Mobilizing Local Resources
Can Foreign Funding Be Used In Support Of Indigenous Ministries?
I am often asked this question by concerned and well-meaning westerners. They rationalize that since westerners have so much more than they need to live on, it only seems right that they support local evangelists and missionaries in "indigenous" ministries.
One way to analyze this is to take a look at one's definition of the term "indigenous." A simple definition which I often use is that something indigenous is "that which is locally owned and operated." However, the most common definition of indigenous is what is often called the three- self principle. In other words, an indigenous church is one which is self- supporting, self-governing and self- propagating. Some missiologists believe that this definition is not adequate in itself, but it is widely held by many in the Christian movement.
For purpose of this analysis, let's accept the three-self definition and look at what happens when foreign funds are introduced.
First, when outside funds enter the picture, the first of the three-self principles no longer applies. In other words, the receiving church is no longer self-supporting. One is now left with a two-self principle.
Second, many who give funds to so-called indigenous ministries often designate how the funds should be used. When a church is told how it should use the funds, it is no longer self-governing. So now we are left with a one-self principle-self- propagating.
Third, many who give to indigenous ministries designate the funds for outreach, that is the support of local evangelists and missionaries. When that is done, then the self- propagating principle is in jeopardy. The result is that the definition of "indigenous" is left with none of the original 'selfs' except that the work is being done by local people.
For some who support indigenous ministries, simply having local people do the work is quite enough. They feel their money is being put to good use and that the Gospel is being preached in places where it might not otherwise go. Perhaps the Apostle Paul would agree that at least the Gospel is being preached (Philippians 1:18).
The alternative to eliminating some or all of the 'selfs' in the indigenous principle is to affirm of people to support their own ministries. The healthiest parts of the Christian movement are those where local believers know the joy that comes from supporting the work to which God has called them, governing their own ministry and caring for their own outreach. They can then justifiably feel ownership (my favorite term) of the calling they have before the Lord.
When indigenous ministries learn to stand on their own two feet without foreign assistance, you may wonder what happens to the principle of global partnership? Good question. For a few thoughts see my response to Gary Parker's letter to the editor on page 36 of the Sept.-Dec. 1998 issue of Mission Frontiers.
Yours for the health and effectiveness of indigenous churches and ministries everywhere.