When the Mission Pays the Pastor
The wisdom of supporting national pastors with mission funds has been debated for many years. Kenneth Donald challenged the validity of "the arguments for self-support and the indigenous church" as early as 1977.1 The emergence of the Two-Thirds World missionary movement raised the issue again in the 1980s. The churches of the West were urged to share their financial resources with the emerging missionary force.2 In 1992, Donna Downes strongly advocated that emerging mission dependence on Western financial aid be ended by teaching the Two-Thirds World churches to give.3
The question was hotly debated by my mission team, but without a satisfactory conclusion. It was the source of tremendous tension for us. When I entered my doctoral program, I was determined to investigate this issue thoroughly, not to vindicate my own opinions, but to enable other mission groups to avoid the same problems. My findings revealed that the growth of the national church plateaued or halted when the mission began to subsidize the national church workers.
The mission was strongly evangelical. It was also deeply committed to indigenous church principles, believing that strong churches dedicated to further evangelism were best able to evangelize the world. The team members were wholeheartedly devoted to the cause of Christ. They were godly people whose goal was the evangelization of the world.
The Indonesian field was opened in earnest in 1948 and a strong national church was formed. Formally organized in 1960, this church has endeavored to do its part in the evangelization of the world. The church is a Land Dayak church. Traditional Dayak life is based on slash-and-burn rice cultivation. The Dayaks' classic animism was designed to gain the blessing of Jubata, the rice god.
I wanted to determine the impact of subsidizing national church workers with mission funds. My procedure, or methodology, was to compare the rates of growth in four districts of the national church. Area 1 never received subsidy from the mission for its pastors and evangelists because the missionaries who served in the district were convinced that the practice was unwise. Two missionary couples resigned from the team rather than participate in it. Areas 2, 3, and 4 received extensive subsidy. A comparison of the growth rates indicates the impact of subsidy.
The similarities of the four districts reduced the variables to manageable proportions. The four districts were adjacent to each other. All four districts experienced the same historical, social, political, and cultural changes. The church in all four districts was a Dayak church. While several dialects were used in the districts, all church activity was done in the national language. Further, the Dayaks themselves considered their evangelistic work in all four areas to be E-1 evangelism, even if they used different dialects4 (E1 is near neighbor evangelism, not cross cultural.) There were differences. Areas 2 and 3 were on the main road with more and easier contact with national events. Different missionaries ministered in each area. There was a higher missionary turnover in Area 1 than in the other areas. These differences are significant. However, the similarities of the districts are sufficient that differences in growth rates can be attributed in large part to the impact of subsidy.
The subsidy plan was to use mission funds to provide a salary to national church workers so that these workers could leave their secular activities and devote themselves full time to the work of the ministry. The mission team conceived the plan as a means of redeeming the tremendous evangelistic opportunities on the field in the early 1970s. Opportunities for evangelism far exceeded the ability of the missionary staff. National workers were being trained at the mission's Bible school, but they were not being financed by the national church.5 The mission team believed that the subsidy would enable more workers to enter the field of ministry.
Individual missionaries raised the money for their own districts. Each missionary was to use the funds he raised to support workers in his district. No funds were pooled or shared between districts.
Only those team members who were convinced of the wisdom of this approach solicited funds. The amount of funding available for each district depended on the missionary's skill in raising it. When team members left the field, or were transferred to other ministries on the field, the funding they provided to national workers ceased. The mission team did not continue to provide funding from other sources.
The role of the church workers who were subsidized was not precisely determined at the beginning of the program. One missionary participant in District 2 asserted that the subsidy was only for evangelists. The missionary in District 3 asserted that the worker was to pastor the local church and evangelize the neighboring villages. Over time, the subsidized workers became pastors.6
The following chart is a summary of district church growth, measured by the number of local churches in the districts, compared to the amount of subsidy provided.
A comparison of the Decadal Growth Rates (DGR) of the four districts with the amount of subsidy received reveals that church growth ceased in Districts 2, 3, and 4 when the subsidy was initiated.7 However, growth continued at a strong rate in District 1. The research focused on the years 1972-1990 because subsidy was initialed in 1972, and 1 left the field in 1990.
District 1: We see a clear pattern of consistent growth in the district from the opening of the first church in 1951 through 1990. This growth was achieved totally without subsidy for its national workers. At the same time, two of its missionaries resigned from the field in protest over the initiation of subsidy. The key to its growth was strong evangelistic work by its lay leaders, especially witnessing along family lines.8 This demonstrates that church growth was possible among the Land Dayaks without the use of subsidy.
District 2: The record of growth in this district was as consistent as that of District 1, and it was achieved at a far greater financial cost. From 1960 to 1970, the district grew from one church to 19, a DGR of 1,900 percent. This phenomenal growth was achieved without subsidy. However, from 1970 to 1980, the number of churches dropped to 11, a DGR of -45 percent. The number of churches probably remained the same throughout the period, and the negative growth was the result of faulty record keeping. Nonetheless, the evidence clearly shows that the rate of growth did not improve, despite the subsidy.
