Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Disparity in salaries in missions

Readers of this blog may wonder why missionaries write so much about money. Before I came to Swaziland I also had the wonderful idea that missions is all about the gospel and proclaiming the peace of Christ and people of different cultures living in harmony with each other. It didn’t take long for me to come down to earth and to realise that there were many issues in missions which I had never considered before and which was never taught to us at university. And most of these issues concerns money. And mostly it is about local people working in the church not getting enough and closely related to this, that expatriates working as missionaries are getting too much.
John Rowell, in his To give or not to give, also writes about this problem. Western missionaries have always received a higher salary than the local church leaders and it is understandable why this would also cause a lot of tension amongst workers.
Yesterday was not a good day for me. Out of the blue I received a letter from one of our fellow church leaders in another congregation with a sharp attack against me personally as well as the missions committee which sent me to Swaziland on exactly this topic. This type of thing is really sickening. I went to university. He went to university. I’m getting probably about three times what he is getting. I’m being paid by the missions committee which sent me to Swaziland while he is being paid by the local church (which receives a subsidy from the same missions committee, but not enough to pay his full salary.) On the other hand, we also make use of church leaders who have not had official university training and he is getting about four times what they are getting. And so it seems to me, that the disparity is there and will always be there, unless if all church funds could be placed into one big pot and then divided equally. But then again: Will that be fair? Will everybody be happy then? As parents we always said that if you have four children and you treat them all equally, then three of them are being treated unfairly. Is the same true in the church? I know that the responsibility which I have to carry and the expectation which the church has of me is much greater than the responsibility which any of the local church leaders have to carry and the expectation which people have of them. But is that reason enough to have a disparity in the salaries?
If I think about what Jonathan Bonk wrote and I think of what John Rowell wrote, then I acknowledge that there is a lot of unfairness in the system. But then again, is there a way in which this will ever be solved?


Friday, October 19, 2007 - Posted by | Dependency, Disparity, Giving, Indigenous church, Jonathan Bonk, Mission, Poverty, Racism, Rowell, Swaziland, Theology


  1. Arnau,

    I just received the book “To Give or Not to Give?” I’ll start reading it soon (I have another to finish). So, maybe then I’ll have something a little more informative to say.

    Thanks for bringing my attention to the book a while back!


    Comment by dwmiii | Friday, October 19, 2007 | Reply

  2. This reminds me of one of the parables where the landowner paid all the workers (whether they worked all day or only the last hour) the same wage. Some of the workers complained, but the master said that he had kept his promise and that each one received what he had determined they would receive. (paraphrasing of course)

    To compare (especially in the service to the Lord) what one is getting to another is irrelevant. Either this church leader believes he is called and accepted his financial situation as from the Lord for him, or not. If he is unhappy with the payment he is receiving, then instead of railing at you or the main organization, he must look to himself, pray and decide if he wishes to remain in that situation or not. If he truly needs more money or if he feels the Lord is not in his ministry, then he should step down.

    In addition, it is typical that with more responsibility comes more pay. This is true in the secular workplace and can also be true in ministry providing the funds are there.

    I have ministered for over ten years with absolutely no pay. I do it because I believe in what I am doing. My husband supports the family through work and I guess I do “bring in money” because our father lives with us since his stroke and I care for him. He contributes to the family finances each month and in a way it’s a “paycheck”. It would be lovely to be paid through our ministry if we had the money for it, but I’m not counting on it. This church leader you mentioned seems to have a different focus than what would be helpful.

    Comment by Maya | Friday, October 19, 2007 | Reply

  3. Gougald, I’m looking forward to hear what you think.

    Maya, this is such a difficult situation to handle. I agree with you. My wife is a teacher at a government school in South Africa. The salary probably isn’t so great and she is definitely not being paid what she was trained for (she did her BSc in Computer Science) but when the other teachers complain she says the same what you say: You made a choice to teach. If the money isn’t good enough, get out and find something else to do. But obviously there is also another side to it, which we find in 1 Timothy 5:18: For the Scripture says, “Do not muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” and “The worker deserves his wages.”

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Saturday, October 20, 2007 | Reply

  4. Great post, Arnau. I agree with what I believe you posed as an almost rhetorical question, “Is there a way in which this will ever be solved?”

    The director of a ministry here in Mexico has often made the comment to me about their local (Mexican) staff: “They’re paid extremely well by Mexican standards!”

    Meanwhile, the seasonal missionaries that come to work with the ministry make (raise) more money per month than the local staff receive. AND, all of their expenses are fully paid (housing, utilities, food, transportation, etc)–unlike the Mexican staff. The missionaries raise support purely for spending money.

    This certainly seems to be a disparity. And well paid or not by local standards, the whole thing just seems unfortunate and unfair.

    Comment by Ben | Wednesday, November 7, 2007 | Reply

  5. I’ve just returned from a two-day meeting where amongst others the letter which I referred to was discussed with the one who wrote it. It wasn’t a nice meeting and what I realised at one point is that he will never be satisfied, even if he should receive the same salary as I am getting. This is an attitude which he and many others have. In the late 80s I was once in a conversation with a Black theologian from South Africa who was seriously fighting against the disparity between the White ministers salaries and their Black colleagues. At one point he told me that his children were schooling in Swaziland. Interested I asked him at which school. When he answered my mouth fell open because there was no way that I nor any of the White people with whom I was friends could afford to have our children attend that specific school and I just said to myself where this man got the right from to complain about White ministers salaries while he, as a Black man was getting more than I could even dream of. And that is why I say that for some people money will always be an issue, no matter what they earn.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Thursday, November 8, 2007 | Reply

  6. […] internet connection. Part of this meeting was spent on discussing the letter I previously mentioned here. The person who had written the letter was also asked to attend the meeting so that it could be […]

    Pingback by Being content with life « Mission Issues | Thursday, November 8, 2007 | Reply

  7. I am seeking the Lord’s guidance in response to serving in SZ, Africa as well.

    What kind of annual budget/missionary support would you think a 30 yr old, my wife, and two small children (5 and 3 yrs old) would need?

    Thanks for your time and your service to our Lord and Saviour.

    Comment by C M P | Tuesday, July 29, 2008 | Reply

  8. This is great news! I hope you read yesterday’s post in which I also wrote about God confirming this calling. But if this is where God wants you, then I think that you will be happy in Swaziland. It’s tough to say how much you’ll need. What are you comparing it with? If you compare it with the States, then you’ll find that housing and food are generally cheaper. Someone I know is renting a 4-bedroom house in Mbabane for around $500 per month. You probably won’t need as big a house as that, so it would be cheaper. Food you’ll probably look at $600 or more per month, but then again it depends on how you eat. And it also depends in which area of Swaziland you will be. The northern parts, (Mbabane and Manzini) are slightly more expensive than the southern or eastern parts. Later schooling will become an issue. Once again, it depends where you stay: In the northern parts you have excellent private schools which are expensive. In the southern parts you only have government schools which are sub-standard and then you may have to consider schooling in South Africa (which is what we did) where government schools are generally of a fairly high standard. Good secondhand vehicles are available in Swaziland at a low price ($5000 upwards) but fuel is expensive, as anywhere in the world – presently around $1.50 a litre. I would guess with a budget of around $2000 per month you would be able to survive fairly comfortably in Swaziland. But that’s a very rough guess and everything depends on your personal lifestyle. I hope this helps.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Tuesday, July 29, 2008 | Reply

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