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Andrew Byung-Yoon Kim is Professor of Intercultural Studies at Philippine Baptist Theological Seminary, Baguio City, Philippines. He was a Visiting Professor at Tyndale Seminary during 2008-9.

August 2009

Volume 2

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Steve Hoke and Bill Taylor have observed that “as we move into the third millennium, the church of Jesus Christ had become truly globalized, and missions is now from all nations to all nations” (Hoke and Taylor 1999:19). With the growth of the Two-Thirds World Church, it has begun to assume a greater responsibility for world missions (Harley 1995:4). In this brief article, I would like to discuss the crucial need for this decentralization and how Western missions ought to respond

The Great Omission: Church Planting without Missions Planting

As a missionary, I have struggled with the chronic problem of “dependency” in national Christian leaders which leads to “high costs with low efficiency.” Evangelical missionaries and local pastors planted many churches in the Philippines between 1975 and 2000, but many of these churches are still weak and dying. They struggle with both financial shortages and leadership problems. With more than 51,625 evangelical churches in the Philippines as the result of the DAWN 2000 project, few pastors are being paid enough to survive. According to the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches’ survey, about 80% of pastors in Luzon receive less than 20 dollars a month from their churches. Furthermore, the average attendance of each church is only about 35 people. I have myself planted several churches in various mission fields, only to see those churches become “dependent” and struggle in similar ways to survive.

Reflecting on this gloomy picture of national churches in places like the Philippines, I concluded that we evangelical missionaries were planting churches but not missions. In the past, the Western churches and agencies were seen as the torch bearers who led and funded missions. Non-Western churches were considered “dependent” entities, not adequately developed or resourced for the task of cross-cultural missions. It became obvious to me, though, that church planting is not the end goal of ministry; mission planting is. The problem in places like the Philippines is not a shortage of money or strategies but a lack of ownership of the Gospel.

A Missions Planting Model: The Asia Vision Short-Term Missions Project

In 2002, after visiting the Tuol Sleng genocide museum and one of the Cambodian “killings fields,” I wanted to move my mission station from the Philippines to Cambodia. Instead, the Lord challenged me to send Filipinos out to Cambodia and neighbouring countries as Short-term missionaries. Since then, I have served as a missions catalyst to encourage not only Filipinos but other Asian Christians to join the Great Commission. I have challenged them to proactively attempt and expect great things for God, rather than passively waiting for God to do those great things. By sending these Asian missionaries out to the world I hoped to correct their long time “dependency” and foster a new “ownership of the Gospel.”

From these humble beginnings has emerged the Asia Vision Short-term Missions Project (AVSTM). From 37 Short-term missionaries (STMers) in 2003, the AVSTM grew to about 700 STMers in 2008. The project has a vision of sending 3,000 STMers from Asia (especially from the Philippines) to Asia by the year 2015, so that more people in Asia can hear the Good news and enjoy salvation through the work of committed Asian missionaries.

One challenge facing the AVSTM has been poor financial support. Since Asian churches are still financially weak, it is hard to support their missionaries on the high-cost Western missions system. It was obvious to me that Filipino churches could not afford $1,000 to $2,000 a month to support their missionaries. On the other hand, the affluence of such financing might be a hindrance in the missionaries’ relationships with the local people. So we developed a new approach to funding our missions. I line up work for each STMer in the host country. I also arrange for the STMers to stay in the houses of local people and encourage the hosts to cover board and lodging for the STMers while they work. In most areas of Asia, this allows STMers to serve for no more than $100 a month. Besides lowering costs, though, this system is very effective in helping the STMers to identify with the host people. Almost all of our STMers enjoy life-changing experiences living with the local people, and on their return STMers find themselves missing the people whom they served. Many decide to return to serve as long-term missionaries. Many churches have been planted across Asia through the incarnational ministry of these STMers, and they have helped to create a new image of Christianity.

Since the STMers live in the areas where the people are, I have challenged them to do ministries at least 8 hours a day. Most labourers work 8 hours a day but it seems that average evangelical missionaries do not work that much while the Mormon missionaries work 8 hours or more a day. Hence, the Mormons experienced remarkable 173-fold growth in the Philippines between 1960 and 1990 while the evangelicals enjoyed only 11 to 25-fold church growth. They were known and characterized by their zeal and an admirable missionary spirit. Tens of thousands of Mormon missionaries (mostly, short-termers) work actively today. They visit every prospect (and church members) at least twice a week, and meet about 20 people a day.

Though leaders have tended to view Filipino Christians as weak and dependent, I have found that they possess some strategic strengths for missions. Filipinos are:

  1. multi-lingual: Most Filipinos speak Tagalog, English, and 1 or 2 additional languages. Thus, they can easily learn a new language or teach a language (such as English) to others.
  2. multi-cultural: Centuries of colonial rule and their country’s multi-racial composition helps them to adapt easily to a new culture.
  3. versatile: They easily blend in other Asian cultures without being noticed. One of the most important values in Filipino culture is SIR (Smooth Interpersonal Relationships).
  4. resilient: They have been made strong by hardship and are able to adjust without complaint to contexts without electricity or sufficient water.
  5. highly educated: Most have an opportunity to study in colleges and they can teach effectively in various mission fields.
  6. non-threatening: Since the Philippines has no history of aggression, they are welcomed in many Asian countries. Even visas are waived, especially among ASEAN countries in Southeast Asia.

