Global Mission, Leadership Development
Why Not Pay for Pastors to Attend Trainings?
June 3, 2021
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In our Resonate Global Mission work in East and Southern Africa, we are very deliberate about not paying for the costs of participants to attend trainings, whether trainings like Educational Care, Timothy Leadership Training, or any other informal teachings of church leaders. Yet the reality is that our participants, especially pastors, are often materially poor and have to sacrifice in order to attend these trainings. At first glance, this approach may seem to be lacking in compassion; however there are good reasons why we don’t cover the costs of these trainings. I will focus on just one of our programs, Timothy Leadership Training (TLT) for this article. TLT is an interactive learning program intended for pastors and lay leaders in local churches. The manuals combine biblical teaching with an emphasis on practical applications and action plans that are carried out in the church and community.
Pastoral Trainings in Uganda
TLT trainings in Uganda are very different from a conference you might attend in North America. To attend trainings in Uganda, at least in rural areas, the majority of pastors travel by bicycle or motorcycle taxis. At a recent training, one pastor rode his single speed bicycle for 5 hours to reach the church, over very muddy roads. The pastors agree together on what they need to contribute for food and they have a local church member do the cooking. Often they bring the equivalent of a few dollars for the week, but maybe also a couple kilos of beans. They eat simply to keep costs down. Sometimes it’s beans and posho (cornmeal cooked with water) every day, every meal! But the food is tasty and we have great fellowship together over meals. These pastors also pay for their own photocopied TLT manual (about $1).
The pastors cannot afford to stay in hotels so they always sleep in the sanctuary of the host church’s building. Sometimes these churches have mattresses to offer the pastors, but sometimes not. Some of the pastors bring mosquito nets from home like you see in the photo. But some of the pastors care for their wives by leaving their one mosquito net at home. The pastors make the best of it, and each morning they look as smart and organized as if they slept in a 5-star hotel.
Pastors are not supported well financially in many denominations in Uganda. In the Pentecostal Assemblies of God churches that we work with, urban pastors may receive $50 - $80 a month from the church, while rural pastors may only receive $2 - $5 per month from the church. They all have to have other employment, whether as farmers, businessmen, or teachers in order to support themselves and their families.
They sacrifice their limited money to come to trainings because they are passionate and hungry for God’s Word! They feel called to ministry and want to equip themselves to do a better job at being pastors even if they are not paid for it. They love God and love his people and are seriously committed. They inspire me to be more sacrificial in ministry and spending time with them always fills my heart with great joy.
So, Why Not Pay?
Now, after talking about all these sacrifices, you might wonder, “wouldn’t it be a good idea to pay for the pastors’ accommodation, or at least for their food and manuals?” Though it’s counterintuitive, paying for all the pastors’ costs to attend TLT is generally not a good idea. Here are eight good reasons to consider:
1. In mission and development work, the most successful projects and trainings are those that are done in partnership where everyone has a financial stake in it. So in TLT, the participants have to pay for themselves, but they do not have to pay for the accommodation or transport of the facilitator. By paying for part of the costs, the pastors have ownership of that training. TLT facilitator Eliabu Moses explains, “TLT is cost-sharing and it gets people involved. It’s ministry, but ministry aided by the facilitator’s expenses being paid for. When you sacrifice for something, you really value it. There is ownership in that contribution.”
This doesn’t mean that individual pastors need to personally pay for everything. We encourage pastors to raise money from their churches for their training costs as the training will not only benefit them personally but their churches as well. It is excellent when churches, denominations, and local organizations contribute to the trainings costs so that many partners are involved to make a training successful.
2. It is important not to pay for everything in order to respect the local culture. In most Ugandan cultures, it is the host who takes care of the visitor. When NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations like humanitarian organizations) come in and offer programs and pay everything for the participants, it is the opposite of what is expected in the culture (until people got accustomed to NGOs doing this). People may accept it because of wanting the financial help but it brings a sort of discomfort and shame at the same time. It is important to allow people to host the TLT participants and facilitators and to take care of them. People experience the joy of giving and they follow the norms of their hospitality culture. Sometimes even when we try to contribute something for the food, we are told “no, we are the ones to feed you.”
3. Paying for all the pastors' expenses is not sustainable for us as an organization. Though we might be able to pay for all the pastors to go to a hotel for one training, that would be expensive and would hinder us from doing further trainings. It would severely limit our impact.
