(405) 425-5070

Financial accountability critical in missions

Financial accountability in missions is a topic very dear to my heart; not only because I am personally supported by finances from the west, but also I have seen many others, both foreign and national evangelists, who have been supported by foreign funds, some handled well, others with tragic results. I believe in and strongly support Jesus’ mission to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” Jesus did not dictate methodology but left it largely up to the church. In an effort to get that task completed much money has been spent wisely, but, unfortunately, there is also much abuse of funds.

Gailyn Van Rheenen, veteran missionary to Kenya, a former professor of missions at Abilene Christian University, and thedirector of Mission Alive: Pathway to Church Planting succinctly pointsout that the use of money in missions is a two edged sword On one side,money can empower missions by supporting effective missionaries to open newareas. It can be used in partnering with mature national churches totrain and oversee effective national church leaders and in developing materialsand media to strengthen specific local ministries. On the other hand, money canhinder missions by creating unhealthy dependence by national churches onmissionaries or foreign donors. It can be a way of controlling churcheswhich should be self-supporting. The wrong use of money can createjealousy between those supported by the West and those not supported. Itcan unknowingly attract leeches and con-men who hope for benefits, support or achance to study abroad. Misuse of money can lead to over support ofmissionaries who physically separate themselves from the people among whom theyhope to minister. VR 28/12/99.

