In the previous article, we were discussing two important words…dependency and paternalism. Dependency again 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. Paternalism is when we take the role of a parent and treat the staff we are raising money for or helping financially as if they are children. Instead of trusting them, allowing them to mature, learn and grow in how to interact with donors, we don’t train them and we keep all the control in our hands. For many years we keep them in the same place of dependency upon our maturity and skills rather than developing their own abilities.
To further illustrate some of the dangers of dependency and paternalism let me share a few situations I faced in the last month. I share them not as examples of doing everything right, but to help all of us think about what questions we need to be asking when faced with these kinds of situations.
1. Widow needing money for housing. There is a widow in our city that we regularly support. Her husband was a pastor and church planter and passed away a few years ago. We had a relationship with him and when he died we decided to help this widow with a regular financial gift. This widow has a son who is in his late teens. He is not very healthy and has not been able to continue in school because of his poor health. He does not work. Recently they came to us and told us that they needed more money for a better house. They were being persecuted where they lived. They didn't have freedom to sing songs to Jesus without making the neighbors angry. They wanted us to help them with money to move to a more expensive place where they could freely sing and worship God.
It sounds reasonable right? So what questions do we need to ask here to avoid dependency and paternalism? Well, the first question is: are they looking to us or to God to find a solution to their problem? Are we pointing them back to God? Is there a way that they could pray and love and do something to make peace with their neighbors? Another question is whether or not our giving will actually help or hurt them. It might be possible that by giving them this money we are teaching them to run from their problems rather than solving them. Maybe they are being rude to their neighbors by singing loudly in the early morning, or maybe they are not working to build bridges of friendship with those who are of different faiths. Lastly, we need to ask ourselves, what are long term solutions for this widow and her son? How can I truly help them where one day they will not need my support? Maybe I need to fast and pray for the sick son and then help him to get a job or training in job skills. Maybe I need to do a bible study with this widow and her son on God's faithfulness and on God as their provider, and then see what God will do for them if I do nothing to help them financially.
Sometimes, in our busyness it is actually easier to give. But it is not always the most helpful thing. It is sometimes easier because then we also don't have to trust God with them to provide...we don't need to exercise our faith, we can just bail them out, help them and the problem goes away. But be assured. It will return again if you have created dependency.
In my mind, this is a classic case where my giving, though done in love and generosity, may actually weaken rather than strengthen them.
2. National church planter who keeps making strategic mistakes and doesn't seem to listen to my input. There is a brother that I've been working with for the past five or six years. He is a very gifted evangelist and quite fruitful. But he also is a bit scattered and not very focused. I see a lot of potential in him and when we have given him church planting input and he has applied it there have been amazing results! But lately, we have been frustrated because he seems to want encouragement more than input. And he has been making some mistakes that will slow down the growth of his church movement. He doesn't seem to listen when we point these things out to him. Or he listens and says "yes, yes" but then he does something else and goes back to his traditional ways.
I asked someone for advice who had been his coach and mentor before. That person told me that I would get better results with this man, if I would regularly provide some finances to him to run trainings for his people or do other things to help him financially.
Though I suspect that this is true, and though it may actually lead to the movement growing, I believe this is wrong and unethical. If I raised money for this man and used money to get him to obey and listen to me, I would be paternalistic and manipulative. The end does not justify the means.
Instead, I have to commit myself to something much harder and slower. I have to build a deep friendship and relationship that is NOT based on money, a relationship of trust. Then I have to give him the freedom to make his own mistakes and learn from them, even if it means this movement that I so much want to see happen, will slow down and become less fruitful. In the end, if he only makes good choices because he has no true choice in the matter, I am not developing him into a quality leader. He is a “slave” still, and will always act like one. And when I leave, he will go back to his old ways.
Again, this is another case where I could easily fall into creating dependency or paternalism. In this case the paternalism would be for me to think that he is not smart enough to truly understand the strategic issues and make wise choices about these things. I know better than he does, so I will just decide for him by using financial influence to get him to obey me.
3. A national church planter telling me about their need for food. A few days ago I made a phone call to one of the church planters I've been regularly trying to encourage. She and her husband are good people and work hard in the field. They have very little financial support but they are seeing good fruit in their ministry and people are coming to Christ. The wife got on the phone and shared with me about the ministry, and then at the end she asked me to pray because they didn't have any food in the house. I was faced with a problem. What would I do?
What questions must I ask to be careful not to create dependency or move into paternalism? The first question I needed to ask is whether or not this was a situation where relief was needed or a chronic financial problem that needed a long term solution. Then I need to ask what would happen if I did give? How would that affect our relationship? Would they then start looking at me as a source of finance (though perhaps they already do as I'm a foreigner) instead of as a friend and mentor alone? Was there a way I could help that would NOT create dependency but would actually lead toward a long term solution? Or should I just pray for them and maybe God would do a miracle that would cause them to look to Him and see His power, glory and love, instead of looking at me as a good person?
In this case I didn't have good answers so I decided not to give anything yet. I did pray that God would provide. And I have been asking him if there is anything He wants me to do. But I didn't let my natural compassion and pity lead me to give immediately. I want to be led by God, not my emotions. I want to be compassionate, but in a way that truly loves them, not just in a way that takes away my guilty feeling of having more than they do.
I do trust God. I believe His word is as true for them as it is for me. His word says that he cares about the sparrows, and the flowers in the field. I know He is able to provide for them today and that He can miraculously turn their one piece of roti (bread) into enough to feed their family. He is the God who fed the 5,000. He is the God who multiplied the widow’s oil. He is that God for them today, just like He is that God for me. So, I've decided to trust Him to be that God and to listen to His voice and only give or act when He tells me to do so, not simply because there is a need in front of me that looks desperate.