Supporting National Preachers

Gerald Paden
Chairman: Sunset School of Missions

In the field of mission policy, there is no subject more rife with controversy than the support of national preachers with funds from the churches in the United States. Admittedly the practice is wide spread among our brethren. There are literally hundreds of congregations across our brotherhood that are contributing to the support of foreign personnel. No one knows for sure the percentage, but perhaps as much as 50% to 60% of the total brotherhood mission budget is expended in this way.

There is absolutely no doubt that these churches are mission minded, deeply concerned about the lost, sacrificially involved in attempts to expand the Kingdom of Christ beyond its present borders. They have only one aim - that of fulfilling their obligation under the Great Commission. Their motives are pure and in their judgment they are trying to get the best results from their financial involvements. They are to be praised for their desire to see the Kingdom prosper in their target area.

To the casual observer, such a practice seems to be the most economical, the most logical approach to church planting in some foreign country. It appears to be a definite short-cut in carrying out the great commission.

After all, nationals already speak the language; they know the religious background of the people; they are well adjusted to the culture of the land. Therefore it seems that the employment of their skills would be the quickest way to the church planting process. Just here it needs to be noted that only the language factor is an definite plus.

Imprints From The Background

Both religious backgrounds and cultural mores tend to leave their imprint on people trying to separate themselves from such influences. Former religious ties and social behavior may leave national converts with non-Biblical value systems, world views, moral distinctions and social habits. It is difficult for any convert to completely remove himself from the molding influences of his background. Just look at the way the religious background of Jewish converts in New Testament times created problems in the early church. It was difficult for many converts to completely erase and disassociate themselves from their time-honored roots. The same is true of people today being converted from non-Christian or so-called Christian religions. True Christianity creates its own culture, value systems, world view, ethical codes and social mores. Therefore, what may appear as a plus for some potential national preacher, may in reality be a definite hindrance to his effectiveness.

Elders and mission committee people, with little or no mission experience, assume that the support of national preachers with extra-national funds is the most effective way to spread the Gospel beyond the borders of our country. Whereas most field-tested, veteran missionaries are aware that such practices can and often do produce many debilitating, negative and unfruitful results-both to the national preacher himself and to the national mission church. What seems to be a "short-cut" in missions is more often than not extremely prejudicial to church planting activity.

There Are Exceptions

Of course there are many classical exceptions to the subject under consideration. Many national preachers on American support well deserve Stateside financial backing. But they are definitely the exception, rather than the rule. This study does not propose that churches across our brotherhood immediately drop all support of foreign personnel. Such could produce as many injustices as those fostered by the practice itself. Some recommendations will be given later in this study on possible solutions to the unhappy situations churches now face.

Biblical Patterns Are The Best

The first thing that needs to be considered in a discussion of this nature is what the Word of God has to say on the subject. It patently evident from Scripture that the Lord not only gave the early church the message it was to preach, but He also gave His preachers His methods to follow. There is a God-given, a God-blessed and a definitely God-used method of evangelization revealed in the New Testament. Either we follow His methods and grow, or else we ignore His methods and face the inevitable frustrations that are thereby produced. Acts of the Apostles is not simply the history of the rise and expansion of the New Testament church. It is that, but it is more than that! It is not simply a chronicle of the Holy Spirit's activity in the spread of the Gospel. It is that, but it is more than that. Acts of the Apostles seems to be a God-given formula, a blue-print, a pattern of mission methods He expects all succeeding generations of the church to follow.

Biblical Insights On Methodology

When Jesus sent out the twelve Apostles on the limited commission His instructions were based on Divine wisdom. "Get you no gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses; no wallet for your journey, neither two coats, nor shoes, nor staff: FOR THE LABORER IS WORTHY OF HIS FOOD. And into whatsoever city or village ye shall enter, search out who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go forth." (Matt.10:9-11). Later, when He dispatched the "seventy others" the instructions were the same: "Carry no purse, no wallet, no shoes....And into whatsoever house ye shall enter, first say, Peace be to this house...And in that same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: FOR THE LABORER IS WORTHY OF HIS HIRE. Go not from house to house." (Luke 10:4-7). Admittedly these mission activities were carried out among those who were already God's covenant people. From the earliest days of their history the Hebrew people were educated by the Law in their obligation to support their Levitical teachers. Yet in the instructions Jesus gave the Twelve there are some very important strategies that need to be learned and imitated.

