LEARNING TO GIVE:
A STEP TOWARD STRONG CHURCHES IN INDIA
My one trip to India was a delightful as well as an educational event. I traveled with brother Russel Bell who at that time had made over thirty trips to that vast country. We covered many miles, spoke many times, and saw many people. My major task was to do a basic evaluation of ten of the preacher training schools in AP and TN. I was favorably impressed with the receptivity in the southern part of the country, and I observed that a number of brothers and sisters are doing good works, preaching the gospel, training Christian workers, providing care for widows and orphans, and strengthening churches. I pray regularly for those workers and churches.
It has been a disappointment that since shortly after my arrival back in my home I began receiving many message through both e-mail and surface mail, mostly seeking financial help for poor preachers, building church buildings, printing literature, caring for widows and orphans, school expenses for preachers' children, bicycles for preachers, medical expenses, and a few other things. One church asked me to come over for a lectureship to be the principle speaker. But, not incidentally, I would need to come at my own expense (fair enough for a poor country), and it would be important for me to bring sufficient funds to pay the transportation for poor preachers who could not come otherwise and to pay for the food the people would eat during the lectureship. Their requests made me feel like I was wanted for the money I would put into the events. I had wondered what the local church was putting into the effort. Would it be possible for them to plan something they could do on their own?
This story can be repeated in various forms. Most of the communications I receive are open hands in print. I was in India but once, and I have been treated primarily as a fresh source of money. I have wondered what all my predecessors over the past forty years have been doing. I get some requests like these from various African countries as well, but not nearly as many.
The reason for my concern is that the history of missions indicate that churches that are propped up by outside finance and know-how become dependent churches that don't grow. Financial dependence translates into emotional and spiritual dependence. Such churches tend to remain the same size over many years, even in receptive territory. Years ago, I read with benefit Mack Layton's book, This Grace Also, which was a good biblical study in financial stewardship. Layton pointed out that voluntary contributions is not man's clever way of raising funds, but God's way of raising up Christian character and commitment. For a wonderful collection of information on the internet dealing with congregational independence, check out www.wmausa.org. There, one will find many useful articles on this subject, and most of them have to do with churches in poor countries.
It is well known that some countries are wealthier than others. Churches in these countries tend to reflect those conditions. It is not wrong for Christians who have more to give to those who have less. Brother Russel Bell's book, God – Man – Money, provides some good outlines on New Testament teaching in this regard. Christian's need to live interdependently, not dependently or independently in the rigid sense of the word.
Against this background, I hate to see churches that follow a pattern of asking for more and more money. It hurts them. People who give money without sensitivity to the situation may well be harming those churches. Does anyone ever set goals? Does anyone ever set down with those churches and help them think through how they can eventually function without most of their support money coming from the USA, Canada, or Britain? Do any Indian churches provide even partial support for their preachers?
Added to this is the fact that numerous individual preachers have been deceptive about the funds they have received. Brother Russel Bells' book, God – Man – Money, published with a view to helping the Indian situation, is an eye-opener about the misuse of funds in India. When I receive letters of request from people who I do not know, there is no way I will send money to them. I have chosen to send my help from India to Russel so he can make decisions based on his long association with the work in India. He knows first hand of men who have been deceitful, even taking for themselves a percent of the money given to support poor preachers. Some of these men have built their little kingdoms. They are wealthy in a poor country! For nearly 2000 years money and wealth have ruined many a Christian person. There is good reason why Paul told Timothy to warn people about the way they relate to money (I Timothy 6:6–10, 17–19). On the other hand, people tend to be stingy, keeping their money for themselves. Thus, many writers in the New Testament urge people to be generous and with what God has given them. I am mindful of those passages and seek to be generous.
I would urge the brothers and sisters in India to learn to live within their incomes, meager as they are. I have seen numerous cases of poor people being generous. That is what we observe in II Corinthians 8:1–5. All Christians, poor as well as rich, grow in godliness by being good stewards of what God has placed in their hands. There is certainly a place for wealthier Christians to share those funds for the care of widows and orphans. There is a place for supporting training schools. But, it is a very dangerous thing for a local church to be held up, supported, and propped up by outside funds. I urge the study of the outline material in Russel Bell's book. That book is easily available in India.
There is a case to be made for the support of a man who is an evangelist, who plants and develops churches; but it is another thing altogether to provide support for that man as he stays on and on at the same church, keeping the church from developing on its on. They don't need to give to support him or their work since the preacher can get money from Europe and North America. Why is it that there are likely not more that ten churches in all of India that have elders? What have evangelists been doing and teaching? By contrast, church of Christ have been in Ghana, West Africa, for about the same period of time they have been in India, some forty years, but several of their churches have elders who function well. At least two of their churches have over 1,000 members. Ghana also is a poor country, but many of those Christians have learned to give out of their poverty. On the streets of Accra, young Christian men sell drinking water in little plastic bags and give some of what they earn to help support the poor! What is the difference in the churches of these two countries?
I certainly want to encourage my brothers and sisters throughout the world. I seek “love the brotherhood” as Peter urged (I Peter 2:17). I want to help it in any way possible. I shall continue to share with others what God has placed in my hands, but I do not plan to encourage dependency among churches since that is not a favor to them, nor will I send funds to people who I do not know. I will channel it through those whom I do know, whether in India, Africa, Asia, or Central America.
I hope my brothers, at home and abroad, will understand this position. I think it is an informed, loving, and just position, calculated to guard against fraud and deception, encourage churches to do what they can for themselves, and provide help to people in constructive manner. I would be delighted to learn from others better ways of dealing with this situation.
— C. Phillip Slate