To Fund or Not to Fund Indigenous Workers and Projects

There has been a little discussion regarding the funding of indigenous missionaries with western support off the blog via email so I thought it may be a good topic to bring to the forum here on the blog. Let me suggest two books that can help in this area. These books are a must read in regards to this issue, and they balance one another out quite well. They are: When Charity Destroys Dignity: Overcoming Unhealthy Dependency in the Christian Movement by Glenn Schwartz; AuthorHouse 2007; and To Give or Not to Give: Rethinking Dependency, Restoring Generosity, & Redefining Sustainability by John Rowell; Authentic Books 2006

We as westerners are so blessed financially that that we desire to be a blessing in areas where funding is lacking. But this causes concern as discussed in both of the above mentioned books. The first problem is when we give without considering the repercussion it can develop an unhealthy dependency upon the more prosperous portions of the Body of Christ which leads to a “colonial” type of relationship. What I mean by this is that we give generously and then put restrictions on the recipients and force them to be subject to our goals and standards. This can get even more complicated as time goes on. Second problem or “other side of the coin” (pardon the pun) is that if we do not consider the blessings in which the Lord has given us and use these funds to spread the gospel through our brethren’s efforts in other parts of the world we tend to become stingy.

Jeff Gilbertson shared in an email a quote from the Acumen Found CEO/Founder Jacqueline Novogratz;

“Dignity is more important to the human spirit than wealth.”

Jeff also refers to Schwartz when he states;

The healthiest parts of the Christian movement are those where local believers know the joy that comes from supporting the work to which God has called them, governing their own ministry and caring for their own outreach. They can then justifiably feel ownership of the calling they have before the Lord.”

To illustrate the conundrum, I recall John Rowell sharing at the recent UPG Consultation in Dallas the story of when he was meeting with some national leaders in an eastern European nation and some western church leaders. The western church leaders were wanting to inform the eastern European brethren that it was now time for them to grow up and take care of their works with their own resources. The illustration that was given was that the western brothers had taken care of them as a father cares for his children and it was now time for them to step up to maturity. The eastern European brothers replied they were not their children, they have only one father and we eat from the same table. All they ask is that the brothers from the west “pass the potatoes.”

As you can see this is not an easy subject. I certainly cannot cover both sides of the issue here, and I would recommend that anyone planning on funding indigenous workers and projects take careful steps so that when that funding ends (or begins) that the Kingdom of God is advanced. There is no reason that these two opposing sides of the issue should be at odds, but that the issues they raise will cause us to act with wisdom and generosity.

The Lord has a solution for every one of the issues that funding indigenous workers may create. We must rely on His wisdom as we venture into other cultures and assist them in reaching the ethnic groups around them. That is why we must keep a open ear to the Lord through prayer and study of His Word. It would be foolish to depend on” doing what we always do” when we do missions in other cultures and economies. There is no pat answer for all situations, but there is the promise of wisdom when we ask for it, for we will surely need it when we partner with brethren from other cultures to preach the gospel of the Kingdom.

Any thoughts? Wisdom? Ideas?

17 responses to “To Fund or Not to Fund Indigenous Workers and Projects

  1. Excellent Article!

    Our hope is that we work these things through BEFORE heading out overseas so that we don’t hinder but rather be a blessing.


  2. There several posts (replies) at the “About House2Harvest Missions Weblog” page. To get more dialog that transpired before this article – go to that page to read what was said by myself (Don) and Bob. Then if you want to reply further, do it here so other folks can follow. (Whew – this can get complicated!)

  3. Thanks for posting this article Don. But here’s a question for you: On the other side of the coin, so to speak :o) Why can’t what’s being cautiouned in regard to supporting indigenous missionaries be applied to sending out people from the West? i.e. “anyone planning on funding indigenous workers and projects take careful steps so that when that funding ends (or begins) that the Kingdom of God is advanced. ” Why don’t the same rules apply to sending Westerners–especially when it costs so much to support them (compared to indigenous workers–$75,00 or more per year versus $3,000-$6,000 per year), especially in light of the fact that most who go (long-term) end up coming home with little to no fruit to show for their time abroad, except perhaps, for their own personal growth and broadened world-view yet having spent 10’s of thousands of dollars to do so, especially in light of the fact that most who go have never had any experience, track record or success of church planting before heading out overseas, yet they are sent anyway, especially in light of all the divisions that many of them bring to the work of God in other countries by hiring away foreign workers to serve as translators and us them to start their own work or denomination and then write home and take credit for it, etc. etc.?

