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Would You Pay People to Go to Church - Part 2

Jul. 29, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

Yesterday, we asked the question “would you pay people to go to church?” After a few quick thoughts the answer was obvious “no way!”

Then we turned the tables and asked, “Would you pay pastors in Africa to attend the conference your STM team is hosting?”

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Here is why I  (as a missionary) would discourage you not to:

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.

 

 

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Would You Pay People to go to Church?

Jul. 28, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

With all the emphasis on church growth and attendance numbers I am sure that someone has considered this before:“ Why don’t we just pay people to go to church?”

It’s simple – offer people $20 / $50 or $100 a Sunday to come to church.  $10,000 and you could have a thousand member church over night. Mega-church here we come!

Obviously, I’m not the first pastor to think of this so let’s examine the reasons we don’t do this (I reasons why I hope you’re not doing this).

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1)   It gives people the wrong motivation to come. They aren’t coming to learn, worship, service or give – they are coming to receive, profit and do their time.

2)   It gives people the wrong view of the gospel. Didn’t Jesus tell people to count the cost of discipleship rather than tell them to count on the profits that come from following?

3)   It harms the people who do want to come. How would you feel if you came to worship and the guy next to you keeps asking “when’s this over” and “what’s the time?” How would you feel if you came to learn and as the pastor comes to preach the whole crowd around you pulls out their iphones and ipads to start playing games?

4)   It gives the pastor a false sense of his influence, impact and following. Bigger isn’t always better (just ask your friend who failed their summer diet). Your ego might feel better having a big crowd but ultimately you are attracting a crowd that cares more about the coffee and doughnuts than they do about the gospel.

5)   It is a waste of the churches resources. If I need to explain – stop reading here because you’re not going to like me at all as I’m about to turn the tables.

Here is where I am going:

As a missionary I am shocked at how many short-term missions teams pay the nationals to attend their conferences, trainings and seminars.

Not only do they pay for the conference, food, lodging, gifts (bibles, books, etc) but many of the conferences in East Africa now as part of the registration pay the transport of the pastor to and from their conferences.

Now imagine if we do this in the US. Catalyst, Desiring God National Conference, Gospel Coalition and every other conference dropped their conference fee, paid for your hotel, meals, and gifts at the bookstore and then reimbursed your plane ticket or fuel. Pastors would become professional conference attendees and the churches would suffer without their leaders.

This is exactly what I see happening in Uganda and hear from other missionaries in surrounding countries. Pastors are turning into professional conference attendees and the church is hurting.

The argument against this is “the church in the west is rich and the church in Africa is poor why can’t we help them”

There are plenty of answers – let me tackle that in part 2 tomorrow…

Jeff Atherstone is the President of African Renewal University and has served as a missionary in Uganda since January 2006.

 

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Integrity Has a Price - Part 3

Jan. 28, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

It's 2 AM and I'm wide awake... usually a good sign that the day didn't go as planned.

Long story short... nothing happened.

The squatters argued that they were not served a notice to appear, which is a bit funny because their lawyer was in court on time and they were all standing outside of the courthouse (so how is it that they didn't know to appear in court - seems fishy to me)... so now the seller of the land has to provide a legal document (insert a technical name that I can't remember here) which states that he really did serve them notice.

Due to this technicality the judge delayed the hearing until April 3.

But here is where the whole issue of integrity comes in. We could have had the whole thinggavel1 taken care of today for just under $1,000 (remember this is a $100,000 land purchase so we are talking less than 1%). All we had to do was pay the judge and our case would have been heard.

I believe this is where the Western influence (or let's get more personal and say missionary influence) has added to the corruption in Uganda.

To a westerner "time is money" so it has become common practice to "pay" (insert "bribe") to speed up service. This happens with missionaries getting work visas at the Ministry of Immigration. It happens for missionaries seeking to register their NGOs (Christian organizations). It happens for missionaries who pay to get out of traffic tickets so they don't have to stand in long lines at the bank to pay the real tickets. It happens with couples who want to speed up their adoptions. The list goes on and on.

I'm not saying that all missionaries do this, but it is also more common than it should be among this crowd.

Our cultural (not biblical)  impatience has created a system that encourages corruption.

Part of me wonders if "being slow" has become the most profitable business practice in the developing world?

