A Champion for Self Reliance An Interview With Glenn Schwartz
MF: How did you come to become concerned about issues of dependency among mission-established institutions?
Glenn: I first went out to Central Africa in 1961 when I was in my early twenties. There I worked as a volunteer for two years on big mission stations--some with five and seven thousand acres. I saw the size and foreignness of the mission-established structures first-hand. A few years later, I returned to Africa as a full-time missionary in Zambia, despite my reservations over how the work was being handled. I did not fully understand it, but it made me uncomfortable.
MF: How did that go?
Glenn: I was thrust into the midst of mission at it's heyday in Central Africa. Missionaries were still managing almost everything, though there was a consciousness that things should begin to change. Soon I became increasingly unsettled and got quite vocal about what I felt was a form of injustice.
MF: What kind of injustice?
Glenn: I saw the reputations of local church leaders suffering-- sometimes being destroyed--because it was impossible for them to rise to the challenge of managing the foreign institutions developed in their midst. Those institutions were developed by foreign people with a lot of foreign money. For the sake of my own conscience I could not continue in that kind of situation and so I left.
MF: What was the result?
Glenn: I was getting desperate for answers and went searching. One place I went was the School of World Mission at Fuller Seminary. There I found senior missiologists like Professors Alan Tippett, Ralph Winter and Donald McGavran confirming my suspicions that there was something wrong with the paradigm on which Central African missionary work was being done--not just in the mission I was with-- but most "foreign" missions in Central Africa were just that--foreign.
After completing an M.A. in missiology, I stayed on for six more years as an administrator for the SWM faculty. In 1983, God led me and some like-minded people to begin World Mission Associates. Since then we have been encouraging church leaders, particularly in Africa and Latin America, to stand on their own two feet and to discover the joy of breaking out of the stranglehold of dependency. Since 1987, I have been concentrating on conducting seminars primarily in Africa on the subject of dependency and self-reliance.
MF: Tell us more about WMA and your philosophy of ministry?
Glenn: We are open Evangelicals who come from a variety of denominational backgrounds. It is also our privilege to serve a wide spectrum of the Christian movement wherever we go. We believe, "God in His providence placed ordinary people like you and me all over the world in order to accomplish His purpose. Our Christian responsibility is to find each other and encourage each other to become all that He wants us to be."
MF: What does that mean for the mission of the church?
Glenn: Among other things, it means that we take very seriously the indigenous principle.
MF: Don't all mission societies hold on to the "indigenous principle?"
Glenn: Almost without exception they would say they do. But in my experience there seems to be a large gap between the ideals and their actual practice. You know the word indigenous is a good term used to describe those things that are characteristic of the way people do things in their society. Non-indigenous things are the things people "borrow" from another society. Dependency often results from prolific borrowing from another society.
MF: Can there be indigenous things in Western societies?
Glenn: There certainly can. For example, the Church of England is indigenous in England. The Lutheran Church can be thought of as indigenous in Germany. But remember, it has not always been like that. It was the Protestant Reformation that took a foreign Christianity (Roman) and indigenized it into other parts of Europe. Have you ever thought of the Reformation as an indigenization movement?
Following the Protestant Reformation, the Christian movement spread to many parts of the world like Asia, Africa, South America, etc. It didn't always start in those places as an indigenous movement. Indeed, sometimes it was as foreign to the people of Central Africa as Roman Christianity was in Germany or Scandinavia.
MF: What are the ramifications?
Glenn: There are many. First, many churches in Africa, Asia and South America are still waiting for their movement of indigenization. Their Christianity often included a foreign structure, foreign church music and, unfortunately, a lot of foreign money. The result is that many churches live with all that foreignness--sometimes for a hundred years after they first heard the gospel.
Often churches founded with foreign money become dependent on it and feel they can't do God's work unless they get money from someone else. Sadly, this dependency mentality is a serious and widespread problem among mission-established institutions.
