My Struggles with Traditional Missions – part 2

This is part 2… You can read part 1 HERE.

For ten years some things about traditional missions have bothered me
– at least my understanding of tranditional missions. I'm not sure I
have the answers, but I struggle with several things. And I'm wide open
to being corrected on these issues…

Another question I have about missions…

2) Should we send parachurch workers to places around the world if they have local Christians who could fill those positions at a fraction of the cost?

My middle daughter is interested in missions. I love that. Her current interest is to work in an orphanage overseas. I love the goal of looking after orphans. James tells us it is religion that is acceptable to God. So I love it from that angle. But we've talked a couple of times about my struggle from a different angle.

Should churches be supporting individuals and families to work in a parachurch ministry overseas if there are Christians there who could be hired at a fraction of the cost? I'm not saying it is wrong. I'm just wondering if that is good stewardship.

If a person wanted to be a missionary (by traditional definition) to a country to work in a parachurch ministry – they would need to raise tens of thousands of dollars in support. And in some countries, the prevailing wage may be a couple thousand a year. That doesn't seem like good mission's stewardship.

I am sure there are specific roles that need filled by a specialist that needs someone to come from a place like the US. But is every missionary serving in a parachurch ministry from the U.S. a necessity? Might we be able to help the economic condition in the region and in a family by raising money to hire locals to do the same tasks? And they won't need to come home to the U.S. every four years and leave a hole in the parachurch organization.

Am I wrong? What am I missing on this point? Again, I'm not sure I'm right, but these are questions I don't think I've ever heard people ask when someone wants support.

  1. Similar thoughts (and even all new ones) have been up for debate recently at the Gospel Coalition blog, probably sparked by “Toxic Charity”.

    Darren Carlson posted a few articles about the issue, the first of which was “Why You Should Consider Cancelling Your Short Term Mission Trips”.

    He followed that up with some suggestions to begin to address the issue, entitled “Toward Better Short Term Missions”.

    Just in the last few days Ben Stevens posted an article trying to answer objections to long-term missions (many of which I don’t think you covered here or in your sermons).

    Not sure if you or others had seen them, but they help flesh out the controversy a little (and remind us that there are many out there determined to advance the Gospel as effectively as possible with limited resources…)

  2. Tim –

    Love the supporting of nationals… I think… BUT does that make THEM dependent on American money and never teach the people they are reaching to support… Do we make that national pastor dependent on American funds?

    I love the concept of nationals will likely do better than we will. But do we end up with a dependency issue?  Im just not sure.

  3. Hey David,
    Just a quick thought…the only thing about planting it and letting it grow is that it may become corrupted. Just as Paul had to sometimes go back and visit maybe that’s why it is good to not leave it alone. Then if we continued to supply it with finances and other gifts we would possibly be supporting a ministry that is failing God. I just read about a minister who was taking a little extra for himself. If we never keep track of what we support. Man is sure to fail us at some point. Maybe that’s a bit cynical. Just a thought.

  4. We recently got a support letter from a friend who is planning to spend a year as a “missionary” at a church in Portugal. Our immediate thought was, “should we support someone who needs to raise $24k when a Portuguese person could probably do it cheaper and more effectively?” Here’s the caveat: it’s an English-speaking church on an Air Force base. In light of that it seems more “supportable” because she is really ministering to mostly Americans and the best people to minister to Americans is probably an American, not the Portuguese right? But this also kind of goes back to the whole, “do we really need to spread ‘American’ Christianity around anymore.” What do you think?

  5. Trevor –

    That is a great question. I think there is a difference between what our church would do and what individuals would do. So, as a church, it would be very unlikely that I would encourage us to support someone doing this, but it is possible that Sue and I might support a close friend or family member doing the same thing.

    Here are some thoughts and questions I would want someone to ask in this type of situation:
    Would you support this person for a year if they were going on staff at a small church church in the US for a year? If so – then support this person.

    My guess is that if someone went to a church mission committee and said, Will you support me to go work with a church in rural NY for a year? I would guess that the answer would likely be no.  But would that same church committee say yes – if it was a small church ministering to Americans in another country?

    Shouldnt the believers of the military church do the work of the ministry? Or should it be short-term missionaries who come and do that? I would think that the more people who are supported from the outside – the less those believers will likely stand on their own.

    But – individually, I have no problem with supporting someone to do this. But I do get concerned if it is the best thing for those believers there. Maybe it is. I just dont know enough.

  6. Just trying to catch up on all your blog posts (the last few months have been kind of crazy!)…and I have one thought to offer along this vein:

    A country is not just made up of nationals, but immigrants, foreign workers, etc. I was talking to someone here last week who is volunteering with a group called Bridge to Aid. She works one day a week, but she said one of her primary areas of influence is to some of the ex-pat women here that she interacts with through Mommy groups. There are a number of families here for financial reasons, not just charitable ones, due to mining opportunities in the area. She said it has been really interesting to see these women realize that her family is on a tight budget, even though they’re dentists, because they’re volunteers; and that naturally leads to more questions to figure out why…

    Is this “missions” anymore than someone in Rochester trying to reach and share the gospel with their neighbors and co-workers? Would this opportunity be enough reason to raise support for someone and commission them as a “missionary”? Maybe, maybe not.

    This opportunity exists in America, too, of course. There are many immigrants and itinerant laborers who don’t speak English and live a difficult life. I’m sure someone from their own culture, speaking their own language, and who understands their specific challenges as an immigrant would be able to reach them better than those of us who grew up in the US and only speak English. Just another thought!

    Missing home and Northridge!

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