Mission Briefing: Ideas shaping world mission outreach today

Avoid fostering economic dependency

Dependency. It is a word often associated with addiction. Sadly, dependency is also used as a label for a problem bedeviling world evangelism efforts. That problem develops when well- meaning attempts to aid a congregation or a leader in another country create an unquenchable thirst for foreign funding. Such financial dependency winds up sapping vitality, stifling initiative and slowing down Great Commission fulfillment.

That's a tragic irony, isn't it? The "have" Christians of the world desire to share in Kingdom work in "have not" places. So, they shower money on projects and people in far-away places. However, raining down money on people and projects is often akin to trying to help baby birds get out of eggshells or butterflies out of cocoons. The "help" turns counterproductive and winds up hurting rather than helping.

Here are ten reasons why financial dependency is so unhealthy in global missionary ministry:

  1. Dependency shapes local churches in ways that leave them economically unsustainable locally and, therefore, not infinitely reproducible.
  2. Dependency leaves aid recipients thinking that forward progress is impossible without overseas benefactors.
  3. Members of churches dependent on foreign benefactors may miss out on the joy of giving sacrificially and living by faith in God's provision.
  4. Frequent infusions of foreign money can erode a church's credibility in the eyes of the local community.
  5. Dependency creates an entitlement: The more aid is given; the more it is expected and solicited.
  6. Dependency sometimes leads those having access to foreign money to revel in the power and authority such access seems to give them.
  7. Because jealousy too often raises its ugly head among those not receiving assistance, dependency erodes the feeling of spiritual community in the network of local churches and believers.
  8. Though it seems paradoxical, dependency has even fostered resentment by aid recipients toward foreign benefactors.
  9. Dependency allows foreign benefactors to have undue influence over vision, goal-setting and decision-making in churches there they have only a very superficial understanding of context and cultural dynamics.
  10. Dependency breeds temptations to "borrow" foreign funds or embezzle them outright.

For these and other reasons, depending on a pipeline to foreign money to finance local ministries often winds up stalemating things rather than sustaining momentum or even increasing it, stunting initiative rather than stimulating it, and crippling churches rather than galvanizing them to further action.

So, is giving financial help always bad? No. But it must be done wisely and with great discernment. No one sets out to create dependency. It is, tragically, an unintended consequence. Among other things, foreign money must not be used to pay for everyday local expenses such as pastors' salaries, living expenses, building rent or utilities. In terms of an analogy from pioneer days in the American West, foreign money must only be used to prime the pump rather to subsidize on-going operations.

Believers are called to give. Believers are called to help the less fortunate. However, we must do it judiciously and strategically so that we help rather than hurt.

    -- Howard Culbertson

This mini-essay on a key issue in world missions outreach is one of 12 articles in the "Mission briefing" series published in Engage magazine.

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