North Americans have wealth to share with the developing world, but in many respects, we have become increasingly reluctant to share it. One reason is our fear of creating unhealthy dependency in those who receive support from the West. John Rowell challenges this fear as he helps us think about the current Christian Vision Project question: What must we learn, and unlearn, to be agents of God's mission in the world? Rowell is president of Ministry Resource Network, a church-based missions organization with long-term staff in both Bosnia, Croatia, and Siberia. He is also a church planter and pastor with 30 years of experience, and author of To Give or Not to Give: Rethinking Dependency, Restoring Generosity, and Redefining Sustainability (2007). Rowell serves on the staff of the Atlanta Vineyard.
Few principles have been as central to the modern missions movement as the "three-self paradigm." This seminal framework was popularized in the 19th century by three notable leaders: Henry Venn, Rufus Anderson, and John Nevius. It proposes that truly indigenous churches should be self-governing, self-propagating and self-supporting. For 200 years the three-self ideal has been nearly axiomatic. Modern missiologists have placed particular emphasis on the last point, interpreting it to emphasize financial independence and developing a whole stream of thought trumpeting "the dangers of dependency." These missiologists want to prevent the unhealthy dynamics they presume are unavoidable when outside funds are introduced into any newly developing indigenous movement.
Dr. Joseph D'souza, associate international director for Operation Mobilization, calls this line of reasoning the "dependency school" of thought. As an indigenous Indian leader, ...1