One effort, to use foreign funds wisely, is the SyriatBible School in the Kipsigis area of Kenya. The Kipsigis principal, DavidTonui, is paid by a church in the USA. That church partners withthe local churches to support the school. Each year the local churcheshave a fund raising in which between $1,000 and $2,000 is raised. Theforeign supporting church has been directly involved in the oversight ofthe principal and the school. They make periodic visits to teach in theschool and to see firsthand how the school in being run. All funds for theschool are managed by the board of the school which is comprised of localchurch leaders.
Another positive effort to finance a mission effort bya Kenyan national is the work in Moshi, Tanzania. Charles Ngoje,the Kenyan evangelist, is overseen and supported by elders of a UScongregation. Those elders ensure that someone from their congregationvisits the Tanzania work every year. Charles is required to file regularreports and financial statements. Also, Charles’ home church inKenya has oversight by consulting and advising him regularly.
Not all cases turn out so positively. Jan Towell who is the Internet Program Coordinator for the Work English Instituterecently wrote me this letter on January 14, 2006. “We are desperatelyin need of help on a ‘Kenya problem.’ It’s a long story and you may befamiliar with the bottom line: Fred Ogara scammed us of thousands of $’sand caused us to waste MUCH precious time and resources in the process. The saga continues to this day; he is still busily making contacts with others- with the same proposed scheme (getting Bibles into Libya.)”
There needs to be a partnership in missions that willfoster good will between American churches and Christians in other countries,in order to promote local growth and evangelistic outreach. Theissue of mission finances is not about whether or not to partner withChristians in other nations. We who are the “mother church” have abig responsibility in the congregations we help start. We trainchurch leaders. We are actively involved in teaching the churches weplant. We help them catch a vision of what their congregation canand should do. We are a support for them (not a crutch) until they can stand on a firm footing and become self-sufficient and independent of outsidehelp. In other words, we missionaries and western supporters have amassive job to do to perpetuate sound principles which will equip the missionchurches to become indigenous entities who will continue that same process withthe churches they plant. We do not perpetuate dependency in anyform. The issue is about the wisest possible use of outside finances inpartnering with Christians in other countries. We must take a good hardlook at the situation and develop a strategy that will promote the most lastinggood.
Roger Dickson, a long term missionary in Africa anddirector of the International School of Biblical Studies in Cape Town, SouthAfrica, stated that “there are caseseverywhere where a local preacher is living at home, among his father andmother, brothers and sisters while living off a ‘pension’ from some foreignchurch. He is supported at home by foreign sources which considers himtheir ‘missionary.’ It is quite refreshing to come upon those indigenousrestoration efforts that have spontaneously generated out of a faith to doone’s responsibility to proclaim Jesus. …The small restorationmovements begin in an indigenous manner, but after some time, they needmaterials for their church buildings; they need support to buy vehicles;they need a host of other things they should supply for themselves in order tolearn the responsibility of the Christian’s life. What often happens is thatthese small movements sell out to the highest bidder.” Dickson 67-68
In 1888 John Nevius, who worked in Korea as a missionary with thePresbyterian church, set forth six indigenous church principles. Iquote Donald McGavran in his synopsis of Nevius’ work. “The old or traditional method of missionis to hire paid agents from among the converts. To those chosen this isvery welcome. They need the money. They speak the language fluently. They can go anywhere. They know the region. They live onsmall wages. When trained and tested, they do well as evangelists and villagepastors. The method appears to be sound and advantageous to both missionsand converts. This method renders it impossible to distinguish truebelievers, because noting that some believers are put on salary, each inquirer,especially the more able, is tempted to become a Christian in the expectationthat in due time he will qualify for a job. …Further, since proclaimingthe Gospel, teaching inquirers, conducting worship services, distributingtracts, and selling Gospels is something done for pay by the village pastors orcatechists, the method stops ordinary Christians from unpaid evangelizing andunpaid shepherding of the flock. Finally, it lowers the wholeevangelistic enterprise in the eyes of the public…” (DonaldMcGavran, Understanding Church Growth, 1980 pp. 375-377)
Dale Meade, who spent 23 years in Colombia, South America, gives severalreasons why financial support has been given to national evangelists.
One issue Meade addressed was that some Americans claim that foreign preacherscan be supported for less than Americans: Pay scales are lower overseas. But this concept is not always an accurate picture of the situation inmany countries. Even if the wages are truly economical, they may not bewhat the national is wanting or expecting. Foreign nationals who havegone to the US for studies and returned as missionaries always seek majorfinancial support.
Another reason Meade mentioned for supporting nationals is that this supporthelps the poor by putting them to work. Helping the poor isworthwhile–disaster relief is a good example, but, Meade said, putting anational on foreign support is not. He said “…this destructive practiceoften precludes any hope of cultivating true indigeneity…One disillusionedmissionary observer noted that the goal of every young man in this Caribbeanland is to be sent to the States for Bible college education and then to returnhome as an ‘American missionary’. Certainly there is no shortage ofcandidates.”
Meade listed many of the problems which may occur when national preachers arepaid from outside. The paying of national preachers creates “cripplingdependency. The welfare attitude, once established, is very difficult toovercome.” Paying some and not paying others can create intense jealousywhich debilitates the work. A terminated preacher will frequently becomea bitter foe who may try to expel missionaries from his country. The paying of national evangelists by American churches deprivesthe local church of its responsibility for proper oversight of the preacher. The evangelist does not answer to the local church leadership butrather to those who support him from outside. His allegiance andteaching will align itself with those who pay his salary.
Meade continues by saying that foreign financial support has grave defectshidden under the surface. It harms the convert who becomes an evangelist,for now he witnesses for money. Though he may be sincere, he has become apaid agent. “Regardless of such a worker’s performance orintegrity, his job depends not on his service to our Lord, but on his abilityto impress ‘the boss’ back in America.”
