In over 200 years of missions and an average of $20 billion in AID and RELIEF efforts given annually for the past several decades, Africa remains a complicated web of poverty, injustice, faction, corruption, and opposing religious ideologies. Why? Is God powerless to change this? Is money, education and medicine the wrong focus? What is at the heart of this perceived failure? In the cleared sections of jungle in Congo DR and in hundreds of other places on the continent of Africa, rusting tractors, abandoned wells, and dilapidated fish farms whisper the sad story to those who have ears to hear. Unsustainable infrastructures have been imported and are now in various states of disrepair. In our most compassionate, loving, and Christ-like manner we have created an insatiable thief that has robbed so many impoverished people of dignity and the desire to dream, initiate, and be creative in finding their own solutions to the spiritual and economic complexities of Africa and other places on the planet. We have created DEPENDENCY on Western aid and expertise and in many ways have created artificial environments dependent on the methodology of our imported church or mission philosophy that fall apart after we leave.
Steve Saint, whose father was martyred with four other men trying to make contact with the Waodoni (Auca) people of Peru in 1956, had strong words to say against some of our most common missional mindsets. In a September 2011 article in the Journal for the U.S. Center for World Missions he said:
“Our goal in planting Christ’s church where it doesn’t exist must be to produce churches that are self-propagating, self-governing and self-supporting; especially where the members come from a background of hopelessness, powerlessness and inadequate resources. The most important aspect of church planting is whatever that fledgling congregation needs most. In a growing number of cases, the greatest need new churches have is to become self-supporting.
Giving handouts creates more problems than it solves. It is like casting out demons with long leases. Break the lease or they will come back and bring more roommates (Lk 11:24–26). Where the Church is being established among people that perceive themselves as powerless, there is a great need for deep discipleship, wrestling with the roots of poverty at the community level rather than concentrating on the individual.
Financial help that does not develop sustainable, local, financial self-sufficiency is much more likely to create poverty than it is to meet real needs. Until we realize that we can’t overcome poverty with handouts, we will never be much help in completing Christ’s Great Commission.” (Click here to read the article)
It is time for a major breakthrough in how we think and thus act in terms of helping to establish and support the Church and impoverished communities in some of these difficult contexts. God has given us amazing hearts to help those in need, and this is so beautiful! In those cases of widespread catastrophe we must first stop the bleeding. But very quickly we must transfer the triage and care to the local community or they will become overly dependent on our solutions and we will become unnecessarily entrenched. In most cases, being part of the solution requires us to resist the knee jerk reaction to give benevolently when a more long-term approach of empowerment will bring much more independence and creative solutions to the local community. We must ask ourselves, “What is the potential long-term harm or benefit from our current missional approach?” “Who is in perceived leadership right now?” “How am I raising up indigenous leadership to be fully capable to do what I am now doing?” “How is my approach creating dependency?”
Please feel free to respond to these weekly Breakthroughs in Missional Thinking. We need your voice in this ongoing dialogue about how the Christian Church engages in missions in this rapidly changing world and culture.
Director of Global Leadership Development