Western Funding for National Workers: Certainly
With the collapse of the mighty Soviet Union, the former Communist empire split into many independent countries. As a result, separate national unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists were formed in each republic. Although these national unions already existed on paper, they now have become functional, independent conventions with their own national flavor and character, such as ethnic languages and culture, national history, and distinctive traditions. Not to include these national characteristics and distinctives in areas of evangelism, missions, and church life is now impossible.
The Apostle Paul recognized these distinctives in his spiritual ministry to people of different nationalities and diverse religious and social views. In his commitment to reaching all people with the message of the gospel, Paul declared, "to the Jews I became like a Jew....To those under the law I became like one under the law....To those not having the law I became like one not having the law....To the weak I became weak.... I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some" (I Corinthians 9:20-22, NIV).
The Apostle Paul not only demonstrated a deep insight into the life and character of the peoples to whom he ministered, but he also identified with them almost to the point of becoming as one of them so that he could "win some." To attain this success, Paul pointed out another important aspect of missionary service--that is the need to subject oneself--"to make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible" (I Corinthians 9:19, NIV). It seems that this important quality in the Apostle Paul was what contributed to his unusually successful missionary activity throughout his lifetime.
And what about today? We can now honestly say that we have "a great, open door for the proclamation of the gospel." Our churches have waited a long time for this moment. Foreign missionaries, who also have waited for this moment, came rushing to us, it must be said, with many different agendas. It is necessary to report here that there have been negative as well as positive results. Unfortunately, in coming to us, many foreign workers have not considered identifying with us and becoming "as one of us." There are those who may look very much like us outwardly, even to the point of learning our language, but they have not been able to "subject" themselves, "to enslave themselves" for Christ's sake. They seem to have more success in "enslaving" others: some they entice with dollars, some they buy with humanitarian aid, and some they seduce with free-wheeling church services or a loose lifestyle.
But, praise God, there are those who came to us, sought out our churches and our brothers and sisters, and stayed to labor together with us as partners in the work of spreading the gospel message. To some degree, they too cannot become "as one of us," yet their lack of language ability or knowledge of our culture, history, and traditions have been beautifully overcome by their willingness to "subject self" to the Lord, His work, and to our Russian and Ukrainian fellowships. They labor not to plant American-style churches, but churches in the spirit and tradition of our fellowships and our people.
Observing their committed experience and humble dedication, our national workers were challenged and encouraged. As a result, many of our lay preachers were willing to trust the Lord, leave their secular jobs, and commit themselves to full-time Christian service. When they saw that American missionaries were willing to leave a comfortable life to win souls for Christ in Russia, many of our young people were deeply touched and responded to God's call with courage and faith.
What was an impossibility before under an atheistic government is now a reality. Missions and evangelism on a national scale are now possible. Our young people saw their responsibility and historic opportunity to reach their own people for Christ. And they are responding by the thousands. For the last three years, this army of evangelists and preachers has been planting more than 100 new churches per year in Ukraine alone. Our country has never seen anything like this in all its history. It is of utmost importance and urgency that we encourage and support this holy endeavor.
Our national missionaries, the brothers and sisters of our local churches, have many important advantages. The first is a knowledge of the language, something that the foreign missionary must spend years to learn. Secondly, they know the culture, traditions, character, and mentality of our people, their history, and peculiarities. Then, if we add to these advantages training in evangelism, church-planting, preaching, and discipling, the results of their ministry are most effective. Already, experience has shown that those of our workers who have received even short-term training through seminars and extension courses have won many people to Christ and started many new churches.
We have a great God! After years of prayer and expectation, He has opened the door for preaching and evangelizing our people! But the door was thrown open so quickly and so broadly that we were not prepared. So God graciously sent to us through these open doors many loving and dedicated workers from other lands. In an amazingly short time, God has also raised up an army of our own national workers.
Today, because of our desperate economic situation, we need Western churches and denominations to partner with us and help support the missionaries and church-planters that we are training together. A missionary family can be supported for as little as $185 a month, and this includes ministry expenses! This is a fraction of what it would cost to send us a foreign missionary. It may be some years before we will be able to support all our missionary candidates responding to God's call. We have no assurance of how long this door of opportunity will stay open and how much time we have to evangelize our nation.
