Volume 8, Issue 5: Africanus
Money Instead of Missionaries
As the Western Church becomes more and more influenced by modern humanistic society and its values, we should not be surprised to hear the plea for the rich Western church to change her missionary strategy. One recommendation in hot debate over the last ten years is for the West to send money instead of missionaries. It is argued that it is more cost effective and better stewardship since non-Western missionaries can live on 10% or less of what it costs to send Western missionaries. What can you say to such a claim. Isn't it true? "More bang for the buck" is how one person has put it. Yet while it may be true, we should ask ourselves a few questions before jumping on board. Is it a biblical approach to missions? What are the risks, if there are any?
First, is stewardship really the concern here? When Judas criticized the use of the expensive oil to anoint Jesus' feet, was he really concerned with the poor (John 12:5,6)? No. If modern humanistic values are driving today's concern about the "stewardship" of the rich Western churches, then we should expect this same sort of altruism. The underlying motivation may well be stated like this: the rich church of the West should feel guilty for being rich and should "hand it over please." Few evangelicals have really thought through the implications of such a missionary policy and are comfortably driven by sentimentality right down the road that idolatrous humanism would have them go. Even in the "missions" arena, we need to be aware of the possible influence of humanism's counterfeit of Christian love. However, if the concern for missions is genuinemore laborers into the harvestthen it remains to be proven that sending the church's money instead of its missionaries is biblical and wise.
Second, is it biblical? Jesus' words in Matthew 9:37,38 conceivably leave room for this kind of missionary outreach: "The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest." Sending money to support African evangelists may be the answer to this kind of prayer, but to do so at the expense of sending our missionaries flies in the face of Matthew 28:16-20, where Jesus commands His disciples: "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." This means that the subsequently baptized are also commanded to "Go." Thus, sending financial help only denigrates Christ's command to every local church, including the rich Western churches.
Next we should ask ourselves whether sending our money instead of sending our missionaries is a wise thing to do. Here the issues are many, ranging from paternalism and dependency to killing the local church's missionary vision. From my experience of twenty-plus years of living in Africa, the main issue centers around the fact that most African churches are dependent on foreign funding for their evangelistic outreach. The problem is not that Africans are economically poor and lack the resources. Some poor churches in Africa have shamed the rich ones in meeting their own budget needs, where in richer churches only coins go into the offering because subsidy is expected from the outside. In such churches what results is a sort of missionary welfare system that breeds dependency just like its humanistic big brother. If sending money instead of missionaries fuels this kind of dependency, then it cannot be wise. If it is more blessed to give than to receive, and it is, then Western churches must not rob non-Western churches of the blessing of providing for their own needs (see Acts 20:34-38). On another front, developing nations are badly in need of examples of self-reliance. If Christians do not show the way, when will the cycle be broken?
Another consideration in the discussion is the effect such a policy could have on Western churches. When you send money only, instead of "flesh and blood," it becomes harder to fight the old "out of sight, out of mind" tendency which ultimately has led many churches to zero missionary outreach.
Concerning "laborers," we often have this picture of throngs of non-Western missionaries just waiting for funding to be able to enter the harvest. This is not the case. As a missionary in Africa, I am often asked by individuals and churches to help seek funding. One particular individual once asked me to help him with electronic equipment and transportation to be able to reach an unreached people group. When I found out that he lived in one of the villages of this unreached people, I asked him what he was already doing. He was embarrassed when he had to answer, "Nothing." Not knowing the situation, without any connection, a Western church may not end up with the right people to support.
The argument of "effectiveness" of non-Western missionaries is not always true. Quite often it is much easier for a total outsider to reach a people where in-country socio-linguistic factors may seriously hinder one people group from evangelizing and being accepted by another. In many cases evangelistic outreach is limited to the non-Westerner's own people group. Thus, an outsider (maybe a Westerner) is more effective in reaching an unreached group.
Finally, I do not want to go on record as saying that we must not send money to non-Western missionary endeavors. I believe some are worthy. Rather, I would like to caution many from just jumping on the bandwagon without first thinking through the issues.