How To Properly Approach American Ministers: A Guide For Foreign Ministries

I realized today that I have blogged on many general principles for leaders that are guidelines across the board, no matter where someone may be from. I have also blogged on things for leaders and ministers to consider when hearing from or interacting with foreign ministries. The one thing that I have never written on, in my oh-so-direct style, is how foreign ministers should approach those of us in other places than their own. It’s not something I ever gave much thought to, although I will admit that I have dealt in international ministry for some time. I am also regularly approached and solicited improperly from foreign ministers who are looking for money, attention, or to connect without having to make a formal commitment, and this means that no matter how someone comes at me via inbox or email, no matter what someone might say and regardless of interior motive – the answer is almost always no, because the approach is almost always the same.

What I have come to realize is that not every ministry outside of the US is all about money or a big scam. I have no doubt there are many serious, well-abled ministries overseas that genuinely do need to connect with good ministries for instruction and Kingdom-building, but the problem is that when everyone approaches us the same, we assume everyone is the same. You can jump up and down and say how unfair that is, or you can read along this blog and take into account the way you approach us, and put in the effort to prove you are different from the others by doing things right. If you come at us like a scammer or like scammers have come at us, we are going to assume you are one, too. So consider this a “cheat sheet,” if you will, on what serious, committed American ministers are looking for when connecting to foreign ministries.

Come right…or don’t come at all – In the United States, we observe many different social codes that extend respect and respectability to certain works and professions. Ministry falls somewhere on the moderate line, as ministry is often not well-respected by general individuals in society due to scams and scandals that have hit the church over the past 30 years. Whether this is right or wrong is not the point; it means that, as ministers, we have to work very hard for the positions we have. Most of us have spent years in training, only to deal with the realities of ministry that are abysmal, at best. We deal with faltering congregations, disobedient leaders, rebellion, lack of finances, and regular frustrations that we all know how to respond to, but those who don’t genuinely respect the work understand. This means that how people approach us – the level of respect and honor that is shown to us – is honor and respect shown to those years of struggle, the frustrations and heartache, to our work and our commitment to the Kingdom. Honoring us is honoring our ministries, and this means that when you come at us, if you aren’t going to come right, save your time. Coming right includes: No flirting, no flattery, referencing us by our title, not your cultural pet names that over here indicate familiarity (mum, dad, calling us by our first name, etc.), do not ask us for money or items, do not fill our inbox with lengthy statements on your ministry and how important you feel you are, do not act too familiar with us, and do not treat us as if we are sitting around, with nothing better to do than entertain your requests.

Do not call us in the middle of the night or FB inbox call us, repeatedly – I understand that we are in different time zones, but I often encounter what I call the “cultural defense” when I tell people they are doing something unseemly or otherwise rude or annoying: they claim ignorance. They explain in their culture it’s such-and-such a way, or it is such-and-such a time, so I should “understand.” Look, you are the one who is coming after us – not us after you. We are not the ones who are just itching to have your time and attention, and that means if you want our attention, have the courtesy to know the proper ways to receive it. That means you make sure before you video call or even call us on the phone, you have our permission to do so and you do so at a proper hour of the day for us.

We are not over here, desperate to have you join our work – Most American ministers have great aspirations for international work and travel, but we are also very busy with the work we do over here and we are not just dying for someone to inbox us and ask us to come to their country at our expense. We also deal with the fact that many ministries barely have time to take care of the responsibilities they have in front of them to worry about what someone is doing in another country and whether or not that person is following the guidelines, doing ministry as they should, or keeping current with what is proper or otherwise. If you want to work with an American ministry, you need to examine just how equipped and purposed they are to attend to issues of instruction and communication, because if you pick a minister just on the basis that they are in the United States, you will not experience a blessed connection without proper instruction and communication.

Understand that we know the drill, and we probably can predict what you are going to say before you say it – I recognize and acknowledge that different cultures have different guidelines for what it means to be sociable and friendly, but I also have yet to talk to someone from Africa, India, or Pakistan who didn’t sound like every other person I’ve already spoken to from Africa, India, or Pakistan. We’ve been the route, we know that you think you are being friendly or smarter than us or something like that, and the conversations are boring and tired. If you want to get our attention, just spit out whatever it is you are looking for without the runaround and give us the option to accept or decline.

