There has been a lot of concerns about Christian missions and its role in RELIEF and in DEVELOPMENT. Much of this is in the area of perception. Here is some variety with regard to perspective regarding these forms of social ministry.
1. Perspectives regarding the relationship between these forms of social ministry and “spiritual” ministry in mission work. Jerry Ballard ( “Missions and Holistic Ministry.” In World Missions: The Asian Challenge: A Compendium of the Asia Mission Congress ’90, (Held in Seoul, Korea August 27-31,1990), 342-344) speaks of 5 basic perspectives. These are:
a) Spiritualist. Spiritualistic ministries (evangelizing, discipling, church-planting, etc.) are the only God-ordained ministries. Other ministries distract.
b) Social Gospel. Doing good, socially, IS doing Christian mission.
c) Convenience. Spiritual ministry is the only REAL ministry, but social ministry does not distract from REAL ministry as long as one has adequate time and resources. (It is nice to be nice)
d) Ulterior Motive. Social ministry opens the door for Spiritual ministry (which is the “real” ministry work of missionaries).
e) Wholistic (or holistic). Ministry is concern for the whole person in their social setting. Therefore, ministry must be holistic… social and spiritual.
The people I tend to work with tend to be either “Ulterior Motive” or “Wholistic”.
The problem with the perspective of ulterior motive is that it devalues the person (don’t really care about the person so much as “saving souls”). Additionally, it tempts one to do “bait and switch”. On the other hand, Jesus did social ministry because of compassion (holistic) and as a sign (ulterior motive). So saying what is the absolutely correct perspective is not cut and dry.
2. Perspectives of social ministry in the social sciences. Social ministry can seem like a no-win situation. Relief work can be perceived as charitable or paternalistic. Development can be viewed as transformational or as culturally imperialistic. The good news is that you simply can’t please everyone so you don’t have to. However, it is good to listen to both supporters and detractors. Relief can drift from an edifying work to a destructive work. The same can be true of development.
3. Perspectives of development and relief (from their own proponents). The biggest detractors of Christian relief tends to be from Christian community developers. To developers, relief disempowers, demotivates, and creates dependence. Of course, people doing Christian relief can point out problems in development. Development has a high failure rate, and is too slow to deal with immediate problems.
Focusing on the third perspective area, I (as usual) prefer a Both/And idea rather than an Either/Or.
The diagram above is the “Double Vortice Model” that was part of my dissertation on medical missions. It suggests that when outsiders come in, they have the resources and skills. Thus, initially, health ministry in a community is focused more on relief (although partnership and collaboration with local individuals and groups is still essential). One can see that as the right vortex being dominant… outsiders coming in, partnering with locals, carrying out wholistic ministry, and going away, with the possibility of repeating the cycle as necessary. However, locals have the cultural knowledge and the long-term presence, so to move from “healthy” relief to “healthy” development, there must be skills and resource transfer to the local population so that the left vortex will eventually dominate (with limited continuation of the relief cycle since there is no society on earth that is completely self-sufficient).
An unhealthy situation is where there are no skills or resource transfer to the local population (or no partnership). Jesus fed the 5000 as a relief ministry of compassion. This demonstrated His concern for their immediate short-term needs. That was good. But if he fed them every day… what was a wonderful expression of love and a sign of the Kingdom of God, would become damaging. This would create dependency and diminish local capacity to deal with problems. On the other hand, a complete absence of outside support lives in denial of our own interdependence. We are stronger as we share, learn, and grow with and through each other.
Dependence is not the ideal, but neither is Independence. We all need Interdependence.