I work for Living Bread Ministries as their administrative coordinator, so I handle the donations, the newsletter, office stuff, and a bunch of the other nitty gritty things that are necessary for any kind of organization to function. Though I am 100% on board with what we do, I'm not so much on the front lines of our church-planting efforts.
I am continuously learning about best practices in Gospel ministry, and there is a wide variety of opinion when it comes to Western mission organizations working around the world in impoverished communities. Books like Toxic Charity, When Helping Hurts, The Poor Will Be Glad, and To Give or Not To Give all discuss pros and cons of distributing free goods and services to those in need and whether or not these are helpful and life-changing in the long run. Many are highly opposed to Westerners giving resources, financial or otherwise, to nationals for ministry in fear that an unhealthy dependency will develop or any chance at a self-sustained local economy can flourish while others are hesitant to work with or trust nationals because of assumed lack of expertise or experience. I haven't read through all these books (though I am working on a couple of them), so I'll refrain from discussing their ideas or suggested solutions further. Rather, I want to focus on how Living Bread approaches this issue in our church-planting ministry.
At Living Bread, we hold to an interdependency model. We don't step into a community, build a church, pay a pastor, pay for all the church's ministry, and let it run on it's own. Neither do we step into a community, put our own pastor/missionary to work and call all the shots. We work with nationals in a way that relies on the resources (monetary and otherwise) that both parties can bring to the table.
As Americans, we can't jump into a ministry in a Brazilian or Thai slum in the same way a national Brazilian or Thai could. Most of our church-planters have a background that isn't foreign to living in less-than-affluent circumstances, so they are well-equipped to relate to the poor and meet them where they are. However, these men who have a heart for sharing the Gospel don't have the resources they need to serve in a full-time ministry capacity. These communities struggle to sustain themselves, so supporting a pastor presents a significant challenge. Thus, we need each other. We provide resources that would not be otherwise accessible, while they provide the hands and feet of the ministry.
This interdependence also translates into the decision-making for the ministries of our church-plants. We depend on our national leadership to determine how to best serve their communities and support their decisions without demanding specific requirements to be met.
Living Bread's founder Patrick Hubbard says:
This type of partnership is hard and risky. It is often messy. It requires a level of vulnerability that most are unwilling to accept.I am abundantly thankful for the opportunity I have to serve with Living Bread, and I especially appreciate this unique approach to the issue of charity, sustainability, and Kingdom work.
To learn more about Living Bread, check us out on our website, Twitter, or Facebook.