While the DGR returned to the credible range of 173 percent from 1980 to 1990, this was merely regaining what was lost the previous decade. The growth was the result of improved recordkeeping, not new congregations. However, the fact remains that from 1969 to 1989 the district added only one new church despite the investment of $61,961. In 1990, 10 new churches were added, bringing the total to 30.9 What happened?
In the mid-1970s the strong lay involvement in evangelism that was a key part of the initial growth in the area declined significantly. This occurred as the subsidy program expanded. In the mid-1980s, sensing the need to reinvigorate the laity, strong theological education by extension programs were launched in the district. The 10 new churches in 1990 were the result of the renewed lay involvement.
District 3: District 3 has a record of uneven growth from its opening in 1967 through 1990. The district grew from three churches in 1967 to 12 in 1970. The DGR for the period 1970-1980 was only 25 percent. But in the next decade the DGR dropped to -7 percent. Thus, from the 12 churches planted without subsidy by 1970, the district grew to 14 churches in 1990 by investing $41,514 in national worker subsidy. Again, the record does not indicate that subsidy had a positive impact on church growth.
District 4: District 4 began with a strong base when a number of churches from another mission joined with our mission team's new work in 1973. By 1975 District 4 consisted of 18 churches and 20 preaching points. The district was subsidized heavily from its opening in 1973. In 1983, mission funding for the national workers ceased abruptly when the district missionary was reassigned to a new ministry. The churches were forced to provide for their own pastor. There was no more mission money available from 1973 to 1990, the district received $11,323 to support its national personnel. The investment did not bring about the desired results. In a time and place where people movements were happening, where the church was growing, substantial sums of money were invested to expand the kingdom of God, but no growth was realized.
When this result is considered together with the results in Districts 2 and 3, one conclusion is driven forcefully home: Subsidy did not have a positive impact on the growth of the national church. In fact, the growth of the church ceased when the subsidy was formally initiated.
Why did the initiation of subsidy coincide with the cessation of growth? Interviews with village leaders and personal observations suggest the following possible causes.
First, a loss of lay involvement. The initiation of subsidy signaled a move away from reliance on lay leadership to reliance on a professional clergy. Lay leadership was the primary factor in the growth of District 1. In Districts 2, 3, and 4, lay involvement declined as the subsidy increased.11 The lay leadership increasingly came to feel that the work of the church was the responsibility of the paid clergy.
Second, loss of focus. The paid workers began to concentrate more on pleasing the missionary, who paid their salaries than on meeting the needs of their churches. Further, the paid workers lost the vision for evangelism. They increasingly gave their attention to ministering to the needs of the congregation, neglecting to visit the neighboring villages to preach the gospel. Finally, over time the paid workers became increasingly aware of how little they were being paid. This resulted in increased focus on how to increase their level of remuneration, and less attention on the work of the ministry.
Third, loss of devotion. When the churches realized that the missionary was paying the salary of the pastor, they lost their sense of ownership of the pastor. They increasingly came to see the pastor as the missionary's hired worker. They increasingly felt no obligation to give toward the pastor's support. When the pastor saw that the congregation was not concerned with providing for his support and well-being, he devoted himself even more to pleasing the missionary who paid his salary. The pastor also increased his efforts to persuade the missionary to increase his salary.
The research has led to the following conclusions:
First, the unwise use of financial resources can stymie the expansion of the kingdom of God. While it cannot be conclusively demonstrated that the initiation of subsidy was the cause of the halt in growth, it is significant that in every district where subsidy was initiated church growth ceased. At the same time, growth in the unsubsidized district continued at a strong rate, and that despite the loss of two effective missionaries due to disagreement over the practice of subsidy.
Second, 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.
Third, indigenous church congregations must assume responsibility for the support of their pastor as soon as possible. The pastor must see himself as the servant leader of the congregation. Members of the congregation must recognize their responsibility to their pastor, and fulfill it.
Finally, indigenous church missionaries must be empowered to release their new congregations to pastoral care within a definite time. This enables the indigenous missionary to continue using his/her spiritual gift of evangelism and church planting in unevangelized areas. This also avoids the problems cited above.
The use of subsidy in this instance did not further the cause of Christ. In all three districts where it was used, church growth ceased. In the district where it was not used, growth continued. Clearly, there is something wrong with providing foreign money for national pastors. Further research needs to be done to establish if this is an isolated case or if it is a common experience. In the meantime, wisdom suggests that we limit our financial subsidy to areas other than pastoral support.
This article is reprinted by permission from the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (April ,1998) Box 794, Wheaton, IL 60189.