Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
December 21, 1967
NUMBER 33, PAGE 3b,5b-6a

Should Overseas Churches Pay Their Own Way?

Gene Tope

This question, infrequently asked, (but frequently thought, I suspect) was brought to my attention while traveling in the United States last year. Why can't people overseas take care of their own needs? Aren't they becoming perpetual beggars, altogether too dependent on American saints?

Let it be known, first of all, that I am sympathetic toward every true preaching effort being put forth in overseas countries. And, as I am especially familiar with the Lord's cause in South Africa, perhaps, by mentioning a few points concerning us, I can enlist your sympathy as well. Most of what I say should apply with equal force to other places: Japan, Ireland, Australia, or elsewhere.

Two things are characteristic of South African congregations:

(1) We are small in numbers. Most congregations average from 10-20 brethren.

(2) Churches are few and far between. Only seven European congregations are to be found in the entire country.

Several vital factors help to explain the above conditions:

(1) In our generation, the gospel has only been preached here since 1950. The oldest of the above mentioned churches is eight years old. Many of the brethren have only been Christians five years, or less.

(2) The division over institutionalism has hurt us even worse than it has you in America. The liberal element had the bulk of the preachers, all of the meeting-houses and a majority of the members.

(3) To most people of South Africa, the church of Christ is a "sect".

To all sections of the population, it is strange, and new. Religious prejudice is not confined to Italy and Catholicism.

So, as was true of old Philadelphia — we have but a "little strength" (Rev. 3). Though small in numbers and small in financial power, our needs remain great.

But, is it not true that the New Testament principle of autonomy involves shouldering local responsibilities, both spiritual and financial? This seems to be the case. Concerning giving, the Lord's command applies to every Christian according to his prosperity (I Cor. 16:1,2; II Cor. 9:7). From the poorest native in the kraal to the richest saint on earth, all are expected to sacrifice for the kingdom's sake. Even a congregation, located where deep poverty exists, may still have power to give something (II Cor. 8:3). Paul said concerning equality, "For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened."

A preacher, then, will either establish churches or "missions". If he is to do the former he must stress:

(1) The training and development of men for the eldership.

(2) A local treasury.

(3) Support of evangelists.

(4) The helping of indigent saints.

(5) Sustaining a teaching program (involving supplies, meeting-house, etc.).

In conversation with other preachers working overseas, I am led to believe that such teaching is being stressed.

Here in South Africa these encouraging signs have been noted:

(1) All of the European congregations are paying for teaching supplies and renting buildings with their own funds.

(2) Two congregations are contributing toward the support of a South African evangelist. (There have been other commendable instances of this; in one case a small church fully supported a preacher for over a year.)

(3) One congregation is saving to buy property; another is paying on a building they have already erected.

"Modest efforts all", perhaps some will say; but we believe: "Healthy forecasts from young churches of better things yet to come."

So, it is all a question of time. Overseas Christians should take on responsibility as they are able. When will they be fully self-sustaining? I don't think I have the answer to that one. Support for American preachers here in Africa will probably continue through our lifetime. But is this a serious defect, if each evangelist will establish one or more churches according to the above order? One thing is certain: As long as the world stands, we must be sending preachers out to some part of the world to teach the lost and dying.

When these men return home from several years overseas and want to speak where you worship, won't you do the following:

(1) Give them a courteous hearing and your best attention.

(2) Inquire as to their needs. Why reduce these servants of God to begging?

(3) By polite questions determine if the needs stated are logical and legitimate.

(4) Be honest with yourself and the one seeking aid. Don't say, "We would like to help, but can't" when you really mean "we can, but we don't want to."

(5) Don't string the poor fellow on, or leave his requests unanswered. If you can give, do it then and there. "Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it." (Prov. 3:27)

-P.O. Box 519, Krugersdorp, Republic of South Africa