Globalization and the Support of Nationals

David Lundy
Globalization is a term that evokes passionate feelings. Conflicting convictions about the effect of globalization have surfaced in missions too, particularly concerning how the Western world church is to partner with the surging missionary force from the majority world. One side insists that the West needs to pour its financial resources into the support of nationals. The other side is just as articulate in claiming that this form of partnership robs the emerging church of its ability to be contextualized.

I propose that there are four big ideas in Scripture that should govern our embracing or disowning of globalization in relation to the support of nationals. They are the catholicity of the church, the diversity of the church, the stewardship of the church’s calling and the expression of servanthood in the church’s service.

Unfortunately, evangelicals have lost touch with a word pregnant with meaning in describing the church. I am referring to catholicity. Webster’s Dictionary defines catholicity in part as “comprehensive quality; universality.” The church is found as a majority of the population in 150 of the globe’s 237 countries (Johnstone 1993). Furthermore, there are only twenty-nine countries left where national Christians make up less than one percent of the population (Johnstone 1998, 218). Hence, the church is universal in a quantifiable sense. But we need to think of the church as being catholic in a qualitative sense too.

We find this concept of catholicity best captured in the New Testament word oikoumene. Oikoumene speaks to the idea of oneness inherent in the body of Christ. Before relating catholicity to the church though, we need to reflect on how it applies to our being human. John Stott comments on this:
    The one people were to populate and tame the earth, in order to harness its resources to their service. There was no hint at the beginning of the partitioning of the earth or of rivalry between nations. (1989, 128)
A fundamental assertion concerning the validity of globalization, then, is based on an understanding of God’s intention that all humans be treated as part of one brotherhood.

In its fourteen appearances in the New Testament, oikoumene refers especially to the humanly inhabited world in its general sense (for example, Acts 17:31). My worldwide travels and years of living overseas have convinced me that there is a commonality about humans that outweighs our differences. I’ve seen Afghan Muslims in remote villages in the Hindu Kush mountains worry about how they were going to survive a brutal winter in much the same way as a single-mother in downtown Toronto agonizes over how to cope on government assistance with young kids. I’ve seen a Hindu wedding in India celebrated with the same exuberance as a Christian wedding in Canada. Globalization simply acknowledges our close affinity with each other in the human race. Rather than focusing on our differences, it accentuates our similarities. As I have stated in my book on globalization,
    The global village concept is not an eschatological conspiracy but a social reality which inspires us to work more closely across cultures irrespective of national boundaries. (Lundy 1999b, 28)

This commonality intrinsic to the human race is to be even better modeled by the church. Coming to our minds are pivotal texts like Acts 10:1-11:18, where Peter is faced with God’s impartiality concerning Jew versus Gentile; Galatians 3:28, so often referenced with respect to gender issues but which carries a wider significance; Christ’s high priestly prayer in John 17 when he speaks of longing for his people that “they will be of one heart and mind… [so] the world will believe you [the Father] have sent me” (v. 21). In other words the unity within the Godhead is to find its correlation in relationships within the church. The Fall may have ushered in alienation and animosity but, in Christ, love of a self-giving nature should characterize our community. The wall of partition has been broken down between races (Eph. 2:13-21).

Subsets of catholicity include the concept of partnership—which we pick up in the biblical term koinonia—which, in its noun form is found seventeen times in the New Testament and is translated as partnership instead of the usual fellowship in Philippians 1:5 (partnership being frequently used for describing how relationships with nationals in missions are supposed to work). Another parallel concept related to catholicity is impartiality (prosopolaphia) which teaches that it is sinful to show favoritism in one’s dealings with people, since God is impartial in his attitude to all people (Rom. 2:11; Eph. 6:9; Col. 3:25; 1 Pet. 1:17).

What will partnerships between the emerging and the Western world church look like if they are to be characterized by a catholic perspective? Charles Van Engen is surely correct when he stresses that love and respect—and all the fruit of the Spirit—should be reflected in our inter-mission relationships (2001, 20-21). There is no place for the heavy-handed, one-sided partnership where the partner that has the gold rules.

Indeed, the West needs to be aware of subtle ways that our wealth overshadows relationships as we come to the table in negotiating partnerships with national entities. Alex Araujo exposes one such subtle dynamic as a result of the financial inequality of the partners:

Globalization is experienced differently by people near its front and people at the rear. Like the paralytic at the pool of Siloam, those in weaker and less stable economies are too far from the water’s edge, and there is always someone who plunges in first whenever the angel stirs the water. That someone will likely be an American, Japanese, or Northern European…. And the fact is that both in Scripture and history, most of the advance of the people of God has taken place in contexts of weakness, poverty, and uncertainty.

