Mistake #3. The Challenges of Dependency, Paternalism, and Stewardship
One of the first things I learned in missions is the danger of paternalism. A missionary should not amass control others but empower others. Therefore, one should not pass on resources with a lot of strings attached.
I also learned that giving can create dependency… so there is a risk in providing resources. One should focus on helping people discover and utilize the resources they have.
But problems come up.
When we tried to give without strings attached, sometimes we got burned. We forgot that one of our roles is a steward and we are responsible also to our supporters. This risks of paternalism are there… but the risk doesn’t justify bad stewardship. There is a tough balance here. Too much control can cause problems. Too little control can cause problems.
We provided help to people in need… sometimes it helped and sometimes it did appear to create dependency. And yet, some people when they were helped would take off and soar. Again, there is a stewardship issue here. Just as in the parable of the talents, one needs to find out how the person responds to a little help. Some rise up and some fall down. Again, I learned I needed to provide a certain amount of oversight to mentor the person. Generally, it seems like giving long-term to a group results in dependency. However, giving to individuals can empower or debilitate… it depends on their character and the nature of the relationship between the supporter and the recipient.
I read books on the dangers of dependency and of paternalism. However, in the end, these have to be balanced with the need for stewardship as well as the need to be a source for empowerment.
Some successes and some failures… but always learning. But learning only through books has its drawback, because it often takes real life situations for one to discover the nuances of ministry that are not really covered in books.