian life, regardless of the economic situation.

When nationals in the mission field begin to sacrifice their time and energy and finances (however small the finances may be), they demonstrate the change that has taken place in their lives. Sacrificial giving is an act of faith from mature Christians. It tells the Lord and a lost world. We will give what we have because we realize it was the Lord who gave it.

Conclusion

Since it is the will of God to have a fully mature church in every nation on earth, it follows that mission churches must become self-supporting churches. Though it may require initial financial investments and occasional boosts from a sending church, the ultimate, most ideal goal is a mature, self-sufficient local church. By self-sufficient, we mean the local church depends solely upon God—and that God provides for the material needs of the growth of the church through its own local membership.

The growth of new churches will necessitate local, national leadership. Such leaders should be cared for by the local church, not a foreign missionary or agency. Personal responsibility creates a sense of ownership and contributes to the evangelistic fervor of the church. Momentum builds as each member realizes his or her personal responsibly to carry the work forward. Sacrificial giving will become a part of local church culture, reflecting the great sacrificial work of Christ at Calvary. This will also bring the national church into alignment with biblical principles and identify them with the struggles and victories of the 1st century apostolic church.

There simply is no substitute for a fully functioning body of believers who are self-supporting and able to reproduce. When the local mission churches function as a self-supporting, healthy, mature, then they will reflect the divine design of Genesis 1:28 “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it…”

[i] Melvin Hodges, The Indigenous Church (Springfield: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 78.

[ii] Ibid., 176.

[iii] Roland Allen, Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmands Publishing, 1962), 151.

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