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Copyright for the journal © 2005
M. S. Thirumalai
CULTURAL REALITIES AND TRENDS IN MISSIONS
An Informal Report by a Team of Missionary Trainers
Some of us who are life-long missions and Christian workers have been concerned with the following questions for some time now.
- What is the current and future role for North Americans in missions?
- As we move to the future, what kind of training do we need to be giving North Americans who will be going to the 'least reached'?
- What roles will they play?
- What entry points will they have?
Will they be street evangelists, church planters, crusade preachers, English teachers,
- water-project workers, trainers, etc.
- Are some of these roles simply a thing of the past?
- What will it take for us to train a new generation of young people to become servant leaders in order to work with Christ and His Body to disciple the least reached peoples of the world?
Serious questions, indeed!
When we do research and assess current mission literature, the most recent books, and the latest journals, we realize that the above questions can be answered by raising and answering the question, "What are the cultural realities and trends in missions today?"
The answer to that question will not only help in answering the above questions but should also contribute to finding answers to other ones, such as: Do students need some of the things we currently teach, or are there things that we don't teach that they will need? For example, do we need to train people to do street drama for Trek, or should we quit doing Trek altogether? Do we need to train people to do 3-point expository sermons, or is a different public speaking style demanded?
- With the end of the Cold War, new/old nationalism has emerged. People are again defining themselves by their national/tribal/cultural identity. This has led to the emergence of leaders and groups who call for a return to a "pure" form of their culture or religion and the removal of foreign influences that weaken their identity and purity.
- Jihadi Islamists
- Re-emergence of nationalism in the Balkans
- Neo-Gaulism in France
- Hindu radicalism in India
- Continued tribal strife in Africa
- A growing resistance to globalization is primarily seen as the domination of the non-Western world by the West. But even more than the West, America is singled out as the global oppressor, dominating the world with its McDonalds, its Coca-Cola, its MTV, its movies, and its values (or lack thereof). Our economic and financial policies are seen as the means to our end of stealing the world's resources to keep us rich and the rest of the world poor. The G-8 meetings on global trade are becoming increasingly divided between the Western and non-Western agendas.
- Some of the consequences of globalization are:
- Almost universal access to technology and information.
- The spread of free-market capitalism to nearly every country in the world, often in its worst form (Filipino women earning $1/ hour in making Nike shoes that sell for $100.00).
- "Culturally speaking, globalization is largely, though not entirely, the spread of Americanization…on a global scale." (Thomas Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree, 1999, p. 8.)
- The entire world is "wired" in the sense that the Internet, satellite television, etc. have "democratized" the world, enabling unprecedented access for communication and information across nations and cultures. This has worked both ways. The Internet feeds the reform movement among Iranian students while it also enables Al Qaida to spread its propaganda to its cells around the world.
- A growing anti-Americanism, which will greatly hinder Americans working in certain parts of the world.
- From State-sponsored terrorism, we have now entered the age of global terrorism organized by groups which are more anarchic, and do not have respect for human life. The reality after the 9/11 attack is that missions and missionaries are at greater risk now than since the beginning of the modern missionary movement. And to what extent does the U.S. either bother itself with the threat to missionary lives or abet in their persecution?
- All this has resulted in dramatic changes in the attitudes towards long-term missions in the hearts of parents.
- While it is too early to really quantify, this has also resulted in a growing loss of interest in long-term missions among young people. Such a decrease was already noticed even before 9/11, but 9/11 seems to have consolidated this trend.
- On the other hand, short-term missions and support for short-term relief work, especially organized by the churches and special agencies, seem to be more popular than ever after 9/11.
- This has also resulted in the recognition of the need for prayer in such adverse circumstances, and this in turn has resulted in a greater interest in the study of the Bible and the pursuit of spiritual disciplines.
- While anti-American feelings are not new, the recent trends in change of attitudes among the non-Americans appear to be different from the trend that we noticed during the Cold War. In the past, while many nations officially took anti-American positions, most people around the world wished to develop inter-personal relations with the American people. However, in the recent years, the trend seems to be rather reversed. Most nations wish to develop good relations with the USA for economic reasons, but the people of these nations, especially those sections who may never have an opportunity to work or study or experience America in some manner, have begun to exhibit strong prejudices against USA. Missions in this context become more difficult than in the past.
