Rethinking Dependency

Rethinking Dependency

“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?

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What is a Facilitator / Facilitator Missionary?

What is a Facilitator/Facilitator Missionary?

I don’t know about you, but when I first heard the term facilitator missionary and facilitator missionary training, I drew a blank.  I was familiar with the idea of a facilitator and facilitation as a form of project management.  I had read a bit about the facilitator as a leader and working as a facilitator in a group.  But the idea of a facilitator missionary was a mystery to me. 

What Does a Facilitator Do?

To facilitate an event well, you must first understand the group's desired outcome, and the background and context of the meeting or event. The bulk of your responsibility is then to:

  • Design and plan the group process, and select the tools that best help the group progress towards that outcome.
  • Guide and control the group process to ensure that:
    • There is effective participation.
    • Participants achieve a mutual understanding.
    • Their contributions are considered and included in the ideas, solutions or decisions that emerge.
    • Participants take shared responsibility for the outcome.
  • Ensure that outcomes, actions and questions are properly recorded and actioned, and appropriately dealt with afterwards.
  • Train/Mentor other facilitators.

I began to do a very limited amount of research on the idea of a facilitator missionary.  It was limited due to our current circumstances.  We were recently given counsel to temporarily return to the USA from our field and our home in Guayaquil, Ecuador.  We’ve been staying in an Airbnb out side the small town of Marion, IN.  We’ve been trying to gain some clarity of vision as to what the next 3, 6, and 12 months and beyond may hold??  I punctuated that with question marks because that is our present status.  Most of that planning is unclear.  So, between all that goes on when you relocate temporarily or long term and  continuing to work via Zoom and internet, as well as being near our grandkids who don’t yet completely grasp the concept that when we say goodbye at night, we’ll still be here tomorrow, my time to do research has been rare and short.

Here is some of what I’ve discovered so far.  The ideas in this training were spurred forward by the writing of Tom Steffen a former missionary and now a professor at Biola University. He has written several books and articles including Passing the Baton and The Facilitator Era: Beyond Pioneer Church Multiplication as well as numerous articles.  Much of what he writes springs, not only from academia, but from his time as a missionary in the field. 

I also read a good article by Kayla Stevens at  In this article she states the following: “For centuries evangelicals have taken part in a beautifully difficult symphony of multiplying disciples who in turn multiply churches …..The role of the facilitator in a cross cultural context seeks to empower local believers to equip nationals to multiply indigenous churches as part of a church planting movement.  While some view this role as conflicting with pioneer church planting, it seems more fitting to view the incorporation of this role as an additional movement in the symphony of the missions strategy within church planting.”  In her writing she talks about a number of things that Lori and I tried to communicate and practice from the time we came to the field.  We often failed in this and we were doing it out of a sense of what seemed to be the right thing without an overall way to communicate what it was, categorize it or envision a final outcome.

She says the role will look differently in different contexts, but that there are 4 key fundamental values. Those are 1)facilitators begin their work with local believers in the area. 2) Like pioneer missionaries, a facilitator missionary will seek to equip and empower local believers so that they can disciple/equip and empower other believers who are faithful. 3) A facilitators work is primarily done behind the scenes through equipping nationals.  Not leading ourselves to discipling, equipping, facilitating, and possibility overseeing nationals that lead and train others.  4) Facilitators seek to equip nationals in such a way that the facilitator missionary leaves the field sooner instead of later or never.   Facilitators take part in this role of raising up leaders, discipling disciples with a clear vision of moving forward in partnership, but not dependence.

Her article emphasizes discipling and equipping local leaders while already having an exit strategy in mind before you start.  As much as possible staying away from actually leading yourself, but putting great emphasis on mentoring/discipling the ones who lead and making sure they are reproducing themselves or even better, Christ in others the whole time they lead.  

Why Use the Word Facilitator?

Could the term facilitator indicate or pass on the message of a sense of objectivity and neutrality?

How could adopting the attitude/role of a Facilitator Missionary change your/our current role? 

What are your thoughts on looking at our fields with a broader vision, not just phase 4 or 5, but as national churches that are involved in all phases?

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How Many Mission Phases Are There, Really?

How many mission phases are there, really?

A few weeks ago, I was sorting through the mission files in South African and I came across a document from Global Partners describing the 10 phases of mission.  It wasn’t dated, but I believe it was written in the mid-90’s. Complete with a diagram, it outlined the ten stages a mission field went through in the process to become a mature fully-established church. Missionaries were encouraged to identify the phase of their field and the steps required to move the work on to the next phase. The “Ten Phases of Mission” never became an important strategy document for GP and in short order was relegated to gather dust in a filing cabinet. 

But around a decade later the Africa Area Director, Lindsey Cameron, came out with the “Five Phases of Mission” (complete with a diagram) and it rapidly gained momentum and has been the most significant strategy document in Global Partners over the past 15 years. In the past few years as Global Partners has redefined its mission, the “Five Phases” has gained new energy shaping strategy internally and our message to partners externally.

The “Five Phases” initially was intended to be descriptive – a study of the typical pattern a field followed in becoming a mature church. It was driven to a great extent by the question, “How do we know when our work is done on a field and missionaries should be withdrawn and deployed elsewhere?” Quickly the document was being applied way beyond “end game” questions and was being applied to GP’s mission at whatever stage of development. From being descriptive of how fields have developed in the past, it has morphed into being prescriptive – becoming the primary strategic plan for GP’s global ministry.

Using the “Five Phases” as the strategic plan for GP’s ministries around the world has had its problems. Invariably, when missionaries try to identify the phase of their work they end up identifying a range of phases, such as phases 2-3 or 4-5 (except those fresh off the boat to pioneer fresh work and so obviously in phase 1). The kind of things missionaries do aligned with certain phases has never fit well, because under the right circumstances any of the activities turn out to be appropriate in any phase.  E2E has further muddied the waters – if a field is pioneering work somewhere (phase 5 activity) and we work alongside them (phases 4-5) in ministries of evangelism and discipleship (phases 1-2) what phase is the work?

Tom Steffen’s book, The Facilitator Era, seems to boil down the phases to a continuum of approaches to mission. As new work is being established, the missionary assumes the position of a “pioneer church multiplier” much in line with what GP envisions in phases 1-3. Later, the missionary assumes the role of a “facilitator” – empowering, enabling, encouraging the national church as it increasingly assumes its role as a full partner in the global church seeking to fulfill the Great commission (more or less, phases 3-5). The difference between the two is not so much “what” we do, but “how” we do it and how we measure our effectiveness/success in mission. Instead of identifying our phase, the question becomes more one of movement – “Are we progressing towards becoming facilitators of mission, regardless of how far or near to that ideal we are currently?”

So what do you think? Is moving from being pioneer church multipliers to becoming mission facilitators a better paradigm for us? Would such a continuum provide the kind of strategic focus that is needed to give direction to our ministries on the ground? Are you ready to move to the “Two Phases of GP’s Mission”?


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