Concerning the Whole Picture of American Supported World Evangelism
by Dave Beckley
With specific reference to Zimbabwe
There are several problems that have arisen in the northeastern part of Zimbabwe among preachers who are now receiving monetary support from American churches. I have become more and more convinced I must speak out concerning the wonderful generosity of my American brethren who are seeking ways to help our brethren in foreign lands, yet doing so in many cases without full knowledge of the men they support. The following are real life events in Zimbabwe that demonstrate my concern.
“REAL EXAMPLES OF MEN BEING SUPPORTED” by American money-
There is a young “preacher” who began to spread rumors and accusations against his fellow preacher, with whom he used to study, living in the same village. This resulted in the political party in the area making it uncomfortable and difficult for the other preacher to live and work in the area. The younger man in his new found job of preaching seems to consider himself on an equal footing with the older preacher. Indeed, his salary has allowed him to buy a DVD player, TV and a brand new car in a land that is having difficulty feeding itself (Also, please consider the novice principle of 1 Tim 3:6 concerning when a new man is put into an important work). He has gone from one preaching work to another. I have been told by a more experienced preacher that the young man does not know how to supply the spiritual needs of the church and those churches are now falling apart. Before he was supported, the young man was in serious financial need and unable to find work (as are 80% of Zimbabwe). Other preachers had begun a new work and no one was available to carry on with the distant work, so they encouraged this young man to help with this work. So it seemed reasonable to the American brethren to support him, even though his “training” consisted of being a Christian for two years and hearing one sermon a week with a little teaching on the side.
Another preacher was given American support only to discover he was committing adultery and covering it up at the expense of other brethren. Now that he has repented, he doesn’t see a problem continuing to preach publicly and to again seek American support (1 Tim.4:12). I spoke to this man before he had committed adultery and before American support began. I heard the man use the term “pastor” in reference to preachers in the church, a false concept on divorce (if I remember correctly, it was divorce for any cause) and there was an issue about baptism that was not straight in his mind. At that time I was in Zimbabwe to teach and help young men to grow in their understanding.
Another younger preacher accepted support for two years while reporting that he was working with a congregation — but that church already had a local preacher supported by institutional brethren. He possibly thought he would influence and convert the whole church. What he reported was deceptive and a misrepresentation of the truth. After about two years this matter was uncovered and the American church stopped supporting the man. This man was not proven, but instead was recommended by men who didn’t know his qualifications sufficiently. Since that time I have corresponded with the young man and tried to help him to see that what he did was wrong. It took a long time, but with the help of another preacher, face to face, the young man now says he sees his wrong and repents. This is good, but does it now make him qualified to preach? I told him he will have to start all over to build trust among brethren.
Another preacher, supported for about three years, thought a local church was going to pay for his brethren’s transportation to attend a gospel meeting. The meeting was held in another town and was not a part of their work. In requesting a certain amount of money for transportation, he received the same amount of money for needy saints, but communication was either so unclear from those who gave the money to him, or he misapplied the saint’s relief money and used it for transportation, saying they did not receive relief money for the saints. This brother probably did not intend to misappropriate funds. The cost was there and the money was there, but the understanding of the use of church funds was not clear in his mind, nor did it seem important enough to make a difference. He had been in the liberal camp previously and was “recommended” as one of those who understood the differences. Brethren, it takes time for new teaching to become a part of one’s thinking so he can teach and practice what is correct.
Another young preacher has been an unfaithful messenger with church money. He spent a large amount of money that did not belong to him. Upon inquiry from the person who was to receive it, an investigation began and the young man was found out and then lied to cover up his actions. He eventually replaced the money a month or two later. I believe his support was temporarily suspended, but I am not sure. One preacher mentioned that this was not the first time this had happened with this particular person, yet he was chosen to be supported to preach.
