Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Dependency Mission 06

"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.

Your thoughts?

Tomorrow I will share some stories from The Location about well-intentioned programs...


  1. My sis experienced this during her time on the field--natives wanted to get American support to do ministry, but many times it was in a long established work--it was for the lifestyle, not the ministry.

    Being a house/simple/organic church guy, I get that "not a real church" thing a lot. It happens here in the States, too.

    Great series. You're bringing up some great questions to think about--both for domestic and foreign efforts.

  2. Hi Aaron,

    I always appreciate your comments. And, yes, you are right--so much of this applies to our own home country and not just "overseas." I feel this way more and more all the time.

    In regards to nationals wanting "the good life" of the West... Yes, it is prevelant. At the same time I think we have to be careful of another very dangerous dynamic. That is assuming all nationals are like this, or for looking down on them because we assume they're all like that. I'm not saying you do at all, but I have known many other missionaries who fall into this trap. Then it pretty much kills a lot of their effectiveness. This is actually a very important issue that I'm going to write about in the Koffi House... perhaps after Dependency Mission.

    Thanks again!

  3. Speaking from a position of a core group member of a completely self funded church plant, I can tell you that it is incredibly liberating to rely on God, not someone else with a big checkbook. The church has been meeting at our home for the past 7 months, but this Sunday we begin meeting at a local middle school. We have simply outgrown our space here. Yes, the harvest is plentiful and the workers are few, but why do we often think that you can only make a big impact with a big program? After all, we are all the church collectively. We each have our role. Do I want to reach more people? Of course I do! But I would rather disciple one than give some "Christian Lite" version of the Truth to thousands.

  4. If we go to another country and plant a church or help build homes, install water systems, plant crops, etc, shouldn't we be teaching those in that country how to to take care of those things so that they become self sufficient and not dependent? Isn't that what the disciples did when they went out to preach Christianity? They didn't just end up in one place - they helped to raise up other leaders so that they could continue going to other places.

    Yes, I agree with you...and a very good post.

  5. Awesome. I know that the mission we're looking at supporting tends to fall in the "dependency" model, but their reputation is stellar, and I think they screen their guys that go through their training to be church planters. Still, I've asked some questions of a rep for the organization, and I'm eagerly awaiting his reply.

    Keep bringin' it, K.

  6. Hi Annie K... Welcome to the Koffi House! Thanks for your comment. Yes, you are right... we should be teaching independence and giving people opportunities to help themselves and lead themselves when possible. In Acts we see a food distribution system for the widows. James talks about helping widows and orphans. But Paul says that he who doesn't work shouldn't get to eat. What gives? Well, if you look through the Bible at those to whom God expects us to show mercy--it is those who, for one reason or another, CAN'T work or they CAN'T feed themselves. Perhaps their widowed, orphaned, old, disabled, etc. But if someone is well-bodied and fully able--they are expected to work. Why? Who else is going to be able to help those who CAN'T work? Such people should be contributing, not consuming.

  7. Hi Aaron,

    If the agency you're talking about is the one I'm thinking of, yes they do have a good reputation. And I think deservingly so. Still, I want you to know that it is relatively easy to impress people back home when it comes to missions. Why? Because most poeple...

    1) Don't know enough about missions, missiology, and missions strategy to know what the issues are and know the stregths and weaknesses of various approaches.

    2) We are inspired by *incredible* stories we hear on "the mission field" and have this sub-conscious feeling that God is somehow MORE active in such foreign places than he is in our own lives or in our own country.

    3) Many good-hearted Christians ultimately feel some small measure of guilt (for not being a missionary--because they once had interest in it or someone once told them they should be missionaries) or a feeling of "I could never do that." And they are consequently impressed with those who DO do that. Often, they are the strongest financial supporters.

    So, many times organizations will get stellar reps because of such things AND because they have not had any scandals (which IS important and a whole other issue, too). I think most orgs such as these are honest and simply have never "thought outside of the box" as far as different approaches, but are kind of stuck in that model.

    I won't go so far as to say it is wrong to support such a model because I believe God can use anything. My hope is that by asking the questions you're asking of them you will help them to begin to consider such things as sustainable evangelism, Business as Missions, and National Tentmaking.

  8. Every time I come over here, you are writing about something I have never even considered! You are right though. Every missions or church growth 101 seminar talks about reproducibility or sustainability. In a way, sustaining anything that can't sustain itself will eventually lead to keeping people on a lower tier, or in subjugation to the hand that provides.