- It appears that the level of acceptance of the existence of absolute moral truth in the United States has decreased after the 9/11. For example, according to the Barna Research Group: "At the start of 2000, almost four out of ten adults (38%) said that there are absolute moral truths that do not change according to the circumstances. When the same question was asked in the just completed survey (after 9/11), the result was that just two out of ten adults (22%) claimed to believe in the existence of absolute moral truth." In other words, the slide that we noticed before 9/11 continued to accelerate, not decelerate in America. This percolates down to young people, and this acts as a damper for long-term missions commitment.
- Reports indicate that financial support for long-term missions work since 9/11 appears to be dwindling. While money poured in easily for relief work for the victims of 9/11, it is reported by several people interviewed by the Christian Chronicle that "donations to international radio ministry have declined since the attacks." On the other hand, support for short-term mission trips for two or three weeks seems to have increased. American woes with current stock market uncertainties were also considered responsible for the decline in support.
- Reports also indicate that emphasis on the local church in the 90's as the only hope for the future of Christianity in America may have also contributed to the waning interest and support for long-term missions.
- Bruce McDowell wrote a significant article in which he correctly pointed out, "Most Christians are not seeking to take unnecessary physical risks in their service to God. However, when they see the eternal value of what God has called them to do, the risks seem small in comparison." Perhaps, our training needs to impart this element more than ever.
- Slavery is at its highest level in world history (PBS, Frontline, 2003):
- Forced labor as a bi-product of illegal immigration (to pay for their transport into the U.S., they are forced to give their earnings to the "coyote.")
- Conquest and subjugation (Sudan, etc.)
- Sex slaves (Eastern Europe, Latin America, Japan, Philippines)
THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH - WORLDWIDE
- Since the 1980's the number of Christians in the non-Western world exceeds those in the West.
- Europe/North America - 750 million (39%)
- Non-Western world - 1.2 billion (61%). (AD 2000 statistics)
- There are now more missionaries sent out from the non-Western world than from the West. But as Paul Strand observes: "The day of the white missionary is not over. We are still needed and mostly still wanted. In many cases our roles will be better defined." Yet, in North America we are not recruiting enough missionaries to replace those retiring from the field. Thus, we are seeing an overall decrease in missionary sending by the North American church. (Hwa Yung, taking his data from Operation World, 1993, taken from his EMQ, Jan. 2004 article). Mr. Yung and others believe the Western church will turn increasingly inward as it faces an increasingly hostile social and cultural environment.
- One of the effects of globalization is that the American church still exercises an inordinate influence on the world church. Theologies born in America (Toronto Blessing, IHOP, Vineyard, etc.) rapidly spread across the globe. One of the expectations has been that non-Western theologies and theologians would begin to shape the global church; this is not yet occurring. We need another Watchman Nee, (one researcher wrote), who comes out of the East to remind us of the great promises of the Gospel and the need for spiritual reality, and warns us of the dangers of spiritual presumption, who presents to us a new and larger vision of the church, not grounded in doctrines but grounded in the reality of Christ. We, the presenters of this report, however, earnestly believe, while acknowledging, welcoming and recognizing the possibilities of contributions from around the world, that the Lord Jesus Christ has His hand upon the American Church, and that the American Church will continue to redefine itself effectively,.
- Christian books, music CD's, and theological trends born in the U.S. spread like wildfire across the globe, and influence belief and practice. One of the tendencies of American theology (as in American culture) is to promote the ways that lead to success, fulfillment, and happiness with the least amount of effort or sacrifice. One of the "red flags" associated with the Toronto Blessing was its claim that in this new era, the message to the church is "The Joy of the Lord is your strength." They claimed to be done with the old somber Christianity to usher in a day of laughter and intoxication with God.
- Mike Wakely, former OM missionary in Pakistan, catalogued what he called the search for the "Golden Key" to world evangelization. Only one of these golden keys did not come from the American church. It seems to be a propensity of ours to package and promote even theology in the most attractive manner possible even though the ideas are often untested and unproven. Some of his examples are:
- Radical contextualization among Muslims (worked in Bangladesh, didn't work in Pakistan, and so far it is not working among Hindus).
- Strategic-level Spiritual Warfare. Obviously prayer and spiritual warfare are good, but are they the magic formula for world evangelization?
- Revivalism. We have a bit more history with this key, and yes, the great revivals have changed not only their home countries but contributed to the advance of missions in the last 200 years. But as J. Edwin Orr writes, "Finney's theories (of manufacturing revival) have not always worked in times of spiritual decline." In other words, revival is a key, but we don't necessarily control it.
