we asked the question “would you pay people to go to church?” After a few
quick thoughts the answer was obvious “no way!”
turned the tables and asked, “Would you pay pastors in Africa to attend the
conference your STM team is hosting?”
Here is why
I (as a missionary) would discourage you
1) African’s are relational. They want to meet you, ask about
your family, share about their family and get an individual picture with you.
This doesn’t happen for them in a crowd of thousands. This type of experience
might be satisfying for our western individualistic culture but for a
relational society it leads the crowds feeling empty. Ultimately, the only
national the STM teams connect with are their drivers – who are also there just
to be paid!
2) As leaders go – so goes the church. If the leaders are only
motivated to learn, study and worship because they are getting paid they will
produce the same type of churches. Sadly, church growth in Africa has become
“whoever gives out the most wins!” This means that churches are growing because
they sponsor children, provide free medical care, and pass out free clothes and
bibles not because the gospel is preached, discipleship is taking place and the
body is functioning according to the gifts. This pulls many people away from
Bible-teaching churches and into prosperity gospel churches simply because the
prosperity church has money.
3) It harms the ministries that last longer than a STM trip!
Passing out things for free while receiving high-fives, hugs, smiles, cheers,
testimonies and praise for a week or two is an amazing rush which motivates
tens of thousands of STM teams to come to Uganda and surrounding East African
countries every year. It’s a rush that has become a yearly “must –do” for
churches around the US. Then when the money runs out everyone feels great
because it is time to board the plane.
But for the churches that meet every Sunday, Child Development centers
that open every day and Bible Colleges that meet year round there just aren’t enough
resources to pass out free gifts and provide transport every day – so when the
visitors leave so do the crowds. This forces many ministries to host teams year
round which leads to the same types of visitors, the same messages and the
same activities year after year, which African's fully show appreciation for –
because it’s their job – there are getting paid!
4) What would you do? Ultimately as a pastor in the US you
don’t go to every conference. You pick conference(s) based on what you can
afford and when you pay for that conference you know that your elders, deacons
committee or whoever else paid for the conference are counting on you to use
that time to get what you need most to satisfy your soul and prepare you to
lead your church. Treat your brothers in Africa the same way – let them come
because it is what they need most not because you are picking up the tab!
At our University we host 5-8 conferences a year and
charge anywhere from $5 – 50 per participant and it works. The pastors that
need it come and those who don’t are free to stay and faithfully serve in their
churches. Our conferences are well attended and I have never heard from anyone
that wanted to attend and couldn’t because of the money. We’ve yet to have
10,000 attendees but then again we never had to pay anyone to come…
There is a cost to discipleship – let’s make sure we aren’t
changing the gospel call by making everything free!
Jeff Atherstone is the President of African Renewal University and has served as a missionary in Uganda since January 2006.