Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Helping a church instead of only helping an individual

Two books I recently read and which I discussed shortly some time ago, Glenn Schwarz’s When Charity destroys Dignity and John Rowell’s To Give or not to Give? both refer to the importance of not helping an individual financially but rather helping the church as employer. I share that feeling, (although I think that there may be exceptions to this rule – to which I will come back later).
There are a number of reasons why I think that one should help a church rather than an individual. Helping an individual can so easily lead to jealousy amongst the church workers. If one is singled out (perhaps because of a more charismatic personality) and receives extra money while the others suffer, then the Holy Spirit will have to work overtime to prevent tension from coming between the workers.
A second reason is that the initiative is taken away from the church if a person is singled out to receive extra money. Those on the outside perceive a certain person to be the best worker and on those grounds decide that they are going to help this individual. Those on the inside may have better knowledge or other information about the worker and they may feel that the money should rather have been spent in another way. But because the initiative had been taken away from them, they have no further say in the matter. Even if that worker should come under church discipline, the help will still be continued from outside which makes it very difficult for the church to give advice to this person.
A third reason is that the greatest need may not be there where money is being asked for. Schwarz gives the example of a certain individual in southern Africa who requested help from him after three years of drought and then floods demolished everything within a certain community. Schwarz prayed about the matter and eventually gave money to the community instead of to the individual who had asked the money. In this way the help could be distributed fairly. I think that was a wise decision.
Although I consider this as a good rule-of-thumb, there may be times when exceptions can be made. We as family, together with a number of our friends are involved with a certain individual in Russia who runs the children’s ministry in Samara. Except for praying and showing interest in her ministry, we also pay her salary. How do we do this so that there will no tension between the workers in Samara and that the initiative remains in the hands of her church? First of all we have a personal relationship with this person. Many of us have met her in the past and she was also part of the team who visited us this past weekend. We know her and we know what work she is doing.
Secondly we went to the directors of the Bible school which normally pays her salary and asked them how we could contribute to her salary without running the risks mentioned above. After finding out how much she receives every month, we agreed to pay this exact amount into the account of the Bible school and they would then pay her salary as normal. She is therefore not getting a higher salary than her colleagues. In this way there can be no possibility of any jealousy or a feeling from the directors that something is happening behind their backs. But the advantage is that those who are giving the money have personal contact with the person receiving it, get feedback from her about her work and also have a personal interest in the children’s ministry in Samara.
Obviously, if she should leave the service of the Bible school in the future, then the help would have to be reconsidered (and in fact every year we sit down and discuss whether we should continue this assistance for another year, thus allowing for changes in the system), but for the moment this seems to work for us. But I would only advise giving help to an individual rather than the church or organisation employing that person if the long route of discussing potential problems with the employing body had been followed. Otherwise the best way remains to help the body, rather than just one individual.
I would like to hear how you feel about this.


Thursday, September 27, 2007 - Posted by | Building relations, Church, Dependency, Dialogue, Giving, Indigenous church, Mission, Missionary Organisations, Partnership, Poverty, Prayer, Rowell, Schwarz, Support teams, Sustainability, Swaziland, Theology

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