What happens if the Church bears the mark ‘Made in the West’ too prominently stamped upon her.
After being a part of mission work on three continents since 1983, my wife and I abruptly quit and left missions in 2006 and found ourselves quickly “under-employed” with a “big-box chain” in the USA; full of questions about the future. I often say that it feels like we are free falling out of an airplane with little idea of where we are headed; not too sure we even have parachutes on our backs…
But, as a friend reminded us… Jesus is our landing pad!
Some of you who have followed our journey over the years might feel we left missions out of frustration with our personal impact in the Muslim world, or the difficulty of living with a perpetual lack of finances, or adjusting to the growing needs of our four children. Maybe some imagine that after 23 years we just needed a change. Each of these aspects are indeed a part of our lives, but even the sum of these wouldn’t have been able to see us quit the jobs we loved.
To be more precise, I think that we found ourselves in a situation with missions where “the Emperor has no clothes on” and everyone involved is afraid to tell him so. This idiom is used to refer to a question or problem that very obviously stands to reason, but which is ignored for the convenience of one or more involved parties.
What is unfortunately “conveniently ignored” in Missions is simply that the world missionary movement is not able to keep up with the population growth in the 10/40 Window!!
Islam is not shrinking as the Kingdom of God advances throughout the Middle East, Northern Africa and Asia. Japan, which has had missionary activity for over 100 years, is still not being reached in any measure. Turkey, with its 80 million people, is less reached now per capita than it was 25 years ago when I first joined up with missions. I could go on…
Sure there are success stories around the globe and we are reaching peoples previously unreached, but I contend that it is only a “drop in the bucket” compared to the whole earth! Furthermore, it has little resemblance to what we read about in our New Testament.
Nothing takes the place better that “First Hand Experience”
Our burden to see the Muslim world reached with the power of the gospel has not waned since we landed in Tajikistan in the early Spring of 2000, but the longer we were there we felt the more ill-equipped to bring about the kind of changes necessary to see lasting impact amongst the Muslims there: either in the ability to bring the kingdom of God to earth in power or in the structure of the church we were there to leave behind.
In the West we use money to solve most problems, so when we go abroad we treat problems the same way: money will solve your problem.
“If you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.” Abraham Maslow
The main culprits westerners often unknowingly “infect” into the poorest mission fields of the world are:
1. Creating dependency amongst the indigenous believers, mainly through our over-abundance of money and opportunity.
2. The completely foreign looking “Jesus” we present through our western-style churches and church organization.
3. The acceptable lack of spiritual power – signs, wonders and miracles- so that we are forced to bring in more “western infrastructure” to bring about noticeable change.
Over and over again in Central Asian we were being confronted with a “missionary enterprise” that had run out of control. Conscious or unconscious paternalism and colonialism reigned. Little accountability from “back home”. Most folks back home were stretched with just meeting day to day demands and happy to simply support “overseas missionaries”.
Interestingly enough, a few years ago we found another voice who had had a similar experience: Roland Allen found the same “hindrances” operating when he served as a young Anglican missionary in China over 100 years ago.
”If the Church bears the mark ‘Made in the West’ too prominently stamped upon her, many will turn away from her who would not turn away from Christ. Constant guidance and supervision by Europeans may outwit its own purpose… We have done everything for them. We have taught them, baptized them, shepherded them. We have managed their funds, ordered their services, built their churches, provided their teachers. We have nursed then, fed them, doctored them… We have done everything for them except acknowledge any equality. We have done everything for them, but very little with them… We have treated them as ‘dear children’, but not as brethren. ” (Missionary Methods: St Paul’s or Ours, 1912)
I believe our failure to treat fellow believers as “brethren” in the unreached nations of Asia and Africa is that we have lost our reason for missions. We have lost our single-minded purpose to plant churches where none exist and to water those that do.
We have created missions in our own image.
We have so personalized the “missionary calling” that if God is calling me and I am an artist, a musician, a journalist, a carpenter, a mechanic… then that is my calling on the field.
Dear brothers and sisters, we do not find this in the New Testament!
In the NT we find only a small handful of apostolic bands (2-5 people) that entered a city on foot, carrying with them nothing but the bags on their shoulders. They gave nothing but themselves and the power of the Spirit and took nothing with them. Through hard work, often filled with bloody persecution, they left behind a small gathering of believers who had experienced the reality of the Risen Lord.
We, however, offer people in other countries job within our NGOs. We teach them English so they can get better jobs. We are always the “experts” in our specialties: whether that is in computers, the arts, or business.
We build (or buy) them church buildings that they themselves can never afford to maintain. By doing this we actually make the local believers slaves to the economic power of the western world.
We go out as “self-appointed” rescuers, many who have never tasted the cost of preaching Christ in our own countries.
Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg!
One way we found to prevent the “Made in the West” church was to leave! I know this must sound utterly strange to most people, but it is actually something we really recommend. “Leave! The sooner the better…”
Believe it or not, at different times in church history the native church has expanded in direct proportion to the departure of its missionaries!
“The amazing growth of the church under communist oppression in China demonstrates that churches can grow and mature even under the most severe conditions without Western support. Indeed, when the Chinese churches received Western assistance, they experienced minimal growth.” (Let the Buyer Beware by Craig Ott)
In saying all this we wish in no way to diminish the missionary spirit that is very real in the hearts and souls of many on the field. The Holy Spirit that descended on the day of Pentecost in Jerusalem, Who manifested Himself in multiple languages, is a “missionary Spirit”.
“Christianity is essentially a missionary religion. It is impossible for men to receive Christ into their souls and not to receive that Spirit. That Spirit is a worldwide, all-embracing Spirit. To Christ there are no bounds… If Christ does not save the whole world He can save none. ” (Roland Allen, Missionary Principles)
Together we need to find our way forward that embraces a “better way to do missions” – less money and less time – while acknowledging the fact that “God so loved the whole world.”
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,