    One of the main issues at the heart of this debate is the issue of dependency. But why not raise the same question for the Westerners that are sent? Aren’t they “dependent” on someone too? Can’t those dependencies be unhealthy too? Is sitting around watching TV in one’s apartment, going to some lanugage classes for several years, touring the country in nice vehicles and eating at fancy restaurants (things that the indigenous workers rarely can afford to do–because they are living on so much less), attending an international church where they end up making friends and spending time with the other foreigners that are in the country [I know that this generalization does not take into consideration EVERYONE who has gone overseas to serve the Lord, but if the truth were known, this is largely how most indigenous leaders view the foreigners–so please bear with me as I try to make a point]–couldn’t that be considered creating unhealthy dependencies? The fact is that EVERYONE is dependent on SOMEONE. “Colonial relationships” are not always and do not have to be the result of partnering with indigenous ministries. Let’s level the playing field here and pass the potatoes!

  4. Opps again! Should have been $75,000 per year or more to support missionaries sent from the West.

  5. Bob, True the field needs to be level, and equal caution needs to be wrought whenever we are funding ministry – even in our backyard.

    I am of the opinion that most foreign workers from the west do better in supportive roles serving the nationals on the field. This certainly illuminates some of the concerns you share which I have witnessed as well.

    Simple church folks will have an advantage in that they are “self-feeding” and do not need a “meeting or service fix”, so they will not be a prone to fall into the trap of attending the International Church and losing focus.

    We all have a lot to learn as we serve Him as he fulfills His promise to the unreached (Matthew 24;14).

  6. One thing I have observed about this topic is that there is an assumption that one way is better than the other. I think the best overall approach for a person or church to take is to realize the benefits and disadvantages of both, and invest in both.

    “Mercenary missionaries” who are hired guns should not relieve us of our own personal need to give our own, most precious resource (people). Additionally, withholding funds as if they are “our funds” to give because we are Westerners is obviously wrong. God owns it all regardless of the face on the bill.

    I think one reason why this is a difficult issue for us revolves around the problem of evaluation. We all want to invest wisely but it begs the question of how to evaluate if we are doing so. Would your church continue to support a missionary who was as effective as, say, Isaiah? It depends, of course, on the evaluation of the word “effectiveness.” I think that obedience and faithfulness make for a better evaluation. If this is our grid than we can see that nationals and Westerners are both possible options for our ministry resources.

  7. I am convinced that soon the house church movement will awaken from her “giving phobia”, and will have untold millions at her disposal: free of building projects, paying salaries and utilities, the house church movement will be able to lead the way on the subject of giving and generosity.

    We desperately need to “think and pray” long and hard on how to be involved financially in “preaching the gospel to all nations’.

    “When aid is needed, resources should be sought in as close of geographical proximity as possible.” (Glenn Penner: When Good Intentions Aren’t Enough)

    We in the global house church movement are sitting on a powder keg of finances that will be available to release into the kingdom of God to penetrate into the Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist worlds.

    The question is will be ready for the task? Let’s think BEFORE we act so as not to make the same old mistakes our “forefathers” did.

    The main principle that Maria and I hold to is this: the best giving is done by those living closest to the need.

    We see this as the heartbeat of Jesus’ ministry with His disciples: “They do not need to go away: you give them something to eat!” (Mtt 14) The disciples could only come up with 5 loaves and 2 fish. Not too impressive with 5000 hungry mouths! But here is where we err, hoping to provide through our strength (financial might and sheer numbers) and not in the miracle working power of Jesus.

    In actual fact, the disciples were quite slow to get the message of Jesus’ miraculous provision, as just a few days or weeks later they where faced with the task of feeding of the 4000:

    “Where will anyone be able to find enough to satisfy these men with bread here in a desolate place?”

    They had forgotten WHO is the real provider!

    Could it be that because we don’t bring the miraculous to the mission field we end up bring the money?

    Can I say it again: “those closest to the problem are best suited to find the answer”. That is a Starfish principle if I ever read one!!

    Is there a need to support national workers/ministries?

    Yes! And the best people to give to this need are the local people themselves. Not some “rich” Westerner living 1000’s of mile away. (BTW, the poorest person in America is extremely rich in the eyes of most people living in the 10/40 Window).

    Are there huge developmental needs?

    Yes! And, once again, the best people to give to this need are the local people themselves.

    Consider this quote from well-known Christian researcher David Barrett: “If African Christians gave just 2% of their income, the church could pay all its bills.”

    “Western money continues to make the national church dependent on the West. It creates a sense of rivalry, greed and competition. It often robs the national church of its natural potential. When the easy money from the West is available, very few want to explore indigenous ways of fund raising.” Atul Aghamkar

    Of course, there are times when the physical situation is so catastrophic that giving from far away is not only the right thing to do but also the best. (Think back to the Tsunami of 2004) In the NT we see that the churches Paul planted gave money to meet needs of the “mother church” in Jerusalem because of the famine. But this was a one-time deal it appears and not a steady practice.