It is essential for the health of the missions movement that we really listen to Christians from the rear. Those at the front may not be able to see and value the wonderful things God is doing through his church elsewhere. (2000, 66-67)

A missiologist pressing for a prioritizing of relationship-building to bridge the divide between East and West is Peruvian-American Samuel Escobar. Hear him at an EFMA conference of a decade ago:

Relationship precedes function, friendship precedes efficiency…. Trust and friendship presuppose acceptance of the other as an equal partner, acceptance of the humanity and basic dignity of the other.

Majority world cultures tend to be more people-oriented than task-oriented, the latter being more typical in the Western world.
When we look at these tendencies from the perspective of wanting to engender catholicity as a guiding principle, we have to say that maybe we in the West need to learn from the majority world. Instead of being so business-like in our forging of working relationships, we might need to structure our get-togethers to allow for more down time such as chatting informally over cups of tea, and making time for spontaneous prayer. Trust is nurtured in such cultures by spending time with people, as anthropologist C.H. Dodd contends: “Effective intercultural communication begins with a recognition that a focus on task alone is insufficient” (1987, 3). He goes on to say tellingly that by the nature of the process, intercultural communication is rooted in the social relationships that accompany our actions…[so that] our relationship with the person with whom we are communicating affects how the message is interpreted (Dodd 1987, 27, 33).

This is contrary to how westerners tend to develop confidence in people—which is through proven competency, as Duane Elmer demonstrates in Cross-Cultural Conflict.

Similarly we demonstrate the catholicity of the church when we practically foster impartiality in relating to national missionaries. For instance, a consultative approach may slow the process of implementing a project as we listen to the national church, but demonstrates the sort of give-and-take you would expect of equal partners—even if the benefits vary for the different partners in the project. For the donor partner, the benefit might be the uplift that comes from financial giving, or in the receiving of gratitude and a new source of prayer support from the donor recipient partner. A sense of reciprocity and impartiality is developing when, as Paul McKaughan exhorts:

All [partners] need a realistic appraisal of their assets, their liabilities, and their needs. This appraisal needs to be done from my perspective, and then I need to look at the issue from the perspective of my future partner. (1994, 76)

The fact is that the contribution to the partnership from the nationals’ side is not an inferior one because it is not the main financial contributor. Majority world contributions might include:

• Deeper spirituality forged from living in a context of persecution and material simplicity

• Powerful prayer life springing from that deeper spirituality

• Ability to bring insights into how to contextualize the project more effectively

• An accepted “face” for the project vis-à-vis the government or the local population

• Keener skills at being relational in the partnership and the concomitant intercultural communication skills that enable the partnership to run smoothly.

If we view the partnership with nationals as one-sided, we are not only blind to our own ethnocentricity and spiritual pride, but we are failing to intentionalize the biblical principles that should apply to such working relationships, namely, catholicity, and its subsets of impartiality and fellowship (Lundy 1999b).

Just as the catholicity of the church and life in the kingdom is at the heart of who we are, so is diversity. In the Godhead we see this reality expressed in the individuality of the persons of the Trinity, distinct in personhood and yet one in essential nature. We do injustice to who God is when we minimize the unity of the Godhead or downplay the plurality within the Godhead. We should therefore not be surprised to discover that God loves human kinds, not only humankind.

Interestingly, in a world of political correctness, there is a strong bias toward celebrating diversity. As Christians, because of who God is and what the Bible says about how we are to treat one another across racial, gender, and socioeconomic lines, we should be the original cultural pluralists. To be a cultural pluralist, celebrating cultural and ethnic diversity, as theologians like Ramachandra and Newbigin have argued, is not to make us religious pluralists. We unswervingly insist on the uniqueness of Christ in the face of the multiplicity of cultures and religions. We are religious exclusivists but cultural inclusivists.

Among the passages where we detect God’s approval of cultural diversity as being an end in itself, is Revelation 21:26-27a, which in describing the New Jerusalem reads: “The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it [and] nothing impure will ever enter it.” A distinction is made here between the mosaic of nations and impurity. It is not the nations that are unclean per se, for they are welcome to bring their unique riches to the city where Christ reigns on earth, but the sinful dimensions of those cultures. All cultures somehow reflect both the image of God found in humankind, and the fallen state endemic to the human race. The gospel both critiques and affirms cultures. Again, we note in Revelation 5:9, for example, that the resurrected body of believers has not had its distinctives erased, for people from all races, tongues and tribes will recognizably worship before the throne in heaven. Thus, I find myself not jumping on the bandwagon of church leaders who trumpet the need to make all churches in multicultural cities like Los Angeles into a mini United Nations.

