We recently received an end-of-the-year letter from friends who serve in an Asian country. One of their comments particularly caught my attention. They wrote, “Our national leaders are making disciples, bringing transformation to their communities, and raising up new missional leaders without dependency on outside support.” Although all of these actions are important, the last item stood out.
When we talk about the missional church, we emphasize the idea that every believer is a missionary. No matter what one does for a living, he or she is on mission in that vocation—embodying and articulating the Christian mission in the marketplace. To put a different twist on this, how important is it to equip and empower individual Christians to have a vocation and be self-supporting?
During the colonial missionary period, missionaries often referred to “rice Christians.” These were native believers who participated as long as the free food lasted. Once it was over, they were gone. We have learned a lot since then. Missionary efforts are more likely to develop ways for indigenous people to help themselves rather than tying them to Christian work with gifts.
One example of this might be to train an indigenous believer to repair bicycles and then provide a microgrant of a few hundred dollars (which would be repaid) for this person to buy a few bicycles, rent them out for a profit, and become self-sufficient as a productive member of the community (as well as a well-connected witness). (This is not my idea but one that I know has happened.)
In a webinar I attended recently, coach educator Jane Creswell talked about lessons she learned from a missionary. One of these was “make a positive impact on the economy.” Although missionary movements have done this in the past through providing education and health care, perhaps the greatest impact can be made by helping believers to become self-supporting and contributing members of society.
We often talk about empowering leaders in our churches, but empowering indigenous believers to be financially independent and community developers takes this to a new level. In fact, it certainly ties in with my missionary friends’ comments about developing disciples, transforming communities, and being independent of outside support. In so doing, they are developing sustainable missional frameworks. Even if they have to leave the area where they minister, the mission Dei will continue. Sounds biblical, doesn’t it?