MF: What are the implications?
Glenn: For one thing, dependent churches often feel they can't send out missionaries of their own because they don't have the money. That means they are letting the expansion of the Christian movement stop with them when they should be passing it on.
Another implication is that people in dependent churches are being subsidized with money that should be used to preach the gospel where it has not yet been preached. When I have opportunity to minister to
people in dependent churches, I ask them whether they feel it is right to keep on receiving foreign subsidy when those funds could be and ought to be used for people in other parts of the world where the gospel has not yet been preached.
MF: How does WMA seek to solve this problem?
Glenn: First, we direct our attention to the root causes of the problem, not just the symptoms. For example, the fact that believers in dependent churches don't tithe is often a symptom of a deeper problem. Unless the deeper problem is dealt with, it's not much use teaching people (or trying to force them) to tithe.
MF: But giving at least a tithe is so basic in Christian teaching...
Glenn: Giving usually flows from a heart that is filled with joy, a heart in which the most basic spiritual needs are met--when indigenous problems are dealt with.
An indigenous expression of the Christian faith meets real needs, local needs. Then the joy of the Lord overflows and giving back to God is a natural response.
But there is another profound reason why people don't joyfully put money in the collection plate. It has to do with the availability of that "other" money. I mean by that, the foreign money on which they came to depend. As long as that money is there, it is easy to sit back, claim to be poor, and let someone else's money meet the needs. That is what some of my friends in Africa call "confessing poverty."
MF: But you still didn't tell me what WMA tries to do about it.
Glenn: I keep getting sidetracked describing the syndrome of dependency. We preach, teach seminars, publish articles, create videos and have one discussion after another on the root causes and solutions related to dependency and self-reliance.
MF: Where is all this done?
Glenn: We publish articles for Westerners who find themselves on the giving end of the dependency syndrome. We have conducted seminars and consultations for church and mission leaders who sincerely want to break the cycle of dependency in Europe, Israel, West Bank, Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Lesotho. And of course we distribute our video series to all who are interested in learning about the syndrome and how to overcome it. One WMA colleague has done similar teaching in Nicaragua, Honduras, Venezuela and Colombia.
MF: You talk a lot about self-reliance. Aren't Christians supposed to be reliant on God?
Glenn: We do not use the term self-reliance in contra-distinction to reliance on God. We use it to distinguish between reliance on local, rather than foreign resources. We believe everyone should be reliant upon God. In fact, that is just the point we are trying to emphasize. Many believers in mission-established churches are relying upon other Christians (often in Western countries) rather than upon the resources which God has put within their own reach.
MF: We hear another emphasis these days about supporting nationals. Is this something new on the missions scene in North America and Europe?
Glenn: For those of us promoting self-reliance for mission- established institutions, the movement you are talking about causes some real concern. But it is not new. Paying non-Western evangelists, pastors or missionaries with Western money is an old idea in the Protestant missionary movement. It seems to me that the only thing new is that the promoters are doing it in a bigger and bolder way than ever before. They are trying to legitimize what, I believe, has been an unhealthy practice in cross-cultural evangelism.
MF: Sounds like you are concerned about the impact of that emphasis?
Glenn: To say that I am concerned is putting it mildly. I wish they wouldn't support church leaders with foreign funding in the parts of Africa (or anywhere, for that matter) where church leaders are doing their best to break the dependency syndrome. Some church leaders have gone so far as to confess the sin of dependency. Some of them call it an addiction. The more foreign funding one gets--they say--the more one needs.
MF: An addiction?
Glenn: Yes. In May 1996 some East African church leaders organized a seminar at Limuru, Kenya. They had about 90 leaders present. At the close of the two-day seminar they adopted some resolutions and among them was a confession of the sin dependency--of allowing themselves to become dependent on people outside Africa when there is evidence that African churches can stand on their own two feet when they decide to do so.
MF: But can people in developing countries really support the work God is calling them to do?
