Should We Stop Sending Missionaries?
There is a trend in USA missions that suggests we should stop sending missionaries and support national workers instead. Here are a number of thoughts about this topic:
1. One argument is that you can get more bang for the buck by supporting locals. The assumption of course is that you can “hire” a local for 20% of the cost of a USA missionary. That may be true in some circumstances, but most of the people of the world live in cities where the cost of living and the wages are higher than in the States. That kind of kills the idea of five for the price of one. We don’t do missions because it is cheap. If it was good missiology, then we would be willing to, in some circumstances, pay a national twice what it would cost to send an American.
2. Another assumption is that a local person will be more effective because they already know the language and culture. The weakness in that thought is that all pastors in America know the language and culture, yet it is obvious that all are not equally effective. Knowing the language and culture are indispensable but does not guarantee success. Often the expat has opportunities that a local person doesn’t.
3. The spread of the gospel is not dependent on money. For 1800 years, missionaries were bi-vocational. Tentmaking is not a new trend; it is simply a return to a model that worked until a couple hundred years ago before we started supporting missionaries. I once heard a message by an African pastor who argued that they could do missions better than the West because they were poor. Millions of Africans have already immigrated into the major gateway cities of the world to find a better life where they were also doing church planting. The potential of the African church is huge in spite of lack of financial resources.
4. The national who “works” for a foreign entity is often viewed with suspicion. Both believers and unbelievers question the integrity of those supported by foreign funds. It can create a welfare mentality and foster dependency on foreign money.
5. Every church, everywhere, is responsible for the Great Commission. For an affluent culture like America, the easiest thing to do is to buy our way out of sending our own. Writing a check is the easiest thing to do… even easier than prayer. When the American church stops sending their own sons, daughters and grandchildren, the church will also stop giving. It is healthy for some of us to put our necks on the line.
6. It is paternalistic to assume that churches around the world cannot do missions without us. It is a subtle arrogance that throws money at a situation and assumes we have fulfilled our responsibility.
7. Several billion people in the world still live outside the reach of a church or another believer. Someone must cross a culture and language boundary with the gospel. It is impossible to “hire” a local person to do your missions for you because none exists in that area. It is shameless to presume that someone else should do the tough work of moving into an unengaged people group.
8. It is argued that a National never takes a furlough. Yet it was obvious that Paul and Barnabas came back to Antioch as part of doing missions. There is value in missionaries reporting back about the works of God on the mission field.
9. It is assumed that there are places that Americans cannot go. Someone has said that there are no “closed countries” as long as you don’t care if you ever return. There are indeed places where it is more difficult to enter and many places where you would never be granted a missionary visa, but missionaries have found a path for every country in the world.
10. The Great Commission says “go”… not “send your money.”