Money is a very powerful thing. Having money or access to money gives a certain power. The lack of adequate financial resources can make one feel helpless. Some Christian leaders are willing to give up a great deal in order to obtain the finances needed to live well, provide for their families, ministry, or have basic needs met. At times there is a compromising of values, strategies and ideals in order to obtain income. The lack of money can make one feel so desperate.
The way in which we think about and use money is very, very important.
Jesus said we could not serve both God and mammon (money). He also said to be on our guard against all kinds of greed. He told us not to worry about material things; food, clothing, etc. He told us that the Father knew what we needed and would be faithful to give these things to us. But sometimes we compromise to gain finances. And sometimes once we have enough money, even in our generosity we use that money inappropriately.
In my leadership role in South Asia, I've been talking a lot about two words related to money and missions. One is the word dependency, the other is paternalism. In this article, let’s talk a bit more about these two words. Dependency is when we develop an unhealthy relationship with a donor where we start to look to them as the supplier of our needs rather than to God. Who is responsible for the problem of dependency? Is it the donor, or the person receiving the money? I believe both are responsible for allowing dependency, though the greater responsibility is on the donor.
Many times dependency happens without our realizing it. We give out of the goodness of our hearts, wanting to help. We give without thinking through the long term consequences. We don't ask the right questions of the situation. We don't ask whether or not our giving truly helps the person receiving the money to grow in dignity, faith, and to be what God has called them to be. Sometimes our giving makes them weaker and puts them in a place where they need you, the donor, in order to survive.
Giving and receiving is biblical. It’s right. But giving when it causes someone to look to you instead of God takes them away from Him, rather than pushing them toward Him. This doesn't help them, it hurts them.
As a missionary serving in Asia for the past 20 years I've faced many, many situations where I was presented with a need where my giving could either help or hurt. I've made a lot of mistakes. Sometimes I've given and caused dependency, where those I gave to started to look to me as their source of help instead of God. Sometimes I've given and then used the power over them which my giving created, to make them do what I wanted them to do. It was never obvious or out in the open that I was doing that. Usually I was hardly conscious of it. Using financial power over people to influence them is a very subtle, but dangerous form of control.
Let me describe a hypothetical situation to make it clearer. Let's say I’m teaching about church planting movements (cpm) and that is my passion. I really want everyone to be as excited about CPMs as I am and to embrace that strategy. I really believe in this strategy and think it is the most effective way to reach the unreached. So I meet an Indian DTS student and we become friends. I can see they have potential. I decide to help them do an SOFM so I finance their DTS fees. They later want to get married, so I help provide a lot of the money for the wedding. They see me as their older sister. They love and appreciate me. But God is calling them to work with Kings Kids (Children's ministry), not to be involved in CPMs. They share their vision with me, but I'm not excited about that vision. I had a lot of hope that they would work in church planting and do SOFM.
I'm faced with a choice. Will I use my financial power to manipulate them and cause them to stay in church planting where I want them? Or will I release them to follow God's plans? It's very tempting here. I know that because I've helped them so much financially, they will listen to me and probably do what I tell them to do, especially if I offer to finance them as they do it. If I offer to support them as they join a cp team, that is probably what they will do, even though it’s not what they are called to do or their vision. But we really need church planters! And it’s not wrong for them to church plant. But it IS wrong to use money and financial influence to control people.
So what is the right thing to do here? Well, first is that they shouldn't be dependent on me. My generosity could lead toward their looking to me instead of God. Maybe I need to stop giving to them, and instead look for a donor they can connect with directly rather than through me. Or maybe I need to help them start an income generation project where they can make money and then have control over it for themselves. This frees them to listen to God for personally and do what He is saying, not feel they have to do what I am saying as their rich and generous friend or elder “sister/didi”.
What is the wrong thing to do here? The wrong thing to do is to offer them a financial incentive to do what I want them to do. If for example, I suggest that they join a church planting team and tell them that I will help pay for their housing and food on that team, but that I'm sorry I can't help them if they want to join Kings Kids. As long as they listen to me, do what I think is best, and as long as they are loyal to me, they will receive financial help from me. But if they start to have other visions and feel God is leading them elsewhere then I will remove my help. This is unhealthy dependency and using financial control to manipulate people.
It is sometimes a fine line. Financial manipulation is not always intentional. But make no mistake, it is still very dangerous. I'm not saying that money that is given for one particular thing should be used for other things. If, for example, there are resources given for Church planters in South Asia, we can't give those to people who are working with Kings Kids or DTS. It's not wrong to designate gifts for a particular ministry. But it is wrong when you don't give people freedom to make decisions on their own. It’s wrong when you cause them to have to do what you want (consciously or unconsciously) because of your financial power over them.
It is also dangerous to raise money for people and have the money always come through you and to never connect those people to the donors directly. Sometimes we do this because of language issues. We are Swedish and we have a Bangladeshi staff who can't speak Swedish. We ask a church back home to support them and so we have to be the person to communicate with them because of language. This is not necessarily wrong (though it would be better if you helped a Bangladeshi church you have relationship with to support them if possible). But it can become wrong if you take the full responsibility for all communications and if you do not allow them access to the church directly. Then you have control. This is true even if you never touch that money and it all goes through your office staff, etc.
In these kinds of situations, we as missionaries and leaders have made many, many mistakes. We give them the money from the church, we write the reports back to the church, and the local missionary never learns how to interact appropriately with donors. We are making them handicapped, not truly helping them except with their immediate need. This is dependency. If we leave, or if we get angry with them or our relationship with them somehow is damaged, then they lose their support.
Instead, we need to connect them directly and let that church truly become their supporter. We must teach them how to relate to the church in a good way. We can teach them how to write newsletters in Bangla and then translate them for them into English or Swedish. But the responsibility to write is theirs. If they don't write, then no report goes. If no report goes, they may lose their support. But then they learn that communication with donors is important if you want to keep donors- an important lesson that actually empowers them.
Never do something for them that they can do themselves. If they don't know how to do something, teach them. Don't assume that they can't learn or take responsibility. Don't treat them like a child who is incapable of doing anything. This is paternalism- when we take the role of a parent with an adult and treat them as a child. We take care of them and do things for them that they are actually capable of doing themselves. This does not help and in the long run it could make them weak and handicapped.
Some questions to discuss:
1) Have you seen examples of dependency or paternalism around you?
2) How can we avoid becoming dependent or creating dependency in others we give to?
3) What is paternalism?