Tuesday, October 25, 2011

It is really a very bad idea

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.

7 comments:

Tony Freitas said...

Dear TJ,

This has been my mantra for many years! It makes for a tough love style of ministry but I wouldn't have it any other way. Some of the pastors that I am working with are beginning to understand this concept and are very committed to their ministries. Unfortunately some dont understand and they eventually move on! Thank you for being bold enough to publish this.

I really hope that churches and missionaries take note and make appropriate changes to their way of minisrty abroad.

God Bless You,
Tony Freitas

Bob N said...

There should also be a warning for us regarding our own attitude. I have often recognized that even though my giving is done with "no strings attached", at least not intentionally, I must beware of a pride related to being the giver rather than the receiver. It must be an age old issue for Jesus mentions those who perceived themselves as "benefactors."

Luke 22:25 Jesus said to them, "The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.

Bob Nelson

Nish Baria said...

There is one more point I would like to add, in addition to some wonderful ones you have already put up. This comes from my personal experience, as related to pastors I have worked with, and some others that I know.
You have suggested that helping pastors with funds for micro-enterprise is helpful, but I would actually disagree with you. In most cases, this causes the pastor to devote time and effort on the business rather than ministry. It in fact entices you with the pull of money. It would be better to help the pastors organization set up the micro-enterprise with some ordinary people, who can then use the funds to support the pastors.

Jesse Chang said...

TJ: Aren't we just duplicating what we've learned at home? Isn't that what we pay pastors for here in the "minority world"--to do ministry for us (whether implicitly or explicitly expressed)? These words need to be heard here too to some degree!

Jesse Chang said...

TJ: Aren't we just following the model we have learned from the beginning: you pay pastors to do the work of ministry (implicitly or explicitly expressed)? Some of this need to be digested in our "minority world" context as well!

T.J. Addington said...

Jesse, you are correct that we are merely doing what we do in the minority world. However, the question is not whether these pastors should be paid but whether they should be paid from outside their context where I would argue that the three issues in the blog become highly problematic. Even here in the states we have pastors who are paid fully, some partially and some are simply bi-vocational. Many are paid in the majority world by their own people even in contexts like Congo where it is in produce and eggs. Huge numbers of pastors are bi-vocational. Thanks for your comment.

Anonymous said...

How can you blame a Ugandan pastor for looking for the highest bidder? Word-faith is exploding across Africa because it appears to promise prosperity to the deeply impoverished. And biblically speaking the real life of Christ is never going to compete in terms of numbers with the glitz and glam. The world is lost, and that's not a metaphor. So if we put money into anything we should do some due diligence. The indigenous workers know their own culture and if they are truly born again will be very well suited to confront it with proper discipleship along the way.