When the Lord was teaching His disciples about prayer He asked them which father among them would give his son a serpent or scorpion if he asked for a fish or egg. If sinful fathers know how to give good gifts to their children our heavenly Father would surely bless His children when they ask Him (Luke 11:1-13). The Lord emphasized that parents want to give good gifts to their children especially when they ask.
Can a parent go too far in spoiling their children? A couple of days ago our family bought a 2.5 gallon tub of our favorite ice cream from a dairy farm. This treat is meant to last our family of five for a few weeks and save money. Our children love ice cream and if we let them they would eat only ice cream. Of course if we gave in to their desires it could result in sickness and eventually poor health. While we want what is best for our children it is clear that we should not give them everything they ask for. We have been blessed with enough understanding to only give a reasonable amount to our children to help them develop physically. Our heavenly Father does the same thing with His children when we seek Him in prayer. He gives us what we need but not always what we want.
In a very real sense when planting a congregation it is common to feel a sense of parenthood. Paul called other individual Christians and entire congregations his children in the faith (I Cor 4:17, Titus 1:4, I Thess 1:7-12). Parents naturally want what is best for their children. When involved in missions it is natural to want to give all that you are able and more to try to help the fledgling congregation grow in maturity (especially when they ask). Sometimes these parents in the faith get confused on the best way to help these new brothers and sisters. At times these well intentioned brethren build lavish church buildings, pay for preachers and furnish everything physically that they see in their own congregation back home. The intention is good but are these well intentioned brethren actually spoiling and doing all the sacrifice for the new brethren? Is there a blessing in sacrificing for the Lord yourself?
How will these new brethren ever grow if they are given everything? If they do not sacrifice physically to support the growth of the congregation, will they develop spiritually? If they do not learn to rely upon the Lord for their sustenance will it hinder their development? The danger is that these new brethren will remain weak spiritually because of their lack of opportunity to demonstrate their love for the Lord. Then when the “parent church” provides for the new congregation’s physical means they may expect to call the shots and lose site of the autonomy of each local congregation of the Lord’s church.
The Biblical example of missions is not one of dependency or paternalism. When Paul planted churches you do not read of him supplying for their every physical need, building programs and leaving foreign missionaries for decades to prop up the church. You can read of these new churches sending aid to other churches and being known for their benevolence (II Corinthians 8) and outreach. Paul did not abandon these brethren (Acts 15:36). Paul visited the new Christians, prayed for them, wrote to them and encouraged them in their faith. All things that we can do as well, without breeding dependency.
Missionaries of the gospel must give of themselves so that they can introduce men and women to Christ. He is the One who can truly make them rich and supply all of their needs (II Corinthians 8:9, Ephesians 3:17-21). Let us follow the old paths that wise Christians have blazed before us so we can do all for the glory of Christ. Sometimes the old proverb of teaching someone to fish or introducing them to the One who created the fish truly is better than providing a modest meal (even if it is ice cream).