"What's wrong with dependency? If we are doing something to help people, isn't that a good thing?"
I've heard from some people that have not liked what I've had to say about dependency (not on this site). It is interesting. Usually they will tell me about some mission organization or approach they know of or have experience with. They receive my critique as a condemnation. It is like they feel you have to throw the baby out with the bathwater so they therefore decide to keep the bathwater.
My purpose is not to condemn anything people do out of the goodness of their hearts when done in all honesty and integrity. At the same time, our "good intentions" do not exempt us from being intelligent and learning to see if there are better ways. Jesus said we must be as innocent as doves AND as smart as serpents.
So, to counter another misconception, I don't believe it is wrong or bad for people like us to give gifts to people in poor countries. I'm not against that. That is not what I'm talking about in my Dependency Mission series. I'm talking about mission programs that simply form a never-ending conduit of foreign funds to subsidize normal every-day physical needs of those in poverty or to sponsor native evangelists in an ongoing fashion.
I am not against using foreign funds to address emergency needs and I know of several organizations who raise money for such situations around the world. They do good work. However, the nature of an emergency (flood, tsunami, famine, refugee camp, etc.) is that it is not ongoing, and such organizations are helping people until they can achieve stability again.
Neither am I against using foreign funds to start up projects in unreached places that have the goal of sustainability. It might take a while to get to the point where they can support themselves, but it is the goal and the plan. This is not unlike my own situation.
Also, I want everyone to know that I am not in the least against native missionaries! I am all for national evangelists, national pastors and national Christians doing ministry in and among their own people. In fact, I would be opposed to any organization that insisted only foreigners from the West with seminary training can do ministry on the field. That would be terrible! I am simply against unending sponsorship of national Christian workers. Why?
The biggest reason is that it is not reproducible.
If I support ten national evangelists to go and plant churches in unreached villages in The Location, then perhaps we will have helped plant ten churches. But what happens when 30 other nationals want to plant churches? Two things. They will see the others who have planted churches and assume that the only way to plant a church is to be sponsored by a foreigner. Then they will either try to find funding from foreigners or they will give up and not do anything. Our model then becomes a barrier to church growth.
If the only churches we plant are the ones that are funded from outside sources then church growth will go very slowly. How can it be reproduced on the field without outside help? It would be very difficult if not impossible. And if someone came along and planted a church without a big budget, but did it in a low-key way (say, a house church), then the national leaders of the big foreign-subsidized churches would likely say, "You're not a REAL church." And, yes, this really does happen.
In the history of the church most major expansions of the church have come through people movements where many people come to Christ in a rather short period of time (history-wise). And such movements have occurred when the peoples of those places have shared the gospel and started churches on their own. They haven't depended upon outside sources for the expansion of the movement, even if it might have been initiated by outside Christians. If I am going to light a forest on fire it would take a very long time to go around and ignite every single tree. But if I lit one tree on fire and it spread to other trees on its own, then the mission will be best accomplished.
This is reproducibility. It means that anything we as foreigners do in ministry we do it in a way that nationals can easily copy and do on their own. If they are dependent upon us for funding for any kind of ministry they do, then it will not be possible for them to reproduce. Then the only thing that will happen will be what we (foreigners) can do or what we can fund. Our good works just might end up being a barrier to the spread of the gospel.
Tomorrow I will share some stories from The Location about well-intentioned programs...