The October issue of Christianity Today includes an article entitled “The Dread Curse of Stinginess”, by John Rowell – who currently serves as president of Ministry Resource Network (Click on the title of this post to see the original article).
The premise of the article is that missiologists and others are fostering a culture of greed by warning of the dangers of dependency when we use outside (usually Western) funding to support indigenous ministries in other parts of the world.
While I can appreciate the author’s concern with Western greed – which few honest people could deny – I think the article is overly simplistic and does not give a fair overview of the self-reliance argument made by Ralph Winter and others.
The article makes very little attempt to explain why Winter, David Garrison, and others are concerned about dependency in the first place. It is not that missiologists wish to see the American church get rich – it is because of the decades of research which have gone into such a position. For example, when Garrison calls outside funding “the devils candy” (which he does in his ground-breaking book “Church Planting Movements”), he does so only after observing church planting movements the world over and observing (somewhat pragmatically perhaps) what works and what doesn’t in terms of seeing truly indigenous churches and ministries succeed.
In other words, there is very good reason to be concerned about outside funding creating dependency – we have seen it happen countless times in the history of Christian missions.
When the article does acknowledge (too briefly, I think) that dependency can be a problem, it is blamed on Westerners thinking that their money gives them the right to lead. I don’t think anyone would argue that this is often true. However, it should also be noted that there is a great temptation amongst the receivers as well – the temptation to allow outside leadership as a means to keep the money flowing in. There is also no mention of the all-to-frequent reality of people coming to Christ as a means of getting in on the Western aid, or becoming church/missionary workers for the same reason.
The article also seems to imply that those arguing for a self-reliance model would say that we should never share with those who have less. This is very far from the truth. The issue at hand is that for a ministry to be truly indigenous it must be free of outside control – and the number one way in which this outside control is exerted is through the flow and control of finances. Limiting outside funding greatly limits the possibility of outside control and frees the indigenous ministry to be be self-lead, self-determining and thus (in most cases) more effective.
Let me end by saying that I appreciate the numerous ministries which seek to connect Western affluence with real human needs. I have no doubt that the author’s ministry has been effective in funneling such resources in appropriate ways (that is, with no string attached). I simply think this article is an overly simplistic approach to what is a very complex issue.