I didn’t really think much about the New Testament’s teaching on money until I moved overseas. For ten years of ministry in the West, money just seemed to be in the backdrop of assumed platforms through which some pastors fulfilled their ministry. But in a more pioneering context, the ramifications of the connection between money and ministry moved into the spotlight. The warnings against greed and the safeguards against mismanagement in the New Testament began to have tangible applications to what I was witnessing around me.
I didn’t really think much about the New Testament’s teaching on money until I moved overseas.
The locals we were trying to reach were stuck in a downward economic spiral and continually wondered how much money I made as a Westerner. The few local churches that existed were small in number and even the mindset to support pastoral ministry with gifts had not matured. The money was hard to come by as well because personal debt had crippled much of their economic outlook. Outside funding for pastors and evangelists was flowing in.
It’s important for churches in the West to be mindful of certain dynamics when money is involved in partnerships.
Remember the Danger of Money in Missions Partnerships
Money can open a door for gospel mission and, unfortunately, when used poorly, it can close doors by compromising the mission. Money also confuses lines of accountability between the funder and the structures and relationships on the ground. A deficiency of character may be visible to locals but can be cloaked from a distant board.
Money can open a door for gospel mission and, unfortunately, when used poorly, it can close doors by compromising the mission.
Funding, especially from the West, can also unintentionally place a gospel laborer in a different income bracket than those he or she is trying to serve, potentially stifling the effectiveness of their gospel witness among them. Lastly, outside funding can also undercut the joy new believers have to sacrificially invest in the work. The New Testament is filled with warnings pertaining to the impact of money on ministry (Acts 20; 1 Timothy 3:3; 2 Timothy 3:2).
These dynamics of money are especially important for Western churches to realize in honor and shame contexts. There is a certain degree of reciprocity expected in relationships around the world that makes them tick. For locals, being on the receiving end perpetually can negatively warp relationships in their warm culture mindset.
Pressure builds for them to perform, and the way they perform is by getting the results that they think the funders want. This can lead to an enormous amount of pressure on leaders around the world and tempts them to exaggerate the work that is happening.
Build Trusted Relationships Before Investing Monetarily
When we’re looking to build partnerships, we focus on building trusted relationships before we begin a financial partnership. This means we are going to go very slow before entertaining new partnerships. Often, these conversations where partnership possibilities are being discussed come with a certain degree of urgency to meet a pressing need.
Yet our trust in the sovereign guidance and provision of God enables us to be patient in these discussions. We also remain confident that we are not responsible for every endeavor in the Great Commission. Jesus’s resourcefulness, thankfully, extends beyond our local church. It’s not our desire to dismiss a potential opportunity but to be deliberate in pursuing the right partnership opportunities.
Focus on Making Deposits Instead of Cultivating Dependency
At the church where I serve, we prefer making deposits in people over cultivating dependency on us. Investing monetarily in a leader’s personal development for a defined period of time or for a project that person will translate, for instance, keeps us oriented toward deposits, not dependency.
This project orientation connects our funding to a defined outcome and does not promote an unsustainable model for ministry. It also means there are regular intervals of reevaluation that, we hope, relieve pressure on local leaders to impress us with “results” in ministry rather than defined project goals. This doesn’t always work out as outlined, but it is our goal.
If ministry becomes the means for Western money and a stable income, that can negatively impact the model of ministry being unintentionally promoted. Ambitions in others for ministry can be tainted by the model of ministry being embodied. We do understand some contexts may need full funding from the outside for a season. We also understand the pressures on a more bi-vocational approach. Yet, we sense this project orientation to our funding prevents church members from attaching Western money directly to pastoral ministry.
The New Testament is also clear: money itself is not the problem. It’s the crooked ways our hearts gravitate to money to secure our futures. The “love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Timothy 6:10). It’s a huge blessing to have money to steward for the sake of the gospel around the world. I pray we steward it better as we recognize some of the pitfalls that can come with using it unwisely.
This article is part of a mini-series from Chip Bugnar on partnerships in missions. To learn more, read Chip’s articles on Partnerships Help Us Obey the Great Commission and What to Look for in Global Partnerships.