Help That Hurts

Posted on June 6, 2012 by Dr. Jerry Rankin in Rankin Connecting

The blog last week on supporting national workers was not meant to be condescending toward those who are serving our Lord in Third World countries at great sacrifice and even suffering for the cause of the gospel. Neither western missionaries nor native evangelists have a corner on effectiveness that comes from the anointing of God’s Spirit. While we have a responsibility to support those who are called from our churches in the U.S., we should recognize that the blessing of our affluence carries with it the responsibility to channel resources to those penetrating lostness with the good news of Christ.

A caution is always in order when sending money in lieu of going. It is important to be sure workers abroad are a part of an appropriate accountability structure, whether through a local church or indigenous mission organization. Where funding is often misdirected, however, is when it is used to subsidize a local church and pastoral support. Many stateside partners take pride in the funds they funnel to churches abroad, failing to realize the debilitating consequences for reaching a lost world.

Presuming to help a church on the mission field, we actually hurt the potential expansion of the gospel. Foundational to the problem is our own lack of vision and narrow concept of missions. A church that is dependent on subsidy from America may have nicer facilities and a full-time pastor they would not otherwise be able to support, but that is not a church that is capable of reproducing. Growth in such a “welfare” congregation is artificial as is not sustainable if the subsidy is not sustained indefinitely.

Oh, I know, every benefactor intends for financial assistance to their mission project to be temporary until the church grows strong enough to be self-supporting, but that seldom happens. If they don’t have to take responsibility from the beginning, they won’t in the future. They never learn to grow in faith and dependence on God when their needs are being provided by a “partner” from abroad. A high proportion of church plants based on outside subsidy never survive.

Providing financial help hurts churches on the mission field because it teaches them a western model of buildings, programs and professional clergy is necessary to be a church. This erodes the spiritual nature of the church as a body of baptized believers joined into a covenant community by the Holy Spirit for the purpose of worship, fellowship, nurture, ministry and witness–something that can exist on its own in any culture at any economic level.

While funneling support into one local church may have gratifying results, it does not contribute to the unity and synergy of cooperation that is necessary for churches on the mission field to spread and engage in indigenous mission outreach. Instead, it creates jealously on the part of churches and pastors that do not have a pipeline to stateside support. When local churches on the mission field are dependent on help from abroad, it stifles any potential for multiplication and church planting. The only way new churches can be planted is for more money to be provided, more churches built and more pastors paid instead of Spirit-empowered laity sharing their faith in a natural and spontaneous witness.

More evangelists and church planters are needed. Those native to their culture and called of God from the west are worthy of our support to take the gospel and plant churches among the unevangelized regions of the world. But such support should stop short of propping up a local congregation which must be self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating from the beginning.

9 Comments on “Help That Hurts”

  1. Brent Hobbs

    This is an interesting point and one I’d like to hear more about. Our church started supporting two church plants several years ago and I know many other churches do the same kind of thing. Is the best answer to not give them money in the first place? Gradually draw down funding? Are there some instances where continued, long-term funding are necessary (or at least the lesser of two evils)?

  2. Jerry Rankin

    Brent, this is a valid question many should be asking. Why would one want to plant a new church? Is it not to make the gospel accessible to more people in a unchurched geographic or economic segment? How many new churches are needed to reach all people everywhere? The ideal is to plant churches that multiple and can readily reproduce without a formidable outlay of financial resources that will always be limited. That means planting churches that are self-sufficient, spiritual bodies of believers rather than trying to reproduce congregations dependent on costly facilities and professional clergy. However, to commend your efforts, if we are not planting those kinds of churches–and very few are, especially in America–it is good to plant a new church even though it may not be able to reproduce. And if a church is not planting new churches, it is good for them to at least be doing evangelism and seeking to win people to the Lord. It comes down to how big or how limited is one’s vision and objective.