    Yours for the least in the kingdom,

    Jeff Gilbertson

    P.S. What do I recommend?

    My first thoughts are that one of the best things we can do is find out ‘local problems’ and help solve them. ‘Loving your neighbor’ type things like we see with the Good Samaritan parable. In the Rich Man and Lazarus parable the poor man lay at his gate!! He was not being judged for not helping 1000’s of miles away.

    Secondly, when there is more to give, we should give as the Holy Spirit leads! I suggest to give to people/ministries who are taking the ‘mustard seed’ approach: Little changes that have a ripple effect. I am attaching a picture that shows what homegrown, piecemeal, ripple effect change can look like. It does not take lots and lots of money. Here is the link:


  8. jeff (jjg)

    I appreciate and can relate to your position. When we were faced with a “Fund /don’t fund” scenario in Ghana where there was a need for a school building, we moved to “Plan C”. Instead of funding the blocks to build the school, or even the school building at all, we simply provided the funds for a $300 brick press. The locals took the initiative to build the blocks themselves from this point, and raised the funding for the materials locally, finishing with a beautiful building AND the sense of accomplishment of doing it without Western funds. It was THEIR building, not a gift from a foreigner.

    Keep up the dialog!


  9. Chad, your reply is “like cold water for a thirsty soul”.

  10. I have read parts of both books on the fund/don’t fund arguments. I tend to lean toward the fund side. I don’t understand why we separate the effort to evangelize the world into the west vs. everyone else. I look at all Christians as working together in one effort. As a writer said above, were all dependent on someone.

  11. Don’s recommendation to read both Schwartz and Rowell is wise counsel toward attempting to keep the pendulum in the middle. Don and I were both huge Schwartz-like advocates with our former missions’ agency – and of course, still are from a pure “anti-dependency” standpoint. Since then, we have heard and read Rowell, discussed it at length, and are blessed to be challenged by another Biblically-based balanced opinion. Here’s a quote from Rowell’s book, To Give or Not to Give?:
    The dilemma created by a disparity of wealth should make us uncomfortable with traditional rationalizations that defend our tendency to hold back our relative riches when our poorest brothers and sisters have serious and often life-threatening needs. If I may presume to parody Shakespeare’s well-known words reflecting Hamlet’s inner turmoil in a different setting, our solution for dealing with this financial dilemma might be expressed in these terms: To give or not to give, that is the question! Whether it is nobler in mind to part with a portion of the means and surpluses of outrageous fortune, or to take up arms against a sea of troubles that flow from sharing wealth and by opposing simple generosity to end them. To buy: to keep; always more; and when we keep to say we end the heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks that wealth is heir to: ’tis a protection devoutly to be wished. Our neighbors’ lot is better off if we determine just to buy: to keep; to keep and thus to spare our friends the pressures that material blessing has brought on us. But what of their need and their chance to dream? Ay, there’s the rub.

  12. “One time I was teaching in Tanzania at a bible school. We were taking about money. One student asked (in class) if I would support him or find him a sponsor so his ministry could develop. So I turned the question around and ask if he had any land, ‘Yes’ he said, ‘100 acres’ but he was doing nothing with it. I suggested planting trees (not a lot of capital needed to start) and in 5 years he would have a good return on his land and money.

    This went on as discussion with the whole class participating, giving suggestions and explaining their own situations. I was trying to get people to think of their own resources and what can they do.

    After we finished class, the student who asked the questions came to me, he said ‘So can you get me a sponsor’. This is the mind set you will have to face.”

    Name Withheld

  13. SteveL- very clever, I like it.

    I am late to this good discussion but even so here is my 2 cents. As I have struggled with this issue I have leaned toward the stingy side most of my career. Not the non-dependancy side, the stingy side. I am not happy with that. As I began to pray about this and look at my relationships I began to ask what is the Kingdom. The Kingdom is people and God loves them very much. Too often what we do as Westerners is about the Task. Most of this conversation has been set in this terminology. But what is the Task? Is it to see our programs extend to the ends of the earth? If it is then we need to spend a lot more money advancing our programs. But I believe the Kingdom and the Task we are about is investing in People. When I consider the Task in this way how I spend the funds entrusted to me becomes clear. I do not pay a guy to go Country X to start Churches. I invest in a man or woman with whom God is working because I believe that what God is doing in that man or woman is worth investing in. This changes everything in how they see the funds supporting them and my relationship to them. We need to invest people with high trust believing that what God is doing in them is true and of great Kingdom significance. We need to invest in people believing that a close relationship with them means much more than money and a box on our list checked off.
    When I approach ministry like this I begin to answer many of Jeff’s concerns. Do I know these people- do I understand their needs? I must. Are they dependant on me or are we together dependant on God? Again, this can only be made clear in a close relationship.
    Well, I have more but this is too long of a comment already. So that Jeff does not panic I will be clear and say we never pay local pastors and we don’t subsidize local ministries regularly. We trust that God is working with them and provides for them. But when it comes to crossing barriers we need each other. That is where our funds should be spent: Crossing barriers that we can not cross by ourselves.