Seventy years of persecution have produced a strong evangelical church that has been tested and tried by fire. We had been forced to depend greatly upon lay church leaders and preachers to survive. Now we need help in giving these experienced workers Bible-training and financial support. So we ask our brothers and sisters in the West--come and help us! We need "a few good men and women"--specialists in their field--to help train our eager workers who need ministry tools to do the job of evangelism.
We are deeply grateful for the support that we currently are receiving for our national workers and for the good training they are receiving in church-planting from Western specialists. We feel that the most effective and successful methods to quickly reach the peoples of the former Soviet Union for Christ are to plant new churches and open new fields. We call upon our sister churches around the world to join us in building up the church in the former Soviet Union, against which the gates of hell have not prevailed.
Dr. Grigori Komendant is president of the Evangelical Christian-Baptist Union of Ukraine and the Euro-Asiatic Federation of Unions of Evangelical Christians-Baptists
Many missiologists believe that foreign funding of national efforts is generally detrimental to church growth. It is true that the road to providing support to nationals is filled with obstacles, problems, and dangerous pitfalls. Nonetheless, it is a road which can lead to a desired destination, the fulfillment of the Great Commission. While the purpose of this article is not to recommend particular methods of national support, it is essential to state that certain methods of support for nationals will prove helpful and other methods will prove detrimental. While Western financial support of national personnel and mission initiatives has not always been positive, the uniqueness of the situation in the former Soviet Union (FSU) should cause mission leaders to reexamine their objections to support for nationals. Hopefully, four perspectives related to support for nationals will provide fresh insight and will help mission leaders see its utility in fulfilling the Great Commission in the FSU.
I. The Theological Perspective
Theologically, the church in Russia is not separated from the church in the rest of the world. She is part of the one body of Christ. When one member suffers, we all suffer; when one member rejoices, we all rejoice; and when one member is in need, other members are to assist. In II Corinthians 8:13, Paul instructed the church at Corinth to respond to far-flung needy churches so "that now at this time, your abundance may supply their lack." While Western Evangelicals have been blessed materially, Evangelicals in the FSU are at the beginning of a church growth movement with far too few resources to develop and sustain it.
II. The Historical Perspective
For 72 years churches were controlled by Communist authorities who interfered in local church finances in order to maintain control over the leadership and church growth. Due to restrictions, churches were not free to collect aid to dispense to the needy. Local Communist authorities often blocked expenditures of church funds at year's end, with unexpended revenues reverting to Communist "charities" such as the Soviet Peace Fund. Thus, when Evangelical churches were presented with unprecedented evangelistic opportunities in the early 1990s they had little in available monetary resources and hardly any tradition of tithing. Russians are a proud people who do not want to be dependent on outside help. For Russian Christians who would much rather give than receive, it hurts deeply to ask for help. However, they recognize that without the help of Western brothers and sisters one of the greatest opportunities for evangelizing Russia in this millennium could be lost.
III. The Character of the Russian Evangelical Church
For 72 years the Evangelical church in the Soviet Union was characterized as a giving church, hospitality and giving being its natural expression despite laws to the contrary. In numerous instances I had opportunity to witness the generosity of Russian Christians firsthand. On one such occasion, a national church-planter in Crimea became aware of serious financial needs of Slavic missionary families working in his area. He took his salary for a period of time and shared it with these families. While this missionary's salary was hardly enough to support his own wife and children, he readily shared what he had, as he told me, "for the sake of the gospel." Another national explained to me that he shared his meager salary with fellow missionaries who had no money to reach unreached towns. He said, "Brother, I want you to know that it is more important to me that people hear the gospel than that I and my family eat more than rice and beans."
Not only do Russian Christians give freely of their earthly possessions, they also give of their time, their freedom, and in some cases, their lives. The suffering and martyrdom that Christians faced during the Soviet era is amply documented. While Western Christians generally think in terms of giving a tithe, Russian Evangelicals think in terms of giving their time and even their lives. While American Christians give of their material means, Russians value volunteer time given to the church. Thus, the statement that the Russian church is a giving church can be documented very clearly throughout its history into the present.
