At Living Bread Ministries (LBM) one of the values we hold dearly is interdependence. In the world of global missions you hear a lot of talk about dependence and independence, but not so much about interdependence. This a comprehensive issue but the discussion almost always boils down to money. The basic premise is that for indigenous church plants to be considered “successful” they must be financially independent (not dependent on outside sources of financial support).
The problem with this long standing rationale is that it curbs generosity and has stifled church planting efforts among the global poor. Since poor communities are not able to be financially independent and Western agencies are unwilling to invest financially for fear of creating dependence, church planting movements are rare among the global poor. There are very effective house church movements in poor communities around the world. However, in these areas the house churches are primarily only able to deal with spiritual needs while Western humanitarian groups deal with the physical.
The net result often is a divorce of social ministry from the local church, and to what end?Yes the house church may avoid “dependency” but only because the Westerners are funding the social ministry through other entities. If the local church is “independent” in its worship centers, but very much “dependent” for social ministry, which is the responsibility of the church, then we have not avoided this issue. We have only traded one problem for another. As if Western led and executed humanitarian programs to provide food, healthcare, education and housing for the poor are perfectly acceptable, yet helping a local church with local leadership implement their own program as they see fit is wrong because some financial resources are given to them directly.
In reality, interdependence is the best solution to the difficult problem of dependency. Think of the body. Each part of the body is interdependent on the other parts. The foot needs the leg as much as the leg needs the foot. It’s the same with the body of Christ. All of the parts of the body must work together for it to function properly. This is the case with church planting among the global poor. When everyone brings what they have to the table and invests it, churches can be planted among the poor and they can minister in a comprehensive way as the local leadership sees fit. Neither side is independent or dependent, rather they are interdependent. They need each other.
This type of partnership is hard and risky. It is often messy. It requires a level of vulnerability that most are unwilling to accept. As a practical example, this week I prepared a comprehensive monthly income and expense report for LBM and our partner ministry in Brazil. Since we value interdependence we shared this report with the national leadership in Brazil giving them complete access to our monthly budget including individual salaries, benefits, etc. In doing this we are seeking to foster interdependence. We know their budget and it’s only right that they should know ours. We hold them accountable and they hold us accountable. There may be other Western organizations that do this, but I do not know of any. However, I believe this is the best approach to a very complex issue.