Our inboxes are full – Our inboxes are full of requests, much like yours, wanting to affiliate, receive donations, prayer, or teaching. We get tired of being solicited by people who are just looking for handouts. Before you get defensive and try to tell me you aren’t asking for a handout, when was the last time you offered to sow something into our ministries, ask if we needed prayer, or offer us some assistance or benefit from this relationship? I already know the answer, which means: you are asking for a handout. You want us to give you something, and odds are good you either feel you can’t or you do not desire to give something in return, and we cannot reasonably meet all the requests or needs we have. This means if you want to connect with an American minister, it needs to be for more than just a handout; you need to desire a relationship that involves give AND take on both ends, and that we will, most likely, just ignore a request that sounds like every other request we receive.

Don’t take an attitude with us if you get caught in a lie or if we don’t give you the response you want – As I just have explained, we are inundated with requests, wants, and people pulling from us all the time. We have expenses and needs ourselves, and we cannot live to finance your projects. That is not the true definition of “missions,” and I am not sure who started the idea that a mission can be accomplished by just sending money to an entity that we don’t know, but it can’t. If we have already been polite in telling you we are unable to help you, or what our policies are as regards to travel and expenses, don’t keep berating or asking us about it, don’t argue with us about giving, and don’t start lecturing us on faith or the Bible. Knock off the attitude that sounds an awful lot like you are judging us, making it evident that you feel you have more faith than we do or know the Bible better than we do because we tell you no to something. God speaks to us, we hear from Him, and it is He Who sets our regulations and guidelines in place. If you don’t get what you want from us, look at what you want, not what we told you about it.

Don’t judge us – I mentioned this in the last paragraph on spiritual matters, but I am now going to clarify a few things as pertain to judgment against our ministries. Understand that ministry over here is, most likely, done differently than it is in your country. That doesn’t mean that how we handle it is right or wrong, but it means that it is not the same. Don’t expect us to make all the compromises and culturally adapt to  your system, especially if you are unwilling to do the same. It’s different if someone is in your country as a minister, but if you are contacting us while we are here, you are going to have to understand how ministry is handled and abide by those principles out of respect in order to get us to take you seriously. We understand that some differences are to be expected, but because we are living under different regulations, a different system with different benefits and pitfalls, and different circumstances, we aren’t going to work in ministry in the same way that you do. In other words: we may not have started 200 churches (that are now not governed nor cared for, but that’s a different issue) or have 30 orphanages to our name, but that doesn’t mean that what we do is not legitimate or relevant. If you act like what you do is superior, then our attitude will be you can do your ministry all by your uppity self.

We don’t have money to send you – I am not sure what your impression of the American church is, but understand that if you are taking to us, via direct audience online or on phone, we are not T.D. Jakes, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, or any of the other big-name preachers out there. They do not represent our values, our issues, or our work, and the evidence of that is if you tried to call any one of them on the phone, nobody would ever allow you to talk to them directly. Over here, we have to pay for our tax exempt status….and it ain’t cheap. We have to pay rent or mortgage on our church properties, and this is in addition to whatever we have to pay for our own homes. We cover our own light bills, water bills, heating and air conditioning, and all the furnishings, instruments, and outreaches. Many of us have to add our personal money to church tithes and offerings just to pay our bills and break even. If we have a conference in a hotel, that costs us money; if we use a civic center, that costs us money; it even costs us money to do an outreach on the street or the park, as most cities only allow us to do that if we pay a fee of some sort. To do an outreach event in a city park in Raleigh, North Carolina, I would have to pay a minimum of $500 just to have the event. This is before taking a collection or soliciting donations of any sort, because donors want to know what we are doing and when; we can’t just ask and then get the money and do it later. To break it down, $500 dollars in the US is equivalent to $470 Euros, $24,805 Philippine Pesos, $157,000 Nigerian Naira, $45,500 Liberian Dollars, and $34,017 Indian Rupees. That should put in perspective what it costs for us to just do something simple and basic that is done in many other countries without regulation, for free.

Do not come empty-handed – If you are looking for us to be your leadership organization, you should never come to a leader with the expectation that they will pay for everything for you and you will do nothing for them. The leaders in both the Old and New Testaments were provided for by the people. It doesn’t matter what country someone is from; everyone sows into the ministry that provides their guidance and leadership. Also, observe proper rank and file. A good guideline is “never ask up.” You should never go to a leader of a superior office and ask for money, things, or for us to buy your products or sell them in our country.

Don’t mix lines between personal and professional – Contrary to what some might imply, there are men and women in the US who both appreciate the single life and who can find a mate if they so desire, right where they are. We are not all looking for mates and we get very annoyed when you do not respect the boundaries of courtesy, respect, and decency with us. Either you want to work with us or you want a boyfriend or a girlfriend, but don’t use ministry to get the latter.

