Native Missions & Missionaries
Recently I sat down with Brett Eubank, part of my local church’s pastoral team, to talk about mission strategy. Brett is the pastor for outreach and assimilation at Rivermont Evangelical Presbyterian Church in Lynchburg, Virginia, and has extensive cross-cultural and local church planting experience. He and I traveled to Myanmar and Nepal in 2019 to teach and encourage frontline pastors and evangelists.
(Eric) Brett, ANM wants to encourage local pastors who may be considering getting involved in native missions and have questions. What does supporting native missionaries mean for our overall missions program? How do we balance our traditional Western sending model with support for indigenous ministries? Do we stop supporting Western missionaries? What is the wise approach?
(Brett) For us, it is a both/and situation. The harvest is plentiful, and the laborers are few. At Rivermont Church, we have seen God raise up talented, godly, motivated men and women who are called to cross-culturally share the Gospel. We want to help send them. About half of the missionaries we currently support are connected in some way with our church. Either they grew up at Rivermont or spent significant time at our church while living or attending university in Lynchburg.
I also look at our budget. We give a lot of money toward those [Western] missionaries because their budgets are much higher than indigenous workers. Missionaries [coming from North America and Europe] have to take time to learn the language and culture and how to engage and be productive when they enter as foreigners. It may be years before they begin to see any fruit.
However, indigenous workers are already there and connected to communities through their native churches and mission organizations. They know the language and the local culture. It is certainly true that earlier Western missionaries did that hard work of learning languages and making disciples of Jesus Christ. In many ways, they paved the way for native missionaries to build on their successes. We see the value of both models.
I get emails regularly from Christian ministries around the world who found our website and are asking for support. I have no way of knowing if these are legitimate ministries or scams. It would be difficult to enter a relationship with people we have never met, even if it were possible to gather information about the legitimacy of their ministry. So, it doesn’t make sense to us as a church to try and do indigenous ministry on our own. We need a partner who is doing the hard work of vetting ministries. One who has built and is sustaining relationships with native missionaries and ministries through field visits, phone calls, Zoom and Skype, and other means.
We feel good about supporting indigenous workers when we have an ongoing partnership with an organization like Advancing Native Missions that is regularly engaged with the native missionaries we support. We can also appreciate knowing that the dollars and prayers are going for what they were intended. In other words, there is accountability. I question why any church that wants to see the Gospel go forth through indigenous workers would not work with a ministry like ANM because that is what you are wired to do. And you do it very, very well.
(Eric) ANM has a 15% administrative fee on all donations. Is that worth it to you?
(Brett) Yes! Every missionary we support is part of an agency with some fee or percentage from donations. That is a generally accepted cost of supporting a missionary, and 15% is reasonable. If there was no agency like ANM, we would likely not know what sort of fruit was being produced from their work.
(Eric) Rivermont does have one direct partnership with an indigenous ministry in South Asia. Would you see the church entering into another such direct relationship, or is that a one-off?
(Brett) Our ministry partner in South Asia is gifted, intelligent, talented, and skilled with people. We have known him for a long time and have no serious concerns. But we would appreciate more communication from him. Having a ministry like ANM, I get regular communications about the people we support.
(Eric) So really the choices that face church pastors and mission pastors are: Do we continue to support Western missionaries? Do we switch to indigenous ministries? Or do we do both, and why?
(Brett) I think probably for many churches, it makes more sense for them to support indigenous missionaries for several reasons. From a financial perspective, if the average-sized church in America is about a hundred people, you factor in a church budget, generally between $80,000 – $100,000. You also have the additional expenses a church incurs. If a Western missionary has to raise $100,000, they need that church to give $10,000. I could probably support three missionaries in Myanmar for that same amount.
In addition, [the native missionary] is already prepared to go. In terms of language and culture, [they] have established networks and connections. We don’t have to worry about sending somebody overseas to do all that initial preliminary work for the first four or five years. Again, we can be confident the native missionary is going strong.
I also think our place in the world as Americans and missionaries is changing to more of a support role. We’ve been talking about the “business as mission” model where we invest Western resources in goat farms, fish hatcheries, or printing businesses. Projects like these provide ongoing funding that enables indigenous ministries to serve their communities and spread the Gospel. That makes a lot of sense and is something we can tangibly support as opposed to traditional church planting roles. This is particularly valuable in places where Westerners cannot enter as missionaries. But we can fill the duty of a financial advisor or a cyber security person. These are just some of the roles Western workers can and should provide while supporting indigenous workers.