Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Who Should the Church Pay: Start with Nothing But God!

There are actually a lot of strategic reasons to come first as a weak missionary.

1. The indigenous people are empowered from the start. The new churches do not start dependent upon the missionary. In fact, it can be the opposite. The new churches begin with empowerment.

2. Multiplication of missionaries is much faster. The next generation of churches does not have to wait to get the strength needed to perform at a higher standard. If building hospitals and schools is our first wave of missions there will never be a second wave.

3. The missionary starts with complete faith in God. Missions are an exercise in humility and faith in God’s power, not an exercise in your own abilities. That also passes on much quicker to the next generation.

4. God gets all the glory. The missionary is seen as a normal human who needs assistance, but who also has a powerful God who grants him or her what they need. God’s provision is not just part of the story…it is the story!

5. The missionary is not better then the indigenous people. When we have nicer homes, cars, schooling for our kids and more discretionary money then those who we are trying to reach then there are a lot of negative side-effects. This dis-empowers the indigenous church. It also raises the missionary to a level above those they are trying to reach. Jesus carries this thought further when he tells the missionary to stay in their house and eat and drink what they eat and drink. The missionary is to live at the same standard as the people he or she is trying to reach.

6. It keeps the missionary’s motivations truer. The missionary’s motives are not in question. This is definitely not a career move. When someone goes out without pay and does the job just for Jesus it is pure. There is a sense of confidence that one can have in someone who has proven their heart on the fields in this way.

7. It keeps the indigenous Christian’s motives truer. The new Christian’s motives are also kept more pure because it doesn’t offer some false hope of a raise in their standard of living by becoming a Christian. Coming in strength may give the new Christians a poor incentive to be saved and serve as a missionary. There may be an unspoken promise that “you too could step up to a better standard of living if you become a Christian worker!”

This happens all over the world. There is a monetary incentive to become a Christian, and especially a Christian leader in many parts of the world. Your standard of living raises instantly as Western money supports your life. An American family giving up a daily latte can feed a family for a month in many parts of the world. That is cheap labor for the church, but what it does is mess with the new Christian’s motivations. It actually separates the indigenous Christian worker from the very people they are best suited to reach because suddenly they are in an entirely different social class.

The more I have studied the passages of Luke 10 and Matthew 10 I have an increased appreciation for Jesus’ missiological strategies. He does know what He is doing.

Many will say that the culture in the time of Christ was much more hospitable, so this sort of missionary method was able to be used. Today is a very different culture. True, but I do not think Jesus’ words are to be classified as irrelevant because the culture has changed. I believe that His words here are transcendent above culture. The point is not that the people are more hospitable, the point is that the sent one must depend upon God for his or her daily provision. Personally, that is a lesson needed in every culture and generation! At the same time, when doing cross-cultural missionary work, there are some cultures just as hospitable as the one Jesus was part of.

Jesus shows us the value in training missionaries in this manner in a later passage of Luke’s Gospel. Near the end Jesus pulled the disciples together and asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?"

“Nothing,” they answered.

Then He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it.” This is what my wife always quotes back to me in the Mall when I do finally start to hold her purse.

Why does He first instruct them to not take a purse, and now He is telling them to take along financial resources? Does He want them to go without or to go with financial resources? After all the reasons given for going without finances we now have to explain this statement.

As I said earlier, it is not whether people are supported or not, but when they are supported; that is the issue. Going first in weakness and dependency is important. After you have shown that you will do it without support, support can be given more confidently. There is a testing process. It is, however, much more then a testing process, it is a growth curve. It is as much a chance for the missionary to test God as it is for God to test the missionary. The disciples came out believing in God’s provision with stories they would tell the rest of their lives. That is a foundation to build upon.

Dallas Willard was once sharing at a workshop on ministry in a postmodern world on this very passage. He asked the question, “Why would Jesus tell them not to take a purse at first and now tell them to take a purse?” His answer was, “You don’t know how to handle a purse, until you know how to go without one.”

We learn something when we trust God’s provision and He comes through. What we learn sets a course for the rest of our lives. When we have gone on faith and God shows us His miraculous care and provision it changes the way we see everything. We view God differently. We view ministry differently. We view money differently. When the tough times hit, and they will, that old lesson will fuel the same faith once again. You will be reminded always that I am not in this for the money.

This is a far better foundation for a life of service then simply deciding on a career move. Even when leaders are supported “full-time”, it’s still not a job but a life calling.


Anonymous said...

I wish I had known this when I started working with the homeless in Dallas.

I love them and God did great things while I was there, but I was seen as a financial resource. I think my motivation was pure. I cared for people and didn't want them to do without, but instead of looking to God, they looked to me.

As a result nothing multiplied because none of the disciples we were making downtown could do what I did. It was a mistake. As much as I tried to get them to engage other folks - they didn't because they didn't have things to give them.

J. Guy Muse said...

I passed this on to the church planting forum of missionaries in Latin America. Some good food for thought. I look forward to hearing some of their impressions on a very relevant subject that all of us who are missionaries deal with daily.

Anonymous said...

Neil, This is excellent stuff!! It rings so true to our experiences of 25 years in missions on three continents. Reminds me of my favorite missions author -- Roland Allen. He said it 100 years ago, you are saying the same thing now. When we will finally "get it" ??

Every Blessing.

Jeff Gilbertson

The SOUL NAMI said...


Anonymous said...

i think number 5 may be the most vital aspect.

BuckSchmidt said...

Thank you Neil. As a recovering missionary (still on the field, trying to get home- would appreciate prayer on that) I love your insights, and agree wholeheartedly. I have gone through a radical transformation on my thoughts of missions and supporting missionaries, as well as church planting. We came to plant a church, we have planted it, and are turning it over to the leaders that have been raised up. There is no paid clergy and they won't have a building once we leave (we have been meeting in our house), and I am really excited to see what God does with this unusual model.

Anonymous said...

what did the apostles do for a living?

Tim Catchim said...

Is there any thing to say about the Apostles first going to Israelites who were obliged by the law to show compassion and hospitality in the covenant, and then later their mission was to all the world, into non-covenant people who were not obliged to show compassion?

Jeff Frazee said...

I've got to confess. I didn't even finish reading the whole blog post. This is so where I am, and I couldn't wait to comment.
We are raising support to go to Mali. We're at about 60% of what the mission set for our support package, and just about everyone is aware that we could live and do ministry on that amount. Having only lived in West Africa short term, we don't have a lot of clout to change policy. But trust me, if I really thought God was 'saying so' I'd buy airplane tickets and leave tomorrow.
So how do You live out these principles?

Unknown said...

Hey quick question...

What if you are being called to a place, like Europe that requires you to show a source of support from outside the country where you are moving?

Our plan was the opposite, go with support and attempt to develop a way to not require funding, but be self-supportive.

konti said...

Great article! Thank you Brother! I want to share it with others, if you don't mind.

ransom33 said...

Dear Neil,

I have read your book "The Organic Church" a couple of times and I have to say that I was absolutely inspired by your testimonies in the book and by your spirit, and I hope you will continue to write in your blog as I notice your last entry was posted months ago.

Please do not hesitate to get in touch if you ever visit the UK. It will be a pleasure to welcome you and to encourage many to come and hear what you have to say. The Church is desperate in these days for voices like yours.