IV. The Missiological Perspective
Evangelical Christian and Baptist denominations grew in membership from approximately 107,000 in 1905 to just over a half million at the beginning of glasnost. Throughout the Soviet era severe educational and political discrimination seriously limited believers' real economic capacity. Unfortunately, Christians were often given menial jobs, limited in their access to higher education, and excluded from social positions which could have afforded greater economic opportunity. In 1989 Evangelicals as a social group constituted some of the most economically disadvantaged people in Soviet society. Russian Christians also bore the economic hardships which the entire Russian populace suffered. Inflation reached 2500 percent in 1993; the Russian ruble was devalued; central bank decisions stripped most ordinary Russians of their entire life savings, and unemployment reached 20 to 80 percent in some regions.
For 72 years Communism kept a cap on the growth of the church. With the sudden lifting of imposed limitations, the church found itself facing at one and the same time tremendous opportunities and dire economic limitations. Outside help was essential. On the one hand, churches had the unusual and sudden opportunity to proclaim Christ; on the other hand, they had few or no material resources to assist in proclamation. Russians will do what they can. The church worked during the Cold War years, not waiting for the West to do something. When the West could not smuggle enough Bibles into Russia, Russians risked their lives to print Bibles on underground presses. Today, national missionaries are ready to be sent, but they are unable to leave their jobs as long as they have no help for gas, rental of meeting space, and family support to move to unreached cities.
We now may be entering upon the greatest period of Evangelical church growth in Russian history. Slavic Evangelicals will actively seek to fulfill the Great Commission, no matter what level of resources are available. However, should not Western Christians, as fellow-laborers and members of the body of Christ, share their material blessings with those who have provided such a great heritage and example of faithful service to our Lord Jesus Christ?
George Law, Vice President of Moscow Operations, Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries, has served as a missionary for 21 years in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Western Funding for National Workers: Let the Buyer Beware
In light of the skyrocketing costs of sending missionaries, more and more churches and individuals are supporting national pastors and evangelists, who generally require a fraction of the support of Western missionaries. These native workers not only cost less but know the language and culture of their people, and they often have access to countries closed to traditional Western missionaries. A careful study of the history and theology of missions will, however, reveal that financial support of national pastors and evangelists is fraught with dangers. In fact, such well-intended subsidies often weaken receiving churches and undermine world evangelization in the longer term. Think twice before you start supporting nationals in your missions giving, and consider the following dangers.
1. Western support of native workers is a model that national churches cannot reproduce. To be effective, any missionary strategy must be reproducible. Missionaries normally try to model ministry that national believers and churches can both carry on after the foreigners leave and reproduce in further evangelism. In this way the missionary multiplies his or her efforts, and the gospel's spread does not depend on foreign presence or assistance. Western funding of native workers is a model nationals can never reproduce themselves because it, by definition, depends on outside funding. As a result, churches will tend to assume that seeking support from mission agencies or partnerships with wealthy Western churches is the normal way to support pastors and send missionaries. Success in ministry becomes tied to Western purse strings. To reproduce themselves, native churches much discover creative ways to spread the gospel and plant churches without outside support.
2. Such a strategy is based on the assumption that the spread of the gospel depends on money. Making the fulfillment of the Great Commission dependent on the church's ability to raise money is a fallacy Western Christians have uncritically, unconsciously accepted. It reflects our Western materialism and commitment to a professionalized ministry.
3. It can create dependency and stunt giving in national churches. Teaching churches to depend on Western resources can blind them to recognizing their own giving potential or seeking creative ways to overcome obstacles by trusting God. The history of missions is replete with sad stories of resentments created when developing churches became dependent on Western funding. Any giving to mission churches or native workers must answer two questions: "Will this stimulate or discourage local giving?" "Will it create unhealthy dependency and foreign dominance, or help the church mature and become self-sustaining?"