One preacher, supported by American money, was angry with another preacher and made false accusations of adultery concerning him because he saw another woman with him in a car. He didn’t bother to learn that the woman was the preacher’s sister in the flesh. I have seen this same preacher get very angry when others disagree with his understanding on a matter and his reasoning is like that of the sluggard (not that he is a lazy man physically), Prov 26:16. He has made accusations concerning other preachers and he is a very controlling person. Much effort was expended on the part of others in trying to help this preacher before his American support was stopped. This preacher did not want other preachers to come where he worked, questioning what was going on, making it difficult to hold him responsible for his work. Why was the trouble necessary to begin with? If his character had been proven by the person who recommended him for support, then the two or three years’ support would not have been abused. With support cut off, he has been put in a position to resent the truth concerning institutionalism and his own spiritual needs. I believe he will now try to create problems for others who have come out of liberalism. I have always tried to be considerate of this man, but in my opinion he never should have been supported as a preacher. What were the recommendations for this man? Had he proved himself just because he attended Mutare Bible School?
Another preacher, soliciting and having received some American support, left his wife a year ago (without a scriptural reason) and she has had to go begging just to get food. (The same is true of another brother whose wife I have personally had to help financially from time to time, but that man is not being supported, yet! He is claiming to preach the gospel and who would ever know the difference? His wife has just now gone back to the institutional brethren to find some financial assistance in order to survive.)
Another American supported preacher, knowing the brother mentioned in the previous paragraph, did not rebuke but rather reconfirmed his fellowship with that brother. He has used him in the church where he preaches. He does this because of friendship, not from a mature understanding of the responsibility to condemn sin. These men were “trained” less than two months by another preacher who has worked in the secular field all his life and had not too long before secured American support. He recommended these two men. The two began “preaching” in nearby locations and have drawn members off the main church. The main church became so low in numbers (partly due to other local men also securing support to preach) that the preacher has now left that work and is looking for greener pastures.
Another American supported preacher signed a document of introduction for yet another American supported preacher and signed his name as an elder of the church, but where he preaches they do not have elders nor does the church where the other preacher works. Another brother from yet another church signed as a deacon where there are no deacons or elders. I made an opportunity to talk to the preacher who wrote the document, and if his story is correct, this was a letter forced by authorities looking for authorization from a higher authority in the church. The preacher knew what he was doing was not right in making up the document the way he did. But he failed to see any other way out of this life-threatening situation. (I believe another option could have been developed.) The other part of the story is that this problem was caused by another conservative “preacher” making false accusations to the ruling political party. He told them the new preacher was an opposition party leader, thus putting his brother in jeopardy of death. Someone is either hiding jealousy, hate, or is lying in this situation. Whatever the sin, the police reported the accusing preacher was from the few preachers in the conservative group of (most likely American supported) preachers.
Another preacher moved to a new place to preach who has been supported by brethren for about three years. Naturally he didn’t have a place to live, but in his determination to have a house for his family, he committed himself to a financial burden he could not meet and then used the supporting church to bail him out. Later the government condemned the kind of housing which they had already given him a permit to build, and required him to tear down his house. He appealed to the local authorities concerning the original permit he had received and made another financial commitment with a time limitation on it to build a brick house, again expecting the supporting church to help. He has asked for money over and above his salary, time and time again. He was present when we discussed similar requests in one of the preachers’ studies in Mutare. I tried to warn him what would happen when a preacher constantly requests money, but it was too late. A few months later his supporting church gave him notice that they were stopping their support to him. The preacher relayed to me that his loss was for this very reason. He is not a bad man, but his third-world expectation toward American churches was way out of perspective, as well as probably his lack of money management. No one told him he had to build a house, but he knew that other preachers had received money from American brethren to help build their houses and so he expected the same.
You may wish to say all these examples are exceptions. Yet, these are all different men with whom I have had personal experience in trying to teach and help (about three years), all just within a small circulation of about 30 preachers in the general northeastern area of Zimbabwe. I don’t believe these are isolated cases. I have heard of other unfaithful, paid preachers in other areas of Zimbabwe. My good hearted fellow American brethren continue to support men unknown to them, dependent on those who “recommend” these men. I have been told it is the Zimbabwean cultural way of thinking that when one receives, everyone expects to receive. The same problem exists in congregations where there are needy saints where all, needy or not, expect to receive, and so I am always reminding the brethren that the money is to go to needy saints, not those who have jobs but those in “need.” It would appear that not every Zimbabwean preacher is looking very closely at the qualifications when he “recommends” his acquaintances for monetary support to preach.