These particular advantages do not make Filipino Christians better suited to missions than members of other Asian churches. What they illustrate, however, is that the supposedly “weak” members of Two-Thirds World churches are often equipped with unique strengths of their own.

How Can Western Missions Respond?

If we are to foster ownership of the Gospel among Two-Thirds World churches, the role played by missionaries from North America in these partnerships also has to change. Since most non-Western missionaries are in need of proper training and care, Western missionaries can often contribute best by equipping them as trainers, coaches, consultants, and encouragers in their fields. Western missionaries also need to prepare for multi-cultural and multi-lingual teamwork. The individualistic missionary of the colonial era is no longer viable. An ability to work with, and under, leadership of other nationalities is essential (Johnstone and Mandryk 2001:12). The ideas of interdependency (in contrast to independency) and accountability must be central to the emerging paradigm for contemporary missions.

Mission agencies are already responding by becoming more pragmatic about whom they will accept as missionaries from the Two-Thirds World. Many show an increasing interest in the actual competencies of their candidates rather than in their formal credentials or degrees. The key question asked is: “Can they do the ministry they will be assigned to do?” This means in some cases requiring less formal theological education before the first term and providing more practical, mentored, on-the-job training (Hoke 1999:336). Individuals previously excluded from missions can then be valued for the unique life experiences which may prepare them for reaching out to growing segments of the population.

Missiology is responding with several trends that promise to re-shape the discipline. An attempt is being made to capture a more global perspective, acknowledging the dynamic and potential of the churches in the Two-Thirds World. An increasing emphasis is also being placed in theological and missions training on a holistic approach to ministry, one that highlights the interlocking causes of poverty, oppression, and hopelessness. Perhaps most significant is the emergence of Two-Thirds World missiology and the willingness of Western thinkers to take seriously the perspective of their non-Western brothers and sisters.

There may still be a role to be played at times for financial support from Western churches, provided it is re-thought in ways that are less paternalistic and do not foster dependance. Steve Murdock, for example, suggests that “if the support is seen as ‘seed money’ and not as a perpetual lifeline, and there is an exit strategy that is viable and realistic, then monetary support can be healthy” (Murdock 2009:66-71). He then exhorts Western missionaries: “[D]o not create a ministry or structure that is not duplicable within the cultural or social context in which you are working; do not begin funding a work with no growth strategy plan or exit plan; and do not do all the work yourself” (Murdock 2009:66-71).

Most important, though, is the basic shift that is taking place in the way Western missions agencies understand their relationship with their Two-Thirds World counterparts. The buzzword in missions today is “partnership,” as opposed to “sponsorship” with its suggestion of an unequal relationship. Western churches and mission agencies are recognizing how, if they are willing to work closely with their non-Western counterparts, resources can flow in both directions. Sponsorship and paternalism can be replaced by mutual recognition of selfhood and cooperation as equals (Pierson 1987:9).

Conclusions

Paul Pierson notes the rapid growth of the non-Western Christian missionary movement as “the greatest new fact of our time” (Pierson 1987:9). Such marked changes always create crises in our mission strategies. A crisis, however, is not an impasse. From a divine perspective, a crisis may constitute a call from God for pioneering work to be done. We are being called now to plant missions among the nations, to foster ownership of the Gospel among the Two-Thirds World churches. This does not mean an end to Western involvement in cross-cultural missions. Instead, we need to maximize our missions forces for the sake of the world. We are facing increasing challenges and hostility from Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and many other groups in the various mission fields. The remaining task is too great for us to waste resources perpetuating models shaped for a vanished past.

Works Cited

Books

  • Harley, David. Preparing to Serve: Training for Cross-cultural Missions. Pasadena, CA: William Carey Library, 1995.
  • Hoke, Steve and Bill Taylor. Send Me! Your Journey to the Nations. Pasadena, CA: World Evangelical Fellowship Missions Commission and William Carey Library, 1999.
  • Johnstone, Patrick and Jason Mandryk. Operation World: 21st Century Edition. Waynesboro, GA: Paternoster Lifestyle, 2001.

Periodicals/Articles

  • Murdock, Steve. “Cuttings the Purse Strings: How to Avoid and Overcome Paternalism.” In Evangelical Missions Quarterly 45:1 (January 2009): 66-71.
  • Pierson, Paul. “Non-Western Missions: The Great New Fact of Our Time” In New Frontiers in Mission. Patrick Sookhdeo, ed. Exter, UK: Paternoster Press, 1987.

Further Reading

  • Castillo, Met and Katie Sisco eds., Into the 21st Century: Asian Churches in Missions. N.p., Evangelical Fellowship of Asia, 1998.
  • Day, Lynn Joesting. “Considering the Contexts of Twenty-First Century Missions.” In With an Eye on the Future: Development and Mission in the 21st Century. Monrovia, CA: MARC, 1996.
  • Fox, Frampton. “Foreign Money and Indigenous Ministry: To Give or Not to Give?” In
    Evangelical Missions Quarterly 43:2 (April 2007):150-57.
  • Fuller, Lois K. The Missionary and His Work. Jos, Nigeria: Nigeria Evangelical Missionary Institute, 1991.
  • Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Insights for Missionaries. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993.
  • __________. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1994.
  • Hoke, Stephen T. “Paradigm Shifts and Trends in Missions Training – A Call to Servant-Teaching, A Ministry of Humility.” In Evangelical Review of Theology 23 (October 1999):329-346.
  • Roger S. Greenway, “World Urbanization and Missiological Education.” In Missiological Education for the 21st Century: The Book, the Circle, and the Sandals. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1996.

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