Monday, July 23, 2007

Are North American Missionaries Still Needed?

Malcom asks, "Could you comment or post on what you see as the modern role of the North American church in global missions. To play my hand a bit, it seems to me that the NA churches biggest and most influential role could be in relinquishing its grip on needing to GO to the missions field and focusing its energies (primarily in financing) on the nationals already there."

I am in agreement that many Western mission organizations and denominations do need to retool for today’s mission reality. Their “grip” in global outreach has less to do with paternalism and more about finances. The unsavory secret in missions is that many mission boards rely on recruiting and sending people out to regions beyond, not because of any great missiological strategic plan, but for their survival as an organization. Sending agencies rely on the percentage of each missionary dollar (ranging from 10% to 25%), donor support to the organization and special projects and foundation money to stay in business. I predict that in another 50 years U.S. mission sending agencies will be as outdated as unions in the workplace.

Having said that, I do not believe that the role of the North American missionary is over now or will be 50 years from now. I do believe, however, that if we are to have a role in the future we must be better defined in our task and that we work smarter. Right now I am serving overseas in a capacity that few nationals can do and that is teaching the national missionaries how to serve cross-culturally. As the church outside the US becomes more aware of missiology they will take more of a lead in this area of ministry as well. Though the Western missionary’s task of frontline evangelism is diminishing, there are ministry specialist that I believe is unique for North American personnel, in the field of education, technology, medicine and in general support roles (administration, maintenance and construction). These ministry functions are vital in some parts of the world, but they are often not looked upon as doing the real work of evangelism or church planting.

As I write this post I feel compelled to remind myself, and others, not to despise the small things of ministry, i.e. the importance of support ministries. Much of Western work will continue to be in aiding the machinery of the Gospel worldwide. Though being a teacher at a MK boarding school or digging a borehole in a remote village is not as riveting as a national church planter who boasts that he has started one hundred churches, that does not mean the work of the American is not valid or needed.

Missiologically, the education and wealth of a Westerner place them in a socio-economic position that allows them to serve where many nationals cannot. The caste system in India is a barrier that prohibits many nationals from working among the middle and upper class people of society. If an American supporting church is just going national, they may feel they are getting more bang for the buck, but in reality they may be contributing the perception among others in society that being Christian is synonymous with illiterate and tribal.

The key in creating a well-rounded mission program is to recognize that as the world continues to change we must be current in our thinking as well. That means casting off the old that is outdated, yet not throwing away that which is valid for the sake of being trendy.

2 comments:

Malcolm in NY said...

Thank you Richard for posting on my questions. I have a lot to chew on as I try to move my church forward with engagement in world missions.

I concur that the tendency is towards trends. I have to admit that some of my questions were coming from that base, as if it were not obvious. :) The "bang for the buck" seems to be the biggest issue I am trying to overcome - both in my own thoughts and the thoughts of my congregation. As with so many things in ministry, it seems to me that establishing the long term big picture of what we could do is far more difficult than a short term payoff that enables us to feel good about having simply done something.

I am frequently challenged by your musings and thoughts. Thank you for allowing me in to your world.

I know you are busy with transitioning back to your ministry. You and your wife are in my prayers, and I hope to be able to dialogue with you in due time.

Be blessed,

Malcolm

fletch said...

Thanks Richard for a very balanced response to a very touchy subject. I think that you hit the nail on the head with you comment about "bang-for-the-buck"! I am thoroughly convinced that such a mindset virtually strips the Lord of the Harvest out of the picture and places a spreadsheet in the center.

It is, as you say, incumbent on us to find the MOST strategic way and most strategic place to sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the Great Commission. If we are spending time contemplating the investment *WE* are making, we have lost the clear sense that we are merely stewards of the MASTER's resources, and it is *HE* who is the investor.

I enjoy reading your thoughts and insights! Keep up the good work!

Blessings,

Greg