Glenn: We believe that churches in the non-Western world can do what God is calling them to do with the resources which he has put within their reach. Do you really believe God gives a burden to people in Africa or some part of Asia and then gives the resources to people in another country? The good news it that there are churches in the non- Western world which have demonstrated that when their people are rightly discipled and filled with love for the Lord, from their own resources they can make their contribution toward the global Christian movement with joy.
MF: I didn't know there was a "just support nationals" movement.
Glenn: Let me put it this way. I don't think anyone would support that approach if they had gone out as a missionary to plant churches cross-culturally according to healthy principles of self-support and then had someone come along and entice away their best leaders with foreign money. That is what I call "shepherd stealing". The "just support nationals" people are doing it shamelessly and on a very large scale.
MF: There must be something behind their motivation.
Glenn: Lots of things, of course. First, It is easier to get money from Western churches for that than to go around saying that the church in the non-Western world can stand on its own two feet and doesn't need Western funding. Secondly, they are playing right into the hands of many Westerners who get a good feeling from believing that the "poor benighted people" of the non-Western world can't survive without their help. Some Westerners want so badly to be needed that they may disregard the fact that their generosity may be creating or perpetuating dependency.
MF: Do you see any progress in your effort to resolve the problem of dependency that you say is so serious and long-standing?
Glenn: Yes, we do see progress. For example, there are mission- established churches that have made a successful transition from dependency toward self-reliance. These include the Presbyterian Church in East Africa, the Assemblies of God in South Africa, Lutherans in Tanzania and others. In our seminars in Africa we try to spend as much as fifty percent of the time recounting stories of how churches such as these made the transition. I tell quite a few of those stories in the video series.
MF: Oh yes, what about that video series which you said is available?
Glenn: WMA now have available an eight-hour video series on issues of dependency among mission-established institutions. It includes a 125- page study guide and can be ordered from any of the WMA offices. It is also available on audio cassettes. We charge US$150 for the video series and US$100 for the audio.
This video/audio series is available at any of the following addresses:
WMA-USA, 825 Darby Lane, Lancaster, PA 17601 --Att: Larry Estepp (800) 230-5265
WMA-UK, Box 436, Reading, England RG1 6DH -- Att: Glenn Schwartz
WMA-East Africa, Box 48629, Nairobi, Kenya -- Att: Don Ertley
Christian Enterprises, Box 240347, Ndola, Zambia -- Att: Jonathan Zulu,
Baptist International Media Services, P.O. Box 872, Edenvale 1610, South Africa -- Att: Dave Clarke
The series includes four 2-hour video tapes or eight 1-hour audio cassettes. The following 16 lessons are included:
- Introduction to Issues of Dependency and Self-Reliance
- Stories of Churches Which Made Some Progress Toward Self-Reliance
- Characteristics of the Syndrome of Dependency
- What Should Wealthy Churches Do With Their Money?
- Historical Development of the Syndrome of Dependency
- What Can Missionaries Do to Avoid Or Break the Dependency Syndrome?
- What Can Church Leaders Do to Avoid Or Break the Dependency Syndrome?
- Miscellaneous Issues Related to Dependency and Self-Reliance
- Three Things of Importance for Mission-Established Institutions
- Issues of Dependency Among the Poor and Unemployed
- Joy of Giving and the Law of Tithing in Biblical Perspective
- Indigenous Church and Missionary Sending
- Christian Conversion and the Dependency Syndrome
- Conflicting World Views and the Problem of Dependency
- Ethnicity and Cross-cultural Church Planting: Why Dependency Develops
- The Role of Business Men and Women In Breaking the Dependency Syndrome
Video Tape Sets are $150 and Audio Tape Sets are $100. In the UK: sets are £100 and £70 respectively.
Glenn Schwartz is currently founding Executive Director of World Mission Associates and frequently writes and lectures on the subject of dependency and self-reliance among mission-established institutions.