“We determined that we were going to do things for ourselves and not be dependent on outsiders to support us” shared a Pentecostal pastor (Bob) from rural Africa during a theological class recently. “But”, he added (onerously to me!) “It is hard to say to someone who has a real problem that ‘we will pray for him’, then just let him go.”
“What draws people to the church” explained Bob “is our spiritual teaching”. “Then once they are in the church, we realise that they have many other needs. They present those needs to the pastor” he added.
“Now, I can help the occasional people with some produce from my farm” Bob explained “but there are so many with so many needs; that I cannot help them all!”
Bob explained that his church, that was planted just a few years ago, had to re-think their policy. Part of the reason they had to rethink, was because if they could not provide for the needy, then the needy would go elsewhere. And indeed as long as they followed their initial policy, their church remained small. The pressure to acquire outside funds became intense.
To their great joy, they found people elsewhere who had the opposite problem to theirs. That is people in the West who have a lot of money but no one to help. At the same time here in Africa there are a lot of people desperately needing help, but a shortage of money. So what could be better – than to put the two together!
Nowadays, when someone goes to their church, then they can get both spiritual help and physical help.
“These days we do not have standards in our churches” added Bob. That is, he explained – if someone has money, then the church will overlook their sin. Someone may have more wives, but they can still make him pastor. Bob recalled the days when his father had been a church leader: “he had no education except two years of primary schooling” he explained, “but he did a good job” he added. “In those days” he said “if someone did something contrary to God’s laws he could be disciplined. These days no one is disciplined – because if someone’s church does not please him, then he will simply take his money to another”.
The choice is a very difficult one for church leaders like Bob. Foreign money is widely available. Many outsiders like to give to churches. Once a church accepts money from outside, then the donors tell them what to do with it and how to do it. Because they cannot keep to the kind of standards they are given, money gets to be abused and all kinds of corruption enter into the church. Perhaps they would have been better off refusing donor funds after all, Bob reiterated, but then it was clear to him that they would have very few people.
The way things are going is heading for problems. When begging succeeds, fewer people bother to make provision for themselves. More and more dependence is created. There is more and more corruption. But because people are used to getting things when they go to church, fewer and fewer people are ready to go to church ‘for nothing’. Successful churches are those with donors.
Bob struggled in his heart to know which way to turn. Either be true to God (perhaps – but then not to be able to meet people’s needs) and have very few in church. Or be corrupt and follow money, have money for himself and money to give out, plus a lot of people in church, and ‘succeed’ according to the degree which he could please White donors.