Meade concludes by saying, “As a general rule, paying of national workers is adangerous and a destructive policy. We should not be paying them to dowhat the local church can and should be doing on its own….Let us not beguilty of destroying the future of the Lord’s work by trying to buy our way tothe quick or cheap success.”
An example of this is the Rainbow Church of Christ in Nairobi, Kenya. Afew years ago a young and talented preacher completed his Bible degree in theUSA. Some churches in the USA agreed to support him. When hereturned to Kenya the Rainbow church hired him. His funding did not gotthrough the local church eldership so they had no control over what he did. He fired elders and deacons at will and hired whomever he willed. Many of the old members left and the church dwindled. He eventuallychanged sponsors in the USA and changed the name of the church. The oldmembers were hurt and demanded that he resign and leave which he refused to do. One of the old leaders confided in me that once he leaves they willfinance their own work without outside support to avoid another incident likethis one. The fact that they believe they can finance their own work is astrong indication that they should be allowed to do just that.
Choate, in advice gleaned from his many years on the field, concludes that
“Hiring local preachersdestroys the initiative of the local members. They will sit back andallow the missionary to tell them what to do and not to do, for after all he isresponsible for all of the financial support for the work. Then whyshould the congregation feel any responsibility in giving since all of theirneeds are already cared for? People are human enough in any part of theworld to let the other fellow support them if he will do it.” (Choate1970)
In 1973 our feet were barely onthe ground as new missionaries. We were busy learning culture and language andgoing out trying to begin churches. One day a young man came to myhouse and said that he was presently preaching for another mission group. Butif I would pay him more than they were paying, he would be happy to preach forme. Needless to say I refused his offer.
We attended the annual national meeting in Kenya inDec. 1999. This meeting is attended by missionaries and nationalChristians from all over Kenya. Because many people who wanted toattend would have to travel by public means, I required those riding withme to pay $6 for transportation, plus their own course fees of $4. I wastrying to be fair to those who would travel on their own, plus I wanted to makeeveryone responsible. Each church could choose one person whom they wouldfinancially back for this meeting. Five church leaders went to themeeting in my car. When we arrived, I paid the fees for my wife andme only. The African hosts said, “we thought you would pay forthose who came with you too.” They had a mind set that it is themissionary’s responsibility to pay for the transportation and meeting costs ofthe nationals they work with plus finance the various costs of the meeting. When American churches or missionaries continuously pay for things thatthe local Christians and churches should be doing for themselves, they cripplethe Christians and the churches. This is a serious problem wemissionaries often perpetuate because of our desire to see things done “rightnow” without looking further down the road to see how our actions mightdiversely affect the growth and longevity of the national church.
Dickson says this: “It is not good toprovide any outside financial assistance for conducting a seminar. Onepurpose of the seminar is to provide the occasion for leadershipresponsibility. By providing the financial necessities of the seminar,one is actually defeating the purpose for the seminar….I have found that whenAfrican brethren understand that there is no source for outside support for aseminar, they do just fine in providing all that is necessary. I thinksome foreign sources are too quick to offer help, and thus, steal fromlocal brethren the opportunity to do for themselves.” (Dickson: 1998, 72)
My wife and I teach marriage and family seminarsthroughout East Africa which are completely funded by the local churches. We expect the seminar hosts to plan the meeting, which includes makingplans for the food, water and sleeping of guests. We provide teaching andhandouts for the course participants. On Mt. Elgon, where we live andwork, the churches plan and fund their own youth, ladies and general meetingsby themselves without outside help. Because they are doing this now insuresthat they will have the ability and strength to continue to do it when we arelong gone. The very fact that these people, who are some of the leastprivileged in Africa, are now funding their own meetings indicates that allAfrican churches are capable of doing so. Truly, we rob them of thechance to grow and become mature when we do everything for them. We may bestealing the national Christian’s spiritual self-esteem with the generosity ofour contributions. What “seems right” may not be right.
In an article in the East African newspaper, entitled How Religious Leaders Exploit Social Tensions, JohnGithongo reported that there are now more than 600 registered denominations inKenya and several hundred others which are not registered. This mushroomingof the number of church groups often has monetary foundations. Githongosaid that “Today even Kenyans who are not that cynical admit that many ofthe new sects and cults are actually vehicles for greedy evangelists to enrichthemselves. Indeed religion in Kenya is big business.” (The EastAfrican, Mar 27-April 2, 2000, Opinion pg. 11.)
We in the church of Christ are no less guilty of misuseof money in foreign missions. We have permitted and even encouragedforeigners to go to the USA to raise support for themselves. Churches andindividuals in the US, with good and loving intentions, have contributedtowards preacher’s salaries and various projects without validating who theindividuals are. Churches and individuals are giving to these individualswithout channeling the funds through proper overseeing churches. A casein point is the leadership training facility in Nairobi, Kenya which is calledthe Nairobi Great Commission School, of which I am a board member. This isa worthwhile work to train church leaders who come from several Africancountries. NGCS is largely supported by outside funding. Severalyears ago a former school principal had been given a green light totravel to the USA to raise money for the school in his own name withoutensuring that the money was sent via the school’s overseeing church in the USor to the school’s board in Kenya, for proper distribution to the school. It was later confirmed to the board how their ineptness had contributedto the gross misuse of funds. That problem and situation was rectifiedpreventing further embezzlement. Needed funds are still contributed tothe school but they are channeled through the overseeing church in the Statesand accounted for by the board. Each year the school board hires anoutside auditor to assure the proper accounting of funds.