4. Heavy dependence on Western funds can reinforce feelings of inferiority. Western support of native pastors and evangelists and the resulting dependency strengthens the belief that only Western Christians have the resources to evangelize and maintain their churches. Such support can result in a new form of the old paternalism. Giving that creates dependency is dehumanizing and oppressive.
5. Western support can create a mercenary spirit among nationals. While the motives of most national pastors and evangelists are above reproach, even motives for Christian service can become easily mixed when a secure and steady income is offered to those willing to become pastors or evangelists. Competition and jealousy can arise among believers vying to secure coveted, paid positions in a land of hunger. Westerners are rarely in a position to discern such motives, and they all too often tap leaders the nationals would not have chosen. Churches can become resentful or jealous of other churches receiving extravagant subsidies due to personal connections.
Eastern European churches, which have learned to survive, and, in many cases, carry on significant ministries under great hardship, are now facing the challenges of new freedoms and adjustment to Westernization and materialism. If not done with the greatest care, the outpouring of well-intended financial gifts from Western churches could do much to further confuse and pollute churches that have been purified by 45 years of Communist oppression.
All too often native pastors and churches have become preoccupied with ministries that attract Western dollars, while neglecting more basic pastoral care and evangelism. A great missionary statesman of the last century, John L. Nevius, observed how employing native evangelists in China tended to stop the work of volunteer lay evangelists, who resented not being paid, thus hindering the natural spread of the gospel.
6. Foreign-paid workers are not always more effective, and sometimes are even less effective and credible, than lay workers. National evangelists are sometimes rejected by their peers when the latter discover that Westerners pay them. In China they are called "the white man's running dog." Nationals may judge foreign-paid evangelists as mercenaries, or even subversives, who have become Christians and preach the gospel only for the financial benefits. The Communist Chinese saw subsidies of Chinese churches and workers as evidence that Christianity was not only a foreign religion, but an instrument of Western imperialism. The heavy Western subsidizing of national evangelists and pastors could reproduce these kinds of suspicions in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe today.
When national believers fail to support their own workers, the impression is reinforced that Christianity is in fact a foreign religion that has neither taken root nor inspired the deep commitment of its followers. Furthermore, church members can resent a pastor who is not accountable to them because his salary is paid by a foreign mission or church. This danger is especially great today, as some North American churches have started directly supporting pastors of poorer Eastern European churches, bypassing the local congregations those pastors serve.
7. It can rob the national church of the joy of being a truly missionary church. When the Evangelical Free Churches of Venezuela caught a vision to send their first missionary to do tribal work, they sought assistance from the North American mother mission. The mission leaders responded, "If you are to be a truly missionary church, you must send them and support them yourselves." At first the Venezuelans didn't understand. However, they raised the necessary support and there was tremendous joy because the Venezuelans saw how God provided and knew that they had become a truly multiplying, missionary church.
8. Employing national missionaries may not be the bargain it appears. To avoid the mistakes of the past and to increase their effectiveness, missionaries must have careful preparation and training. Specialized ministries such as Bible translation and medical work demand extensive training, which normally does not come cheap. Larry Poston, in Evangelical Missions Quarterly 28 (January 1992), 60, questions whether native missionaries really can live as cheaply as some claim, especially in the cities, where the cost of living can be staggering. Given the fact that the world is rapidly urbanizing, any long-range strategy must include reaching the urban masses.
9. Sending money instead of missionaries comes dangerously close to compromising the very essence of the Great Commission. The Great Commission calls us not only to send dollars, but ourselves. This will not always be the most economical solution, but it will be the greatest demonstration of love: We cared enough to surrender our comfort and way of life to share God's love with others.
I do not mean to underestimate the importance of sacrificial giving. There is a place for certain types of financial assistance to developing churches. This article, rather, is a call for discernment in how those funds are spent. Pragmatism cannot be allowed to overrule spiritual principles and blind us to the lessons of history. Short-term gains can sometimes mean long-term disaster.
Craig Ott is a missionary with the Evangelical Free Church of America and the Federation of Free Evangelical Churches in Germany.
Edited excerpt reprinted with permission from Evangelical Missions Quarterly 29 (July 1993): 286-91; Box 794, Wheaton, IL 60189.
