Money Gives us Power over People

by Chris Lautsbaugh on February 24, 2015

Last month at A Life Overseas, we discussed the dangerous stories we can tell in order to raise funds.

This requires further consideration if we provide funds, pay national workers, or are just generous in any way. While the debate on this one is hot and heavy, I doubt we can make absolute statements.

“Always and never” are tricky when settings, organizations, and methods are so different around the world.

What I would like to look at is the power money gives us over people.

Even something as simple as “good, ole Godly generosity”; sharing money puts us in the place of power. As foreign workers, we must always be aware of the power we have (real or perceived) over those we work with.

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Here are some things to consider about the power of money:

1. Clogs open and honest conversation. Disagreement or varying opinions might be silenced when a person feels they can’t “bite the hand feeding them.”

2. Puts someone in the receiver position and us as the giver. When possible, I would recommend anonymous giving. Once, I was given a wise suggestion of using an intermediary to deliver the funds. In our case, I used an African who was a peer. This created separation between the giver and receiver which was needed as we worked side by side.

3.Places hurdles in communication. If we offend or hurt someone, it no longer only an issue of confrontation. In many cultures, these conversations with leaders are difficult, but now we have the added obstacle of a being a leader who gives money!

4. Makes us think we have the right to criticize. When giving, it is a small step to feel we have the power to tell people how to use the money. We must guard against criticizing spending habits. There is a place for discipleship and education, but this must come carefully.

I had the biggest fallout of any teaching from a sermon when I spoke about money. I was called a racist who did not want Africans in missions. Ouch!

While painful, these people felt free to express their opinions because I was not personally giving them funds. I never would have seen the delicate nature of the topic if they stayed silent to keep their wallets full.

5. Moves us into a parent / child relationship. Do we prevent people from hearing bad news? “The donor did not give this month”, etc. We can feel the need to protect people from reality to cushion the blow. We cannot take that power, even if we feel it protects. They are not children, but adults.

6.Brings Pride. Being the missionary who gives requires humility. We cannot possibly know all the pressures, demands, and issues built into a culture. We do not always know best.

7.Keeps People in Poverty. If we help people, but only as much as the country’s economics warrant, we may actually pay people less than we should, thereby keeping them in poverty. I’ve seen this happen when NGO’s give people a minimal amount, unintentionally keeping them in poverty.

As you can see there are many issues to consider when money is involved. Money is not evil. The people we reach out to need it.

The real issue is HOW we engage with money. This is something each missionary needs to ask in light of the culture, customs, and situation they find themselves in.

One size does not fit all. But, integrity with finances is timeless.

What is the expression of money with integrity you are called to walk in?

What other resources can you suggest for study in this area?

 

Photo credit: 21 The Coins of the Money Changers via photopin (license)

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About Chris Lautsbaugh

In missions for 20+ years currently in South Africa as a teacher and leadership coach. He serves side by side with wife, Lindsey, and two boys, Garett and Thabo. Blogs at NoSuperHeroes.com on grace, leadership, and missions. Wrote Death of the Modern SuperHero:How Grace Breaks our Rules.
  • Marilyn Gardner

    SO good Chris. My husband and I have been having this discussion at home around funds for refugees and displaced people. What is sustainable, what is wise, what is Godly. Even in the non-mission world it’s an issue. As someone who works on a government grant, we fund different clinics and hospitals. One of the things that happens is we end up dictating what they should do, so instead of doing what they may want to for their communities, they do what the funding says they have to. It gets complicated. Thanks for a clear and wise post – lots to think about.

  • Great article. The biggest danger is when people in mission or development don’t know or deny the negative power money can have.

  • Tanya

    One of the challenges I’ve given myself is to stop thinking of things in terms of monetary value. Of course, most things do have monetary value, but so often it is easy to get wrapped up in ideas like reselling and “getting our money’s worth” out of things that we miss the opportunity to see things and money for what they are – things. The tips above are good to keep in mind. I am often reminded that the early church was characterized by generous giving and caring financially for their brothers and sisters – by both giving without reservation and receiving without expecting, both in humility – this can be a result of a genuine conversion and effective, Kingdom-centered discipleship.

  • Melinda Todd

    Wow, that is a really good post and good information. We don’t even realize the damage we are doing or the positions we might put ourselves in with finances. All very good points. Thank you for sharing. *Not to be obnoxious, but would you be willing to take my survey on being a missionary? Answers are totally anonymous. I’m working on a story and this will help. Thanks! https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/XP6YL78

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