  14. I just read Jeff’s last comment and I think it confirms my comment. If I am interested in accomplishing a task I find a sponsor this kid and get him out to do a job. If I am interested in this kid then I kick him in the pants and help him to get to work.

  15. There has been a little more dialog regarding this issue via email, so I thought I would add a few more cents to my post so that you can interact with it.

    I understand the dilemma that this issue causes. It is quite complicated. I just don’t think we should take the position that it is an either/or solution across the board. Each situation needs to be studied and understood to determine which would be the wisest course of action. There are clear abuses of both sides of the issue which has caused great damage on the field. The real issue is the condition of our hearts as we serve to where we “lord over others” and control them based upon our financial decisions one way or another.

    I think when this is debated in the abstract there are many false assumptions and generalizations. We must tackle the issue when we are making real life decisions on the field. I have seen missionaries take Schwartz’s teaching and end up withholding resources for the sake of not creating dependency, but the real reason is that they are not willing to invest the time in relationships with the folks they are serving so that dependency can be thwarted. I have also seen missionaries give without direction from the Lord, but merely acting out of compassion, thus causing complications that they may never know about such as dependency and other things.

    Throwing money at a problem is never a solution except in times of immediate crisis (i.e. Tsunami, famine etc). We must think it through, not to mention get the mind of the Lord. In feeding the 5000 Jesus wisely combined both principles by using the boy’s lunch, using the disciples to distribute, but the increase came from the Father’s hand/table.

    One thing we must remember in our context. In the simple/house church world, many problems that we have seen in which Schwartz accurately discusses are automatically eliminated! That would be the area of giving that involves:

    • Money for church buildings
    • Money (salary) for local workers (pastors)

    One of the clear values of simple church is that there will not be churches built or pastors paid; so some of the issues of dependency are mute points.

    In reference to Jeff G. quoting W.J. Bryan; “No one can travel among the dark-skinned races of the Orient without feeling that the white man occupies an especially favored position among the children of men, and the recognition of this fact is accompanied by the conviction that there is a duty inseparably connected with the advantages enjoyed.” William Jennings Bryan — July 4, 1906

    I think it is really unfair to assume that people who want to serve financially have the idea that they are superior because they are white or rich. I agree that that can truly be a problem and it is with some. But this is a matter of spiritual maturity, not methods and strategies of funding.

    What if we rewrote Bryan’s quote to say this:

    “No child of the King of Kings can traveling among the races of the world that do not know Him without feeling that the citizen of the Kingdom of God has been given a responsibility to be Christ’s body wherever they travel, that is to be a servant and share the abundance of the kingdom that the Lord has given us thus revealing the gospel of the Kingdom of God.”

    God Bless!

  16. strider

    Love the kick in the pants approach! had me chuckling.

    But seriously, there is some great discussion here, and with all things, balance will be the mode needed. The Shakespear commentary is awesome. Well stated.
    In my experience, every situation differed. There have been times to give, times not to give, and times that were times to wait, then give. The key was the leading and prompting of the Holy Spirit.

    If we become the source of “their” faith and assurance, we have usurped God of his rightful position as Jehovah Jireh, our provider.

    When we out and out withhold His funds, we have become a roadblock to the successful fulfillment of His work and no longer fit for use.

    Once again, the leading of the Spirit is the only guide we have, and sensitivity to the local economy, the situation, and those involved must all factor in to our prayerful consideration and be a precursor to our cheerful giving.

  17. I’ve been watching this discussion develop and feel that it is a microcosm of the debates taking place in churches across the nation, if not the world. It is apparent that: 1- we don’t want to create a dependency that creates ‘rice Christians’ 2- that we want to be good stewards of the resources God has given us. With that said, choosing one side of the debate or another is exactly what we want to avoid. Our debates must be tempered with the knowledge that there are people who are made to cross cultures with the gospel and there are those who are called to support both the indigenous & cross-cultural workers. Study and wisdom are wonderful privileges, but the one privilege that we all have regardless of culture or language is that of knowing and hearing Dad. May He lead and guide us, may the decisions we make be informed by His guidance and leading. May these discussions and those that we have the privilege to have, face to face, in this coming week be infused with the presence of the Counselor, and His wisdom, that sometimes does and sometimes does not agree with ours.

    Looking forward to being sharpened : )

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