A friend of mine, a foreign cross-cultural worker, had been working on developing the framework for a Chinese mission-sending organization with a Chinese mission-minded colleague. The two of them had attended meetings together both inside and outside the country. They had discussed at length their individual dreams. My friend had supported this Chinese colleague as she took on the role of team leader in short-term field assignments in neighboring countries. With increasing experience, this Chinese colleague’s importance to the goal of supporting the development of Chinese missionary vision likewise increased. Another organization saw her worth. This organization was able to pay a salary significantly higher than what my friend was able to pay. The Chinese colleague left my friend’s team and began working with this second organization. I felt pain watching this process. Many mission-sending aims seemingly were set back by years.
Another friend of mine had been working to support the development of a network of Chinese churches. The network was indigenous and self-replicating. Pastors were bi-vocational. Churches, therefore, did not need to raise a salary for a pastor. As new leaders developed within the system, they planted new churches. An outside agency became attracted to this work. If pastors could do so much while working bi-vocationally, why just imagine what they could do if they were given the opportunity to devote their full time to church work. This agency began supporting pastors’ salaries. Unfortunately, new leaders developing within the system then began to wait until stipends were available before devoting themselves to church ministry. The stipends, however, were only available for a limited number of people. Church growth stopped at the limit of what outside funds were able to support.
Financial resource sharing is a controversial issue in international relationships. There is no doubt that organizations and agencies such as the ones in the stories above had good intentions. However, foreign funding, especially if used indiscriminately without the oversight of local Chinese leadership, may cause harm. Many international Christians, feel that the Chinese church must learn to depend on itself for mission sending, and that money coming from abroad must gradually decrease. Nevertheless, some Chinese missionaries have difficulty understanding the reluctance of the foreign church to share resources, feeling hampered by an inability to raise the large amounts of capital needed for missionary service. The Chinese and Western church do not always see eye to eye on this point.
Thinking through an approach to these issues is essential. While dependency must be avoided, there is a role for wise, goal-directed, time-limited financial partnership between the Chinese and the foreign church. In my article, “The International Church Role in Chinese Missionary Sending Part 2: Strategies for Financial Partnership between Chinese and International Mission Senders,” I provide a framework for considering these matters.