An Evaluation of Ways to Help: Project-Based Ministry vs. Discipleship
Project Based Ministries (PBMs) in this entry are defined as any project or ministry that seeks to assist other communities outside their socio-economic and political context by financially supporting the operational programs and or salaries of the workers. Certainly many PBMs have discipleship as a core objective. However, I will like to argue that discipleship is very difficult under these structures since the motor for how they run, the economic resources, impedes authentic relationships from happening. We believe here at ADE that Scripture and the teachings of Christ and Paul speak clearly to this point. This entry will do a brief analysis of the many positive aspects of PBMs and then seek to evaluate the limitations.
PBMs are born from Christian understanding that those of us who have should be of assistance to those who do not have. Scripture is chalk full with many instances of how we who profess to follow Christ and His teachings are to be of assistance to others. We are to take care of the widow and the orphan (James 1), we are to visit those who are incarcerated, give food to the hungry, and shelter to the homeless. We are to take care of those who ask for food (Lazarus and the rich man). We are to take care of the downtrodden (the good Samaritan). We are to sell all that we have and give it to the poor in order to inherit the Kingdom of God. Thus there is a call to respond to the needs in the world and our support of PBMs seemingly makes this possible by allowing us to take action while staying in our own communities and lifestyles.
PBMs have have their very clear upsides namely:
- They can have a quick launch time and often only need less than a year for startup.
- They can respond to an immediate need in a community.
- The initial phases of startup are usually independent of local resources.
- They allow a practical way for outsiders to serve the needs of a community and to create partnership over these needs. The “outsiders” have an understanding that their resources are God given and are meant to be a blessing to others who are in need, usually those who seem trapped in systemic poverty due to social-cultural-political structures.
- PBMs allow for a quick solution to dramatic problems where progress and change can easily be documented by those who are the direct beneficiaries of the ministry. These cases studies of change based on chosen metrics can easily be reported by PBM workers and seen by supporters helping create transparency and confidence in the project and effort.
- For the PBM workers the service provided by the project offers an easy platform by which relationships can be initiated and gives validity to the presence of the workers in the communities.
- PBMs allow Christians who are not on the frontlines an opportunity to respond to the Biblical mandate to help those in need through the support and proxy relationship with PBM staff.
The intent of this article is not to criticize the incredible passion, empathy, and skills of the founders and workers of the critical missions represented by each of the PBMs. However, it is to offer an alternative to the question of “how” we finance the resources in order to respond to the needs of others based on the instructions of Christ in Matthew 10, Mark 6, Luke 9, Luke 10 and the examples lived out by Paul and others in Acts 20:33-35, 1Thess 2:9, 2 Thess 3:7-9, among others. Although the above list of apparent advantages is not comprehensive, and more can be added, let's investigate each with a counter perspective:
- Quick launch times allow us to respond to immediate life functioning and necessary needs that can be a Biblical mandate by giving a figurative and literal “cup of water” (Matthew 10:42). Quick launch times allow us to respond to dire situations. However, we must be careful not to create dependency upon our service that in effect helps create deeper poverty.
- We would be hard pressed to find more Biblical justification for other long term service oriented missions with the exception of the widow and orphan. However, even then we are called to work for restorative relationships within these groups so that family members provide this care. What we are called to do on a long term is to preach that the Kingdom of God is near, heal the sick, and cast out demons. It is that simple. These three tasks within themselves are very direct and in essence create our own dependence upon Christ alone as we “go.” Surely by my own power I cannot cast out demons. Only the power of Christ in me can do that. The same goes for healing the sick. We see in Acts that the disciples of Christ knew they had this ability and they used it (Acts 3:6). And quite literally even the most evangelistic ones among us hardly spend too much time reminding others that the Kingdom of God is upon us. It is just simply “to impose” upon others. So clearly this also must be something that only Christ in us can do. Thus the very mission that Christ sends out to do needs us to be connected to Him so that all the glory and honor goes to God and not to us. Quite frankly, oftentimes our PBMs are a convenient task that we can do without Christ.