Don’t send us a trillion pictures – Please, we don’t know who you are from a hole in the wall. We don’t know where you got those pictures. You could have stolen them from National Geographic, for all we know. Sending them does not legitimize you to us and it just…well…annoys us. We don’t like looking at a million pictures of your ministry. Just do us a favor and don’t send them if we haven’t asked to see them.

Don’t lie to us – I am good at catching people in lies. If you send me a message that says you love my ministry or you love my website, I am going to ask you what you like about it. If you don’t have an answer, I am going to rebuke you and you aren’t going to like it. Contrary to rumors, not all Americans are stupid, and we don’t roll over and play dead to submit to lies. Once I got an inbox from a minister in Africa who praised me to the sky about all the “good things” he’d heard about my ministry. When I asked him what he heard, he never answered. When I asked him who he heard these things through, he told me, “A deacon in NC.” I pressed further and he told me, “Deacon Chris.” When I asked what ministry “Deacon Chris” was from, he refused to answer me and told me how “embarrassed” he was by the questions I was asking. Look, I’m going to ask questions. If you are legitimate, you have nothing to fear by answering them. If you don’t answer them, then you can go wherever you want, but it won’t have anything to do with me or my ministry.

Don’t be vague – I hate “vague” statements. I hate “vague” word. A vague statement is “I love your website and all it says.” A vague word is “God is working out your whole life to your benefit” or “You are so blessed!” When you don’t know the first thing about me or my life. If you can’t be specific, you aren’t hearing from God, you are mimicking a method of ministering you heard someone else do. If you want to talk to me, you better know just what it is on that website that you like or about me or my ministry that you like, and I better like the answer when I press you about it.

Don’t ask us to come to your country when you don’t know us, and then expect us to put up our own money to do so – If you have so many ministries under you, then get everyone together and cover our plane ticket. That’s what’s called “hospitality.” It means you are responsible for our comfort and care, and to the best of your ability, should duplicate the accommodations we are used to. If you can’t make us comfortable, then you are asking us to come out of selfish ambition and desire. You do not have a right to our time or our ministry, and you need to treat us with the same courtesy you would anyone else who ministers for you.

Don’t ask us and 10 of our friends for the same thing – Over here, we talk. We talk a lot. If one minister comes at us for something, especially if the minister is overseas, we are going to check with our friends as to what was requested all around. If you add me just to add 20 of my FB friends, I will find out. You will get caught. Pick one leader at a time and don’t go around looking like you are just trying to get anyone’s attention who will get it. It’s unseemly.

If you want leadership, prepare to get it – You would never go to a leader in your own country and defy them, because that would be considered improper…so why do you do it to us? If you want our leadership, you need to submit yourselves to our rules and guidance. Don’t try to negotiate them or act like they are somehow a bother; follow them. Remember, you are the one who feels God ordained this; this wasn’t our idea. Don’t waste our time. Be direct in your speech and intention, and don’t ever, under any circumstances, take up an attitude.

Communicate regularly – If you want to be covered by me and then don’t talk to me for six months, I am not going to take you seriously. I recognize that there are sometimes technological issues at hand, but really, all of us can do better than sporadic conversation. If you are serious, make the effort.

Understand where we are coming from – I know of at least 4 individuals offhand who were scammed out of money by individuals overseas. I’ve been overseas myself, and I know that the conditions people claim to live under in foreign countries are often seriously exaggerated or untrue, all together. I know I get tired of being treated like I am nothing more than a great financial bank for the whole world. It’s disrespectful; it’s offensive that all people want from us is our money, as if we have nothing else to offer that is of value. We live with these realities every day and they affect how eager we are to jump into an agreement or partnership with a minister overseas. We don’t have to prove ourselves – or our ministries – to people who want something from us. If you can’t empathize with the fact that we watch our friends lose money and the deep offenses we experience when people mistreat us just because we are from the United States, then we don’t have the time to get to know you very well.

The bottom line of this blog: we can love and interact with you as we would with anyone else, but everyone else makes the effort to treat us right and enter into proper relationship with us. If you want to do this, no matter where you are from, the basics are always true: treat us like you want to be treated. Don’t act like we owe you anything. Don’t beat around the bush, but just be upfront with us. Speak to us properly. Understand that things are different, and we are open to new ideas, but somewhere in there, you have to meet us halfway. Don’t treat us like a bank or a 24-hour prayer line. Get to know us, and our work. These facts will go a lot further than blasting our inboxes or hoping that a few words of flattery will endear you to us…because with most ministers, it just won’t work.

© 2016 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.

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