6 Potential Problems With Supporting Native Preachers

nativeThere are several growing trends in missions today. One is the short-term missions trip, which I’ve written about on several occasions.

Another trend of note is the rejection of using American missionaries in favor of supporting local Christians. It’s a trend with much to offer: locals don’t need language and culture training and locals often require less funding. Done correctly, this can be a highly effective use of limited church funds.

Problem is, it’s much easier to do it wrong than it is to do it right. Here are some of the dangers that I think churches need to be aware of:

  1. People in many nations have learned that churches are a source of funds, a way to get money from the States. Even when we choose men who are resistant to the pull of money, the people they are working with may not have the same resistance. When one young man in Argentina was converted, the first thing his friends asked was, “Is there money there?”
  2. In the same way, locals who are supported are often seen as mercenaries in service to foreign agencies. We may think that we are removing the “foreign” air to the church by not sending missionaries, yet we may be emphasizing that very appearance.
  3. Those who receive funding from the States feel a need to replicate U.S. Christianity. Missionaries are taught to avoid this very thing; locals often feel that it is expected of them. “Send us the songbooks, communion trays and pulpit; we’re ready to start a church!”
  4. Those who receive funding from the States can feel a pressure to conform doctrinally. If they leave their livelihood to enter church work, the prospects of them returning to their previous work may be dim. They will protect their jobs and their funding. American missionaries can return home and move on to something else; locals rarely have that luxury.
  5. U.S-supported preachers are often uninterested in developing other leaders in the church. Other leaders are perceived as a threat to their income (and their power). I was told this directly by a preacher in Honduras. He said, “I don’t want elders. They’ll start asking about how much I make and how I use it.”
  6. American churches are often unaware of the social expectations of having an “employee.” We have had a “use them and lose them” attitude toward our preachers here in the States; once they are no longer useful to the local church, we let them go their own way. Churches often fail to provide basic benefits like health insurance, retirement, etc. for ministers.
    In other countries, this is often a basic expectation; labor laws tend to be stricter than ours. Even if U.S. churches don’t fall under the jurisdiction of the foreign country, society will see them as failing morally if they don’t live up to the norms followed by secular groups. That $50 per month may include an obligation for health care, life insurance and retirement. Have we educated ourselves in these areas before “contracting” local workers?

There are other things to consider, both positive and negative. I’m not against the support of local preachers. I am against it being done without proper caution, study and, above all, prayer.

What are your thoughts?

photo from MorgueFile.com

8 thoughts on “6 Potential Problems With Supporting Native Preachers

  1. laymond

    Tim, my thoughts are that fifty dollars a month, represents a pretty frugal god, maybe even cheap. You can’t feed many sheep with that. and especially if you restrict how it is spent. What is the saying of Paul, we plant and water, and god furnishes the fruit. Why not let God do his work.?

  2. Jerry Starling

    Thanks for bringing some much needed cautions to support of indigenous preachers and other workers. We at EEM discovered after the tragic death of one of our Ukrainian employees that in Ukraine, the employer is expected to pay funeral expenses. We did that, but it was not an anticipated expense.

    When I was in New Zealand (way back in the flower of my youth, many moons ago), almost every missionary in New Zealand wanted to work himself out of a job by getting a “local” young man on the payroll and training him. It almost without exception was a failure. When I was leaving, some more recent arrivals wanted to establish a school of preaching. Their idea was to raise support for the students while they were in school so they could give full-time to their studies, but to then expect these same men, when they ‘graduated,’ to be vocational missionaries, supporting themselves. I cautioned that it would not work, that the better way would be to provide part-time schooling so the pattern of self-support would already be established. The school went ahead as first envisioned – and sure enough, few of the students ever preached with only self-support.

    Again, thanks for a timely post. I just hope people will not take this as an excuse to avoid foreign missions entirely – but to engage in it with wisdom and foresight of some of the difficulties involved.

    Jerry Starling

  3. Jerry Starling

    What experience do you bring to this discussion of supporting foreign nationals? In some countries (not many, but some), $50 per month support is above the local living standard. Would you suggest the church support a man far above the living standard of his neighbors in those circumstances by giving him, say, $200 per month?

  4. Tim Archer Post author


    I can certainly point to some success stories, but I’ve seen the train wrecks as well. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    Grace and peace,

  5. Jerry Starling

    One situation that neither of us mentioned is the “native” preacher who draws support from multiple congregations/individuals with no one realizing just how much he is receiving, and no simple way of finding out.

    I have even heard of some receiving help from congregations in different denominations with no one being the wiser – at least not for a long time. In one such instance, a preacher (who had also been a missionary) discovered that someone to whom a church of Christ was contributing was also receiving support from a Presbyterian source. When he showed evidence of this to the leaders of the church of Christ, they shrugged their shoulders and continued sending. Go figure.

  6. laymond

    Jerry, I have the best experience of all, once I relinquish the cash in church it no longer belongs to me, so we have to trust that we have chosen people of trust to do with God’s money what God wants done.
    Seems I read once about a messenger of God that walked the hills and valleys, totally depending upon the support of the people, mostly women as I hear it.Jesus as I hear it trusted Judas with the purse. How can one trust one to teach the gospel, if he can’t be trusted with $50 bucks. Sounds like the one who was trusted in the first place just might have failed the mission. If you can’t find one man in a whole country that can be trusted, what are you doing there? What was it God said about Sodom. ?

  7. Tim Archer Post author

    Sounds like the one who was trusted in the first place just might have failed the mission.

    Exactly what I’m trying to say. The onus is on those who will be supporting the preachers to do their homework beforehand. Good can be done, but not by hiring people haphazardly.

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