In 2004, I wrote a 28 page term paper on the topic of missions and money.
Don’t worry, I’ll spare you all the dry details.
Today I’m just going to raise this issue, and in the future we may spend time addressing some of the possible solutions.
Quoting from my own words:
In the fulfillment of the Great Commission, there is an unalterable relationship between missionary work and money. As a result, issues revolving around the role of money in missions are a topic of serious discussion. In some fields, money has the negative power to corrupt the pure gospel message by impure motives. In other fields, the thought of missionary work cannot be imagined without the necessary resources provided by money. Without a doubt, money and missions has a two sided ability to help or hinder genuine missionary work.
So what types of numbers are we talking about here?
The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Missions Board supports 5,510 missionaries and has a $150 million dollar annual budget (back in 2004) (Source: http://imb/org/giving/). In 2002, the Seventh-Day Adventist Church collected $1,772,879,408 for world missions (http://adventist.org/news/data/2003/03/1066083635/index.html.en).
Note: These links were active when I did the research, but are no longer active links.
Money and Missions – Missionary Affluence: How does it impact the gospel message?
In his book Missions and Money: Affluence as a Western Missionary Problem, Jonathan Bonk reports the following problems with missionary affluence (think wealth).
- Affluence acts as an insulation for the missionary. It is a nonconducting material which prevents people from hearing the gospel.
- Affluence leads to missionary isolation.
- Affluence builds an unbridgeable social gulf.
- Affluence leads to social disparity and presents illusions of superiority.
- Affluence challenges the trust necessary for genuine relationships.
After serving over four years in a third world country, all I can say is – yes, I think those concerns are valid.
But, I also agree with Paul Hiebert when he says (in Anthropological Insights for Missionaries):
There are limits to our ability to identify with another culture … we must identify as closely as we can with a culture, but not at the expense of our sanity and ministry.
Jacob Loewen (in Culture and Human Values) tells the story of when he was teaching a group of people from South America:
Every tribe and culture uses one or more of these … the important center or hub of their way of life. It is like the axle of a wheel, which forms the center around which the wheel turns. You say that you have known the missionaries for about twenty years. Can you suggest the items in this list which you would consider to be the axle of the missionaries’ way of life?” “Money!” the group of teachers from a South American Indian tribe exclaimed unanimously and unhesitantly.
I have recently become concerned that money may be playing a more and more important role in the life of we North American folks. Money, so it seems, is becoming the answer to every problem and ill. But, it is not. Money is not the answer. When we think about the poor, we cannot think only in terms of giving them money. They first need the transformation of the gospel. When we are dealing with an issue in the church, we cannot just ask how much money will it take to … Seeking the kingdom and its righteousness must become our central hub.