Those who were the beneficiaries of the above mission assignments were expected to support the missionaries. The support of the mission enterprise was expected to arise from the people who were discipled by the missionaries. Not only does such a practice make the convert responsible as a supporter of the preacher, it immediately makes him a partner in the further spread of the message. Two important points vie for attention. First, Jesus wanted his preachers to know that the Gospel they preached was self-authenticating, self-justifying. It would generate among its hearers the desire to participate in the propagation of its glorious message. Secondly, He wanted their disciples to learn their obligation to support the spread of the message from the first day of their conversion.

In our modern approach to mission work we have often reversed these patterns imposed by the Lord. Whereas the Lord had the converts support the missionary, today we have occasions where the missionary supports the converts! Such practices are counter-productive to every mission principle revealed in the New Testament. They also go against the field-tested experience of most of our long-term missionaries.

The Practice Of The New Testament Church

When the Holy Spirit was ready to launch the early church into its universal mission, He chose "sending churches" simultaneously with the "going missionaries" (Acts 13:2-3). The existing church was charged with the responsibility of the spread of the Gospel beyond itself. Such expansion into the pagan culture demanded that those already converted support those preachers who would "go forth for the sake of the name, taking nothing of the Gentiles" (III John 7). The out-going missionaries were sustained by the church of their origin (Acts 8:14; 13:2-3).

However, as soon as those missionaries succeeded in establishing a new congregation, that new church was made a partner in the further spread of the message. Every convert made under the assignment of the Great Commission was immediately taught that his conversion also automatically placed him under the obligations of that commission.

The Philippian Format

Thus the newly established church in Philippi received thanks "for its fellowship (financial contributions) in furtherance of the gospel from the first day" of its existence (Phil.1:5). And in that context Paul expressed his confidence that "God had begun a good work in them" in their support of his mission - a good work Paul was convinced the Lord would continue through them (verse 6). Paul's mission to Philippi immediately became Philippi's mission beyond their city. Such a practice immediately made responsible the Philippian church as a supporter and made them colleagues in the expansion of the Kingdom beyond their borders.

The Philippian church assumed long-standing support obligations toward Paul's mission work. When Paul left Philippi to preach in Thessalonica, the Philippian church "sent once and again to his needs." And when he left Macedonia for Achaia, Philippi continued to have a two-fold "fellowship" with Paul, both by "giving" and "receiving" funds needed for his mission work (Phil.4:15-17). Paul assured them that his greatest interest in Philippi was not their financial gifts, but rather "for the fruits that increased to their account" because of their support.

"Fruit that increased to Philippi's account" was God's reward to them for their participation in the mission enterprise of Christ. Every convert made by Paul in his mission outreach was also seen as a conversion credited to the supporting Philippian church. Even back during the instructions given the Apostles when they were sent out on the "limited commission", Jesus had assured those who supported the missionary that they would receive a missionary's reward: "He that receiveth a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet's reward: and he that receiveth a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man's reward. And whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only, in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you he shall in no wise lose his reward" (Matt.10:41-42). Being in a mission context, those "prophets, righteous men and disciples" are none other than the missionaries themselves. Their supporters became fellow-partakers of their fruits and of their rewards.

It is an injustice to any new covert to deprive him of sacrificial giving toward the conversion of others. He is thus robbed of "fruits that return to his account". He is stripped of "a disciple's reward." He is not taught the greater blessing of "giving over receiving" - a truth found in a context of working to support mission activity (Acts 20:35). When the converts in any mission program are not incorporated into the process of evangelization beyond themselves, that program is destined to terminate with whatever successes are registered then and there.