- PBMs can often underestimate the local capacity to sustain mission and service. In doing so they create dependency upon outside resources and can impose external evaluations and characteristics of what is “good development.” Ironically enough many of these “impoverished” developing world communities have been around for centuries, if not millennia, more than the cultures from which the PBMs come from. Yes, circumstances can be dire and human development indices can be horrifically low but we must ask ourselves “why” are they this way. The Nobel Peace prize winner, Amartya Sen, was able to prove that the famines from the last 100 years have all been caused by other humans meaning that they could have been completely preventable. Could it be that the very consumerism of the “developed” economies are helping create inequity in other less economically powerful countries? Could it be that our own development is causing injustice? If this is so, then our call to go and help others can become simpler and more sustainable using only local resources and recognizing and empowering the amazing local capacity that already exists.
- If we review the history of the most successful economies, hardly any became this way because of outside charity and support. The world's strongest economies became this way because of internal understandings and independence. So why are we seeking to create economic fortitude using an economic model of dependency simply because all we see is destitute economic poverty? The answer is not outside resources. It is internal transformation of the person to evaluate their circumstances and create solutions. It is my belief that this happens best, and should happen before, through spiritual discipleship as it constructs the foundation for all types of development (economic, social, political, and environmental).
- When we have to report how successful our work is or how dire the situation is we often gravitate to needs in the community that we can solve. This simultaneously is an invested desire to be used by God as well as a need to be seen as useful and meaningful to supporters. The latter motivation, however, is insidious and we unwittingly create a local vacuum for action when we ourselves jump in. After all, we are called to give a cup of water. We are not called to dig wells. We are called to heal the sick, cast our demons, and proclaim the coming of the Kingdom of God. If we can do this solving community problems, perhaps there is no conflict. If we are not doing this, there is a clear conflict.
- Our validity for being in a community is not by our “usefulness” in that community. It is the fact that we are called by our Father to be there and to do the things He instructed us to do in Scripture. Oftentimes we hide in our usefulness for the community since it is easier to help others than to rely upon God to use us to heal the sick and cast out the demons. However, if we are not doing these things Christ instructs us to do, would we not be facilitating the demons and the sick to continue living the way they are? We can actually give capacity to broken systems. When we focus on the spiritual well-being of the person we are building holistic health in the community in that we are creating the foundation for others to be led by the Holy Spirit and not by economic incentives, consumerism, and worldly pursuits.
- Helping people in the “frontline” ministry is not necessarily a bad thing when we are faced with extreme circumstances. But the reality is that the “frontline” is our very own lives. Supporting a missionary to go to Latina America where in most countries 90% of the population identify themselves as Christian can be problematic when only 30% of my neighbors or coworkers see themselves as followers of Christ. Mother Teresa explained the work of the Sisters of Mercy in downtown San Francisco when asked why she was working there and not in the poverty infested streets of Calcutta: “We are here because the United States has the worst case of poverty. Spiritual poverty.”
So what is the solution? Should we simply not go? The fact is that if we concentrate on our neighbors, really love them, and they in turn love their neighbors and have a good model from us how to do this then we will reach the whole world for Christ in a much more sustainable way. Some of us are being called to go to far away places, and we should go. All of us are called to love our neighbors as ourselves. By concentrating on discipleship, focusing on few people and not so much programs and projects, helping connect people to a deeper relationship with Christ where our passions become like His, we raise the local capacity of people to respond to the needs of others in such a way that a worldwide movement can happen in an exponential way. When our resources, finances, and projects get in the way of authentic relationships so that only God is glorified we should leave them behind and follow the simple call of Christ:
“Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7 And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers,cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold or silver or copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, or two tunics or sandals or a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11 And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town. - Mathew 10:5-15 (ESV)
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or myself at email@example.com if you would like to know more about how we at ADE are trying to answer these questions about how to support ministry and God’s call in our lives.