The Cure for Dependency: Teach Your Churches to Give

Donna R. Downes
No missionary worth his spiritual salt would say he or she wants churches in developing countries to remain poor, dependent, and without God's richest blessings. But often we act as if we do. Our mission policies, regulations, historical practices, and philosophies of ministry often contribute to a dependence that is as unhealthy as it is unfair. By ignoring, or at best minimizing, the resources available in the churches of Asia, Africa, and Latin America, we bypass and possibly discourage opportunities for growth and self-reliance.

Witness this story told to me by a Kenyan who, at the time, was director of the national branch of a major international mission organization for which he had worked for over 15 years. As this man (let's call him "Steven") became more knowledgeable (in biblical learning, as well as in education and experience), he was convinced of the need for African churches to become better stewards of their own resources and to contribute more substantially to the ministry of the gospel throughout the world.

Consequently, he began a national program for building awareness among the churches in Kenya about his organization's ministry, and started raising funds locally.

After about a year in what he called an "exciting" process, he approached the world headquarters of his organization with the idea that he might be released from his duties as national director to concentrate full time on the possibilities of raising local awareness of and support for ministry, not only in Kenya, but throughout other regions in Africa where his organization was working. Expecting a positive and encouraging response for his initiative, Steven was shocked and disappointed at the response of the international leaders. In effect, they told Steven three things: 1) He was too valuable and expensive an employee to waste his time on what would invariably be too small a return for the organization's investment in travel and time; 2) He would give a better "return on investment" if he would devote his time to international travel to wealthier donor agencies; and 3) The struggle to educate and mobilize the church in Africa toward its own self-reliance in missions would take more effort than they were willing to spend at the time.

Steven couldn't help but wonder if the African church was forever doomed to be the recipient of aid, and to endure the dominance that often accompanies such aid. Would his church ever be able to claim the benefits and blessings of "hilarious" giving as promised in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8 and Luke 6:38? He also wondered if the mission agencies saw such aid as essential to their own survival. After all, for what purpose would a mission agency exist and raise funds if the church it was supposedly "helping" had become mature enough to handle its own outreach?

Interesting dilemma, isn't it? We may be clicking our tongues at Steven's story and saying that we would be delighted to see Africa's churches carrying their fair share of the gospel ministry both in finances and personnel. But how many of us regularly examine our own local ministries and their concerted efforts toward indigenization in staffing, financing, training, and management? Do we, for example, regularly staff and fund local seminaries because we feel the local church will not, or cannot fund its own theological institutions? How many of us continue to fund and staff pastoral training in extension settings that require rented buildings and catered food, but rarely ask how national pastors themselves finance their own regional conferences when the missionaries are not invited? And what about Bible translation? As one African church statesman recently asked, will Bible translation work forever remain supported by agents foreign to Africa?1

Have we begun plans for the local staffing and support of our mission efforts? I emphasize the and here because many foreign mission agencies have accomplished the former, but financial support still comes primarily from foreign countries. If we do have plans, do they include training people in communications and in international and local resource development to help them raise the local church's awareness of its role and responsibility in missions and in stewardship?

What about training in management of programs, personnel, and finances? Many mission agencies put into the highest leadership pastors who have had little but biblical training, and then we criticize them if they do not do a good job. We also have a tendency to criticize national management if it is taking steps to get rid of financial and/or property encumbrances that are too heavy for the local church to bear. Western churches may have been able to support a ministry headquarters in a downtown office building, complete with telephone and carpeting, but local churches may not have the resources to do so, even if they wanted to. If national leaders reduce expenditures, move to a suburban flat, and have concrete floors, do we missionaries embrace the changes or lament them by idolizing how "good" the ministry was when it was in "our hands"?

If we fail to ask ourselves these questions and take steps to work toward solid biblical answers, then we are tacitly agreeing with the leaders of Steven's organization and, perhaps, condemning the recipients of our ministries to an ongoing receiver, rather than a sender (or giver) mentality.

After over 100 years of missionary effort in Africa, the church is reportedly one of the fastest-growing in the world. Should we therefore be seeing a greater response to, and participation in, the missionary task than is being seen? Should we be seeing greater stewardship in the local churches so that sufficient numbers of pastors can be trained and deployed, the poor can be assisted, and the community reached with the gospel? We may answer Yes, but are such resources available in Africa? If they are, how can we assist in developing them?

