Heard a great message last night on “bridging cultures” . . . Glad to know that I am not the only one who is tired of the walls that we Americans put up in our minds concerning other of different skin color, country, and culture. (some consciously, some subconsciously)
When I was in the DR last week, one of our Dominican pastors told me that people ask him many times, “How can you work with Americans?” At first I was a little puzzled by the statement, but as I pondered it and asked questions to the Dominican pastor and our Team Leader, it became quite clear what was meant by the question, “How can you work with Americans?”
For 200 years, American missionaries have gone to different parts of the world. (In fact, the bi-centennial anniversary of Adoniram Judson, the first Baptist American missionary, going to Burma is February 17th 2012) Since that day nearly 200 years ago, many missionaries have gone to many different countries around the world. Seems like within 200 years, we should be at the point that we should have many sustainable ministries around the world that are run by nationals from those counties, but we really don’t. Where are the Bible colleges in these countries, where are the large, healthy churches, where are the Christian schools?
One of the only countries that comes to mind when pondering this subject is the Philippines. The missionaries that went to the Philippines got it right; they have established great works that were sustainable and are still educating and producing pastors, missionaries, school teachers, etc. In fact, the Philippines are sending more missionaries into certain parts of the world currently than we are here in the US.
So what did they do in the Philippines that is so different than other parts of the world? Why have we seen such little progress in other countries that we have sent hundreds of missionaries too, like Brazil, Mexico, Haiti, African counties, etc? May I submit to you that it is the method, not the message. We know that the message is the same, but the method is the thing that needs to be adjusted.
Now before you get all up in arms, let me tell you that I am not going to talk about using contemporary music, less preaching or lifestyle evangelism. I am simply going to talk about the way we as American missionaries “bridge the culture.”
For years Americans have gone into foreign countries and gone in with an American mentality and ministry model. In fact, it is even worse that that. The model that they are using would not even work in the US. For some reason though, we think that it will work on the foreign mission field.
Current Missions Model:
1. Live in a gated or segregated community where your family has limited contact with nationals. Imagine if your pastor lived in a gated community where you had to be “invited in” just to visit with him and his family. If your church had a Christian school, but he did not send his children there so they didn’t get influenced by your children. Then we expect to be effective in the country when the people see how we live and know that you do not trust them and want our families to intermingle.
2. Are expected to learn the language, start a church, train a national pastor all in the first four years. And we wonder why these ministries are not self sustaining when the missionary leaves for furlough? Can you imagine trying to start a church and turn it over to someone you reached for Christ all within 4 years here in the States? It just doesn’t make sense! No one would start a church in the US with that kind of model. They would be sure it would fail. Here in the US, if you want someone to train to take over a church, they go off to Bible college for 4 years, they youth pastor or assistant pastor for several years to gain valuable experience before they are considered ready to pastor. On the mission field, ready or not, it is all on the shoulders of the nationals in 4 years!
3. Missionaries are expected to do it on their own. They are the pastor, youth pastor, music director, school principal, teacher, evangelist, accountant, secretary, Bible college president, professor, etc, etc, etc. Any successful ministry in the States has multiple staff members. But on the mission field for some reason, we think that one family should be able to handle it.
4. It is all about numbers. It makes the sending churches happy when they read about hundreds of people coming to know the Lord, and as far as the missionary is concerned, it is their financial security to send reports with big numbers. If they are not seeing results, churches drop them from their financial support. Many churches in America use their baptistries for storing Christmas decorations, but expect their missionaries to be baptizing hundreds each year.
It is high time we make some changes in our missions model.
1. Live among the people and learn their language and culture.
2. Shake up how we do “furlough”. It is ridiculous to think that a church can be turned over in 4 years. The average tenure of a pastor in a growing church in the states is 14 years. We MUST revisit the idea of traditional furlough and figure out a solution!
3. We must go to the field in teams! It is Biblical! In the Book of Acts, the apostles when out in teams. Paul did not travel alone; he took helpers. We cannot (sometimes literally) leave these missionaries alone on an island and expect results.
4. It is high time American pastors and church members stopped holding missionaries to a standard that they themselves do not hold. God never gave us the ability to humanly manufacture results. God gives the increase. Also, lets not forget that we in the states expect missionaries to do all of this on a shoe string budget while we Americans sit in our plush offices, driving our fancy cars, sitting on our fat wallets.