Consider this amazing fact: there are said to be 66 supported preachers in Zimbabwe today as opposed to possibly eight just four years ago. We all rejoice for the presence of men who can preach, but at the same time I know from experience that all these men are not suited to be preachers of the gospel, either because of a weak character or because of Biblical ignorance. Those of us who have to work with these men to help sort out the resultant problems, see the reality that visiting Americans only glance at and then seemingly dismiss or forget. (Yes, there are also issues with some of those who are not American-supported preachers, but this is not the focus of my present concern. We continue to work on those issues with brethren.)
My purpose is not to hurt or demean these men mentioned above, but to do what is best for the work and for them. Most of these men have repented of their sins where committed, and that is why they are not named. Those who are immature cannot grow to maturity overnight and it would be unfair to expect this of them. Some will grow with the care and constant attention given them by more mature preachers, with teaching and by example. A few have proven they are more like John Mark in Acts 15, rather than like Timothy in Acts 16. It takes the constant attention of a Barnabas to help such men, not American monetary support! The Apostle’s evaluation would be that the “John Marks” should not be preaching until they are profitable for the ministry (2 Tim 4:11). How can we ignore these Biblical principles, even in our zeal to evangelize? Is our zeal greater than Paul’s who refused John Mark?
Let me repeat myself. I am saying some Zimbabwe preachers are worthy to be supported, but not all. I am saying: Most of these abuses are the result of not proving these men or the men not proving themselves before receiving support. Support should not be given until their character, knowledge and ability are evident. THIS IS THE ISSUE. Brother Al Payne has been very active in making short preaching trips into this area of Zimbabwe, and raising support for most of these preachers. I understand he has been told by more seasoned preachers than myself (Ray Votaw and Foy Short) warning him concerning rushing into recommending men for support. Another brother a few years back who has been close to brother Al in the African work tried to reason with him on this issue, but little changed. The Apostle Paul warned about such appointments concerning elders and I believe the principle is the same here (1 Tim 5:22; Acts 16:2). One becomes a partaker of the sin of the man when one is too hasty to give an unqualified man the work.
Unqualified Zimbabwean preachers reflect a disparity between required qualifications for preachers in America and preachers in Africa. If it is the same church Jesus died for, then she has the same Head and the Head has given the same qualifications for all her preachers. They must be knowledgeable, able to teach, and faithful in teaching and living, according to Paul’s letters to Timothy (2 Tim 2:2, 24; 4:2; 1 Tim 2:15; 4:15-16; 6:10-11). Some of our Zimbabwe brethren are not qualified and a few are unfit for the ministry. Several are immature both emotionally and spiritually. Others are knowledgeable and good preachers and they are doing a good work (not just in writing good sounding reports). There is always room for preachers to grow, even myself, but that is not the issue.
One other word, please. When an American preacher or elder or any Christian comes to preach or teach in Africa for short periods of time, wisdom dictates that he listens to those who have been working in Africa with African brethren for a number of years. They may try to warn him about the above situations before they possibly happen. If he ignores their advice, what can American churches and individuals do about it? When such a brother even goes to the extent of telling one such warning brother, “you need to grow up,” what can you say? What can you say to a man who seems to be so tunnel-visioned in getting people baptized that he is unconsciously willing to circumvent the time necessity for proper training of preachers? Several untrained preachers under the support raised by brother Al Payne are now “teaching.” I believe they are putting these churches in long range jeopardy of becoming a denominations (Mat 15:14). What can one do? I can only bring these matters to your attention. I can only warn you of what is happening through men who are untested. If you love the efforts of the Gospel in Africa, then you will encourage brother Al and others to use discretion and wisdom, and to stop the hasty recommendations of foreign men to be supported.
