Two Christian Leaders Discuss Dependency
Chuck Bennett of Partners Intl.
Like Glenn, I abhor unhealthy dependency and believe "psychological ownership" is an indispensable element in any true people movement. Like him, I studied under McGavran and Tippett at Fuller. But I began my missionary career among three fast-growing, self-sufficient people movements, while Glenn began his in a highly paternalistic denominational mission in Africa, with huge institutions and vast tracts of land. No wonder he is passionate about fighting dependency. He's seen it at its worst. I've visited about as much church and mission work in as many different countries as anyone alive, and I've certainly seen the kind of dependency Glenn describes, but I've also seen many, many healthy indigenous movements.
Of course we must not create unhealthy dependency. But unhealthy is the operative word. The Scriptures are full of admonitions that members of the Body of Christ should be interdependent. To refuse to share our resources with overseas brethren because there have been abuses is like saying we should outlaw marriage because some husbands beat their wives. The problem is real but the solution is simplistic. I'm convinced it's possible to "help without hurting."
At Partners International we have, for 53 years, been "joint venturing" with indigenous ministries in poor countries. We try to empower and encourage fellow believers to carry out their own God- given visions. That's the opposite of creating unhealthy control and dependency. Our 60 joint venture partnerships in 50 countries are planting a new church every 15 hours, training nearly 30,000 grassroots leaders every year. . .and much more. We typically provide only about 20% of the total income of an indigenous partner ministry, and almost never more than 35% except in disaster relief situations. If we withdrew it, they would slow down but not collapse.
We don't control these ministries. We only try to help them enhance
the effectiveness of their own vision and ministry. And only at their initiative. We don't hire them away from anyone. They are not our employees. They are our partners. Over the past five years we have "graduated" about 30 ministries to full self sufficiency, usually at their request. Only two of those separations were unhappy experiences.
Last October, 52 agencies that specialize in support of indigenous ministries gathered together for the first time at the Billy Graham Center in Wheaton; and we now have a list of 135 such agencies in North America. I can't vouch for every single one of these agencies, but I know the vast majority of them are as concerned about avoiding unhealthy dependency as Glenn and I are. Nor are the budgets of these indigenous support agencies large, nor is our fund raising easy, as Glenn suggests. I previously headed another mission with a budget three times the size of Partners. I can personally affirm that it was far, far easier to raise funds for American missionaries than it is for indigenous workers.
I admire Glenn's passion and I agree in principle with his concern. But his experience has been mostly limited to some of the worst cases. Jim Plueddemann is right on. "We need to help national churches... . but we need to help responsibly." So let's get a good grip on the baby before we fling the bath water of unhealthy financial aid out the window!
Chuck Bennett has 41 years experience in missions, as a missionary in Latin America, a church growth researcher, president of Mission Aviation Fellowship, Executive V.P. of Food for the Hungry International, founder & chairman of AirServ International and, since 1991, president of Partners International.
Glenn Schwartz Responds to Chuck Bennett
Chuck Bennett has been a friend and co-laborer in Great Commission missions for a long time. We may differ on strategy but our goal of honoring the Lord Jesus Christ is the same and undiminished.
One gets the impression when reading Chuck's response that he is arguing with me--Glenn Schwartz--regarding the ability of non-western churches to stand on their own two feet. In fact, I am only echoing what I have heard from hundreds of church leaders from every continent without exception. I have heard them express exasperation when anyone gives the impression that their churches can't get on without outside assistance.
I realize that one can find thousands --not just hundreds--of church leaders who still think western help is the only way for them to do what God is asking of them. Their churches are yet to discover the joy of full local support and the rewards that accompany giving beyond their borders. Indeed, some of them, because of the amount of foreign support they receive, are not granted membership in their own national missionary associations. That speaks volumes for the cause of developing local support.
I choose to champion the cause of those who believe that self-support and missionary outreach are possible with local resources. Our numbers are also increasing, but probably not as fast as those who are involved in creating or perpetuating dependency on outside funding.
The WMA video series on issues of dependency and self-reliance shows that we do not treat the subject lightly or simplistically.