1 – Exacerbating Poverty and Dependency Through Unwise Resource Deployment
Billions of dollars today flow easily and effortlessly into thousands of mission enterprises all over the world. One of the great marks of the church of Jesus Christ is its incredible generosity and giving ethic. While this is the call of every church and every believer, there is surprisingly very little accountability in how these Great Commission resources are applied.
In his book, Toxic Charity, Robert Lupton recounts numerous case studies of how western generosity has not only had little effect in certain parts of the world, but in many cases has actually stifled economic growth and indigenous enterprise.
He writes that Africa has received over $1 Trillion in benevolent aid over the last 50 years, yet they are worse off today than they were a half century ago. Per capita income is lower today than in the 1970’s. African economist, Dambisa Moyo, in his book, Dead Aid, calls such careless giving, “the disease which pretends to be the cure.” More care and attention must be paid to our projects, plans and partnerships. Are we doing more harm than good? Are we exacerbating poverty and dependence with our loose pocket books?
It’s always easy to make partnerships happen when you’re willing to pay for everything. But this is not always wise. We need to think first before we commit resources. I have lost partners on account of my unwillingness to make financial commitments to projects. Many of our prospective partners have been thoroughly conditioned to accept funds and resources at the expense of their own independence and enterprise.
2 – Ignoring the Insight and Wisdom of National Leaders
As westerners we are known all over the world as visionaries and doers. And that is a needed quality in the Body of Christ. But without taking the time to understand those whom we wish to serve, we run the risk of making massive investments that yield little long-term, self-sustaining results. We know how things work in our own culture and context. We have proven strategies, talented people, education, and lots of resources. Our tendency is to move fast and hard into foreign cultures without slowing down to first understand and listen to national leaders.
But it’s highly insulting and unwise not to enlist the wisdom and partnership of indigenous leaders and churches. Servant leadership is required. We must listen first if we want to understand how our talents and resources can have lasting impact.
3 – Building Structures That Depend On Western Leadership and Resources
It’s a proven tenet of all mission work that the earlier you can involve national leaders in the building of the church or organization, the better long-term viability that work will have. Yet, many western churches continue to launch projects that have no succession plan. The average western missionary term of service is roughly 3-4 years. How is it then that we can expect to nationalize the work if the entire operation is propped up from outside people and resources? Such structures quickly evaporate like dust in the wind.
Instead, careful planning must be done in the beginning of any project or mission endeavor to ensure a solid and viable succession plan is in place. I personally witnessed 17 campus ministries dwindle down to 5 over a period of 7 years in Russia for this very reason. We were entirely too dependent on recruits and dollars from the west to keep things moving along. Once the interest dwindled among the partnering campus ministries in the U.S., momentum was lost and we began to shrink rapidly.
4 – Failure to Contextualize the Message and The Methods
Western culture is a very commercial culture. We do trade and business very well. One of the things we also do well is standardization and scale. Henry Ford showed the world how powerful this can be for the auto industry. Somehow this is ingrained in our psyche. We tell ourselves, “If it works here, surely it must work over there.” We cannot make such assumptions in foreign cultures.
Much has been written about the need to contextualize missionary methods. In short, contextualization means to adapt our message and methods so that they fit the unique cultural paradigms where we work. We don’t dilute the message, but adapt it so it can be heard and assimilated rapidly.
As I was going through our cross-culture training class and preparing for my second missionary term in Russia, our instructor issued a challenge that I think is worth repeating here: “Never use methods in your ministry that are non-reproducible by the nationals.” Wow! That’s really hard to do. But think about it. If I’m doing something only I can do as a westerner, how empowering is that actually going to be for the national? They will eventually conclude, “Yeah, he can do it that here because he’s an American, but that’s not for me.” All messaging and methodology must be stripped of their cultural bias and re-formatted to fit the host culture.
5 – Ignoring the Current Reality and Makeup of the Global Church
The facts are in and the data is mind-blowing. Over the last 50 years we’ve witnessed a massive groundshift in the makeup of the global Body of Christ. Today, researchers and missiologists estimate that 80% of the global church is NON-WESTERN! Yet, when you analyze the assumptions of many western church mission programs and para-church sending agencies, the results are shocking! Most are still operating under the old assumption that the western church is the majority of the global church.
Can you imagine how this data point might radically shift that way westerns “do” mission? What new strategies would emerge if the majority of the church simply updated their information and education about the current state of global Christianity?
Today we’re witnessing the rapid rise of the global church. Places that were once mission fields are now producing powerful and emerging mission forces. This is a game changer that every mission-minded church needs to wrap its missional muscle around and start to understand! These are exciting times indeed!