In 1997 the International Monetary Fund [IMF] in conjunction with the WorldBank, suspended donor aid to Kenya because of misappropriation of funds andcorruption. When foreign funds were no longer present , the governmentbegan thinking of ways to fund itself. The IMF action also caused Kenyans tobegin asking questions about how they were going to survive. Thegovernment began calling in outstanding debts from government officials. It began to cull redundant employees and streamline government agenciesand privatize government owned corporations. It caused the populaceto demand transparency and accountability in the government. AKenyan reflecting on Africa’s dependency stated,
“Africaon the one hand, sent out an impassioned plea: Please make the debt burdenlighter. It was a typical case of Africa confronting the world, cap inhand, begging bowl extended…To some in the West, it is a psycho-ideological‘sorry’ for the ‘injustices’ committed against the continent in the past. They believe that by extending loans to the continent, they are ‘helping’Africans…Others view it as an extension of Africa’s dependency, justificationfor the contempt they feel for a lazy, generally hopeless continent….thecontinuity of colonialism…” (Daily Nation, 5 Sept. 99 “Why ‘donors’ refused towaive African debt” by Mutuma Mathiu)
Dickson reasons that “The colonial governments leftAfrica three to four decades ago. They helped bring Africa out of thebushes, and in most cases gave it a kick-start into the twentieth century. Missionaries often led the way in this development by building schoolsand hospitals. Relief funds were sent to famine victims. Glasseswere sent to those who could not see. Medicine was sent to the sick. Roads were built by Europe and America. Governments and courts weredirected by the colonials and Africa was thus launched into the twentiethcentury by being hand fed, by being ‘taken care of,’ and sustained with thecrutch of colonial support.”
What was the effect this “helping hand”had on Africa?
“What developed in many cases was a ‘foreign aid’ culture that had its hand outto every foreigner that may come by. Now that Africa is moving into thetwenty-first century, it is going with a crippled mentality that is in manyways dependent upon foreign aid. The colonials have long since gone, butthey have left a ‘foreign aid’ mentality that will hinder much of Africa foryears to come…The Africa that was left after the departure of the colonialsis an Africa that often feels she needs to be taken care of. This Africaoften feels that it is the responsibility of the developed countries to carefor her.” (Dickson: 1998, 66-67)
Van Rheenen lists four models of US/foreign use of finances in missions.
1. In the American Support Model, US Christians and churches support andoversee national preachers in various parts of the world. It is veryeasy, just write a check and perhaps visit sometime. American Christiansor churches are not able to discern the true church situation in a foreignculture. There is a language and cultural barrier. Most of theabuses of finances fall under this model.
2. The Indigenous Model occurs when a US church supports Americanmissionaries to plant churches, mature young Christians, equip leaders who aresupported by their own churches and resources. Sometimes nationalsview this model as the missionary being stingy.
3. Under the Partnership Model, a mature American churchnetworks with a mature national church to mutually oversee and support localmissionaries establishing new churches. Some of the faults of this modelare that the American church can become paternalistic, because the USchurch begins making most of the decisions for the national church. Making decisions is hard because of the great separation of the twochurches in maturity, level of wealth, and geography. Another danger ofthis model which Van Rheenen failed to identify is that the local church willnot blow the whistle on any problem they see for fear of losing their foreignfunding.
4. A fourth model is the Indigenous Partnership Model in which anAmerican church supports American missionaries to plant churches and nurturegrowth. They then partner with maturing national leadership to developstructures of continuity which includes the ability of churches to select localelders, develop evangelistic teams, train lay evangelists, etc. (VanRheenen 1996)
Louis Bush defines partnership as “an association oftwo or more Christian autonomous bodies who have formed a trustingrelationship, and fulfill agreed-upon expectations by sharing complementarystrengths and resources, to reach their mutual goal.” (Bush and Lutz, 1990,46.)
What is implied in partnership is that the two or more“autonomous bodies” share equally in providing the “resources” to complete the“mutual goals.” Partnership does not occur when one side makes all thedecisions, establishes all the rules and provides all the finances forachieving the goals. Much of the time in foreign missions, missionariesor US financial supporters, realizing their wealth and resources,coupled with their desire to make things happen quickly and their genuine love andconcern for the lost, completely finance foreign evangelists or projects. No partnering is done. The result is not partnership butpaternalism.