Ask any church or mission leader in Africa, Asia, and Latin America what are the three biggest problems he or she faces in ministry, and, invariably, one answer will always be "finances." In fact, in a recent study of urban church leaders in Nairobi, Kenya, finances was listed as one of the biggest problems with which Kenya church leaders must constantly cope.2

No wonder the problem is a big one. In a recent article on stewardship, one researcher pointed to several countries where giving is often just a fraction of one percent of real income3 and few pastors, churches, or indigenous mission agencies can survive (let alone expand) on such paltry amounts. One Kenyan Christian journalist and church leader wrote the following lament about his own church:
    "It is better to give than to receive!"

    Despite regular citation of such great phrases, many pastors go unpaid for months, and salaries of those who are paid regularly are kept low. Reason: giving in most of our churches is very poor.

    New communities go without a single church for years; programmes aimed at reaching people beyond the frontiers of a parish may never take off Reason: giving toward the most important programmes is taken half-heartedly.4
A Jamaican missionary to Kenya adds:
    We have not developed the ability, ourselves, to minister in a material way to spread the gospel. The consequence is that the West continues to get the blessing that the Bible attaches to generous giving and we do not.

    I realize we think there is more money in the West. We think, "Why should I give a million shillings when all I have to do is to wait and America will send it to me?" And so we prevent our brethren here from experiencing the joy of giving generously to God.5
The lack of good stewardship, however, combined with dependency on foreign funds, results in stunted growth and immaturity if the situation continues.

According to missiologist Larry Keyes:
    A Christian body which remains dependent on outside help and looks to some other body for support and guidance will never grow beyond the state of infancy. If a mission agency is dependent upon foreign assistance, it remains subordinate and limited. If an agency becomes autonomous in structure and contextualized in content, different patterns of ministry emerge because of its freed nature.6
But such maturity and self-reliance are not easy to achieve when we combine the apparent lack of stewardship in the Latin American, Asian, and African churches with the errors in action and attitude of Western missions.

In a recent article, veteran missionary William Kornfield accuses Western mission agencies of "financial paternalism" and the errant belief that "the church cannot grow, or in some cases even exist, in its own native soil apart from Western money."7 He then challenges us to look at the growth of the New Testament church which spread throughout the known world in spite of its relative "poverty," and it certainly did so without Western help.

Emmanuel Ayee, a Ghanaian ministering with the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM), points not only to financial paternalism but to the problem of ministry dominance by Westerners as well:
    Foreign mission societies and Para church organizations have a suffocating grip on Christian activities in Africa. Through financial support for projects and ministries they started, some of these organizations continue to dominate the Christian scene in Africa, often unwilling to tap local creativity and resources.8
Nigerian church historian Ogbu U. Kalu, asks "Why are the churches in Africa...still needing to climb on someone else's shoulders to watch the parade?" He argues that because of Western ideological and financial domination of churches in Africa, "The end products were churches which could not stand on their feet, and a relationship which made aid the glutinous agent for the maintenance of a dependent relationship. Finance has always been power.9

Achieving self-reliance does not come easily, however, and the issue is much more complex than can be represented in an article such as this. For some nations, church leaders felt it necessary to call for a moratorium on foreign missionaries. For others, a better balance (or partnership) was sought between foreign and local funding as well as leadership.

For still others, political problems called for a halt to both foreign presence and foreign funding, forcing self-reliance or the dismantling of ministries. There have been many approaches to solving the problem, but we must continue to seek solutions.

One obvious answer is to encourage national pastors to grasp a clearer understanding of what God did for us in giving his son to die for our sins, his gift of salvation, and to his ultimate act of giving we should respond in gratitude through stewardship. We also need to stress biblical teachings about stewardship and the blessings that come with it-not only in spiritual maturity and self-reliance, but in physical provision as well.

Second, we as Westerners may need to broaden our scope and definition of "resources" and "resource development." Money is not our only valid resource, nor should it be the determinant of power or dominance. Old Testament examples are abundant regarding giving of materials, supplies and labor which were invaluable to the building of the Tabernacle (Ex. 25-39), or the wall in Jerusalem (Nehemiah). In reading these passages, you will see that not only are non-monetary gifts encouraged, they are often valued (in terms of the unit of money at the time), and they are meticulously recorded for all of posterity to see (a terrific example of accountability), One Kenyan wrote this interesting comment about non-monetary giving: Missionaries have often been blamed for not teaching about giving. It is true that some missionaries implied that the only gift God appreciated was cash, not, for example, produce from the farm such as grains, fruits and animals.

