Post Tsunami Evangelism Blues: the Other Side

7th April 2005

My last communiqué highlighted (“Evangelism After Tsunami Relief) one side of the problem of evangelism after the tsunami. It neglected to mention another side, and I am thankful to a former YFC volunteer Mohan Fernandopulle and former staff worker Gerard Van Gramberg who alerted me to this. This is the problem of many evangelistic workers being underpaid.

Let’s get this fact settled immediately: though evangelistic workers may not be well paid, according to the Bible, they need to be adequately paid. Jesus said about his itinerant evangelist disciples, “A labourer deserves his food” (Matt. 10:10). Paul applying this to elders said, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, ‘You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,’ and, ‘The labourer deserves his wages’” (1 Tim. 5:17-18). But he also used these same points in 1 Corinthians 9 to argue that itinerant evangelists should be paid adequately.

There is however a system in Sri Lanka and many other nations of moving church plants to self-sufficiency in such a way as to leave some workers really struggling to survive financially. This is the situation where pioneer workers are sent out from a mother church to begin a new work and then supported until the mother church decides that it is time for them to raise all their own running expenses. Let me say that the push for self-sufficiency is laudable and helps avoid the government department type lethargy we see among some workers in older denominations where the salary is automatically paid from a central stipends fund. It helps churches to grow healthily by members who contribute their part and often culminates in the new churches themselves getting involved in missionary ventures of their own.

But some churches are unable to raise sufficient funds, even after the stipulated period of outside support, to support their pastors adequately. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes it is because the workers do not do what they are supposed to do to raise the funds. Sometimes it is because the place is very resistant, the converts are slow in coming, or those who come are so poor that they cannot raise enough to support a pastor. Sometimes the underpaid pastor seeing his members starving gives some of the little he has to feed them!

It is also true that some of the best evangelists and ministry workers are not good fund raisers and that some of the best fund raisers are not good evangelists and ministry workers.

The above reasons show that we need a system which retains the self-support goal without resulting in good people starving; a system which ensures support from the centre for genuinely needy workers without letting the field church to become like a government department. The churches will have to work out the exact way this is going to be done.

I believe the present situation is causing serious dishonour to God and we must stop that. The all too common phenomenon of the starving minister who is terribly discouraged after years of sacrificial service is hugely dishonouring to God. I believe this is even more dishonouring to God than the government department type churches. People look at those churches and say, “Dead churches produce dead people.” That may be true! People look at those who are suffering after working hard for years and say, “It’s not worth paying the price of reaching the unreached.” That is blasphemy!

Also, I see a fairly severe anger developing among poorer Christian workers against their richer counterparts. Such anger within the body of Christ represents a serious affront to the glory of God.

In this environment a new scenario is developing. The head of a group has foreign contacts. He controls the funds that come in. He lives like the king of the empire. The subjects obey his commands and depend on his mercy for their financial benefits…. until they too can find a foreign contact. Then they start their own kingdom. There are several foreign groups who are eagerly looking for “our person in Sri Lanka.” Therefore many who look can find foreign sponsors. So we see a town in Sri Lanka which once had three Protestant churches now having about thirty. Some churches are planted through pioneer evangelism. The others start through church splits when one worker takes a group with him to start a new work using funds from his or her foreign sponsor.

When there is “body-of-Christ-type accountability” within movements these abuses can be prevented. In such accountability, the leaders ensure that everyone is adequately cared for, and the members do not take major decisions without the approval of their leaders. The leaders and the rank and file all submit themselves to rules which are in keeping with the principles in the Bible and also in keeping with the audit and employment laws of the land. Sometimes church officials say that the law does not require us to follow government employment regulations. Indeed; but our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20). We must be more caring of our employees than the government stipulates.

ON ANOTHER POINT: I’m happy that the Sri Lankan Evangelical Alliance has made a statement about Pope John Paul II. It focussed on his contribution to peace and harmony.

I would like to add that I think his greatest contribution was as a powerful advocate for personal morality. Things like promiscuity, adultery, extra-marital sex and abortion are considered a normal part of life. The big media personalities who are heroes of our youth indulge in them with no shame. The world has gone crazy about the evils of child abuse (and rightly so). But it is afraid to address the sinful attitude to sex that has created an environment where such sexual crimes grow. Pope John Paul II used his credibility, his winsome personality and his popularity with youth to make a rallying cry for biblical morality. For that I am deeply grateful.

Billy Graham has called him “unquestionably the most influential voice for morality and peace in the world during the last 100 years.”

I am stuck at home after a terrible attack of the flu. I am finally strong enough to come to the computer. And you are made to endure my ranting!

Ajith