Consistent New Testament Practice

To the Corinthians Paul gave a nine point lesson on their duty to support the preaching of the Gospel (I Cor.9:7-14). He concluded by insisting that the "Lord ordained that they that proclaim the gospel should live of the gospel" (verse 14). He later expected them to "set him forward on his journey whithersoever I go" (I Cor. 16:6). The "setting forward" involved their financial support. And he insisted on the same support privilege for his colleague in missions, Timothy (verse 10) "for he worketh the work of the Lord, as I also do. But set him forward on his journey in peace." Remember, this pattern is the "Lord's ORDINANCE!"

To the Galatians, Paul imperatively commanded: "Let him that is taught in the word communicate (financially support) him that teaches in all good things." Clearly "all good things" relates to the support. The NIV has it: "Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor." And that "sharing" must continue when the preacher moves on to evangelize others.

To the church in Crete, Paul insisted that missionaries - like "Zenas the lawyer and Apollos be set forward on their journey diligently (Gk. = speedily), that nothing be wanting unto them." Their mission must not be deterred by a lack of support, for it is a mission of redemption to lost souls. In the same context, Paul commanded that all God's people "learn to maintain good work for necessary uses, that they be not unfruitful" (Titus 3:13-14). The "good work" contextually is the support of missionaries. And the "necessary use" relates to adequate financial backing, so that "nothing be wanting unto them." Obviously churches involved in supporting mission work beyond themselves are considered to be "fruitful" churches. This is how congregations become "fellow-workers for the truth" (III John 8). Read each of these contexts.

When New Testament Patterns Are Ignored

When national preachers are supported by extra-national funds the whole Biblical policy is ignored and reversed. And such practice often does incalculable damage to the mission program - both to the national preacher and the national church. It is extremely difficult for Stateside elders and mission committees to understand the above statement. Clearly the best results come from Biblical patterns.

This study is not at all contrary to the support of national preachers. But it does insist that generally the best results are produced when national preachers are supported by national funds and overseen by national elders. There are many inspired values that are safe-guarded when God's method is followed. Certainly it is not the Lord's will that American churches support all the pulpits all over the world! Such is neither possible nor practical.

Negative Fruits Of Such Practices

Some of the most obvious, negative consequences of foreign support for national preachers are self-evident. Some of them require some clear evaluation and studied judgments. Let us examine the most obvious and serious results that derive from this practice.

l. Once a foreign national is placed on American support, it tends to become a permanent arrangement. Twenty to thirty years later, he is still on American support. Even in Stateside mission areas, the same pattern often develops when the local converts are not challenged to assume their share of the mission support obligations.

2. The national preacher does not encourage the national church to assume his financial support. Generally, he does not want national support! For the small mission church cannot or does not support him as much as his American benefactors. It is always easier to do charity out of some one else's pocket!

3. More often than not, the American church sustains him on a higher financial level than the local mission church would or could supply. And few preachers seem willing to forego the higher support base in favor of the lessor income. He is therefore reluctant to ask, loathe to insist, that his poorer converts contribute to him or to any other needs he may have in his work. It is much easier for him to write to his foreign benefactors to buy him a typewriter, a new set of tires for his car, or even for Bibles to distribute in the community. So the supporting church is generally responsible for the support of the preacher, the rent on the church building, the purchase of church property, the furnishings for the building and everything else he needs in his work.

4. The national preacher very seldom develops local leadership in the mission church. This is not an accusation of malicious intent on his part. Whether he is conscious or not of his failure in this area, it is nevertheless true that few mission churches have elders when their preacher is supported by foreign funds. There may or may not be a correlation between the two - yet is a definite part of reality in mission areas. The national preacher is much more comfortable when he is responsible to an eldership a thousand miles away, than to submit to converts he has made and trained.

The bottom line of this situation is that the national preacher is without any local accountability beyond his own conscience. And the foreign elders have no source of information about his activities other than that which he himself supplies in his reports on his work.

When the missionary does not stay on the field long enough to develop a local eldership, that situation tends to become an abiding pattern. The national preacher did not grow up in a congregation where functional elderships exist and work. Therefore he is ill prepared to train any promising elders in their role assignment - even if some potential existed there.

5. Such foreign support can create an unhappy relationship between the national preacher and any American missionary on the field. The national tends to fear the missionary, for whether true or not, he is seen as a menace to the national's support arrangement. Thus nationals tend to "apple-polish" when they are around the American missionary, and criticize them - with strong anti-American language - when the missionary is not around.

