Human beings seem to love a plan. In fact, the more educated, rich and powerful human beings get, the more we love a plan. And we especially love a plan made by us and our rich, educated and powerful friends that is about fixing things for other people. We see this in every sphere of life – including development work.
In development work, rich, educated, powerful and well-intentioned people make up plans or solutions for people who have less formal education, money and power. Programmes and projects that might have worked well in one place are implemented in other places without much regard for the different local circumstances. Local ‘partners’ become programme contractors rather than collaborators, and learning is adopted rather than adapted.
The result is disempowerment and weak ownership, even if there are some good outputs. It is not sustainable, does not create local civil society, and dishonours people.
One of the reasons that I am excited about church and community mobilisation approaches in development is that they work hard to resist the desire of the rich and powerful to fix everything for other people. They begin with humility – the kind of humility that starts with listening to God and listening to people.
Typically these approaches begin with a fresh appreciation of the Bible story, particularly the way God thinks about people and communities, his concerns and interests, and how he relates to people. The process helps the church to re-imagine mission and become a truly prophetic witness in local communities. It moves on to a deep understanding of the capabilities, problems, opportunities and dreams of the church and community.
This discovery comes not from the minds and theoretical models of the experts, but from the experiences and words of the church and community. As dreams and visions develop, rather than bringing in outside specialists, ‘men and women of peace’ are brought together from within the community. Together they decide what issues to address, what problems to overcome and how to overcome them. The outside agency is an observer and supporter, never the controller.
It is tough for the rich, educated people who are used to having the power. It is hard to write a five-year plan with set outputs, outcomes and impact statements. But it brings us to the heart of Philippians 2, which actually is the heart of God’s mission strategy. Jesus did not grab the power that he could have had, but chose to live differently so that others could become free. The path towards excellent Christian development practice seems also to be the path of discipleship.