- Power Evangelism. Mike Wakely comments: "Wimber and the healing evangelists fail to mention adequately the people who grab the miracles and then reject the gospel, or the huge number who experience no miracles. In those popular meetings follow-up is usually woefully inadequate, and there is almost nothing left to be seen once the healing circus has left town." (Wakely, 19) It is not that we shouldn't believe God for miracles, but they aren't a short cut to world evangelization.
- We need to be aware of the role we play in the world church, we have the capacity to package and promote our ideas, at times beyond their merit. It is not that we shouldn't exert an influence, but it must be measured and it must be mature. We have been guilty of being one of the greatest "wind generators" in the history of Christianity. "As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine." (Eph. 4:14)
THE NEED TO DEVELOP A THEOLOGY OF SUFFERING AND SACRIFICE
A message that came across repeatedly in articles on the future of missions was the need to develop a theology of suffering and sacrifice. There will be (is) increasing hostility toward Jesus in the world. Many will be hostile in the name of religion, so more frequently danger will be part of life. Also there are many places where America is hated. So, security issues will be greater. This will naturally lead to greater persecution, imprisonment and martyrdom of missionaries.
Like the missionary training courses now being taught in China, we may need to start teaching skills that are specific to that situation. At least we must be careful to draw attention to the real issues and have our students read the recent accounts of those who are suffering for the sake of the Gospel. If there is one thing the non-Western church can teach us in the West, it is "Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you," (I Peter 4:12). Dr. Charles Amjad-Ali of Pakistan somberly reminds us, "For you Americans, becoming a Christian is a minor inconvenience, for us in the Muslim world, it is the Cross!"
COUNTRIES THAT SHOW MANIFEST HOSTILITY OR RESISTANCE TO ROBUST AND PUBLIC CHRISTIAN WITNESS
The following is a list of countries that are hostile, on one level or another, to Christian witness and/or evangelism:
Name of Country Predominate
Religion % of Evangelical Christians
Afghanistan Muslim—98% .02
Algeria Muslim—97% .02
Azerbaijan Muslim—84% .07
Bangladesh Muslim—86% .05
Bhutan Buddhist—72% .4
Brunei Muslim—64% 5
China* Confucianism—29% 7
Comoro Islands Muslim—98% .2
Cuba Catholic—40% 5
Egypt Muslim—87% .1
India* Hindu—80% 2.4
Indonesia* Muslim—80% 9
Iran* Muslim—99% .02
Iraq* Muslim—97% .04
Kuwait Muslim—87% .7
Laos Buddhist—61% 1.2
Libya Muslim—97% .1
Malaysia Muslim—58% 4.2
Maldives Muslim—99% .1
Mauritania Muslim—99.8% .02
Morocco Muslim—99.9% .01
Myanmar Buddhist—83% 7
Nepal Hindu—75% 2
Nigeria Muslim—41% 34
North Korea* Atheist—80% 1.5
Oman Muslim—93% .2
Pakistan* Muslim—96% 1.6
Qatar Muslim—79% 3.3
Saudi Arabia* Muslim
Somalia Muslim—99.95% 0
Sri Lanka Buddhist—72% 1.45
Sudan* Muslim—65% 3.2
Syria Muslim—90.3% .2
Tajikistan Muslim—90% .06
Tunisia Muslim—99.7% 0
Turkey Muslim—99.6% .05
Turkmenistan Muslim—92% .02
United Arab Emirates Muslim—65% .6
Uzbekistan Muslim—84% .35
Vietnam* Buddhist—84% 1.5
Yemen Muslim—99.94% 0
* Indicates strongest
opposition to Christian conversion
(The information above is taken from the latest edition of Operation World and the Voice of the Martyrs web page.)
We need to ask the following questions:
- What are we doing to prepare future missionaries to work in such countries?
- Have we "counted the cost" of sending our graduates into places where being a Christian and/or a Westerner is risky in and of itself?
THE AMERICAN CHURCH
- Future missionaries that come from the American church may be described:
- More relational than previous generations, thus more open to operate in a team context and more orientated to community.
- Because of post-modern/relativistic influences, find focus, commitment, and strong convictions difficult.
- Marked by a search for significance, hope, and love (all key aspects of the Gospel).
- The emphasis in short-term missions in the churches reflects a move away from seeing the task as the fulfillment of the Great Commission to providing young people with a "missions experience."