There is a scriptural and strategic place for homogeneous, not just multicultural churches. True, at Pentecost, the fledgling church burst out speaking in the tongues of many nations—a prophetic display of the multicultural future of the church (emphasizing the church’s catholicity). A few chapters later another watershed in church history is reached as the church in Jerusalem admits that ethnicity is not the litmus test for orthodoxy (emphasizing the church’s diversity). These instances paved the way for the cultural context of the church to be crucial in determining the way of doing church (Acts 15). The basic point I am trying to make here is that we must not shrug off the diversity that is very much in evidence as we come into intercultural partnerships with national mission agencies/churches, but accept it. Equal partnership presupposes a respect for diversity, for contextualizing. The paradox is that globalization does not have a leveling affect, but creates a synergy by putting the strengths of diversity to work.

Wrestling with the issue of the support of nationals, the principle of being good stewards informs our decision too. The parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30 comes to mind. So does 1 Corin-thians 4:2: “Now it is required that those who have been given a trust [or stewardship] must prove faithful.” There are several practical issues to consider here. One of them is that we do not want to create an atmosphere in which nationals become dependent on outsiders. After all, did not the missionary community work through that, albeit imperfectly, in the last two centuries through application of the three-self principles whereby the goal for indigenous churches was to be self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting?

But as we ask hard questions about how they are using our money, I would warn that we need to be careful that we do not repeat the sins of the past with new forms of paternalism. Yes, nationals may be tempted to misuse the money, or to inappropriately come to depend on it. But can we claim innocence from the very things we accuse them of? Jonathan Bonk has documented the relatively lavish lifestyle of many Anglo-American missionaries in relation to the people of the developing world they have been reaching in his book Missions and Money. No wonder we overreact to the sting of rebuke from a K. P. Yohannan as he exposes how little it costs to support a national in comparison to a westerner. Instead of wondering if the influx of foreign money will spoil the national church and keep her from learning to tithe, perhaps we ought to get the log out of our own eyes and ask why the average North American evangelical gives less than ten percent of his or her gross income to the Lord’s work. You see, when we question the wisdom of giving support to national missionaries, we are looking at that stewardship principle in isolation from ones like the catholicity and diversity of the church—let alone being blind to our faults in the same area of stewardship. We have been so steeped in North American triumphalism borne out of our ethnocentrism that we have been saying “go it alone.” We want to make everyone like us—individualistic. What we ought to be promoting is interdependence, not dependence or independence.

Guess what? Just because our Brazilian, Indian and Nigerian missionary counterparts—to name three of the majority world’s major players sending missionaries—do not criticize our affluence and obsession with a managerial approach to doing missions, rather than doing missions through prayer and fasting or while living materially on the same level as the people we are reaching, does not mean that they are not thinking about these things. While we are busy debating whether they are exaggerating their conversion statistics in their reports to us, and whether they can be trusted with our money long-term, they are too polite and respectful to quickly rebuke us about what they perceive to be the same flaws in us. They see our tendency to give out of our abundance. They see our tendency as missionaries/leaders to exploit our own supporting churches and big donors, instead of giving equal time to the one who gives the widows mite, and of failing to give more than lip service to how we want to serve our home churches. They see that the vast majority of money raised in churches is spent on those churches. Their silence as nationals about our poor stewardship does not mean that their problems are therefore worse than ours.

The point I’m trying to make is that differences between partners, rather, should be seen as opportunities for one side of the body to understand and/or compensate for a lack in another part of the body. Therefore, it is incumbent for the rich North to come to the aid of the poor South financially in developing a synergy for getting more workers and projects into the 10/40 Window especially. My longstanding friend, national missionary leader in India, Joseph D’Souza, in his booklet, Supporting Nationals Is the Way Forward, is germane here:

Western nations enjoy a level of unprecedented prosperity…. The Western Church needs to take advantage of this prosperity and direct its resources in an unprecedented way for the work of world mission. There is so much human need out there. The Bible has strong things to say about the lack of compassion when one is experiencing prosperity. The church needs to take advantage of the huge rise in the number of national workers across many nations even as it works on sending out its own people wherever possible. This is not the time to fight over the dependency issue. Rather it is the time for major international partnership. It is the time to partner with nationals. (1999, 15)

Looking at another practical question arising out of a legitimate desire to be good stewards of our financial resources, agencies specializing in support of nationals are frequently heard appealing to our sense of stewardship in deciding what way our church’s missions budget should lean. “Why should you support an American missionary family for $60,000 per year when you can support a national missionary family for ten percent of that figure” is the question with which we are challenged. While the missions community has rightly protested the misinformation about the real cost of supporting nationals, it’s still a case of straining at gnats and swallowing camels. The fact is that nationals generally do missions a lot cheaper. Supporting national missionaries appears to be a cost-effective means whereby churches with limited missions budgets can stretch their dollars to achieve greater effectiveness.

But we also have a stewardship in sending our own human resources to the frontlines. The Great Commission is framed in terms of going, not giving. We therefore cannot absolve ourselves of our responsibility to missions by just giving our money to national missionaries. We also have a stewardship to send our own called people and that will require a massive financial investment. Perhaps what we need to be doing is striving for a fine balance between supporting Western missionaries and the have-nots of the majority world.