No, Zimbabwe preachers should not be expected to have the same amount of knowledge or ability as those in America who have had the fortunate leadership of godly and knowledgeable elders, preachers, parents and teachers. No one is expecting them to be polished professional debaters like Foy Wallace Jr. But they should know and be able to declare the whole council or purpose of God as Paul said he had done in Ephesus (Acts 20:27, which includes 20:31, 35; 19:8). My brother in America, who is constantly raising support for Zimbabwean preachers, says he recognizes the need for knowledge, but then seems to have a nonchalant attitude toward getting this knowledge. His understanding of the degree of knowledge appears be very minimal in order to receive support. He responds in this quote: “Preachers need not be qualified debaters to preach Jesus and Salvation. Jesus said in his day that Laborers were few——same today. The story of Salvation is simple and needs to be kept on that level. Advance knowledge will come in time for any man who devotes himself to study and work. Who among us has achieved an absolute coverage of all that we would like to know? Who among us has achieved a knowledge of Jesus, his purpose in coming, his DBR and Rule, and salvation by God’s grace? (I would like to believe that every man in Z. and Zambia who receive support has developed to this level.)”
Brother Al seems to ignore the issue that preachers must have a sufficient amount of knowledge to accomplish his work, besides just teaching the plan of salvation and grace. Look at what Paul instructed Timothy to do as a preacher! It was far more that my brother is suggesting! Most young men planning to work with a preacher in America for two years know the plan of salvation and enough about God’s grace before they even start to prepare for preaching. Most Christians know these things, but that does not make them proven to do the work of a preacher, does it? It would appear that my brother believes the “end” of getting people baptized “justifies the means” of supporting untested or unqualified men who are recommended by other preachers who really don’t know them or their work well. The above “real examples” demonstrate this.
This presents a dilemma to me. I and Brother Payne have both receive the same letter from one of the more knowledgeable Zimbabwean preachers. This Zimbabwean brother is now finally recognizing the effects of this easily gained support which is destroying the Zimbabwe churches, but still Brother Al doesn’t accept the truth about what is happening. Brother Payne responded to the Zimbabwean brother thus: “Many have approached me in person and others have written, but none of these have been supported without thorough investigation, and only a very few have ever received support. As you of Zim have said, “preaching is the best job in Z.” And, I have stressed that Job-Seekers need not approach me for support or sympathy.”
IF the examples reported above show “thorough investigation” and 58 preachers in four years are a few, then my brother is living in denial.
Job Seekers. Let us consider this true event: Two young men could not find work so they decided to study with the local preacher to become preachers. An American preacher known to raise support for Zimbabweans came to visit. The young men tried to find a way to approach this American with the idea of getting immediate monetary support to preach. The brother from America told them to get a preacher to show them how to open an email addresses, write reports and to keep in touch. But in their minds this represented the avenue to get support. The local preacher readily admits the two young men are not close to being ready to preach. But because they have received the encouragement to “go ahead” from the American, they decided they no longer need to study with the local preacher and that he is holding them back from getting support. They began to go to places and try to preach, sending their “reports” by email. They asked for support. Fortunately, in this specific case, these young men are known by the local preacher and they are refused support, for now. One has gone back to studying more with the local preacher. The other appears to still be on the trail of seeking “support.”
While there is no doubt in my mind that brother Al’s intentions are pure gold, he is out of touch with the reality of third-world “survivor skills.” 1/4 to 1/3 of the preachers in the Mutare area (counting the examples above), most of whom he has claimed “thorough investigation,” have serious questions being asked about them concerning their knowledge, character or suitability. This entire concern that I am now writing about is not some advertizing campaign where results are of little eternal significance. This is the Lord’s body and if these kinds of men are filling the work of preaching, where will the church in Zimbabwe be in 10 years?
One Zimbabwean preacher has suggested the following generalizations which are happening among the young supported preachers:
Some are not staying in one place with a work, constantly looking to establish new works,
Some are recommending new converts for support,
Some are disregarding the seasoned advice of other Zimbabwean preachers
and then some are letting the congregation collapse due to a lack of knowledge, a lack of ability to preach, a lack of experience or getting most of the men in a congregation on the preaching payroll so no one is left to give substance to the work and it falls apart.
How can we entertain such recommendations from men whose experience is almost zero and their reputations are unestablished? Can we be justified because an established American preacher is recommending people he does not know or knows very little about?!
I am sorry that circumstances compel me to write this letter, but I must deal with the reality of what is happening. I am not alone in my understanding of what this easy support is doing to the churches in Africa, but I can only speak for myself. I can no longer afford to remain silent. My conscience will not allow it.
Makhado, South Africa