Friday, September 28, 2007

Case For Non-Residential Missionary (NRM)

Several years ago I read a book entitled “The Non-Residential Missionary.” The authors were making a case for the shift in the role of North Americans in global ministries from that of resident aliens, i.e., expatriates residing in a country, to cross-cultural experts working overseas not residing in those countries. The trend of missions today bears out that the authors were probably ahead of their time. Even though many churches or mission agencies today don't buy into the NRM philosophy, it is a natural trend that will be more of a reality in the years ahead.


A NRM is one who has certain unique characteristics and qualifications.

(1) They are former residents or have spent significant amount of time in a particular culture that now visit those countries frequently to minister. Due to their knowledge of the culture, their contribution in training, or advising the national church sets them apart for a unique role in cross-cultural work. I believe there is an important peculiarity for someone who takes on the role of a NRM. To be an effective advisor and teacher a person should posses a certain amount of insider knowledge. The understanding of culture requires that a person probably should know the language or, at least, have resided within the culture long enough to wrestle with the tensions of that culture.

I lived in Kenya for over ten years. I understand and speak Swahili. My exposure to other African countries, seven in all, gives me a certain level of expertise into the African culture. In addition, I have been teaching in India since 1992 and lived in the country for four years. Though I do not speak Hindi I have worked with Indian nationals long enough that I have more than a cursory understanding of the religious, political and economic dynamics of that country.

There are many people, like myself, who have spent years serving among a particular people group or culture that, for the lack of a better term, qualify them as experts in that culture. When they minister to these groups it is based on insider knowledge. I know of one brother who spent years in Lebanon before being forced to leave the country. Another colleague lived in Iran before the days of the Ayatollah Khomeini. For political reasons these men can no longer live in those countries, but as NRM’s when they visit or teach in the Middle East it is based on a thorough understanding of the Persian/Arabic mindset. Another friend, who is fluent in Russian and has lived in the former Soviet Union several years, travels as a NRM training church planters. All of these men are insiders into those cultures.

(2) A NRM functions as a facilitator alongside the national church. They moved out of being a resident missionary (RM) because they were either forced out or, more than likely, determined it was no longer necessary for them to remain on the field to help the national church. In my particular case, I left Kenya because that, in some ways, my presence retarded the national churches growth (I understand that is a debatable issue). I feel that today my NR status allows me to advise without dictating or managing local affairs. In the case of India, I lived in the country with the express goal of being a facilitator in training. Functionally I was a NRM even though I was a resident. Having served in that country for many years, though I in no way consider myself an expert in Indian culture, I have earned an intimate perspective into the culture with insights that allows me to present my teaching in a culturally relevant manner.

There will always be a need for RM’s and I am not suggesting that every RM should move from that role to that of a NRM. Increasingly, however, the role of NRM’s will be a part of the missiological landscape. As the national church continues to grow and takes ownership, the need for RM will continue to decline. The question is the church ready for the Non-Resident Missionary?