“You go to church because the foreigners pay you!”
“You’re a pastor because you receive money from America!”
These are common accusations from Muslims against Christian converts and pastors in some Asian countries.
Problems On The Field
The nationals observe that missionaries do not appear to have to work for a living. Yet they live comfortably, have time to visit with people, and fly all over the world to attend conferences. Local pastors and ministry workers, who speak good English and spend time with foreigners also live well. So they conclude that missionaries and local Christian workers alike receive foreign paychecks to spread their religion. This perception poses a significant stumbling block to Christian witness among the Muslims.
Many local believers have also been taught that full-time Christian work is the higher calling, and “living by faith” is more spiritual than making a living from secular work. The weak work ethic after decades of Soviet rule does not help. So Christian converts are often known to be poor workers. This is especially problematic when they work for Christian organizations or even businesses owned by fellow Christians. They do not expect to have to do “real” work!
Paul’s Life And Teaching
In Paul’s letters to the churches, he instructed his converts to earn their living quietly, quit stealing, not be idle, and give to the needy. If they thought they could get paid just for preaching a few hours each week, many might go into ministry for the wrong reasons!
Paul not only taught a strong work ethic, he modeled it. Despite his heavy ministry responsibilities, he continued to make tents. He worked hard to be above reproach when accused of peddling religion (1 Cor. 9:12; 2 Cor. 6:3). He worked to model an integrated, productive life of work and witness.
What A Missionary Has Learned
A missionary who has been serving in Asian Muslim countries for over 20 years shared how he began as a full-time church planter, but was ineffective connecting with the nationals. Furthermore, he was running into visa problems.
So he created a business “platform”, essentially a cover for his ministry. But the business did not create jobs for the community, never made money and paid minimal taxes. He was still suspect in the eyes of the local people and the government.
Finally, he saw the need for integrity in doing real business. After all, Paul never pretended to make tents. He worked night and day, making tents and preaching.
So this brother invested his own savings and raised funds to launch a business. He also sought out professional help to learn the technology related to his business, and worked hard at it. He worked very hard.
The business grew and he hired local Muslims as employees. Then he turned a profit and started paying more taxes. He began to earn the respect of the community and even gained some clout that allowed him to contest the corrupt demands of the local government.
Meantime, the missionary is discipling local pastors and training them to become distributors for his products so they could travel to different parts of the country for business and for ministry. These pastors have also found dignity in their financial independence, and respect as honest contributors to their country’s economy.
How one works is a very important part of witness in Muslim culture.