The Dismantling of Missions' Structures

As we work around the world we are constantly bombarded by the varying degrees of dependency some of which has been created as the result of misguided missionary efforts. Where missions has existed the longest we are now seeing the dismantling of missions' structures: hospitals, schools and even churches that were never created to be self-sustaining and when the money shifted elsewhere, the organizations pulled out or the missionaries died off so ended the ministry. This is the unfortunate result of creating dependent mission structures. Ministry become obsolete for a number of reasons: Local leadership capable of carrying on the vision was never developed. The local leadership simply may not have the resources to maintain what outsiders built. It may be determined by local leadership that what was built is un-necessary for the spiritual well-being of the local community. Lastly, could it be because the missionaries have had some wrong assumptions concerning our mission? Let me quote from Roland Allan. He writes,

"Our modern practice in founding a church is to begin by securing land and buildings in the place in which we wish to propagate the Gospel. Since it is obviously impossible that the natives should supply these things, even if they are anxious to receive our instruction, it naturally follows that we must supply them. Hence the opening of new missionary endeavors has become primarily a financial operation, and we constantly hear our missionaries lament that they cannot open new works where they are sorely needed, because they have not the necessary funds to purchase and equip the barest missionary establishment. But it ought not properly to be a financial operation, and the moment it is allowed to appear as such, that moment very false and dangerous elements are introduced into our work. Nor is this all. The first glance at these missions financed from abroad naturally suggests that the religion which they represent is foreign. They are supported by foreign money, they are often foreign in appearance. Eastern people almost universally look upon Christianity as a foreign religion, and they do not want a foreign religion. They cannot supply what they think to be needful, and so they learn to accept the position of passive recipients. Native congregations have before now been held to their allegiance by threats of the withdrawal of financial support. But unity so maintained, by an external bond, is not Christian unity at all. It is simply submission to bondage for the sake of secular advantage and it will fail the moment that any other and stronger motive urges in the direction of separation."

Over time and after the expenditure of a great deal of resources what is the result? Has the Kingdom really been advanced? Are we any closer to a people turning to Christ? Has a culturally relevant pattern for the church emerged? Is that church now capable of evangelizing their peoples as well as participating in cross-cultural outreach? I am suggesting that we need to re-evaluate our long-term objectives in missions and make sure that our strategies will produce that desired end. Otherwise in a generation we may find that the works that have fallen into obsolescence are the ones we have built.

Exploring Dependency in Mission

Over the past few years we have been greatly influenced by a book written by Glenn Schwartz called, "How Charity Destroyed Dignity." You can purchase this book at a very low cost through our online store. This book addresses the issues of dependency in mission and how to avoid it. Truthfully the book does not represent itself as having all of the answers; rather I believe the purpose of the book is to get those of us that do mission work to begin asking the right questions. Too many times we simply act, just respond, to the needs that we perceive in our work among the nations without thinking about the ramifications of our actions. We do not think about the long term impact of our actions. We do not consider how our "good-hearted intrusions" may be destroying initiative, killing the very personal faith we are endeavoring to foster. We often do not recognize that actions taken from far off are in all probability discouraging a more localized and more appropriate response. Too often we assume that others are incapable of caring for themselves and we are the very one perpetuating dependency in people. If people are taught to depend upon others they will in time learn to rest entirely and passively upon others, thus the cycle of dependency is begun. It is continued when the people wait for others to act on their behalf. The longer they do so, the more incapable they become of any independent action. The cycle is further perpetuated when we as leaders begin to believe that their inactivity is due to a lack of capacity. The fatal mistake we have made is in teaching others to depend upon man or institution rather than trusting in the God who provides. Like many others it is my sincere desire to give a compassionate response where a compassionate response is needed. I understand our Lord's instruction to care for the orphan and the widow, to cloth the naked and feed the hungry. I certainly believe that in times of crisis the church should be the first to respond. I am not arguing this. What I am addressing is the manner in which our policies and practices may be having disastrous results long after the present crisis is over. What I am asking is, can't we minister in such a way as to foster complete dependence on God. Can't we work among the nations without also creating the dependency we have historically created all over the world? Can't we do this in a way that is honest and Christ-honoring? Can't we fashion a strategy that takes into consideration the complexities of our actions? I believe that Love requires that we do.

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"I have found that there are three stages in every great work of God; first, it is impossible, then it is difficult, then it is done."
- Hudson Taylor
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