by Penny Brink and Hiskia Missah
The value and importance of being self-supporting as a mission organization came to my attention while my husband and I were working on the 2005 GC session report for our division, the Southern Africa-Indian Ocean Division. There were eight focus issues that the division was rolling out, and one of them had to do with helping the administrative entities within the division to become more self-supporting, i.e., less reliant on the higher organization for fund appropriations.
I found it touching that church entities that existed for helping others wished to have a sense of being able to “fund the mission” with their dignity intact.
This, of course, takes the matter of “self-support” to the level of the individual or family unit. In order to be self-supporting, an organization’s members need to fund the mission, and how can they do that if they, themselves, are struggling financially? In an earlier edition of the Dynamic Steward, I explored the ethics of a church whose leadership is located in the affluent West requesting those in poorer regions of the world to give to the church’s mission.
The stewardship teaching we hold dear stands firm: it is more blessed to give than to receive, and giving to God’s cause has its own inherent promise of sustenance and blessing. We can, like Jesus, encourage even the poorest of the poor to give, because that is possibly the best way to experience a tangible relationship with God through claiming His promises of sustenance.
The stewardship teaching we hold dear stands firm: it is more blessed to give than to receive, and giving to God’s cause has its own inherent promise of sustenance and blessing.
We believe that God will sustain us, even through the generosity of those whom God has blessed with material wealth. But how do we keep people’s dignity intact? How do we help bring others to the point where they are “self-supporting” enough to be able to experience the joy of financial partnership in God’s cause? A discussion with my fellow Adventists in my home country, South Africa, recently left the question hanging: How can a church ask for money from people in whose economic development they have no involvement? I don’t think this is some sort of demand for the church to provide wealth to the masses. Instead, I think it is a simple expectation of “give and take.” How does the church show its interest in the development of those who are struggling—so that they can participate fully and with dignity in the life and the mission of the church?
Well, we have ADRA, the Adventist Development and Relief Agency. But we dare not leave the responsibility entirely to them. Each one of us may make a difference in the lives of another or of a family if we are aware and intentional about this matter of developing “self-support.” We can see how this is indeed, in the end, a stewardship concern. We are stewards not only of God’s resources but of each other. The parable of the sheep and the goats is clear on this matter.
Elder Hiskiah Missah has this wisdom to share from his encounters with this important topic among church members in his home division, the Southern Asia-Pacific Division. He writes:
“An important part of our ministry is to identify the needs of our church members. Many newly baptized members lose their employment because of their new faith practices, such as keeping the Sabbath. I remember that my father was fired from his job as a school principal of a Sunday-keeping church school in Indonesia. He became jobless. Thank the Lord, a friend in the Adventist Church called him to become a literature evangelist on another island. Our family moved to that island, and my father moved through the ranks of the LE’s to become a Bible teacher, an associate pastor, and finally a fully ordained Adventist pastor. Our story ended well because of the care and help from the church.
Each one of us may make a difference in the lives of another or of a family if we are aware and intentional about this matter of developing “self-support.”
“In fact, we knew of several teachers and principals from other denominations who lost their jobs when joining the Adventist Church. Being trained as literature evangelists was a saving grace for their families’ financial well-being.
“When pastors from other denominations joined our church, the church in Indonesia sent them to our seminary so they could continue their ministries within the Adventist Church.
“But it is not only new members who find themselves in difficulty. There are many of our long-term members worldwide who are unemployed. Some have felt the catastrophic economic impact of a major illness in the family or of being laid off at work. Others are struggling with debt or large student loans. And still others are at a stage of life where they need care-giving services.
“How can we identify and meet these needs among our members?
“Visitation is key to any congregation’s health. Before visiting members, however, pastors and elders should learn methods to establish how people are doing both spiritually and economically. One could simply ask what people are grateful for before praying with them. They could say, ‘Shall we thank God for your good job?’ or ‘Shall we ask the Lord’s help with your plans for finding new work?’ Questions like this may open the conversation and reveal the needs, so that the church may respond with kindness and available assistance.
“One church I know of in my home country had members with skills and businesses that were able to provide training in income-generating activities. One had a barber shop and was able to train members to cut hair. Another was a mechanic and helped people learn how to do car repairs. Those with agricultural skills taught others how to raise chickens, goats, or sheep. The church helped to provide initial startup equipment, stock, or loans. They also established a “buddy system,” where prayer partners would help those in need to apply for jobs. Adventists who owned factories or other manufacturing entities would try to hire members in need when vacancies arose.
“Such simple measures added to the ministry of the church and helped to show members that we care for their total well-being. It’s what Jesus would have wanted us to do, as stewards of our brothers and sisters.”
We invite our division Stewardship Ministries leaders and other interested parties to join this conversation and contribute ideas on ways in which we can apply economic development as part of our strategic stewardship ministry.