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Developing Strategic Relationships: Lesson 2


Understanding Dependency

The loudest objection to partnership is the fear of dependency, but that’s like saying we should outlaw marriage because some men abuse their wives.

The truth is there are two types of dependency; healthy and unhealthy. The psalmist speaks of being “like a child weaned from his mother.” (Psalm 131:2) There is a time to feed the baby and a time to teach the baby to feed himself.

Defining Dependency

Dependency is the state of relying on someone or something. Reliance can become more important than independence, because dependency has caused them to believe they cannot live successfully on their own.

When medical patients become habituated to drugs, we call it dependency. When people remain on government welfare for a lifetime, we call it dependency. When a child remains too long with his parents, we call it dependency. But we don’t call it dependency when a missionary receives outside support.

What makes certain types of dependency acceptable? When the dependent is willing to take responsibility and give something back. Unhealthy dependency develops when people refuse to take responsibility.

Balancing Dependency

One of the biblical pictures of the church is a bride. As the bride of Christ, we are made of many members. The dependency in the human body is both reciprocal and complementary. One member cannot deny another member without denying itself. All the parts are knit together in such a way that every part has something to give and something to receive. The parts of the body are mutually dependent.

But though they were made for each other, mutuality among Christians doesn’t automatically happen. It requires conscious effort. Dependency in the body of Christ isn’t passive but very active.

It’s important not only to give, but to receive. In a healthy dependency each partner enters the relationship with a clear picture of what each has to offer and what each gains. Each maintains its independence and capacity to instruct, refuse, and correct the other. Each honors and upholds the unique and divine calling of the other. Each makes a distinctive and complementary contribution to the relationship. Unhealthy dependency occurs when reciprocity and responsibility are ignored, overruled, or undervalued. When the emphasis is on the exchange of money and not on the complementary contributions each partner makes, it becomes unhealthy.

Five Ways to Create an Unhealthy Dependency.

  1. Making an alliance with a loner. Ministries which aren’t accountable to spiritual authorities are dangerous.
  2. Sending money directly to individuals. Individuals cannot vouch for themselves; they need others to verify their testimony. The apostle Paul wasn’t willing to convey funds without the involvement of trusted men. (II Corinthians 8:18-23)
  3. Financing pastors and local churches. This temps pastors to become preoccupied with raising foreign funds and failing to cultivate local resources. It causes jealousy from local pastors and frees them from accountability.
  4. Giving resources only based on need. A partnership which sets out to meet needs soon finds itself in running a race with no end. Needs alone are insatiable. They must be defined, and boundaries set.

Giving should enhance responsibility, reciprocity, and results.

  1. Underwriting 100% of a ministry’s needs. When one relies solely on another for financial support, the balance of power leans heavily toward the funding source.

Five Dependency Mistakes to Avoid

  1. Don’t define goals and methods unilaterally.
  2. Don’t base relationships on a one-way flow of resources.
  3. Don’t allow money to become the most highly valued resource.
  4. Don’t fund the full cost of the project without clear justification.
  5. Don’t do for others what they should do for themselves.

One-size-fits-all is usually bad policy. Learn flexibility!


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