4. Providing for all the pastors’ expenses can easily create an unhealthy dependency. Many big NGOs and Christian organizations take the approach of inviting Ugandans to trainings and paying for their transport, accommodation, food, manual, pens, notebooks, and even sometimes a sitting allowance (a payment given to each participant for each day attended). The thinking is that people are being taken away from their daily work for a training event so they need to be compensated for their time. But this treats training as something that is being done for the benefit of the organization, and not for the benefit of those who participate. My fellow TLT facilitators illustrate the problem well. Tom Engolu says, “The results of projects with sitting allowances don’t produce much fruit. People just attend them as a business, a way to make money. But TLT brings ownership. People sacrifice to go and feel blessed. TLT gives an opportunity to participate.” Eliabu Moses adds, “NGOs have influenced our community negatively through giving sitting fees. People learn to only come to events for money. Lots of money is given but we don’t see change in the church or community.”
The practice of some NGOs paying for everything has created a lot of problems in Uganda. And it's done by well-known organizations, even Christian organizations. These practices create dependency, where people are made to feel helpless and powerless. Ownership of their own development and their community’s development is diminished. People come to expect payment for learning opportunities. The long-term negative consequences of this in a society are significant.
5. Paying for all the pastors' expenses would cause a sustainability problem in the reproduction of TLT by the participants. TLT is meant to be a multiplying program, so that after receiving training, pastors start new groups and train others. The pastors are used to the simple conditions I described when going to their own internal trainings and events led by their leaders. If participants go through TLT the same way they take a local church training, then they will likely treat it as a local church training that they are able to reproduce on their own. If participants go through TLT the way they would attend a program with an NGO, they likely will classify TLT as a costly NGO program, something that they cannot do on their own. In my experience, the only way TLT really spreads and multiplies is when the first training in a region is done in a simple way. I am not at all surprised that people report little change from many NGO programs. In contrast, with TLT amazing transformation is happening, and graduates voluntarily start new training groups with no expectation of payment or any financial help.
Listen to my fellow facilitators on this point. Omillogor Jude notes, “People see TLT as a church ministry and as a way to serve Christ rather than as a big NGO program.” Odukatum Robert concurs saying, “When you call people for youth fellowships, church conferences, or pastors trainings, we don’t give allowances or pay for their transport. TLT is the same.” Tom Engolu is direct, “TLT is sustainable. NGO projects fail on the way. But TLT keeps going. People can utilize it with a little amount of money.”
6. Having the pastors pay for their own expenses gives them more dignity and power. Generally as people, we don't pay for something unless we value it. Since the pastors are paying for their expenses to come to TLT, we know that they value it. And because they are paying, if we do something badly, they are willing to speak up and ask for changes. If an NGO is paying for everything, pastors might just accept whatever they are given, because they don't feel like it's their right to speak up about what they want. After all, they have no stake in it, they paid nothing for it. This is what makes it so hard for NGOs which pay for everything to know whether their programs are valued and making a difference. When people are paying for something, they will make sure to get only what is really worthwhile and what they see as high quality. And they will speak up to make sure their money isn't wasted. Through their feedback, we as facilitators benefit and learn as well.
7. Paying for everything takes away from the excitement of stewardship and development. One of the main teachings of TLT is that God has given gifts, assets, and opportunities to everyone, and we can make plans to use those resources for the development of ourselves, our families, our churches, and our communities. If you start a training by making people feel powerless and helpless to do anything on their own, even the act of getting trained, they are probably not going to develop a big hope that God can use them to make real change. In my personal observation of TLT groups, I see that groups that are given no financial grant beyond paying for the facilitators experience a lot more positive changes in their churches and communities compared to groups that are given larger grants to pay for the participants as well.
8. Lastly, some flexibility is needed. Circumstances differ from place to place. Sometimes training is done in areas where people are really struggling, perhaps due to recent wars or natural disasters like droughts or floods. Help and compassion are needed. In such situations, we may provide the manuals for free, or contribute to the food budgets. Sometimes facilitators help pastors at trainings to purchase medical treatments if they are sick. And at the time of graduation, we give gifts to the graduates that will encourage them and assist them to start new training groups.
But what if churches want to do more to support TLT or help brothers and sisters in Africa while avoiding undermining the training and while respecting local customs and resources? Giving wisely doesn’t need to mean giving less. There are so many areas we can put our money to good use. Here are a few suggestions:
Please comment with questions or concerns. I’d be happy to have a friendly dialogue about any of these issues with you. Thank you for your support of TLT!
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The arguments against paying have some merit, but I have this deep down feeling that this is another case of the greater entity (the denomination) being too stingy. I see that in making missionaries solicit for their most of their own support. They already give up so much then we force them on their furlough to go stumping for support. That is not a time off of work.
Thank you for sharing! This humble and culturally sensitive approach to both giving and receiving is key for shared ministry to take place--those important steps of hospitality, mutuality, and solidarity.
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