When Western finance does more harm than good

Derelict church
Photo credit: arted_light (Creative Commons)

We know about the concept of "rice Christians"–people who "become Christians" because they think there is financial gain in it for them. They assume that the Westerners will support them or provide for them in other ways if they join them.

I've come across some other disturbing stories recently:

A missions group sent a church in Eastern Europe several hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a church building. Several years later, the building is derelict–the local believers couldn't afford the maintenance on the building or to pay the electric bills. One of the believers there commented: "If only the US mission group had given us the hundreds of thousands of dollars, we could have fed and clothed the poor, helped the orphaned and widows, supported poor ministers and their families, and evangelized our city.”

Another person who I heard from was part of a group of Westerners that visited a foreign missions situation. Unlike the others in the group, he didn't spend his time visiting the various projects that were on the itinerary planned for them, but deliberately spent time getting to know a few local believers. What he discovered disturbed him. Every time a group of Westerners came and shared at a meeting, they arranged for several people to raise their hands and pray the sinners' prayer. It was usually the same people, time after time. The reason? The Westerners would go back and raise money for them because of the "fruit" they saw.

Within a church planting movement context, outside finances can jump-start a movement, but can also be a barrier to continued multiplication. If church planters are promised finances, then the finances beome a limitation on how many church planters there are.

I've become convinced that we need to rethink our giving to foreign missions. Not that we don't give to them, but that we are strategic in how we give. 

There are many unreached people groups in the world today. How can our giving from the West be most strategic in helping to reach them?

What can we learn from all of this?

9 thoughts on “When Western finance does more harm than good”

  1. I have been “on the field” 10 years. Money from the West is usually a problem. We work alongside an indigenous church planting movement. They have never asked us for any money and at times that have given us offerings and paid our travel expenses. They are successful and multiplying. The groups in my country who look for outside money usually get it. They however rarely grow and with the money comes control to some degree.
    Often Americans come here, and they think they see poverty and need and they want to help so they throw around money. Usually what they are seeing is a different culture with a different economy. Churches should support missionaries and make sure the missionaries are not creating dependence where they minister.

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  2. I don’t have Michael’s knowledge and experience of mission, but his words ring true.
    I would suggest, Felicity, that strategy may itself be dangerous – if, for example, it leads us to put more trust in thinking/planning/understanding than in humble faith.
    Perhaps the very best strategy is prayer and then waiting for Father to put opportunities in our way. He is able to put us in touch with the right people at the right time in the right way. He is very much able to surprise us.
    I’m not saying there is no place for planning, but we are very inclined to take matters into our own hands.
    You often have such encouraging stories here on ‘Simply Church’ about listening and watching and how Father has acted in amazing ways to guide and direct in many aspects of life.
    We need to listen and watch in the area of giving too, and in mission opportunities. His resources are far greater than ours!

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  3. Michael, thank you for your words of wisdom and experience. Your insight is much appreciated.
    Chris, “strategy” may have been the wrong word to use or at least, I meant a different sense of the word. I think that Michael is right when he talks about well-meaning Christians throwing money around when they see poverty. We’ve been guilty of that ourselves in the past.
    By strategic giving, I mean giving, obviously under the Lord’s direction, in places where the money does good without damaging what He is doing. Western money corrupts when given indiscriminately. If we see a situation, say of poverty, we want to give into, these days we find someone on the ground who has an understanding of both the local culture and the Scriptural principles, either a missionary or a local person we know well and trust absolutely, and get their take on the situation. Usually we will give via them too so we are not seen as the source.

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  4. I think ‘strategy’ was the right word. But I reacted to it in the wrong way for which I apologise.
    Undoubtedly we all agree that giving needs to be sensitive, wise and Spirit-led! And working with a trustworthy local person makes a great deal of sense.

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  5. A good resource is a book ‘When Helping Hurts’.
    In terms of gaining a sense of the big picture that helps to even pray strategicly, taking the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, is excellent for learning about what God says Biblicaly about the nations (ethnos) which is really the different language groups, people groups of the world. When you have that grounding, you’ll pray with deep, sound conviction knowing God’s passion for the ethnos.
    Perspective also teaches this history of the expansion of the gospel, cultural, strategic and what still needs to be done.
    The gospel of the Kingdom is expanding in our time like never before and we even know now how many people groups still need to hear. Check out joshuaproject.org

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  6. I’m thankful you brought up this topic. In recent weeks, our simple church group has wrestled with what/where/how to give toward ministries/missions in other parts of the world. There is a lot of skepticism among a few of my friends about how the money gets used. I can’t blame them for feeling this way, and frankly, I am somewhat skeptical myself.
    I especially appreciate Chris’s comment about the need to simply pray and wait on the Father. Why can’t we (I) just keep things that simple and have faith in Him to lead us?

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  7. Jackie, thank you for the suggestion of the book, “When Helping Hurts.” I’ve been reading a non-Christian equivalent recently called “The White Man’s Burden.” It looks at the statistics of what happens to a nation when aid is given. It’s scary that so much money has been given to accomplish so very little in many cases.
    We took the Perspectives course some time ago and like you, learned much about God’s view of the nations.

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  8. Marc, I think a lot of us are skeptical about how money is used in missions. As a movement, I think we are as yet immature in our use of finances because of what we have seen in the past and the abuses of finance that have come to light. We are no longer content to pour money into institutions or mission situations where it does more harm than good.
    I believe we can trust the Lord to mature us in these areas as we seek him for specific direction.

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