6. The national sub-consciously develops a self-image problem before his fellow-nationals. He often feels that his motives are suspect, and this works negatively on his psyche. He perceives that they think he is a mercenary - having sold himself to the American dollar. He can not but feel somewhat guilty - whether deserved or not. He has definitely forsaken the time- honored religious convictions of his ancestors, and therefore reasons that they think he is a traitor to his national religious heritage. Such projected evaluations work against his own self-respect. It creates psychological problems with which he is ill equipped to cope. He does not know how to handle his emotions. He cannot ignore the negative attitudes he feels are coming his direction from outsiders or even from his converts.

7. When his American supporters suggest that his support be phased out, or terminated, the national often reacts with hostility to this plan. He can become bitter toward those who have supported him for fifteen or twenty years. Justified or not, he feels that he has been mistreated by the supporting church, that he has been "dropped" without justification. Frequently he will seek support from other American churches. And if such cannot be found, it is often the case that he quits preaching altogether. The mission church is sometimes destroyed by his antics when his support is terminated. There have even been a few occasions where national preachers will seek support from some denominational group. The habit of support from extra-national sources is hard to break.

8. The foreign preacher is always plagued by the uncertainty of his support. He is all too conscious that he is a remote extension of some congregation's mission program. But he does not know how long they may be planning to continue his support. Such uncertainty can lead to bitterness, resentment and even sarcasm toward his foreign benefactors.

9. Occasionally a national preacher will foster whatever doctrinal peculiarity his supporting church has employed him to preach. This is the way that American churches export their "issues" and impose divisions among even the national churches. Many tragic examples could be cited where foreign churches have been divided one from another over issues exported from churches in the States. In all honesty, it must be said that it is generally the missionaries who do the exportation. But the national preacher can easily, but unwittingly be caught up in the battle.

The Problem Is Not.....

The issues at stake here do not involve the American dollar. Nor do they involve non-American preachers. The same problems encountered in any mission field would also develop if and when American preachers received their support from some foreign source. Just suppose the local preacher where you worship were supported by a group in Japan. Would that tend to change his relation with the church where he preaches? Would it change the church's relation to him? Obviously so, in both cases. The problem is not that of the national origin of the preacher. It is rather the national origin of his support base. Certainly finances are not the only problem we have in our mission program. But it is definitely one of the greatest problems we need to help solve.

Damage To The National Church

It is clear that Paul had his personal and even practical reasons for not seeking support from the church in Corinth when he was physically present with them. When he left Corinth for foreign fields, it was a different matter. Clearly he did not want the Gospel of Christ to be "marketed" or "peddled" as certain traveling orators did their philosophies (II Cor.2:17). He "robbed other churches, taking wages of them" that he might minister to the church in Corinth without charge (II Cor.11:8). He appealed to their sense of propriety, and asked them to answer this question: "Did I commit a sin in abasing myself that you might be exalted, because I preached to you the gospel for nought?" (II Cor.11:7). Such practice could degrade the Gospel by assuming it cannot generate its own support base, humiliate the preacher and abuse the church of its right to support the spread of the message.

It seems evident that his intent was good, but it was not therefore to their best interest to have been relieved of their support obligation. At least he does imply that by such a practice the Corinthian church "was made inferior to the rest of the churches" who accepted their support duty. "Forgive me this wrong", he wrote (II Cor.12:13). Whatever the wrong, it was not moral, but practical.

The negative fallout from supporting national preachers is not limited to the preachers. The national church can also be severely crippled by such practices. Just a few of the most obvious abuses caused by this process will show that there must be a better, more Biblical approach to evangelism in a foreign context.

1. The national church rarely becomes the partner in missions that the Biblical pattern demands. Thus the further evangelization of their nation never seems to become their priority or deeply felt assignment. They seem to assume that it is the American church's responsibility to further evangelize their fellow-nationals.