Consequently, Africans who had no cash could not participate in the giving. Gradually African believers became mere spectators.10 Along this same line, we must be careful not to undervalue the amount of any gift given. It is fascinating to read that God valued the widow's mite far more than the rich man's alms (Mark 12). Important to God was the heart attitude, the desire to give, and the building of the vision for giving to others. Similarly, Paul highly commended the churches in Antioch (Acts 11) and Macedonia (2 Cor. 7-9) for their abundant and sacrificial giving "out of their poverty."

As the vision grows for stewardship, self-reliance, and biblical maturity, we may need to provide more training in and ministry development, church-mission relationships, fund raising and funds management, and a host of other attendant areas that will help national ministries to grow.

The American church, for years, has benefited from a legacy of missions education and awareness, as well as access to information sources to help in missions management, fund raising, personnel development, and so on. Without these same benefits, mission agencies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America and their supporting churches may fall victim to errors of mismanagement that could otherwise have been avoided or at least minimized.

In addition, research into the local giving patterns and motivations would arm national church and mission leaders with information they need to bring about change. Knowing such information about their audiences can help pastors and church leaders to strategize about more appropriate ways of reaching those audiences with appropriate messages and fund-raising approaches.

To address some of the concerns mentioned above, a research project into local stewardship was recently commissioned and sponsored by a group of nine Kenya-based mission agencies. Carried out by this author in partnership with Daystar University College in Nairobi, the research was to determine the current patterns of, and motivations for, Christian and charitable giving among Nairobi's middle- to upper-income church-going population. Figuring that a middle- to upper-class urban audience, well educated, would be the place to begin if organizations wished to raise local funds, the sponsors of the study wanted to see: 1) how aware this audience was of existing mission organizations and their activities; 2) to which programs people currently gave; 3) how much people were giving in proportion to their income; 4) what factors encouraged or discouraged giving; and 5) what were people's current priorities for giving.

Once the project was completed, one seminar for leaders from the sponsoring organizations and another for a broader audience were held to disseminate the results.

Twenty-eight of Nairobi's 46 predominantly middle- to upper-income churches were surveyed, with some 1,110 randomly selected respondents anonymously answering a lengthy questionnaire. After editing the questionnaires for accuracy and appropriateness to the survey objectives, 827 responses resulted and were reported.11 While the book outlines several hundred results, a few patterns are worth summarizing here:
  • When asked to list any Christian organizations that operate in Kenya (other than churches), well over half the respondents couldn't name even one. Obviously, awareness of mission agencies was dismally low among this highly educated, church-going group.12 One can only assume awareness would decrease further in lower income, lower educated groups.
  • While respondents generally indicated a willingness to give both to their churches and to Para church ministries, 70 percent of the respondents reported they currently gave no money outside their churches.13
When they were asked how they would divide their giving among various types of ministries, "the local church" ranked number one by far.14

One reason for lack of giving outside the church was lack of awareness of the various mission agencies as mentioned above. When asked to complete the sentence, "People would give more money if...", the top answer related to being made more aware of the various ministries, followed closely by the need to know if money was used properly.15
  • Asked what would motivate respondents to give to a Christian ministry, answers related to "trustworthiness" and "good financial management" were rated highest by about 43 percent of the respondents.16

    Obviously these middle- to upper-income Kenyans want an ongoing relationship and accountability structure with the ministries they support.
  • Sixty percent of the respondents readily admitted that they do not give a tithe of their income to any Christian work, including the church, and another 10 percent said they really didn't know what they gave. About 5 percent refused to answer the question, leaving only about 25 percent who said they "usually tithe." Interestingly enough, of the 25 percent who said they tithed, two-thirds of these were respondents who said they were "saved or born again." A personal relationship with Christ seemed, throughout the study, to be one of the main motivating factors for giving.
These findings lead us to ask a number of questions-not only in light of our ministries in Kenya, but where the results may be applicable to other parts of the world as well.

