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The Money Problem in Cross-Cultural Partnerships

When our family moved overseas, the ministry we joined was a dream scenario. We were going to help a young church with members who hungered for solid, biblical teaching. Pastors throughout the region visited the church to receive training. It looked like the kind of ministry God could use to bring revival and reformation to a nation plagued by the prosperity gospel.

Fifteen months later, it came crashing to the ground when I discovered evidence the lead pastor was involved in extensive financial deception and malpractice. When the situation escalated, we had to leave the country abruptly. As we packed our bags in shock, I looked at my wife. Her face communicated confusion. I felt the same. I couldn’t help but wonder, What went wrong?

Sadly, our story isn’t unique. Money often corrupts missions. A partnership that lacks proper accountability inadvertently invites temptation. Therefore, trusting relationships and humble financial accountability are crucial in any cross-cultural partnership.

Accountability and Ministry

From all appearances, the ministry we joined had internal accountability measures. Part of my role was to mentor the leaders on handling money received from various partners. But it wasn’t long before I noticed discrepancies. When I did, I asked ministry friends how to approach the situation. Many assumed the issues were related to cultural misunderstanding. Irregularities were to be expected in other cultures.

They recognized that the approach to finances and accountability often differs across cultures. But cultural differences only amplify the need for mutual understanding and sound financial practices when considering international partnerships. Although accountability may look different, it still needs to be in place.

Why is financial accounting—and accountability—so important in ministry? The Bible repeatedly warns us about the connection between bad leaders and the love of money (1 Tim. 6:3–10). False teachers have “hearts trained in greed” (2 Pet. 2:14). Like Judas, they may appear to follow Jesus, but in secret, they pilfer the money box (John 12:6).

The apostle Paul insists leaders must cultivate a proper attitude toward finances and be completely transparent. Those qualified to lead the church are men of virtue with nothing to hide. Love for God and people motivates them. They shouldn’t be “greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7; cf. 1 Pet. 5:3). Instead, an elder must be “a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8). Thus, when collecting funds for ministry, Paul made sure finances were handled with transparency (2 Cor. 8:16–20) and by more than one person (9:3).

The New Testament standard for a ministry’s financial integrity transcends cultures. If we’re not careful, appeals to cultural differences easily slide into ethical relativism. While sensitivity and cultural awareness are important, financial propriety is even more so.

Support or Temptation?

Maintaining financial accountability is challenging when many American individuals and churches prefer to give directly to a national church or local leader. Some are excited to fund a specific project, expecting their gifts to be used properly without any follow-up or accounting. Their intentions are generous and noble, but the lack of safeguards exposes those they support to danger.

Sadly, the challenges of accounting across cultures often lead to financial partnerships with minimal accountability. This not only puts sincere pastors in a place of temptation but opens the opportunity for fraud.

The New Testament standard for a ministry’s financial integrity transcends cultures.

Imagine the temptation for a pastor of a small church in the U.S. who’s scraping by with $40,000 a year but then receives $400,000 for a ministry initiative in cash and with no accountability. It’d be difficult for anyone. Yet we do essentially the same when we give $30,000 to an international pastor who makes $3,000 annually.

In America, it’s usually unthinkable to put a ministry leader in a place where he handles such large sums because we recognize the tempting power of money. It shouldn’t be different in international contexts. No matter the culture, temptation and sin threaten to destroy church leaders. Greed is a universal problem. To expose someone to this level of temptation is spiritually reckless.

Give Guidance

Here, then, are three practical tips to consider when giving cross-culturally that can help minimize temptation and strengthen partnerships.

1. Build relationships and learn the culture.

Strategic financial partnerships require time and relational investment. Long-term relationships build trust and mutual understanding. They provide an opportunity to understand better how that culture views and uses finances. This necessitates the posture of a humble learner who asks good questions: How does accounting work in this culture? What are common areas of temptation? How do ministries handle finances? What does integrity look like in this setting?

2. Establish appropriate expectations for reporting.

Wherever they are, ministries should handle finances with transparency. A cross-cultural partnership should establish what practices are appropriate and expected. Some of these practices may be new and difficult. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t happen. Training may be necessary on culturally appropriate methods of setting budgets, requiring multiple signatories, keeping detailed records, and reporting expenses.

3. Follow through with accountability structures.

It’s not enough to establish best practices; there must be consistent verification that those measures and policies are followed. This includes ensuring more than one person is responsible for the funds and accounting. In our situation, the pastor claimed to have systems of accountability in place but, in practice, refused to allow other locals to keep him in check. After I made sure others were involved in the verification process, we uncovered issues.

Accountability Is Loving

While expecting financial accountability in international partnerships may feel distrustful or uncomfortable, it’s an act of brotherly love. It reduces the temptation for malpractice and protects the partner from false accusations. Ultimately, it protects the reputation of Christ and his church.

The challenges involving international ministry finances don’t mean we should stop giving generously or stop partnering cross-culturally. Instead, we should seek to build trust through both deeper relationships and humble accountability. When we do, I believe it’ll increase our desire to give.


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