Jesus said: “Therefore send your money to make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You would not be alone if you noticed something strange in that verse. Yet that is how many seem to read it.
More and more we are hearing people state that it is better to send money than long-term missionaries. The thought is that we need to move away from the colonial paradigm of “the West to the Rest”. Just send short-term teams and train nationals to do it. After all, they have the language and culture and will be there long after missionaries have left. Whilst there are some good points here, it doesn’t stand up under examination.
KP Yohannan, in Revolution in World Missions (1986), began to influence many in the West to just send money because it’s better to “send forth native missionary evangelists rather than Western staff.” While KP has since apologised publicly to 800 mission agencies and changed his approach, this belief is still held by many Western churches today.
The Great Commission is for the Whole Church
Christ gave the command to his disciples to go into every nation, or ethnic/people group, and make disciples (Matthew 28:19). He didn’t say: ‘Just do it for a season amongst a few ethnic groups, then let someone else pick up the burden and you can do it by proxy’.
William Carey challenged his own Baptist denomination as to why Matthew 28:19 apparently no longer applied to the Church in England. He argued that we still baptise and teach but ignore the going part. He received the infamous answer “Young man, sit down. If God pleases to convert the heathen, he will do it without your help or mine.” But he couldn’t sit down and formed the Baptist Mission Society in 1792, then went to India leaving behind an incredible legacy.
Christ repeats this commission for us all in Acts 1:8, which is a great mission policy model for any church. We are called to be witnesses in Jerusalem (local vicinity), Judea and Samaria (regional and ethnic minorities) and to the ends of the earth (unreached people groups). Many Christians say we need to evangelise our own backyard first, then go to unreached groups. However, the Bible uses the conjunction and, which tells us we need to do mission simultaneously in all three regions. Notice that Paul was sent, but Peter stayed in the Jerusalem church.
Likewise in Matthew 24:14 Christ says that the gospel is to be “preached throughout the whole world, so that all nations (people groups) will hear it, and then the end will come” (NLT). There are still 7,000 unreached ethnic groups in the world that don’t have the gospel, so the task falls to us as well as those in the Global South to be obedient witnesses.
As well, in Matthew 9:37-38, Christ exhorts his disciples to “Ask the Lord of the harvest… to send out workers into his harvest field” (NIV). Does this prayer only apply to the emerging church overseas as it sends workers, or does it apply to us also?
Sending Money is not always a good strategy
It is not always helpful to transfer secular strategy into mission. Non-believing locals in unreached countries believe that Christianity is a foreign religion, so when pastors have to be paid from overseas it only reinforces this concept.
The biblical strategy is to support missionary teams to do church planting and train local churches to support their own pastors. In the Early Church support was given for social needs, but local churches were taught to support their own elders (1 Timothy 5:17-18).
Another problem is that projects and national pastors paid by overseas funds can become a law unto themselves, often answering only to the foreign source and thereby becoming co-dependant. An exit strategy hasn’t been thought through adequately.
Providing funds in and of itself isn’t always bad. But if this is our only engagement with world missions, and is not coupled with sending people to work alongside the national church (where it exists), we are simply maintaining the paternal, colonial paradigm of “the West to the Rest” that we were hoping to escape.
Effective mission requires finances; we can’t get around that. But a greater resource is the one Jesus calls us to send: His people, with His presence. God’s people from all corners of the world, taking the good news to the ends of the earth, working together.
“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Matthew 28:19
For further thinking on this subject please check out Patrick Johnstone’s (Operation World) response http://www.missionfrontiers.org/issue/article/patrick-johnstone
Regional Coordinator for WEC in Victoria