There 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:
- 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?”
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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?