Thursday, June 28, 2007

Why Am I Concerned About Dependency?

A couple of years ago, I was challenged by someone who asked why I was so concerned about the creation of dependency on Western aid amoung Christians in restricted nations. "What has this to do with persecution?" I was asked. A good question, to be sure. The ministry of The Voice of the Martyrs is that of serving the Persecuted Church. This is our sole focus.

But the truth is, dependency has a great deal to do with persecution. Indeed, if I were asked what I believe to be the great threat to the spread of the gospel in today's world, I suspect that my answer might surprise many of you. I do not believe that it is persecution or restrictions on religious liberty. In many cases, persecution is the fruit of faithful witness for Christ, instigated by religious, social, and political leaders who view the spread of Christianity in their community with alarm. In response and in a desire to maintain their version of an acceptable status quo, these leaders attempt to stop or at least control the activities which they see as a threat. Two thousand years of history, however, proves the truth of Jesus' words when He said that the gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Indeed, the gospel is spreading today as never before, often most virulently in societies where opposition is vicious and unrelenting.

No, I do not believe that persecution is the greatest threat to the continuing spread of the gospel. I am much more concerned about something that, at first glace, seems benign and even helpful but which I contend is far more insidious. I am referring to the dependency creating practices that ministries are increasingly promoting in the name of "partnership."

Such programs are varied and wide-ranging. Some claim to be "revolutionizing" world missions through their approach of having western Christians sponsor national missions, churches, evangelists, missionaries and pastors. Claiming to be more efficient and culturally adaptable, such groups appeal to the western desire to be cost and labour effective by claiming that such an approach provides more "bang for the buck." Or alternately, they bemoan the fact that these poor servants of God have to labour so hard to meet the needs of their families that they have no time to spread the gospel (to which I respond, "Paul didn't seem to have that problem. See 1 Thessalonians 2:9." Indeed, Paul seemed to think that his approach was the best possible strategy for spreading the gospel. But then again, I suppose we know better in the 21st century).

A careful study of the issue, however, demonstrates that dependency on western resources to spread the gospel has proven, in most cases, to be an absolute disaster.

Wayne Allen in his 1998 article in the Evangelical Missions Quarterly "When the Mission Pays the Pastor" demonstrated conclusively how churches in Indonesia that numerically through the use of culturally appropriate methods, led and financed by local believers and open to allowing God to direct them. Their growth, however, plateaued or halted when westerners began to subsidize national church workers. Why did the initiation of subsidy coincide with the cessation of growth? Interviews that Allen conducted with village leaders and personal observations suggest the following possible causes:

"First, a loss of lay involvement. The initiation of subsidy signaled a move away from reliance on lay leadership to reliance on a professional clergy....The lay leadership increasingly came to feel that the work of the church was the responsibility of the paid clergy.

Second, loss of focus. The paid workers began to concentrate more on pleasing the missionary, who paid their salaries than on meeting the needs of their churches. Further, the paid workers lost the vision for evangelism. They increasingly gave their attention to ministering to the needs of the congregation, neglecting to visit the neighboring villages to preach the gospel. Finally, over time the paid workers became increasingly aware of how little they were being paid. This resulted in increased focus on how to increase their level of remuneration, and less attention on the work of the ministry.

Third, loss of devotion. When the churches realized that the missionary was paying the salary of the pastor, they lost their sense of ownership of the pastor. They increasingly came to see the pastor as the missionary's hired worker. They increasingly felt no obligation to give toward the pastor's support. When the pastor saw that the congregation was not concerned with providing for his support and well-being, he devoted himself even more to pleasing the missionary who paid his salary. The pastor also increased his efforts to persuade the missionary to increase his salary."

There is a fourth issue that Allen does not address. Paid workers are often viewed with suspicion by members of the community which he/she is trying to reach and not necessarily because he or she is a follower of Jesus. To receive payment from someone in many cultures is not to be viewed as a partner but as an employee or a client. To be supported by outside (and especially Western) finances is to raise a cloak of suspicion upon the recipient's motivation for serving (or even being a Christian), and his loyalty to the country. The recipient is no longer viewed as "one of us" but "one of them!" This sometimes results in increased persecution and rejection of the gospel and not necessarily because of Christ but because the gospel has become wrapped up in dollar bills.

So why am I concerned about dependency? Because if it harms the persecuted church's witness and may even lead to persecution, it must concern me!

If you are presently involved in sponsoring the salaries of national workers either individually or as a church, may I urge you to do four things:

1) Consider other ways that you can assist God's work.

2) Encourage the organization that you are supporting this worker through to change their practices. A more biblical and sustainable approach would be to assist members of local churches with self-generating loans, job training, and stewardship teaching so that the church can become more financially stable, enabling them to support their own workers.

3) Encourage others to not get involved in such programs and to discontinue if they are. There is big money being made through such sponsorship programs. In 2004, the four largest groups in the world who focus on sponsoring national workers distributed over $53,000,000 USD worldwide. This does not include the amount that they kept for administration. That is a lot of money. Many groups have found that sponsoring national workers is a great way to increase donations. I suspect that until such groups realize that it is no longer profitable to engage in dependency creating programs, they will not change their ways.

4) Get behind ministries who are working at creating sustainable ministries for those who, when they are persecuted, are persecuted for Christ's sake and not because of their financial links with westerners.

If you want to learn more about dependency, how to avoid it and how to overcome it, order Glenn Schwartz's new book When Charity Destroys Dignity which you can now order online from The Voice of the Martyrs.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

This was an awesome post! Thank you!