Seven Principles for Funding Foreign Missions
How much thought does your church give to its international budget? I trust you know how important the question is. After all, you’re stewarding financial resources entrusted to you by God.
Having served as a missionary in Central Asia for a decade, I have often seen Western churches give to missions work with the best of intentions, yet not always be as careful as they should be in how to give. And they end up hurting the very ones they mean to serve.
Whether it’s your own personal giving or your church’s giving, I encourage you to consider these seven principles before you send money overseas:
1. Give Through Trusted, Long-Term Ministry Partners on the Ground.
It’s important to avoid blindly giving to people or organizations overseas without knowing their character and mission well. Consult and involve long-term missionaries on the ground when giving internationally.
I have seen pastors in Los Angeles send money to believers they have never met in our Central Asian country for “outreach projects.” During one such project, the local pastor used part of the money given to him to buy his son a car. When a church member confronted him about this, he responded, “I’ll try to pay it back in the future.”
That church member lost confidence in his pastor that day.
2. Give in a Way That Encourages Accountability.
When you give money, it’s good to track how it is spent. Follow up with those you give to. Don’t give through one person alone; instead, give through multiple individuals or groups, as this strengthens accountability. Often, it is easier to send a check and “trust the Lord” with the results than to do the hard work of ensuring the money is used correctly.
Ask questions and lots of them. Don’t assume accountability communicates distrust for your partners. Christians should be people of integrity who are happy to give an account for what we’ve been entrusted with. Pursuing accountability protects our brothers and sisters from temptation that arises from managing the distribution of donations.
3. Typically, Avoid Funding Local Ministry Salaries.
Although paying an indigenous pastor’s salary looks great on a church website or annual report, the reality may not be what you think. I know a pastor friend who receives money from the West to do ministry in our Central Asian country. This friend travels to remote villages (one is 14 hours away) to study the Bible with isolated believers there. That sounds like a good thing, right?
Over time, other believers moved to a town closer to that remote village and expressed a desire to raise leaders for a church there. My friend contacted these newly planted believers and informed them that those living in the remote village were “his” people, and they should not be engaged or interacted with by anybody but him.
Why would my friend do such a thing? The answer is foreign funding. He must report those he does Bible study with to continue receiving Western funds. If these believers are no longer “his people,” he won’t receive money to disciple them.
This is only one example of many I could share in which foreign-funded local ministry salaries bred territorialism and stunted gospel growth.
4. Give in a Way That Spurs the Church to Maturity; Not in Ways That Keep It Infantile.
One of the ways a church matures is by paying its pastor. Poor churches in poor countries are often quick to solicit and find foreign funding to pay their ministers, rather than incrementally growing their giving to support those who shepherd them. This instinct is rarely questioned and often encouraged. While it may be difficult, Western churches need to encourage indigenous ones to support their own pastors financially. Foreign funding can undercut this progression and infantilize churches.
5. Don’t Just Give Money; Give Yourself.
Give of your energy, time, and attention to pray for believers and churches overseas. Maybe even consider the possibility of serving overseas long-term yourself. Not all are meant to move overseas, but some are. Have you seriously prayed about it?
Unfortunately, we often think solving problems involves little more than throwing money at them. Our world values speed and convenience, and Christians can be tempted to value the same, thinking we can speed up the (typically) slow and messy work of planting healthy churches.
You can’t rush character development, and sanctification rarely occurs rapidly. Therefore, labor in prayer for and walk alongside brothers and sisters overseas.
6. Consider the Impact of Foreign Money on Local Partners’ Reputation and Standing in the Community.
There is much financial disparity across the countries of the world. Three hundred U. S. dollars may not sound like very much in a Western context, but in the developing Central Asian context in which I live, $300 is more than most people make in an entire month.
Indigenous ministry workers frequently make more money monthly than those in their community. These workers may have cars and a house bought with “ministry funds,” while the members of their church have neither. Being a “minister” is often synonymous with being wealthy.
Non-Christians in the community struggle to understand where these ministers are getting their money from. When they find out it’s from foreign sources, it quickly confirms their thinking that the person sharing the gospel with them has sold themselves out to foreigners, becoming Christians solely for financial gain. Upon this discovery, our supported workers risk losing their standing in their community.
7. Give Wisely and Generously.
There’s no doubt that the Lord has entrusted great wealth to Christians in the developed West. We must steward this money well. Good stewardship involves both generosity and wisdom.
Let’s look for ways to give generously and wisely to further gospel work around the world.
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For more on this topic, listen to the Pastors Talk episode featuring Markson: On Funding Missions.