So today the squatters took a calculated risk and delayed the process. Now all eyes are back on us, the school with a mizungu (white) director. Will he bribe the court? Or better yet, will he pay us (the squatters) to stop fighting this case in court?

So here is the updated prayer list:

1) Pray that the judge, seller and squatters all show up in court on April 3 with all the legal documents filed correctly 
2) Pray that the judge grants us favor and makes his decision on the evidence
3) Pray that the squatters don't pay to win
4) Pray that the judge acts on his decision in our favor and sends his bailiffs to clear the squatters off the land
5) Pray that the squatters don't retaliate against the school or my family
6) Pray that the testimony of this purchase inspires our staff, students and everyone else involved to seek God's favor rather than paying for man's favor 

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  missions, money, uganda, west, corruption, patience, integrity, arcc

Integrity Has a Price - Part 2

Jan. 27, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

For three days we are featuring posts from Jeff Atherstone and his experience two years ago trying to negotiate land for what is now African Renewal University.

It's the halfway point... just over a week since being asked for the bribe to settle the land dispute and a week left until the trial.

A number of you have been praying with us and are curious about how things are going.

It's been quiet, really quiet. This is normal and if I keep calling the lawyers, seller, judge or409053_6753035_lz anyone else involved I will look like the worried mizungu. Then they will get confident that I will cave in and pay the bribe, so it is true that Philippians 4:6 really works (be anxious for nothing) even for handling corruption.

But I did check in with our lawyers today and received some great news. The seller and judge are showing up to court on March 6 and they are both aware that we will not pay a bribe. This is great news because at least our case will be heard and then ultimately the decision is in the hands of the court.

Personally I feel more at peace about the whole situation than I have at any point in the process (prayer is working!). I'm also excited for the students and staff. I really believe that a strong stand against corruption will be a testimony for the institution and a legacy for the students to follow for years to come.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  missions, money, uganda, answer to prayer, arcc

Integrity Has a Price

Jan. 26, 2015By: Jeff AtherstoneAuthor Bio

The next three days will feature posts from Jeff Atherstone and his experience two years ago trying to negotiate land for what is now African Renewal University.

It's no secret that corruption is a major problem in Uganda... on the world Corruption Perception Index we ranked #127 in 2010... which isn't as bad as Somalia at #178 but it still isn't anything to brag about.

What might be surprising to some who haven't experienced this type of corruption is that it is everywhere... the police, courts, government, church and business to name a few.
bribery
And today it is staring me in the face with a price tag beyond anything I have ever experienced.

Yesterday I was asked to pay a judge $1,000 which might not be much to some, but if I don't pay it, ARCC (Africa Renewal Christian College) could also lose another $100,000 (and yes, I am referring to US Dollars)!

First the good news! We found the owner of the troublesome land that I wrote about last June and agreed on a price for the land and drafted a purchase agreement with our board and lawyers in November,received all the funds and made the payment for the land in December. This last week the seller (after much prompting) filed a court case to stop the squatters from all construction, farming or any other developments. This is a great step.  Next, the squatters will face off with the seller in court. The seller (a lawyer) has all the proof required to show that they settled on the land illegally. The final step will be that the court will remove the squatters.

Here is the problem: even though the seller has the proof he needs to win in court, the judge is asking for $1,000 and the seller is demanding that I pay it!

If I don't pay it, the seller is saying that he will drag this case on as long as he wants (months, years, indefinitely), as a lawyer (and nephew of a well known politician) he is telling me that I have no choice. He can and will delay as long as he wants - pretty nice for a guy who introduced himself to us as a Born-Again Christian!

There is also an additional price. The longer this goes on the more problems we have with the community around us, because the illegal squatters all received their land from the local
Muslim mayor and he is doing his best to convince them that the Mizungu (white guy) will eventually get scared or impatient and pay them to leave. This also has a price! As soon as you start paying people who have broken the law to leave you alone, it invites new people to break the law in order to get money from you.

So, what do you do?

Sell your integrity for $1,000?

Risk losing the $100,000+ you paid for the land?

Risk threats from the squatters who still think they can get money from us (they have used poison to kill our animals in the past)? 

After a sleepless weekend and some great counsel from the ARCC Board, the answer seems simple: It is time to ask God's people to pray...

More on what happened tomorrow.

Show Comments   |   Leave a Comment  |  Tags:  missions, money, uganda, corruption
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