The Effective Use of Resources in Missions Partnerships

Kurt Nelson

This is what an African national staff member told his Western missionary leader after ten years of working with a parachurch organization: “You have really ruined me. I don’t know how to survive now without my laptop and the standard of living I am accustomed to. I don’t think I can ever go back to how I lived before.”

Some mission organizations provide national staff with Western funds and then allow them to raise as much as they are able. In the case of this national staff member, his monthly income rose from three hundred dollars to over two thousand dollars! Sadly, this change in lifestyle and resources not only alienated him from his peers, but also from those he was able to minister to most effectively.

Another parachurch organization began and operated a school in East Africa which was subsidized by Western funding. Because of this extra money, they were able to hire and maintain support staff, including gardeners, cooks, janitors and maintenance workers. When the school was released to national leadership, no transition plan had been developed. Because the funds weren’t there, the national leadership was forced to let the support staff go. This led students to believe that the new leadership did not care about them and that the school was failing.

This situation outlines the tension that exists between what Western supporters view as a reputable venture worthy of their donations and what can be viably operated by nationals. In order to feel as though they are supporting a legitimate work, supporters often want to see a clean, well-groomed, kept complex. In majority world settings, it is almost impossible to judge the effectiveness or solidity of a project from the outside. The Western missionary feels a strong pull from his or her own culture when analyzing whether a certain project is worthy of their support. Sadly, this is often to the demise of the national leadership and long-term indigenous viability.

These stories illustrate just two of the many pitfalls that often result from the careless investment of financial resources in the context of missions partnerships. The West has many resources and contributions to offer in vital partnerships with other nations in the missionary enterprise. Financial resources are only one of these. Indeed, many other resources may be of even greater value than money. Stan Guthrie suggests that, “Reputable and effective ministries deserve and need Western resources—and not always money.

Technical know-how, training opportunities and other services are sometimes far more helpful than cash” (2000, 14). Nevertheless, Western financial resources are still needed and will continue to be given by generous and well-intentioned churches, agencies and denominations. There is also debate concerning the best use of Western financial support. There are those, such as K.P. Yohannan, who believe that “the primary role for westerners now should be to support efforts of indigenous mission works through financial aid and intercessory prayer” (1992, 198). This suggests that rather than sending Western missionaries, those in the West should stay home and send money to support national church planters.

The opposing side would not take such a narrow approach, but would advocate both for supporting the nationals and sending foreign missionaries. Proponents of this view point to the significance of developing relationships between national church planters and those sending support. In an article in Mission Frontiers, Larry Reesor suggests

    We must move from the “support” paradigm to the “partnership” paradigm. We believe the partnership paradigm is the most effective one for today’s generation. The partnership approach can have different levels, but it will, we believe, allow for greater personalization and thus, greater advancement of the kingdom. (2000, 40)
Both sides are cognizant of the difficulties that can ensue by financially supporting nationals. The problems of paternalism and dependency are two of the most prominent. History has shown that paternalism stifles the efforts of the indigenous church to become self-reliant. Financial dependency has too often been the result of churches in the West that are well-intentioned, but often misguided. For this reason, some believe it is detrimental to provide any support at all. In response to this view, Chuck Bennett argues that
    To refuse to share our resources with overseas brethren because there have been abuses is like saying we should outlaw marriage because some husbands beat their wives. The problem is real but the solution is simplistic. I’m convinced it’s possible to “help without hurting.” (1997)

We must contribute in a manner that avoids dependency, fosters productive ministry and increases the spiritual health of indigenous churches. Robertson McQuilken has accurately stated that, “sharing financial resources in a way that is spiritually empowering and Great Commission-completing for both donor and recipient is our greatest unsolved problem” (Guthrie 2000, 14). The context of the investment of financial resources is assumed to be in a healthy, mutually understood and agreed upon missions partnership. The foundational commitments to interdependence and mutual accountability must be in place. However, application of the following seven principles will ensure positive benefits and minimize risks when exchanging these financial resources.

Local resources may include skilled labor, materials, services and professional or technical personnel that may contribute to the cause of Christ and to the work of the Church. Often these resources are overlooked and both the local ministry and local believers do not have the privilege of giving and receiving these non-monetary resources.

Training pastors in Kenya.The pastors of Mount Elgon, who are of Nilotic descent (such as Massai, Samburu and Turkana), have traditionally been resistant to using their own resources in cooperation with those not native to their area. Young children have died because some in these people groups would not sell a goat or a cow in order to buy medicine. Additionally, clean water projects have often failed due to the lack of desire among the people to maintain the pumps after they have been installed. However, when expectations were set early, the pastors responded well.

