We think of status normally as Ascribed or Earned, but it can be bought as well. Of course in the broadest sense, buying status is Earned status, but it is not the type of earned status that most of us would find particularly praiseworthy. Consider the following story. It is completely fictitious, but describes what is happening over and over again in many countries.
Ben is a young missionary sent out by a small denomination. He is well-supported but has no real connections in this place. He is the first of his denomination to work in this new region of ministry. His denomination also doesn’t have the tradition of working cooperatively with most other denominations. Further, his mission agency presumes that a “real missionary” must have no familial, ethnic or cultural connections to the place. <Seriously, why did so many missiologists buy into this silly idea?> Because of this, Ben also has no relatives there either.
But Ben does have some money. Not far from where he lives is a small but growing church. The church building is pretty meager, in fact only a rental, but the people there are friendly, and the pastor, although young, seems to be doing a good job.
Ben sets up an appointment with Pastor Emil. At a coffee shop the two talk about ministry, and particularly how things are going at Ptr. Emil’s church. Even though Ben was new to the area, he had been there long enough to know that most churches there cannot afford a full-time pastor. Some pastors are bi-vocational, while others struggle to get by with help “in kind” from the church members. Ptr. Emil worked as a store clerk on weekdays.
Ben had a solution. He would help the church out financially. That way, they can have a real church building rather than a rental, and Ptr. Emil can quit his day job and commit himself to full-time ministry. What an exciting opportunity!
Of course there is a cost. Ptr. Emil and his church are part of a different denomination. They would have to switch to Ben’s denomination. Additionally, the church would have to change its name to show its change of status.
It’s a win-win. Ptr. Emil and his church are on good financial footing, and have a new building. Ben now has a church that he can take pictures of and send to his supporters as the fruits of his labor for the Lord.
But is it really win-win?
- Ptr. Emil is being paid, but now the ministry is no longer his, but is someone else’s. Theologically speaking, the work is neither Ptr. Emil’s nor Ben’s. It is the Lord’s. However true that may be, it disguises the issue of power. Ben now controls the church since he controls the money. The church no longer owns itself.
- The church is now dependent on an outsider. They were poor before, but God had provided. But that is over now. Sadly, dependency often leads to a form of “learned helplessness,’ where neediness becomes the goal rather than being self-governing, self-propogating, and self-sufficient.
- The supporters of Ben are being hurt since they most likely were giving financial support to grow the kingdom of God, not “sheep stealing.” There are some people and some groups that are so prone to denominatio-centric thinking that anytime one pulls people to one’s own denomination, it is a success. I have met such people and such groups. But a missionary should help one’s supporters at home to think bigger– kingdom big– not in terms of simply denomination. In this case Ben perpetuates that attitude.
- Ben is hurt since he learned a bad lesson. Money Is Not Missions.