  3. Rick Morton

    Excellent word, Dr. Rankin! I think the IMB affiliated Church Planting Program at Kyiv Theological Seminary in Ukraine is a great example. From the beginning, the program lets students know that neither the program nor church partners who assist them will pay salaries or build buildings. U.S. teams come to aid the planters launch by gaining recognition in their communities through service, but churches never return to the same planter so as not to create dependency relationships. In my 7 years of work with them, I have observed their model to be exemplary! God is using the program to make a significant impact with the gospel throughout the former Soviet Union.

  4. Audra McEuen

    Thank you for your comments on this subject. We are missionaries in Perú and have seen the damage of dependence on foreign monies. The way churches were planted a hundred years ago is still inhibiting church growth today. Many have the vision that they need a big building, certain songs (most often translated from North American hymns)…essentially they have believed the lie that in order to have a “real” church, they need to have a North American one, here. I completely agree with your last statement “…such support should stop short of propping up a local congregation which must be self-supporting, self-governing and self-propagating from the beginning.” Thank you for the truth.

  5. Destiny

    A friend of mine shared your link over facebook. Thank you for this great article(s) (I also read the one connected to this one). My husband and I have been serving the Lord for 9yrs in Uganda, East Africa. And we too have seen much damage from money being sent from abroad. It can be such a stumbling block/distraction/harmful thing, instead of a blessing to those that receive it. And instead of promoting a trust and dependency on God, they trust the ‘white man’. These are not always easy words to say, but I am thankful you have said them. Thank you for speaking truth.

  6. Jeff Holeman

    Thank you Dr. Rankin for your excellent and biblical instruction. We serve in southern Mexico and we see each day the negative consequences of dependency. Not only does it affect the ability of the people here to advance the gospel but it also causes negative attitudes by missionaries toward the churches from the USA who desire to get involved in cross cultural ministry.

    We must not allow our discussion of dependency issues to place the blame solely on the US church. There must be a sharing of the blame by mission agencies (Mine included) who often permitted poor strategy to be implemented and individual missionaries who, at times, encouraged methods that created dependency. Planting indigenous churches is difficult, takes time, and one small short-cut will often mean that reproduction will not occur. Our mission agencies must invest in training our missionary force to have skills necessary to be able to train our USA churches to be aware of the dangers of short-cuts in mission work. Our USA church partners must accept the fact that planting indigenous churches that reproduce requires a commitment that is beyond the ordinary.

    We must not allow our opposition to the creation of dependency to put our USA church partners on the sidelines. The ‘dependency discussion’ must occur, but if it occurs apart from a positive reinforcement of the role of the USA church that the Father has for them on the mission field then our USA church partners get the impression that the only thing we want from them is financial support. My mission agency is committed to assisting our USA church partners receive training and on-the-field mentoring that helps them develop the extra-ordinary commitment needed to avoid many of the problems of the past. Our missionaries must accept the fact that involving USA partners in planting indigenous churches that reproduce requires a commitment that is beyond the ordinary.

    Dependency issues are very real and continue to slow down the advancement of the gospel. A am thankful that we are attempting to address these issues. I am also thankful for Dr. Rankin and others who have worked and are working to bring our USA church partners along. There is much to be done and the USA church is a key player. May God continue to call out churches who have an extra-ordinary commitment to the unreached and may God call out missionaries whohave an extra-ordinary commitment to helping the USA churches answer the call.

  7. Robert Lane


  8. Jerry Rankin

    Great to hear from you, Jeff. Praying for you and your new assignment, especially the focus on mobilizing U.S. church partners to reach the lost in Southern Mexico. Training is the key. But one of the problems is not knowing how to do evangelism and having the spiritual vitality to catalyze bringing new churches into existence when it is not being done at home. We pay church planters and build churches at home, so it is the only way churches know how to do it on the mission field. Unfortunately, it introduces dependency and the slow, negligible growth we have in the states.

    • Jeff Holeman

      Good word. I agree 100%. My prayer is that our USA church partners will be trained in such a way that they will apply what they learn at home in the USA as well as in a setting outside the USA.

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