A better way to think of stewardship in this matter is to consider the equilibrium taught in Galatians 6:1-5. There, the emphasis is on self-sufficiency, “each should carry his own load” and on interdependency, “carry each other’s burdens.” In context, this sharing of burdens deals with alleviating spiritual burdens. But the passage also relates to the verses that follow, starting with an exhortation in verse six for believers in the church to take care of their pastor materially. But then in verse ten the principle of interdependence is extended to helping others on what we might call a global scale: “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” In the matter of stewardship over the support of nationals, then, we must strive for this balance. On the one hand, the national missionary should be encouraged not to be too dependent on outsiders so as to fail to enjoy the dignity of work that comes with paying one’s own way (1 Tim. 5:8; 2 Thess. 3:10). On the other hand, they should not be forced to live in poverty or to spend all their energies to provide materially for themselves to the extent that the ministry suffers unduly (1 Tim. 5:17; 1 Cor. 9:7-14).

Servanthood is also a guiding principle in the issue regarding the support of nationals. First, look at it from the nationals’ perspective. When we put too much pressure on them to get all support from their sending church in Indonesia, what message are we sending? Instead of being outwardly focused, they are being encouraged to see self as the key to being responsible missionaries. Is it really godly to instill in any church the idea that she is to be totally independent from the rest of the universal church? Are we not brothers and sisters of one family? Thus I concur with Warren Webster’s statement:

    A church which is too self-conscious may also be too self-centered and selfish, and not infrequently this has been a failing of the so-called “indigenous” churches established as a result of this [Three Self] theology. (1998, 38)

To the contrary, we should be catalysts in helping these emerging churches and their fledgling national missionary movements become mission-minded churches, ones that have the goal of church planting where Christ is not yet named. Servanthood means being others-focused (Phil. 2:4; 1 Cor. 13:5; Mark 10:45).

Secondly, if there is the right attitude of servanthood adopted in forging alliances with national mission agencies, we will stimulate globalization of missions constructively. All too often we have been controlling in such relationships. No wonder the majority world is suspicious of globalization. Especially if decision-making is left largely in the hands of the nationals, who usually do the actual on-site ministry and know the culture better than we do, biblical servant-hood is being expressed by the donor partner. As we in the West relinquish the power bases of mission fields, let us continue to provide financial support judiciously as equal partners.

These, then, are the biblical principles that undergird a functional theology for the support of nationals in the face of the globalization of missions: the catholicity of the church, the diversity of the church, stewardship of human and financial resources, and displaying servanthood in our forged alliances so that equal partnerships emerge. The interplay of these biblical principles applied to the issue of the support of nationals leads us to neither endorse the phenomenon uncritically nor reject it outright.

Araujo, Alex. 2000. “Globalization and World Evangelism.” In Global Missiology for the 21st Century: The Iguassa Dialogue. Edited by William D. Taylor. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Bonk, Jon. 1990. Missions and Money. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Dodd, C. H. 1987. Dynamics in Intercultural Communication. Dubuque, Iowa: W. C. Brown.

D’Souza, Joseph. 1999. Supporting Nationals Is the Way Forward: An Analysis of the Bogey of Dependency. Secunderabad, India: OM Books.

Elmer, Duane. 1993. Cross-Cultural Conflict: Building Relationships for Effective Ministry. Downer’s Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Johnstone, Patrick. 1993. Operation World. 5th ed. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan.

____. 1998. The Church Is Bigger than You Think. Rossshire, UK: Christian Focus Publications/WEC.

Lundy, J. David. 1999. “Moving Beyond the Internationalizing the Missionary Force,” International Journal of Frontier Missions 16.3 (Fall): 147-155.

____. 1999. We Are the World: Globalisation and the Changing Face of Missions. Carlisle, UK: OM Publishing.

McKaughan, Paul. 1994. “A North American Response to Patrick Sookhdeo.” In Kingdom Partnership for Synergy in Mission. Edited by William D. Taylor. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Stott, John. 1989. Issues Facing Christians Today. Bombay: Gospel Literature Service.

Van Engen, Charles. 2001. “Toward a Theology of Mission Partnership.” Missiology: An International Review. 29.1 (January): 11-44.

Webster, Warren. 1978. “Aiding Emerging Churches Overseas in Developing a Missions Strategy.” In Readings in Third World Missions: A Collection of Essential Documents. Edited by Marlin L. Nelson. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.


David Lundy is the new international director of Arab World Ministries. Although he pastored from 1995-2002 in Canada, he is no stranger to missions, having served with his wife, Linda, in India with OM for six years, followed by seven years as AWM’s Canadian Director, and nine as OM’s Canadian Director. David’s writing includes his most recent book, Servant Leadership for Slow Learners (Paternoster Press, 2002).

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