“It’s a bird, It’s a plane… No, it’s a Missionary!”
In the early 1990’s my wife and I (along with our infant daughter) were young missionaries with a large world-wide organization living in Budapest, Hungary.
While there we saw the effects of what I call “missionary supremacy” first hand. We first noticed it when some of our local Hungarian friends asked us why we lived in Pest (the flat, blue collar, industrial side of Budapest) because “All the other missionaries lived in Buda” (the affluent side of Budapest in the hills and amongst the greenery).
It was a true statement at that time but thankfully much has changed in Hungary over the past 20 years… Budapest is now a world-class city and both sides of the Danube are magnificent! But the idea of “missionary supremacy” still lives on in the least developed nations on earth.
Not too sure about that? Read on…
Emerito P. Nacpil, a missionary in the Philippines, has seen the following among young Filipinos:
”When they see a missionary, they see green—the colour of the mighty dollars. They see white, the colour of western imperialism and racism. They see an expert, the symbol of western technology and gadgetry. They see the face of a master, the mirror of their own servitude. They do not see the face of a suffering Christ but a benevolent monster.”
I know that many of you reading this article feel that I am stating my position too negatively and that I should concentrate on the positive examples. Of course there are many encouraging stories taking place right now all over the planet…
But my optimism is tempered by 25 years – on and off – of living overseas in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
What’s My Best Advice?
Three Words: “Follow Paul’s Example”
We must return to the apostolic model/method of church planting as seen in the New Testament, both power and practice!
Many overlook the Pauline pattern and suggest that they follow Jesus! Well, when it comes to following the Biblical record of starting house churches that multiply like rabbits throughout the Roman Empire of the 1st Century, the apostle Paul is our God-inspired example.
”When the Lord Jesus was personally on earth, the Church was not yet ordered, according to the form which He intended it to assume among men. He was engaged in collecting, rather than in arranging, the materials for His spiritual house; in preparing the living stones, not in building them together. (B.W. Newton 1843)
But if you think I am too pessimistic, hold onto your hat, because there is so much good news to report in this area:
> The huge (early) success of church planting movements (CPMs) by the Southern Baptists.
> The overwhelming support and embrace of missionaries across all denominational lines of the house church/simple church movement.
> Of late I am very impressed with Avant Ministries, a mission agency that is promoting “short cycle church planting teams”. The teams they send out to the far corners of the globe must complete their task within five years!! (Sounds like Paul to me! Jesus too!!)
With such a short cycle paradigm “missionary supremacy” (dependency and paternalism) hardly becomes an issue as from the VERY beginning they are planning their exit strategy!! I cannot tell you about their doctrine or beliefs but I love their emphasis of “get in and out” AS SOON AS POSSIBLE — something all missionaries give lip service to but most are woeful in terms of practice!
I close with one last quote from a missionary in Africa, Robert Reese, who also calls for a return to a New Testament pattern for fulfilling the Great Commission:
”It is necessary in the postcolonial period to return to basic New Testament patterns of missions. It is time to uncouple political power and military might from the spread of the gospel, as it was in the early church. There we find that missionaries did not create dependency except the importance of depending totally on God to supply needs. They regarded all wings of the body of Christ as equal despite long histories of racial discrimination among both Jews and Gentiles. They understood the primary task of missions as being to plant dynamic churches of the Saviour.”
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,
Jeff and Maria Gilbertson