Bible teaching seminars arranged on the mountain were done with the understanding that only the teacher and materials would be provided. Everything else was the responsibility of the indigenous church: the cost of feeding the people, a place for participants to stay and the accommodations for the teacher. After hearing this group was providing their own meals for the seminars, one Wycliffe missionary who had lived among these people for four years remarked, “See, they can do it!” When the same pastors were encouraged to participate in the building of a training center, they eagerly volunteered their own labor to offset the shortage in the amount pledged to complete the project. If full funding would have been offered, this project, like many others, would have been supported entirely on Western funds.

This same project was also a discipleship opportunity. Since full funding was not being offered, the multi-denominational pastor committee that oversaw the project was challenged to ask God to take what they did have and multiply it. Their reliance and confidence were correctly placed in God, rather than on the Western sources available. The key was establishing expectations early in the relationship. Many mistakes are often made when the westerner is desperately trying to establish relationships in that initial adjustment period.

Biblical teaching on tithing, giving and generosity must be encouraged when training national leaders and planting churches cross-culturally. Local believers should be called upon consistently to generously invest in the Lord’s work through their local churches.

Mission teams from Spain. For several years, the young people graduating from our biblical training center in Sevilla, Spain, wanted to participate in a cross-cultural church planting campaign overseas. Because the main obstacle was financial support, God led us to teach them how to raise funds for mission trips through their home churches. Combining slide shows, music, cultural orientation, drama and preaching, the group raised enough money for two mission trips to a Caribbean nation and Mexico. They are returning this nation this year to evangelize, train leaders and help plant churches. Even local mayors have helped by donating money from the town budget and providing medical supplies. Local hospitals have donated medicine, surgical supplies and bandages. The University of Sevilla Dental School supplied two slightly-used dental chairs for clinic and hospital needs.

Acts 2 generosity in Russia. The East-West Ministries Moscow office created self-sufficient church guidelines and accompanying sermon materials to train and encourage church workers and believers to invest in their home churches. Forty churches are using these guidelines in Central Russia. Because of this, God moved a Baptist entrepreneur from the Ryazan region to donate a large brick building which will be used as a new church sanctuary. One man in Kursk made an offering of seven thousand dollars to his local church after hearing a sermon on “The Guidelines on Biblical Principles of Tithing and Offerings.” This man was an unskilled worker and used all the money from the sale of his old house to give to the church.

Many missiologists distinguish between financially supporting indigenous workers involved in cross-cultural or pioneer church planting and church workers or pastors of established churches. Most argue for supporting the former over the latter.

Church planting in Sevilla. The missionary church planter on our Sevilla team is a Spanish pastor. For years he had longed to evangelize and plant new churches in southern Spain, but did not have trained staff who could lead his home church. With the help of an American partner, our mission trained twenty church members in biblical leadership over a three-year period. The missionary church planter finally saw God raise up three men who could serve as elders. He was now free to plant churches; however, he still needed the financial support. Our mission helped with part of his support and his local church agreed to contribute additional funds. He is getting help from a national church planting organization as well. Not all his needs are met, but good progress has been made. In a paper by Daniel Rickett, Stan Guthrie summarizes this distinction well:

    Many missionaries and agency executives are careful to distinguish between financially supporting overseas missionaries, which they view as necessary, and supporting church workers, which they view with suspicion. Supporting missionaries is expected, of course, because these workers go to where there are no churches that could pay them. At least one study, done in Indonesia, indicates that churches generally grow better and have fewer problems if they pay their own pastors. (2000, 1)

Rickett adds that the “foreign funding of pastors and churches has proven more often than not to hinder genuine indigenous growth, stifle local initiative, cause pastors to become preoccupied with raising foreign funds and fail to be creative in maximizing local resources” (2000, 3). Similarly, Wayne Allen suggests that foreign financial support be limited to specific roles: The financial subsidization of national workers must be limited to missionaries and evangelists. As the congregation grows, it requires more attention from its spiritual leader. The evangelist must transform his ministry from evangelist to pastor. The pastor must be supported by his congregation. The introduction of subsidy for the pastor interferes with the symbiotic relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. [The] indigenous church congregation must assume responsibility for their pastor as soon as possible. (1998, 180-181)

The direct financial support of individual Christian workers outside of the leadership, oversight and accountability of local church structures is unwise and potentially harmful. McQuilken argues that patterns for giving in the New Testament (2 Cor. 8, 9) were centered in the local church receiving and distributing gifts. He states that, “the authority Christ invested in the church is lost when giving or receiving bypasses the church. The contemporary money-gathering agencies need to exercise great care not to bypass the supervisory authority of the church at both ends” (Guthrie 2000, 59).

