Thursday, June 28, 2007

Needed: Academic Practitioners

A former student is working through his doctoral thesis and has asked me to read and advise. This DMin. candidate is a pastor in New Delhi and his thesis is about a migrant people group called the Awadi and how to best develop a strategy for ministry to those coming from the rural areas into the city. There is a lot I could comment on in this thesis as it is well researched and I believe it’s a significant contribution to missiology. Consider these things:

* 665 people migrate into the city of New Delhi EVERY DAY.

* 74% of the Protestant churches in India are located in South India, which has 21.70% of India’s total population, whereas North India, that has 43.75% of India’s total population and 4.21% Christians and has only 8% churches.

From this thesis, here is a snapshot of some of the issues migrants face coming into a city of over 13 million people.

"To supplement the family income, the whole migrant family is involved in work. Having no one to look after their children, they have no other option but to take their children with them to their workplace. The poor and unhygienic living conditions, and exposure to dust at the work site, result in children suffering from various health problems. Moreover, these children have no opportunity to obtain education. The result is underfed, malnourished and illiterate children."

While there is much to learn from the study, in reading over it the past couple of days the thing that has dominated my thinking is the value of academic/practical research.

We live in a world of programs. Everywhere I go I hear about programs for church planting movements, youth outreach and mission agency growth. Nothing wrong with programs per se, but most people see programs as an end in themselves. In my opinion, many of these programs are shallow, not well thought-out and, is an attempt to take a shortcut in reaching ministry goals. As this student points out in his thesis, to reach the Awadi there are no shortcuts in working with migrants in an urban ministry and several issues need to be taken into consideration, such as childcare, living conditions, education and medical needs. For the average church planter, pastor or mission agency they are not thinking about these things. Instead, the emphasis seems to be programs for more evangelists or for raising money to build a church building. I fear that some nationals start orphanages, have medical clinics or start a school, not out of a well-defined research study, but merely a program that seems to be attractive and might be a good idea.

When I was working in Kenya I spent a great deal of time living with and doing research with the Pokot tribe in the bush. It was through concentrated and academic study that a strategy of church planting was created. It has been my belief that the most important thing a practitioner can do is become a student of culture, especially the culture of the people they are working with. While the buzz among the church and in mission circles is about having a “people group focus,” there are few who take the time to do in-depth study on specific ethnic groups. My hat is off to this DMin. candidate/pastor for his diligence in pursuing this academic study. We need more practitioners like him. We need more sending agencies that will equip missionaries with more in-depth study before launching them out into ministry. We need more national missionaries and pastors to understand that the only way they will truly reach the unreached is to know people well. Globally, e need more academic practitioners