Community Development Mistakes: No Needs

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on May 7, 2018 | Print

The Need to Reveal our Needs

This blog series has looked at various barriers to effective community development and has, hopefully, challenged you to reevaluate your tactics and approach. The final barrier we’ll discuss, however, will likely go beyond challenging you. It just might convict you, as it has done to me time and time again. It goes directly to the core of our personhood and is shaped in particular by our existence as westerners.

DIY Complex

Most of us westerners have an unseen superiority and self-made-man complex. We have been taught to strive for excellence in all we do (not a bad thing) but also to trust and place high value in our “do it yourself” attitude and approach to life. Our culture highly values the individual who climbs out of their circumstances and succeeds in life. The term “self-made” ranks high in our cultural valuation of human traits.

This trait (not entirely a bad one) puts us at a bit of disadvantage when we attempt to work with impoverished and “in need” communities around the world. Without meaning to, we can communicate to those we go to serve and work with that if you become like me, you can succeed in life. While we try to get communities to depend on each other and on God, our actions and persona portray a dependence on our education, salaries, and comforts rather than our Savior.

Jesus taught His disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread…” We frequently work with people who struggle for their daily bread, but we have never experienced going without bread. We encourage them to work together and look/pray to God for security and then we jump in our nice air-conditioned vehicles and drive back to our comfortable homes in the city. We don’t mean to communicate it, but we do: we don’t appear to need God.

One of the greatest things you or I could do for the communities that we work with is to be transparent and help them see that we also are totally dependent on God–every breath we take, every step we step. Somehow, we need to demonstrate our need, every second of the day, for God and His provisions. When we can do that, it makes our message of them needing to be dependent on one another and on God more real and powerful. If we fail to show that our every need also has to be supplied by God, we show them a distorted model of life under His Lordship.

Barriers to good development abound. Some of them are external and some (as I just shared) are internal. What are some other things you see as barriers to your work with communities in the development process? And more important, what are some ways that God is leading you to overcome those barriers?