This is an article from the January-February 2016 issue: Women Engaged in Church-Planting Movements Among UPGs

Subsidy, Self-Respect, Self-support and Personal Ownership

Subsidy, Self-Respect, Self-support and Personal Ownership

We arrived in Taiwan as enthusiastic young missionaries with three pre-school children. I had a fresh BA, M.Div. and fortunate to have a full year of pre-field training.

But nothing prepared us for what we encountered. The Communist takeover of China in 1949 unleased a flood of over 1.5 million refugees creating poverty and chaos.   Compassionate missionaries responded as they have always done. They planted churches, built worship centers, established training schools and trained men for the ministry to take over their churches. They had hearts of gold, loved their people, loved the Lord, and – held the purse strings (read: “power.”).  After the 1949 collapse of China to the Communists, experts wrung their hands in despair, asking “where did we go wrong?”  “What lessons can we learn?”  Many books were published on “Lessons Learned from Mainland China.”  As I studied their works, I slowly understood that “All we learn from history is that we learn little from history. “ We are stubborn students!

We were slow to learn that a high missionary presence can be an overwhelming and often crippling factor. Unwittingly, local believers mold themselves to our expectations.  They became what Mao Tz Tung derisively called “dzou gou” or “running dogs,” – handmaidens of western imperialism who work for westerners to enjoy the largess that comes with it. Those who join “western” churches were often referred to as “rice Christians.” 

What was true then is still true today.  Subsidy is accepted but too often privately resented. My first lesson was from a young pastor who took over a church from a missionary.  The missionary had a heart of gold which was the problem!  He never failed to help those in need. But, the national pastor was trapped. “They say I don’t have the “ai xin” (loving heart) of missionary xxx” he shared with me. Why? Because he could not provide the level of financial assistance the missionary had given.  From that day I resolved to never humiliate a national colleague because of my access to money. My response to genuine need was to channel help through anonymous parties sworn to secrecy to avoid special recognition.  I feared being “discovered.” 

I did a lot of searching. I discovered that in our midst were large, growing churches with no missionaries and no foreign funds. Missionaries could not explain who they were or why they were growing so much more rapidly than ours.  Nationals labeled them “sects” because they “are not one of us.”  Churches like the “True Jesus” (A Pentecostal Church) and the “Assembly Hall” were indeed different. After collecting tons of data, interviews and notes from their meetings, I headed to the new School of World Missions at Fuller Theological seminary to analyze the data. I discovered that one-third of Taiwan’s Christians belonged to such churches, all marked by their independence of any western organization and their consequent pride of ownership.  The same had been true on the mainland of China and, they form a large part of the Christian community around the world . We just had never been aware of them! These were the last Churches to fall to Communist persecution, surviving long after western-backed churches had capitulated. These were truly “national churches.”  And, they warmly embraced me for finally recognizing what God was doing in their midst.

They shared many similarities with the principles of Dr. John Nevius who, in the 1890’s was invited to Korea, a land just beginning to open to the Gospel. It was a fresh opportunity to introduce a “new method” for church planting . Nevius became a chief architect of one of Asia’s most dynamic churches. While other factors were also at work, “The Nevius Method” escaped the plague of dependency and reflected what I saw in the “independent” Churches. His method, in brief, included:

1.           No church shall be built nor paid for by a missionary.  All meetings begin in a home and expand from there. It is cheaper to enlarge a living room than to build a foreign church building.

2.           When a group has the ability to support their own minister they chose a natural leader from their midst.  Here, Nevius and other missionaries played a critical role by providing annual training for those leaders.

3.           All finances shall be handled by the local believers.

4.           All government is locally controlled.

5.           Systematic bible study shall be a part of all fellowship groups.

A church was born void of the subsidy, management conflicts and missionary control issues that mark so much of world missions. The independent churches around the world can teach us much.


Brother Allen. You make some very good points that show Americans are deeply stuck in a mold of merely reproducing in Asia the form of church they have practiced in America. The church in America is stuck in a very corrupt form. We must consume 84% of our giving to pay for crowd oriented gathering space and to hire at least one professional. That is horrible to think that the wealthiest country in the world is only willing to release 16% of it’s giving on average to go beyond the givers. But it gets worse. We blindly export this form of church to poor countries. They must consume 100% of their giving to pay one preacher and that even poorly. They must have some sort of subsidy from wealthy Americans. Now they have 0% of their giving available to send out believers to reach deeper into their community. There is a way for Americans and Asians to do all of church while 100% of giving goes beyond those who give the money. You only give up two things. You give up special buildings for a crowd. There is nothing in the NT that says a crowd is necessary or a special building. Every NT instuction on buildings is about the people being the building of God, a building not made with hands where God will dwell. The only reason for a building is to get enough people in one room to pay a man to lecture the Bible every week. That must be given up also. That should be easy because the only apostle inspired by God to write on the economics of spiritual leadership specified the combining of marketplace work and spiritual leadership - ministry “free of charge. There are at least 6 texts that teach this with great passion. There are 2 that are twisted by all Bible “experts” to reject the six and teach that a man must be hired to lecture the Bible to believers every week of their lives if they are to be considered “fed” for the week. “Feed my sheep” does not mean lecture my sheep by only one man for the whole time with zero interaction from the students. That is severe corruption of God’s word on teaching. God has designed his people to be self staining in “spurring one another on to love and good works” and “encouraging one another” . There are 3 steps in “the new and living way” layed out in Hebrews 10:19-25. This provides for the “habit of meeting” believers are “not to forsake”. It is time to repent of our corrupted forms and return headship of the church to Christ who works through every member to build his church. He never funnels his truth through one Bible expert. This is God’s path to reproductively for reaching all nations. Do you have any feed back for me?

Dear brother Tim,
Thank you for your kind response to my recent article. You make some very salient points. I am curious as to your own background and experience – have you worked overseas for long?  My main observation would be that while you make some valid points, the tone tends to be rather harsh and condemnatory without allowing for the fact that God’s grace always overrules our own ineptitude.  I would hesitate to call all American churches as “very corrupt in form.”  America has many traditional models, some more effective than others and some in various phases of experimentation.  If we “blindly” export this overseas as you suggest, we are only doing what missionaries have tended to do over the generations, and, by the way, third world churches are doing exactly the same thing. I watch Korean missionaries establish churches based on their experience, like the Chinese, etc.  I carry in my bible 3 powerful photos I took while in western Kenya some 10 years ago. It is about a visionary Kenyan pastor with a sanctuary of 400 packed out and he has a vision, by God’s grace, to build a sanctuary for 5,000 – all without any western money. His church was planted by an indigenous, Ugandan evangelist.  The churches in China, purged of western influences, have often reverted back to buildings, full time paid teachers/preachers, even robed choirs.  A model they find still works for them.  Even the Assembly Hall, the most indigenous and largest of China’s churches, gather in “halls” for meetings, led by full time “Elders” who still live by their preaching. This is in accord with Paul’s counsel in I Cor. 9:7-14. I helped bring 250+ Taiwan pastors once to the world’s largest church in Seoul, Korea, which, in 1980 had 70,000 – and later expanded to 700,000+. Their sanctuary held 10,000 and had 7 overflow rooms plus many on staff. BUT, their key was the home fellowship, of which they had 1000’s. There, every leader emerged, learned leadership skills and at that level the church expanded – very similar to the book of Acts.
Again, thank you for your response. Keep searching, asking questions but always allow for the fact that the Kingdom of God moves forth not because of us but often, “in spite of us.” Thus is God’s grace.

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