- Written by Bob Bagley Bob Bagley
- Published: 08 June 2020 08 June 2020
“Africans want and expect to depend upon others and they want others to depend upon them.” – David Maranz, African Friends and Money Matters
“To ask is a good thing.” – Lingala proverb (Congo)
“Scriptures teach the interdependence of believers within the Body of Christ, not crippling dependency nor extreme individualism.” – Donald Smith in Evangelical Dictionary of World Missions
All of my missionary life I thought “dependency” was a dirty word. I have been very conscious of trying to avoid creating dependency. I’ve dedicated much of my missionary career trying to help churches break free from the cycle of dependency. But lately I’ve been wondering if all these years I’ve been making a huge cultural blunder.
In his book Clues to Africa, Islam, & the Gospel, Colin Bearup devotes a chapter to the system of patronage which governs relationships in most collectivistic cultures. He explains that patron-client relationships are the way in which collectivistic cultures manage the inevitable inequalities within society. Because it provides societal stability, interdependent relationships are valued and maintained. In those societies dependency is a good thing and so is embraced and encouraged.
In individualistic cultures independence and equality are valued. We do everything we can to avoid having to depend on others and often are resentful when others depend on us. We struggle to develop deeper level interpersonal relationships because for us those relationships are built on a foundation of equality free from expectations, while in collectivistic cultures meaningful relationships can only exist by acknowledging the inequalities and the obligations that flow out of them. We are constantly plagued by wondering whether friendships are “genuine” or whether people just want to get something out of us. “Why can’t we just be friends?” and “Why are there always strings attached?” are burning questions.
Jeff Fussner, former Asia Area Director, noted in a recent email conversation, “We don't realize as Westerners how individualistic values are so deeply ingrained in our goals and missiology.” Could it be that our drive to avoid creating and/or to breaking dependency are driven more by our individualistic values than by biblical values? Is insisting that churches and ministries become self-supporting more reflective of American cultural values than the values of the interdependent body of Christ as portrayed in Scripture?
We value the development of independent autonomous Wesleyan churches around the world, but maybe those churches don’t value independence like we do. Maybe they value an interdependent global church body much more. Is the ICWC structure a reflection of American cultural values? Could it be that the perceived resistance to becoming self-sustaining has much less to do with money than it does with the fear of the loss of relationships and the sense of security that flows out of those relationships?
Phase 4 of GP’s 5 phase strategy is “Advancing Sustainability”. What would sustainability look like within a framework of interdependency instead of a framework of self-support and self-sustainability and how would we go about advancing it? How would that change how we assess church maturity? How would it influence what we do at all the other phases? What would the implications be for E2E? How could we recognize and foster healthy interdependence and avoid unhealthy codependency?
Churches around the world see GP as a patron. Rather than chafe and kick back against that role, can we lean into it and learn to relate to the international church in new ways? Can we embrace dependency as a value? Should we?