This is the big “term” of modern missions. I agree that it is important not to just give things away, but to teach people But I also know that in some places dependency is normal. It is part of a culture. We are constantly making the point that we don’t want to put our “western” culture into the places that we work. But sometimes we put our culture in because we follow the trends of missionology. I merely want to play the Devil’s advocate here and talk about both sides of the issue from various angles. Not that I am for or against one side or the other, just some food for thought.
When a society is interdependent in its nature, when they depend on each other to help and supply daily needs, when they depend on others rather than working hard, when this cycle comes full circle by getting help when you need it because you help others when they need it, when they are a “dependent” society. When their government operates on the dependency of other governments, when they see that you try to get as much “help” when it is available in order to help you in the lean times, when you are jealous of others that make a way for themselves and leave the normal group behind, etc…. When, when, when, ….
We are falling short of our goal of being Christ-like and spreading the Gospel when we start focusing on all the things that we need to make “sustainable”. But this term is often in light of ministries that are not just sharing the Gospel. It is often referring to ministries that missionaries begin that are to help people—schools, hospitals, development projects, etc…
If the work of missions were only about starting churches and training people who will train people, we wouldn’t have near the problem of “sustainability” that we have today. Sure there are dynamics of running a church, Bible training centre, and seminars that require funds. When the missionaries move to another field, how will these run?
In reality if they are all about the church and it’s body, these members should be raised up who will take the “torch” and run with it when we leave. When we start the other ministries that help people physically, then we have more problems with sustainability.
Yet, when an organization so focuses on being “sustainable” that is begins putting this term before anything else, how will that affect it’s ministries? How can you measure the “sustainability” of a seminar, conference, Bible class? These things will not be “financially sustainable” in the future.
That’s okay, when we teach God’s word, it’s about a spiritual “sustainability”. If we focus on how we bring funds and what events we can fund and supplies we bring, but don’t focus on the spiritual people we are training, then we are failing.
We need to begin thinking about “spiritual” dependency. Are we creating a spiritually sustainable church? If there are no more funds coming into the organization from home or abroad, will the people who remain be “spiritually sustainable”? Will they be “spiritually dependent” on the Lord and not the missionaries?
May God help us remember to keep the main thing the main thing.