If our giving does not demand returns or produce spiritual growth, then we are only propping up the church not building it up, and we are doing the Church a disfavour.

Late in August 2018 baby Moses was committed to the care of the FAME Cole Baby Unit by the courts in Mwingi (Kenya). He had been neglected and was malnourished. At almost one year old he could not hold his head up because the first months of his life were spent lying on his back. He was never given the opportunity to develop the muscles necessary to straighten himself or hold himself up. He was limp. In the coming years Moses will need a rigorous regime of physiotherapy, to make up for the loss of muscle use.

This story of baby Moses has been repeated often in the life of the Church, certainly in the parts of Africa that I’ve seen. Years of liberal giving from the West, often indiscriminate and without proper discipleship, has enabled many African churches to default on their responsibility.

Development in the grace of giving has been stunted and the potential for productivity within the Church has been undermined. A sort of ecclesiastical welfare system has developed that keeps the poor, poor and does not empower them to rise up and own the church.

With so many options on whereto give, the church in the West needs to think more about whywe give, and howwe give.

For too many years we’ve looked on the African Church with the sort of pity that wants to do everything for it. We have evangelized and helped plant churches. We have collected used Bibles and literature, we’ve sent money for famine relief, mission teams for construction projects, doctors and nurses for humanitarian needs, and boxes of clothes.

Don’t get me wrong, this help from the West is good and is to be commended. It is important and necessary help.

However, if we have been giving without teaching we have only helped to disable the African Church. If the African Church is going to hold its head up, it must learn to develop and strengthen itself. It must own the responsibility of being a part of the body of Christ, like other parts of the body have done. We in the West need to work towards strengthening these churches, not shoring them up.

The problem with the western mind is that we like to see immediate results for our expenditure. It’s easy to raise support for a church roof, a new water tank or something tangible and visible. But for all the giving, the problem of poor churches has not gone away. The problem of unfinished buildings, and, more importantly, pastors without pay, has not gone away despite the money that has been pumped into many of them from outside donors.

The focus has been misplaced.

It is not buildings and sound equipment these churches need. The real work of the Church is in the weekly ministry and development of healthy communities of believers—whether rich or poor—the building up of the saints and the training of young men to expound the Word and take the Church forward.

This takes time, it takes spiritual discipline, and it is a hard sell, even to many evangelical Christians today. The rewards of this sort of expenditure may never be seen on this earth or in our time.

However, if we are going to act responsibly in missionary giving, we need to understand the nature of the Church and our relationship to the Church globally.

The African Church requires the dignity of being treated as an equal, not a dependant.

Paul reminded the Corinthian Church of this in the first century (2 Corinthians 8-9; esp. 8:13-14).

For I mean not that other men be eased, and ye burdened: but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality.

Financial giving does not aim at removingpoverty from within the Church or the community—there will always be poverty. Financial giving within the Church is for the reliefin poverty so that the work of the Church, the building up the body, can continue. It is not about the rich giving to the poor, so that the poor can become rich, or richer.

Paul is arguing for equality, not financial or economic equality, but the equality of grace and love. There will always be economic inequality, in every level of the church. Paul is arguing from the point of view of an existing equality, an inter-dependence between equals, a spiritual equality of fellowship among the international “household of faith”(Galatians 6:10).

Paul shows the Corinthians that giving to the needs of the church at Jerusalem is nothing more than an exchange of grace of God (8:1,19), which they in turn can receive from the other churches.

The Church in Africa needs financial support. There is a real and pressing need, but financial support needs to be optimized with the recognition of a biblical and global ecclesiology.

The believers in Africa are our equals in the faith. The grace that we dispense now to them, we can, and we should, expect to see reciprocated.

Giving to missions then, needs to come with demands and responsibility, not to burden poor churches, but to teach the Church the discipline of giving, and the spiritual enrichment they will reap from this discipline (2 Corinthians 9:11).

This is the sort of giving that will produce healthy churches, that in turn can reach out to others, minister effectively in their communities, and leave a healthy legacy to succeeding generations.

If our giving does not demand returns or produce spiritual growth, then we are only propping up the church not building it up, and we are doing the Church a disfavour.