2. The new converts are thus deprived of any sense of mission beyond their congregation. After all, they have an employee of the foreign church to promote the mission. When the over- whelming majority of new churches are being established overseas by the missionaries - rather than the mission church - and when the vast majority of new converts are made by those missionaries, then it is clear that most church planting and conversions will terminate when the missionaries leave the field.

3. Since the mission church makes no contribution to the support of their preacher, this radically modified their relation to him and his relation to them. They have nothing to say about what he preaches, how he uses his time, how he carries on the work of the church, how he conducts himself in the community, what entertainment he practices or how he spends his money. They have no say who their preacher will be, or how long he will be with them, or who will succeed him if he should leave. They do not even know if there will be a replacement when he leaves. Generally, they had no voice in the selection of their preacher -or even in his replacement. More often than not that decision was made for them by the missionary who both chose the man and found his support from American sources. Should his support be terminated, the national church has no way of finding replacement for his lost income.

4. The church often becomes the filial victim of the preacher's paternalistic control over its affairs. They have little voice in their church life, for the preacher tends to runs the programs as he desires, regardless of what the congregation thinks. The preacher has to justify his salary before the congregation, so he generally conducts all or most of the services during their assemblies. The congregation tends to assume a "laity" attitude toward the professional "clergy". The preacher becomes possessive and often dictatorial over congregational activities. If there is a "business-meeting" arrangement in such churches, it tends to become a simple "rubber stamp" of the preacher's thinking.

5. If the preacher is "cut-off" from American support, and leaves the church, the members are not trained in ordinary church life and are unequipped to conduct the services of the congregation. Such "stranded" churches soon dwindle and die.

6. Local leadership potential is stifled. It is a natural by-product of this approach to mission work to find precious few national churches with elders and deacons. Thus the national church is always facing "that which is lacking" (Titus 1:5).

Examples Multiplied

Just a few examples from churches known by the writer are adequate to illustrate the perennial problem created by this approach to mission work. Many churches have experienced the same frustrations in their work in foreign countries. Many churches find themselves shackled to a small mission church they are supporting, and have supported for years, with no visible end to its need for support. The following examples are actual case histories, and they show the futility of the method. And these examples could be multiplied by the hundreds.

l. Church A. This congregation has been supporting a small mission program outside the United States for twenty-eight years. The national preacher is receiving $1,300.00 per month. The church where he labors has 35 members. There is no possible way Church A can gracefully disengage from this situation. How can it ever terminate its support of the work there?

2. Church B. A national preacher was supported by this church for twenty-two years. The supporters decided to phase out their support. The national quit preaching after he dismantled the church he had established. As a result of twenty-two years, with $700.00 monthly contributed, they see no fruit for their investment.

3. Church C. After eighteen years of support of a national preacher outside the United States, the church there is composed of 55 members. But the supporting church supplies $800.00 per month support for the preacher, plus the rent on their building, Bibles for distribution and travel expenses for the preacher as he reportedly "circuit-rides" among two other small groups in nearby villages. There is no light at the end of the financial tunnel the supporting church faces.

Bananas Grow In Alaska

It is actually possible to grow bananas in Alaska. But such plants demand a hot-house support arrangement. Generally such plants are small and almost always sterile. If the external support system - the hot-house - were dismantled, the plant would die over night. The reason is that the plant has not been made native to that area of the world.

In like manner, it is possible to plant the church in foreign soil and to sustain it by some external support system for a while. But as soon as that system is removed, the church dies. For the church to thrive in any country, it must become native to the soils where it is planted. It must develop the collective resources of its members. It must train and select its leaders. It must be free from continual need of external infusions that stunt its growth. It must take roots and develop the fruits of its own vitality, growth and stewardship. It must assume its role as a part of the international brotherhood in the pursuit of the common mission assignment Christ gave to His people. They must assume the responsibility of sustaining the proclamation of the Gospel locally and then beyond themselves.

But when a church's root system is in some foreign nation, once the plant is cut off from its foreign roots it dies. But once it develops its own root system, it cannot be hurt by what the foreign church does or does not do. Foreign influences of a negative nature are often imported by the original missionaries. A national church, deeply rooted in the Word of God and in its own devotion toward the Lord and is courageously pursuing the mission assignment to its fellow- nationals - is a church that cannot be harmed by the actions or issues that face its foreign counterpart.