Are we as mission agencies committed to spreading the news about, and vision for, our ministries to the nations in which we work? Awareness of the need is the first step in attitude and behavior change. Or are we responding like Steven's organization by intimating that the contributions the local churches might make are too small to consider "wasting our time and effort" to develop?

Are we willing to train national to carry out the responsibilities and challenges of being good stewards, managers, and fund raisers?

Have the local churches and ministries we've nurtured caught the vision of the responsibility, as well as the blessing of stewardship because of what God has done for us in his salvation gift? For example, the Nairobi Baptist Church caught the vision by its commitment to give at least 10 percent (and often more) of its own tithes and offerings to outside ministries. Do our churches tithe beyond their own church ministries?

As missionaries, we can make a difference. But we must first examine ourselves and our agencies in response to this question: Are we committed to planting, facilitating and/or growing churches that are truly "mature" and "independent" - not only in leadership and theology, but in vision, mission, and finances as well?

If we answer No, whether consciously or subconsciously, then we are condemning ourselves to a type of ethnocentric and paternalistic ministry that will result in fostering ministries that are forever dependent on Western resources-a situation that some mission leaders, sad to say, are willing to accept and tolerate because it means a continuance of their own positions and power.

If we answer Yes, however, then we must be willing to:

1. Actively encourage local fund raising by: a) assisting national church and mission leaders in fund-raising market research; b) helping to train "resource development" personnel in marketing, public relations, and local and international fund raising; and c) allow for and facilitate indigenous methods of resource development that may or may not be monetary (e.g., giving of time, talents, and material goods).

2. Teach continuously and enthusiastically about stewardship-not only about the responsibility, but also about the blessings that result.

3. Let go of the financial strings and clout that cause us to be paternalistic, directive, and at times sinfully possessive about the programs we started, or to which we donated.

4. Work with church and mission leaders toward a more equitable partnership in financing projects, or enter into projects with a practical plan for financial independence that is both realistic and attainable, given the local resources and time frame. Some agencies consider "gift matching" a good step in this direction.

5. Allow projects to be conceived and carried out within the parameters of the local economy. Perhaps you don't need a rented six-room office in an urban area, or a church made with expensive bricks and mortar. If the money raised locally can finance two or three rooms in a semi-rural area, it is far better to have a facility that is locally financed than to have the "best" office complex to earn prestige among ministry peers.

Now if you're saying, "These ideas sound good, but they'll never work in my country. People are just too poor." Or, "We can't change after all these years. No one wants to move to affordable offices. We've always financed the pastors' seminars. And the people want brick churches, not wooden ones, and, and, and think about the consequences. In essence, you are contributing to lack of blessing because of lack of stewardship, you are performing an incomplete work of discipleship, and you may be condemning churches to a continual dependence that is both unhealthy and unfair. It is not ourselves that we serve, but God, and it is to him that we must be accountable for our work.

1. Downs, D. R. 1991. Raising Funds in Kenya. Nairobi: Daystar University College, p. vi.
2. Downes, San, Bob Oehrig and John Shane. 1989. Summary of the Nairobi Church Survey. Nairobi: Daystar University College, pp. 47, 48, 52.
3. Werning, Waldo, J. "Facing the Financial Crises for World Evangelization," Global Church Growth, Vol. 28, January-March, 1991, p. 12.
4. Mbugua, Bedan, "Only Coins for the Master?" Beyond, October, 1985, p. 28.
5. Prescod, Jeremiah. "Hooked on Foreign Money," Beyond, October, 1985, p. 28.
6. Keyes, Larry. 1983. The Last Age of Missions. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, p. 75.
7. Kornfield, William J. "What Hath Our Western Money and Our Western Gospel Wrought?" Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Vol. 27, July 1991, p. 231.
8. Ayee, Emmanuel, "The African Christian Missionary and His Contribution to Missions," Master's thesis, Daystar University College, 1985, p. 3.
9. Uka, E.M., Missionaries Go Home? A Sociological Interpretation of an African Response to Christian Mission (Berne, Switzerland, Peter, Lang, Inc. 1989), p. 253.
10. Mbugua, op. cit., p. 5.
11. Downes, D.R., op. cit.
12. Ibid., pp. 71, 72.
13. Ibid, p. 77.
14. Ibid., p. 54.
15. Ibid., p. 67,
16. Ibid., p. 80.


Copyright © 1992 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.

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