Many African Christians feel that it is time they carrythe baton of evangelism to their own continent. They can clearlysee the problem of complete foreign financing of their own works. They want to, and truly must, provide most of the support for theirown efforts if they are to succeed in evangelizing Africa. They arewaking up to the need to teach their own churches at home about theirresponsibility to obey the Great Commission. It must simply beproven to the churches that they are capable of giving the amount required todo the task and that they not only can evangelize across borders but have aresponsibility to do so. The oldest churches of Christ in Kenya are nowmore than 35 years old. There are many older churches throughout thecontinent. When will they be expected to stand on their own?
In April, 1992, Sunday Ekanem from Nigeriaaddressed 200 participants from 15 African nations at the first AfricansClaiming Africa conference in Kenya. The theme was “We can do itfinancially.” In his speech he said “…we Africanscan do the work of Christ; …we can convert those on this continent andfinance it on our own….It is estimated that about 2000 missionaries have beensent out by the African indigenous churches to Africa and Europe. Churches who start in Africa, and Africans support thosemissionaries…Friends, giving is a test of love…we need to demonstrate thatlove to the lost, to the orphans, and to the widows. We need to sacrificeto maintain them. Therefore, we could do it friends…Let us not deceiveourselves. We are rich. We can support the gospel so that ourpeople can be saved.” (Shewmaker, 1998: 21-24)
In the same conference Washington Mhlanga from Zimbabwe stated, “I really believe thatwe have to do it financially. We have no option but to do itourselves…Brethren we need to recognize that we have a problem inAfrica….we can recognize the problem, resolve to do something about it, butif we are not committed to the cause nothing will be accomplished. I maygo so far as to say that if we are not prepared now to change the title of thissession from, ‘We can do it financially’ to ‘We have to do it financially,’ wemight as well pack our bags and go home because brethren, we don’t have achoice.” (Shewmaker, 1998: 25-27)
In the National Strategy Report for Kenya, April 15,1992, Dennis Okoth, an evangelist in the Koma Rock church in Nairobi,Kenya and the current principal of the Nairobi Great Commision School, wrote, “Kenya brothers have realized that in order to reach all parts ofKenya, and in fact Africa as a whole, we have to be ourselves partners withGod, instead of leaving all the evangelization of Kenya to the missionaries.”
I am fully convinced that a true partnering with ournational brothers is essential if we are to equip them to maturity in handlingtheir own affairs and preaching the Word. We don’t do it for them, we doit with them. We don’t take all the responsibility of financing them, wehalve the responsibility with them. The work may appear to move moreslowly but in the long run it will have been built on a much surer foundationof self reliance, dependence on God, and strength that will endure longafter missionaries have gone.
On Mt. Elgon, Kenya, where we work we have set thefollowing procedures in order. We have an extension of the Nairobi GreatCommission School. The enrollment fees for each week-long course, whichbasically covers their food, are $5.50. The students must use their ownmeans to get to the location. If they bring a letter from their localchurch asking for scholarship assistance, my overseeing church in the USwill pay one half of their fees. This is partnership.
We helped the local community build a primary school. This school has classes for kindergarten through the 8th grade and has anenrollment of 850 students. More than 250 parents are represented. In each year of the school building program they conducted a large fundraising in which money was donated from the parents, the community and invitedspecial guests. During one year of building, the parents and friends combinedpaid more than $4162 in building fees, $4900 in general fees, plus $530in lunch fees. Because the church of Christ is the sponsor of the school,we also contribute to this fund drive and we also solicit funds from friendsand churches in the US. In 1999 a total of $3650 was contributed fromoutside at the fund drive. We partnered with the local community to helpthem build a permanent quality educational institution. It nowstands alone, independent of outside aid.
Hopefully, by this model of partnering with the localchurch and community, we can help them build a strong indigenous church whichwill be capable of carrying out its full responsibility by itself. It may not be the easiest or quickest method of growing a churchbut
I am convinced that it is the most lasting and durable.
I offer the following advice for US churches andmissionaries partnering with foreign national churches.
1. Never make a hasty decision to support a foreign mission effort, whethersending a native American or supporting a foreign national. Give thedecision lengthy prayerful consideration. Do a thorough background checkon the individual who is requesting the financial assistance. Failure to produce quality references is self defining.
