Monday, January 11, 2010

Should we support missionaries or native workers?

I read something else interesting today regarding supporting missionaries to foreign countries, Bang For the Buck: Should We Support Missionaries or Nationals? . Written by Roger Smalling he makes the case that we should be primarily supportive of America missionaries to foreign lands. Mr. Smalling is Latin American director for Ministries in Action in Miami and is ordained in the PCA. According to his post, he and his wife have been missionaries for over thirty years in Latin America. Here is some of what he has to say.

A new paradigm for missionary support is sweeping through our churches. It resonates powerfully with businessmen who often dominate our mission committees.

Here’s the concept: Instead of supporting American missionaries, let’s invest in national workers. Bang for the buck, it is more cost effective.

He then goes on to list all of the very sound and practical reasons for supporting “national workers”. But then he drops this bomb.

This paradigm sounds cost effective, sensible and innovative, a better stewardship of financial and personnel resources.

But what a pity it is ungodly.

Those are pretty strong words. Ungodly? His argument essentially is that the proper way to evangelize is “cross-culturally” and you can’t accomplish that Biblically with “native workers”. I don’t think I am doing justice to his argument, so you need to read it for yourself but I found it troubling.

First, being written by a foreign missions official for a U.S. based mission group, this can sound kind of self-serving. If supporting nationals is all the rage then that means a corresponding decrease in mission support for U.S. missionaries to travel to foreign nations. It is always shaky ground when you are financially benefitting from the doctrinal stance you are taking. I don’t think that is his primary motivation but you can see where it comes across that way. Second, of course the initial missionaries were Jews going to Gentiles because all of the earliest believers were Jews. Is that a justification for sending foreign missionaries instead of supporting “native workers”? Keep in mind that Paul, the epitome of the foreign missionary, supported himself by the work of his own hands (Acts 20:34) and that Paul accepted no financial support (1 Cor 9) so it seems we are being a bit selective with our Scriptural application here in determining how and who to support with missions money. I made the argument that if cross-cultural missionary work was so important, we should also be supporting foreign missionaries who want to move to America.

I certainly think that we should support missionaries who really feel called to foreign missions. I am not as sure that we should perpetually support them instead of supporting them to get to the field and get on their feet and then start supporting themselves. On the other hand, it certainly also seems plausible that if Americans really want to proclaim the Gospel, there are a couple hundred million people in America and Canada who desperately need the Gospel. You don’t need to go overseas to preach the Gospel to the lost. It can be deceiving to see all of the church buildings that dot the American landscape and assume that there are plenty of people hearing the Gospel. The reality is that not a ton of people “go to church” all that often and even for those who do go to church on a regular basis in a traditional church, there is no guarantee that there is a Gospel proclamation going on. If we have learned one thing, it is that the presence of a church and a preacher is not necessarily evidence of the Gospel being declared.

I think it is a great idea to support people in place, so-called “native workers”. The Gospel is not a trademark brand of the United States and there is not something special about American missionaries. I would love to see more "missionaries to missionaries", having believers go to a foreign land and spend some time discipling local believers to be evangelists and witnesses in their own country. I would also love to see some of these people with evangelistic zeal preach the Gospel right where they are and financially support those in Africa, Asia and South America who do the same.

What do you think? Should we show preference to sending our missionaries to foreign lands over native evangelists already in place?

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Pastor St. John said...

I think we need to have a balance, and to seek the Lord's will about whom to support. At my church we support native missionaries through Gospel for Asia. We also support PCA missionaries through Mission to the World. Thanks for sharing YOUR thoughts!

Les said...

Arthur, I also posted on this yesterday. I think what he was saying is that this new way is to support nationals "instead of" American missionaries. Since he is an American missionary he is of course writing from that perspective.

My take on it is that it is "both and." Where foreign missionaries go, they should be supported and do missions. part of that should certainly be to raise up godly nationals.

Good post.

Arthur Sido said...

Les, I failed to give you a hat tip because I was....ummmm.... blogging at work. Sorry! I think you and Pastor St John are right, it should be "both and" when it comes to missions work.