Aid to churches in one Caribbean nation. The physical needs of the majority world are often so great that westerners are appropriately moved with compassion (and sometimes guilt) to respond. However, experience has demonstrated the potential problems with supporting leaders or responding to humanitarian needs outside the vehicle of local church leadership. Church leaders in this Caribbean nation have adopted a policy that all support (the temporary stipend of a church planter or missionary; food, clothes and medicines for the destitute; or bicycles for pastors) must be channeled through a plurality of local church leadership. This approach appropriately empowers and supports local church leaders and also attracts the community to the Lord’s presence in the indigenous local church (and not to North Americans) for meeting their spiritual, material and physical needs.

Missions partnerships must determine to develop programs, facilities and ministry infrastructures which can be sustained entirely by local resources in a short period of time. Jun Vencer warns that

    A grave concern emerges when missions start programs or systems that are too expensive for the nationals to take over. Infrastructures that are expensive can be a statement of intent for continuing missions presence and control. The expensive infrastructure…will restrain nationalization of leadership. (1994, 107)

Networking evangelists from the former Soviet Union. In partnership with the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, East-West Ministries has initiated ongoing programs to train Russian, Belorussian, Moldavian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Azerbaijani and Kazak itinerant evangelists to reach their own nations with the gospel. There is a fellowship of evangelists in the United States called Proclamation Evangelism Network (PEN) that brings together evangelists for mentoring, resourcing and encouraging. We explained this network to those in our mission institutes and the students began asking us to establish this same network in Russia.

Knowing that the Western PEN was much larger, more organizationally complex and out of range financially, we purposefully tabled the issue. When faced with potentially losing the fellowship they had enjoyed from past sessions together, the students initiated a “PEN” of their own. They created their own completely sustainable infrastructure that welcomed the possibility of Western partnership in conversation, ideas and spiritual support. And they did this without depending upon funding from the West. This strategy has created proper pride, creativity and national ownership. Instead of being the sustainable factor, the West is the brother involved in—not over—the infrastructure. This fellowship of itinerant evangelists resulted from all of us needing to be connected and in prayer for each other.

Fostering micro-enterprise in Russia. East-West Ministries, in partnership with Integra Christians in Business, helped Demna Mikava, a pastor from Korablino, set up a carpenter’s woodshop. Demna’s young church was started as a result of an East-West Ministries’ evangelism outreach and is located in a small city of thirty thousand people which lies 150 miles south of Moscow. Because the city’s two textile factories have closed, unemployment is hovering around thirty percent. Demna and four other men from the church work in the woodshop. The business is a financial blessing for both the church and its members. Demna has plans to develop infrastructure and possibly expand the business in order to further support families in the church. The congregation would also like to build a sports hall for the youth of Korablino. Currently, there isn’t even a single movie theater in the area.

At the outset, a partnership plan should include a specific timetable to transition support increasingly to local resources. Whether the issue is support of personnel, facilities or infrastructure, an agreeable timetable should be implemented to shift to local funding. Donna Downes suggests that we “enter into projects with a practical plan for financial independence that is both realistic and attainable, given the local resources and time frame” (1992, 149).

Planned transitions in India. East-West Ministries initiated a church planter training project in Siliguri, India, to train thirty church planters per year who will plant churches in Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and India. A planned transition to local support is clearly articulated to all incoming students prior to enrollment. Following graduation, each church planter will receive a modest salary for three years that will enable the individual to focus on church planting. The Indian Cooperative Society was established locally to train and equip each church planter (or their spouse) to begin a micro-enterprise during the initial three-year period. This would enable them to be financially self-sufficient by the end of the three-year period.

Over twenty varieties of viable micro-enterprises are available, including livestock breeding (pigs and water buffalo), handicrafts, fish farming and textiles. These micro-enterprises are supporting church planters as they transition from Western support to local self-sufficiency. However, it may not be necessary to transition to one hundred percent of local funding. Daniel Rickett suggests transitioning to at least two-thirds local funding, arguing that, “The issue in self-reliance is not the amount of money supplied to a ministry, but the proportion. A minimum of two-thirds support from within the country represents a healthy degree of interdependence” (1998, 444). To attain this goal, he suggests that partners work together “to agree on a gradual reduction of funding while simultaneously working with the ministry to cut costs, raise funds locally or generate income through creative enterprise” (1998, 445).