2. Insist on contacting the overseers responsible for the individualrequesting funds. Talk to them personally to know their knowledge andfeelings about the individual and the requests he is making. Learn theirgoals and visions for the work that is being undertaken.
3. Make sure that all US funds be sent through the overseeing body. This may be an eldership, committee or a board. Never give money toan individual. This will help avoid the misuse of those funds. Italso encourages accountability.
4. Do not allow your feelings of compassion for the one asking forsupport, or for the work to be done, or your richness, get in theway of wisdom in these matters. Pouring money into a mission effort maynot be the wisest choice for sustained church growth.
5. If you are presently supporting a foreign national preacher orcongregation, you should dialogue with those individuals about their roles inevangelism and their obligations to God, themselves and those they serve. You should begin a phased withdrawal of monetary support, with the fullunderstanding of those being supported, to encourage them to supportthemselves. Perhaps you can even suggest or partner with them to implementmoney generating projects for the individual, congregation or institutionso they can be self-supporting.
6. Good stewardship requires that an independent body (overseers, projectcommittee, agency) control and audit all funds sent for foreign missions. Just as this is expected of any sending church it should also be expectedof receiving churches or individuals. The independent body canmonitor the situation and make unbiased reports.
7. Be careful about establishing or perpetuating works which the localchurch cannot support on its own. After a specified period of partnershipthe local church should responsibly perpetuate the project. If theycannot support the work on their own it shows either a lack of commitment tothe work or that the work undertaken does not meet local needs.
8. If you are supporting a foreign work, whether a native American or a foreignnational, do not trust reports or letters alone. Reports tend to look atthe bright side and may inflate numbers and downplay problems. Yoursupport responsibility includes an on-site visit where you can see withyour own eyes how your money is being used. While on the site, talk to as many other people as you can about the character, work ethic,credibility and effectiveness of the person supported. Talk to communityleaders, government officials, other church leaders, as well asmissionaries to get a clear picture. Do not take it for granted that thesupported person is telling the truth–prove it. An honest personhas nothing to hide.
9. Know the entire list of contributors to the work you are supporting so thatyou can dialog with them about the work or perhaps even meet to pray for anddiscuss the work. Perhaps together you can pool resources to send arepresentative to view the work each year. I have heard of missionariesand foreign paid nationals who become rich by enlisting more than one list ofsupporters. Not unlike men who have dual families, these men havedual supporters.
Mission work should always be carried out with the goalof creating a work that will stand on its own. Foreign works should bedependent on God and independent from outside sources. Missionaries,their supporters and other interested churches or Christians should ask thequestion, “Will what we are inputting into this work cause it to be strong andable to stand and continue long after we discontinue our support of it?” IF THEANSWER IS “NO,” THEN REVAMP YOUR APPROACH TO MISSIONS. Ifforeign churches are made dependent on missionaries or US monetarysupport, they are being robbed of their right and responsibilities as a churchof Christ. Evangelism and church growth is hampered if it is beingpropped up and sustained by outside sources, when it is capable of propagatingitself through God’s strength. As we pray about these matters, may God give usthe wisdom we need to make the best possible decisions about how and to whatextent we get involved in foreign missions.

Fielden Allison has served in Kenya, East Africa,with his wife, Janet and their children, from 1972 until the present. They were part of a team that first worked among the Kipsigis people of Southwest Kenya from 1973-1990. From 1990 they haveworked with the Sabaot people on Mt. Elgon in Western Kenya.They speak two Kenyan dialects and also Kiswahili, a national language of Kenya. Fieldenhas a BA degree in Bible from Harding University and a MA degree in Biblical and RelatedStudies from Abilene Christian University. Janet holds a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy from Harding University. The Allisons areoverseen by the Monmouth church, Tinton Falls, NJ.

Filed under: Insight Staff Reports

Don’t miss out on more stories like this.

Subscribe today to receive more inspiring articles like this one delivered straight to your inbox twice a month.

Did you enjoy this article?

Your donation helps us not only keep our quality of journalism high, but helps us continue to reach more people in the Churches of Christ community.

Personal Info

Dedicate this Donation

In Honor/Memory of Details

Card Notification Details

Credit Card Info
This is a secure SSL encrypted payment.
Billing Details

Donation Total: $3 One Time