OK, blogs are meant to cause people to think and some will not respond positively to this one - but, if it causes people to think, then I will be good.
On a regular basis I hear from pastors or others that they have a wonderful thing going by paying pastors in some majority world country where they can support a pastor for maybe $150.00 per month. I usually don't share my opinion because I am not being asked for it. But if I was asked this is what I would say. "It is really a very bad idea." There are huge unintended consequences to this practice.
Let me clarify that I am not talking about supporting indigenous missionaries or those involved in training. I am talking about supporting indigenous pastors.
Why is it a really bad idea? First, it kills (yes kills) the reproducibility of the church. The church was designed to reproduce itself in any economic or political situation but once you start paying pastors from the outside this becomes the expectation and other churches are not started until there is money to pay them as well. In addition, you start funding people who are more interested in the job and steady income than have a passion for the gospel. What sounds like a small amount of money to us if often a huge amount of money to others. And, the moment a pastor is motivated more by the dollars than by the gospel you have killed authentic ministry.
As an aside, people should know that there are denominations who will entice pastors to join their group by paying them - essentially purchasing churches for their denomination so that they can claim higher numbers to their constituency back home. As for pastors in our networks I say, "if they are willing to jump ship for money, they don't belong with us in the first place." The people who are my heroes are those pastors who are driven by a heart passion for ministry and would be doing it whether they got paid for it or not. And there are millions of those kinds of workers around the globe. Many of them are bi-vocational, earning a living and pastoring a church.
As a further aside, there are many third world pastors who have learned to play the game and are being supported by numerous individuals each thinking they are the only ones sending needed money. Trust me, it is true. Money has a seductive and corrupting influence in ministry as well as in politics and business. In the end, we feel good because we wrote the check, they feel good because they get the check but the gospel itself does not win and is indeed compromised by money.
Second, when you pay a pastor from the outside, you rob the people of their joy, responsibility and privilege of supporting their church. We have unintentionally trained congregations that they have no responsibility to give since the money flows from somewhere else. With the amazing emphasis in Scripture on giving as part of discipleship, it is a sin to rob congregations of their responsibility to give. In contexts where there is even no cash they can give - eggs, chickens, produce - and many do. This is how thousands of pastors are supported in places like Congo where cash is often non-existent.
Third, and I am going to quote a leader in a third world country. When you pay a pastor from the outside, "you neuter him and make him dependent on you." He is beholden to others, he is not ultimately accountable to his congregation (they don't provide for him) and we have created a dependency model - which does not make for dignity either for the congregation or the pastor. In our experience, where we have paid pastors, the church has not reproduced, leaders have been weak and relatively ineffective and the passion for the gospel is weakened.
There are two things we can do to help majority world pastors who are in need. First, we can help them teach their congregations about giving - a foreign concept to new believers everywhere. Second, we can help with micro enterprise where they can earn a living without losing their dignity or becoming dependent on others. This is a one time investment rather than an ongoing investment.
There are many, many ways that we can and should be investing in ministry around the world. We spend way too much on ourselves in the west and way to little on helping the majority world. But, we are often naive in how we go about helping those who need help. And we do not often enough think about the unintended consequences of our "help." Before you write a check to support a pastor in the majority world, stop and think of the unintended consequences.