The Four "Self" Movement

The best missiology, based on years of experience, aims at the creation of self-contained local congregations of the Lord's people. This means that the missionary's goal is to establish a self- governing, self-financing, self-propagating, self-edifying and self-disciplining congregations. The missionary's job is to "work himself out of work." And this does not involve hiring some national preachers with extra-national funds to continue his work when he gets ready to return home.

Let the local church select its leaders, its ministers and its preachers! In New Testament times, it was always the local church that was involved in the selection and commission of its personnel (Acts 6:3, 8:14, 15:22, I Corinthians 16:3, II Corinthians 8:19, 23, Philippians 2:25). When we reverse that pattern, we are creating more problems than we are solving. And it is damaging to the nationals, preachers and members alike.

What To Do Now?

Several congregations are presently facing the dilemma of an apparent unending support commitment to some small mission church. They know things are not going well, but they do not know how to disengage from such open-ended drain on their mission budget. Therefore some suggestions need to be made.

1. Generalities must be avoided. Many national preacher are well chosen for their skills and deserve external support. Any national preacher that is building self-sustaining churches obviously is following the Biblical patterns and should not be terminated. If he is involved in planting churches beyond the local church - then he is not simply doing the work of a local preacher - but rather that of a missionary. If he is involving the church or churches where he labors in their financial stewardship before God, then his should not be terminated. If he is working in a new field and there is no pre-existing church to support him, he may well need our help. But it should be demanded that he inaugurate the Biblical patterns into the life of the new church from the beginning of its history.

2. Obviously it is not the job of American churches to support all the pulpits in the world. Therefore, where a national preacher has been supported by American churches for a number of years, and the church he has established is not now involved in his support - that work needs to be re-evaluated. American churches supporting some other congregation's preacher is more a work of benevolence than missions.

3. Long term support of a man may create an obligation toward his needs in the waning years of his life. He may be too old to find other employment, or be unskilled in any other support arrangement. It may well be necessary to continue sustaining him until he can qualify for retirement (if such in possible in his nation) or until he dies. The church should not use a man in its mission program for twenty years or more, and then feel free to drop him without any visible means of livelihood. We have several retirement homes sustained by our brethren where even those who have not served the church in a ministerial way are taken care of in charitable fashion. Certainly some of our long-term foreign brethren could qualify for such support.

4. In several mission fields the following methods have been successfully employed. Missionaries have encouraged newly established congregations to select one of their own members to be their preacher. They propose to the missionary that he become a partner with them in support of the man they have chosen, only until they are able to assume his full support. They commit to supply partial support of the man, but on a graduated basis. As they grow they assume a greater portion of his needs. In the meantime, the missionary may try to find help for their preacher from other sources. But the funds are channeled to the congregation instead of the preacher. The church establishes his level of income. He is the man of their choice. He is accountable to them. The missionary is in reality helping the church reach its potential and assume its responsibility toward the spread of the Gospel in their land.

5. The bottom line suggestion is this: THE NEXT TIME, before your congregation underwrites support for some new national preacher, examine first some of the concepts presented in this study. Do not get involved unless there is clear expectations that such will not become an open-ended obligation for years to come.

6. Take the resources the church has for mission work and invest it in some family that volunteers for the field. Then before he is sent to the field, let him get some viable mission training that will equip him to avoid the mistakes of the past. Such training is available in our brotherhood now - both at the Sunset School of Missions and other brotherhood programs. Churches ought to be taking advantages of such training. It will produce a mission emphasis in local congregations that excite the brethren and generate greater mission involvements. And it will certainly avoid the disenchantments many churches have experienced in their past attempts to carry out the Lord's Great Commission.


Finally, it is not the intent of this study to dictate policy for brotherhood mission programs. These are simply considerations that seem to demand prayerful study and re-evaluation. The recommendations herein contained are the product of years of experience by veteran missionaries. Their field-tested methods, studied judgments, and commitment to better missiology deserve the attention of elders and mission committee people as they formulate their mission thrust for years to come. May the Lord add his blessings to the execution of those plans.

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