Western Funding for National Workers: It's a Mistake Dave Davis
The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) began ministry in the former Soviet Union (FSU) under agreement with Peter Deyneka Russian Ministries for two years to assist with the training of national leaders for evangelism and church-planting. Evangelical Christian-Baptist leadership said what Russia needed was not more Western evangelists, but more practical training for its pastors and lay leaders. We agreed with that agenda, known as Project 250.
From the outset we employed a seminar/lecture method to instruct Christian workers, with an initial total of 250 trained within 12 months. Various indigenous mission and church agencies in the FSU came to Russian Ministries and requested instruction for an additional 1,000-1,200 candidates. How could this vast task be accomplished, recognizing that effective training does not take place in large group settings? TEAM's discipleship model, the individual impact concept of "life on life," is best communicated in small group settings. As the curriculum continued to evolve it became clear that the large seminars of 150-250 individuals were not successful in several key areas; namely, motivation for starting churches, exposure to new ideas and methods, and a desire to try some of the ideas learned.
Seminars at an average cost of $5-10 per participant per day, while inexpensive by Western standards, still are not affordable for the average Christian in the former Soviet Union. To accomplish the task Western ministries must model training that Slavic Christians can emulate after outside assistance disappears. The multiplying of indigenous churches should not and cannot depend long term on outside personnel or money. If training costs $6 per day, it will stop when the $6 stops. This was the right way to start, but it is not the right way to continue. TEAM has learned from its 105 years of service worldwide that to pay the bill early will create dependency later. TEAM just does not accept the argument that Russia and Ukraine are worse off financially than many other countries. Let me give some examples. Gross national product per capita income in Russia in 1993 was $2,350; in Ukraine, $1,950; in Pakistan, $430; and in Chad, $200. See "World Population Data Sheet" (Washington: Population Reference Bureau, 1995). (Editors' note: GNP per capita figures have comparative value but do not accurately reflect average personal income.)
In Chad TEAM has been very cautious with funding. We do not help with the building of churches. We do give money to the national church association and it decides on a priority basis where the money goes. That association of churches has over 900 congregations, 50,000 members, and over 150,000 attenders. The president of this church has said that as long as the West gives, the people in Chad won't.
Pakistan proves this point. TEAM helped with buildings, paid for the theological training of students, and subsidized pastors' salaries. But today the mission has only eight congregations and about 800 members to show for 45 years of ministry. The missiology applied in Chad, Africa, could have helped our churches sink native roots more quickly in Pakistan. The principle TEAM tries to operate on now is: only begin and do what the national church can carry on. We have to devise a way to be cost-effective and indigenous to accomplish the long-term task of training men and women in ministry skills.
TEAM now is committed to developing satellite training centers in Moscow and in Daghestan in the Caucasus. These will be places where churches are started and individuals are trained in the process. Candidates will not get the training in order to be able to start a church; rather, they will learn by doing. In particular we are committed to creating a model that is self-sustaining and transferable. We do not want our method to be dependent long term on foreign expertise or finances.
TEAM also is committed to urban centers as the best way to reach a region. We want to start churches that will be in reasonable proximity to each other and can help one another during the initial growth years. We want to work alongside the existing church where possible. Instead of our Western workers becoming pastors, our goal is to assist indigenous Christians assume pastoral responsibilities.
TEAM wants to look for areas in the FSU that have no viable churches. We do not want to go "where Christ was already named," nor "build upon another man's foundation," as St. Paul declared (Romans 15:20). We are trusting God to help us reach the unreached and underreached. We would especially like to see an indigenous church among the many ethnic minority groups in southern Russia and in the Central Asian republics.
TEAM also is committed to passing on skills and assisting the people of the former Soviet Union in a variety of ways, including medical, linguistic, ESL, and development projects that will enable us to field personnel widely. These professionals will open doors and at the same time provide a basis for broad witness. By God's grace satellite training centers and new churches will be hubs for practical help and church-planting laboratories that can be multiplied across many republics.
Dave Davis is area director for Eurasia for The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM), Wheaton, IL.
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© 1996 Institute for East-West Christian Studies