Making The Shift From Patron To Friend | World Mission Associates | Promoting local sustainability in global missions

By Dan Carl with World Mission Associates

I recently received a phone call from a young man I’ve known for many years. The conversation went something like this…

Young man: “Hello Pastor Dan. How are you and your family?”

Dan: “Great my friend, it’s good to hear from you. And how are you and your family?”

Young man: “Fine thanks. Pastor Dan, I need your help. I’m getting married.”

Dan: “What kind of help do you need?”

Young man: “I need you to give me some money to help pay for my wedding.”

Not knowing whether to laugh or cry, I told the young man I would get back to him about his request.

If he truly saw me as a friend, he would have first told me he had met a girl, fallen in love, was getting married, and wanted to invite me to the wedding. However, I was not being approached as a authentic friend; but rather as a patron.

Over the years, I had given the young man just a few short-term, low-paying job opportunities related to ministry and helping with teams. I also opened the door for him to connect with outside groups who would later invest heavily in his education. I guess I prided myself as his friend because I had even spent personal time with him at his house and he at mine.

However, there is a dark side to using financial and material resources to influence rather than slowly building mutually reciprocating friendship. From day one, I had introduced myself into this young man’s life as a “patron,” one who provides, guides, and protects in exchange for unquestioned loyalty. Loyalty is not friendship in this unwritten ancient arrangement.

It wasn’t the young man’s fault. I set myself up for the very disheartening but sobering phone call.

This was a reminder to me that when we approach our cross-cultural relationships on the backs of money, we foster patron-client (giver-recipient) relationships, rather than authentic friendships.

How do we make the shift from patron to friend; or how do we start out the relationship as mutual friends, rather than as patron-client?

Jean Johnson, my friend and colleague, often shares a saying from The Message (MSG) designed to help missionaries and cross-cultural workers remember their God-appointed role when working in someone else’s country:

Keep it simple; you are the equipment.

When we view ourselves as the equipment rather than our material and financial resources that we bring from home, we will naturally formulate relationships based on humility, trust, reciprocity, and so forth. This healthier approach to cross-cultural relationships is vital to cultivating authenticity and mutuality, which is vital for making disciples and training leaders.

So, if you are caught by surprise via a phone call and desire to shift from being a patron to a mutual friend, consider applying this advice: “Keep it simple; you are the equipment.”

Jesus now called the Twelve and gave them authority and power to deal with all the demons and cure diseases. He commissioned them to preach the news of God’s kingdom and heal the sick. He said, “Don’t load yourselves up with equipment. Keep it simple; you are the equipment. And no luxury inns—get a modest place and be content there until you leave. If you’re not welcomed, leave town. Don’t make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and move on (Luke 9:1-5, The Message).