Mission Briefing: Ideas shaping world mission outreach today

Avoid causing financial 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 a thirst for foreign funding and the view that more foreign money will enable a church to fulfill God's plan for it. Sadly, such financial dependency on foreign aid often has the effect of sapping spiritual vitality, stifling local initiative and actually slowing down Great Commission fulfillment rather than speeding it up.

That's a tragic irony, isn't it? The "have" Christians of the world want 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 can be akin to trying to help baby birds get out of their eggshells or butterflies out of their cocoons. That "help" is not good for the birds or the butterflies. What was meant to be a helping hand becomes counterproductive and winds up hurting rather than helping.

Here are ten reasons why allowing financial dependency to develop is unhealthy in global missionary ministry:

  1. Dependency on a continual stream of foreign money make local churches financially unsustainable at the local level and therefore not infinitely reproducible.
  2. Dependency lulls aid recipients into thinking that forward progress is dependent on the generosity of overseas benefactors.
  3. Members of churches dependent on foreign benefactors miss out on the joy of giving sacrificially themselves and living by faith in God's provision.
  4. Knowing that a congregation is supported by foreign money taints 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. It's an unquenchable thirst.
  6. Dependency sometimes leads those having access to foreign money to see themselves as powerful rather than as servants.
  7. Because jealousy too often raises its ugly head among those not receiving assistance, dependency strangles the sense of community that should characterize networks of local churches and believers.
  8. Though it seems paradoxical, dependency has even fostered resentment toward or disdain for foreign benefactors (who never seem to be giving enough).
  9. Dependency allows foreign benefactors to have undue influence over vision, goal-setting and decision-making in churches where 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 or increasing momentum, It stunts initiative rather than stimulating it. It cripples churches rather than galvanizing them to increased action.

So, is giving financial help always bad? No. But it must be done wisely and with great discernment. No one sets out to purposefully create dependency. It is, tragically, an unintended consequence. To avoid dependency, 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 than to subsidize on-going operations.

All Christ followers 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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