A healthy partnership will benefit from mutually agreed upon roles, structures and goals, especially those related to financial support and involvement. However, flexibility that allows the partnership to respond to the unique moving of God’s Spirit must be maintained. Prayer should reinforce the formation and continuation of any partnership. Kenneth Donald wisely advocates: The answer does not lie in any set policy. The answer lies in being sensitive to what the Holy Spirit says in any given situation. The initiative must always be with God and in each situation we must take time out to listen to what he has to say. (1997, 25) Jesus Christ is building his Church—not by might, nor by power, but by his Holy Spirit. God loves to bring churches and believers from around the world together in order to build his Church.

Two years ago, the Holy Spirit convinced Jim and Carolyn to travel to the country of Georgia to teach and encourage believers in our training program. It was the first time these Georgian women had ever experienced a women’s seminar and they fell in love with Carolyn. When the couple returned to America, Carolyn shared with Jim that she wanted them to sell their home and pour their lives into Georgian and Russian believers. They sold their house and prepared for their missionary service in Russia. In this preparation phase, Carolyn was diagnosed with brain cancer. The couple battled the cancer for a year and a half before Carolyn passed into the presence of the Lord.

During Carolyn’s funeral, Jim asked friends and family to replace traditional flower-giving with donations which would go towards purchasing a Georgian church building. On February 23, 2004, the church building that Carolyn’s memorial fund had purchased was opened in Ozergheti, Georgia. The pastor tearfully shared his burden to reach the more than seventy thousand souls in the city. With tears of joy streaming down his face, Jim prayed for the church. My heart cried out, “Oh Lord, only you could build your Church this way, using our pain, our tears and what little we have to offer, all orchestrated by your Holy Spirit. Please help us never to get in your way.”

For over two thousand years, churches have been seeking to cross-culturally meet the financial needs of missions, missionaries and other churches. It is absurd to call for a moratorium on the investment of money in the cross-cultural missions enterprise. At the same time, the unwise deployment of financial resources have created jealously, strife, heartaches, divisions, paternalism and dependency in missions endeavors. Abuse does not bar the proper use of money in missions, but wisdom suggests that the best context for deploying financial resources is within a healthy missions partnership. The foundations of such a partnership are interdependence and mutuality. Principles of servanthood, reciprocity, sensitivity, commitment to local church priority, national leadership, shared control and equal accountability enhance a partnership’s effectiveness and viability.

In the context of a healthy missions partnership, financial resources may be contributed and exchanged in a manner that enhances effective ministry without creating a paternalizing dependency. A framework of principles relating specifically to the investment of financial resources may serve to further avoid the pitfalls typically associated with foreign finances in the missions enterprise. It is incumbent upon each developing missions partnership to mutually agree upon principles and practices that will facilitate the effective investment of financial resources and reduce the risks of dependency and other potentially negative effects.


Allen, Wayne. 1998. “When the Mission Pays the Pastor.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34:2, 176-181.

Bennett, Charles and Glenn Schwartz. 1997. “Two Christian Leaders Discuss Dependency.” Missions Frontiers. January-February [journal on-line] accessed January 29, 2001 from 1997/0102/jf9712.htm.

Donald, Kenneth. 1997. “What’s Wrong with Foreign Money for National Pastors?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 33:19-25.

Downes, Donna. 1992. “The Cure for Dependency: Teach Your Churches to Give.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 28:2, 142-150.

Guthrie, Stan. 2000. Missions in the 3rd Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century. Waynesboro, Ga.: Paternoster Press.

Ressor, Larry. 2000. “A Fresh Perspective on Mobilizing the Church,” Missions Frontiers 22:1, 40.

Rickett, Daniel. 1998. “Developmental Partnering.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 34:4, 438-445. _____. 2000. “Dependency in Mission Partnerships,” paper adapted from Building Strategic Relationships: A Practical Guide to Partnering with Non-Western Missions. Spokane, Wash.: Partners International.

Vencer, Jun. 1994. “Control in Church/Missions Relationship and Partnership.” In Kingdom Partnerships for Synergy in Mission. ed. William Taylor. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library, 101-117. Yohannan, K.P. 1992. Revolution in World Missions. Lake Mary, Fla: Creation House.


Kurt Nelson serves as executive vice president of Field Ministries with East-West Ministries International.

Contributors: John Adams, Brian Jamison, Tim Marshall, Chris Matthews, Bryan Thomas and Vadim Yakovlev.

Copyright © 2006 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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