- Samuel Escobar's assessment of the American church in his message at the Iguassu conference in 1999 is that American culture is becoming increasingly hostile to Christianity, thus the church faces growing opposition to its ministry. In turn, America is becoming more of a mission field; thus the church must put more emphasis on evangelism.
- Trends in the American church:
- Tendency toward Mega-churches
- Becoming increasing Charismatic/Pentecostal
- De-emphasis on teaching and exegesis, and more oriented to narrative (story) and topical messages
- Movement toward more mystical and symbolic forms of worship
- "Traditional" culture and "Modernity". Often western missionaries are more interested in retaining/reviving the traditional cultural expressions of a community than those in the community. The real issue is control/authority. The exotic tends to be more interesting, but may not reflect where the culture is or is moving.
- With the shift of the Evangelical center, western interpretations may be the ones viewed as syncretistic.
- No culture is perceived as neutral politically. One must be aware of the consequences of one's nationality.
- Quantitative measures of missiological construct (showing the relationship between variables of indigeneity and contextualization) have revealed that greater contextualization suggests less syncretism, not the other way around.
- ALL academic disciplines need to be thought of in a global context [Missions is everywhere ...].
MISSION TRENDS AND NEEDS
Are all the trends just presented and the following ones all current trends, or are many just trends that are being more clearly seen and understood? Whichever it is, key trends in missions today present some interesting facts as well as questions. Also, when discussing mission trends, to what point does the condition of the American culture and church affect what is concluded as the latest mission trends today?
'Orality' and Missions
One new trend that has taken off in the last 2-5 years is the issue of "orality" and missions. It is good to remember that the first tradition that saw the greatest expansion of the church was among people of an oral tradition. The2/3 world mission movement is peopled by thousands of men and women who are illiterate to semi-literate. Paul McKaughan observes that in training we get enamored with technology when over 2/3 of the world's populations has yet to make their first phone call.
70-80% of the world population prefers learning by oral methods. But what do seminaries and Bible colleges do about this? The more literate we become, the less understanding we have of those who are Primary Oral Learners (POL). Higher education has separated us from the vast majority of people. Not being able to make a good preaching outline doesn't mean that a person cannot be a fantastic story teller. Jesus was the ultimate example of telling stories. Chronological Bible Storying (CBS) is accelerating the response to the Gospel. Commitments made to the Lord after watching the Jesus Film in an Albanian blitz mission trip were doubled in the places where the OT stories were taught via CBS the week before. It will be sometime before the results of The Passion of the Christ are in. It is obvious, however, that people around the world are always moved by the story of Jesus Christ, if narrated in a fitting manner using the most effective medium, which happens to be the oral medium for the vast majority of the unreached and the least peoples around the world.
Other benefits of orally 'storying' the message include the absence of highly incriminating literature in restricted countries. Natural group leaders can become spiritual leaders without being required to learn the 'foreign' language of literature. It is also more naturally done around a meal, around a basketball court and doesn't need good lighting, nor eyeglasses! It is highly reproducible as it does not rely on literacy skills, not on pastoral degree, nor on funds for literature.
It seems that the only people who were training men and women in the technical requisites for building coalitions was Interdev, who have since given up their training programs. Perhaps someone needs to take the materials they were using and adapt them. We need to train people in the skills necessary to foster collaboration and partnerships.
CHANGING ETHNICITY OF AMERICA AND MISSIONS
We need to take a closer look at the changing ethnicity of America and its implications for missions abroad. Can we take advantage of the various Christian ethnic groups from Asia, Africa, and Latin America and get them involved in missions in their original native lands? How do we incorporate this in our missions training and enrollment for training?
It is vital that the Great Commission and the Great Commandment go together. Few are helping prospective missionaries to see how that can happen. Yet, there is a movement toward 'word & deed' both among those who have historically emphasized proclamation and among others who have given import to demonstration. Some basic skills in community development (and developing ours more effectively) would serve a future missionary very well.
Quite a bit of literature is already available on this subject. There is also an article which Clive Calver and Galen Carey just wrote on the subject of Caring for the Vulnerable. It will be published as part of a compendium being put together by NAE as part of the Evangelical Public Engagement project. One of the necessary elements for an effective holistic ministry is unbounded love for God and His creation. How do we re-orient our Practical Training to impart this love for God and His deprived creation?
ADULT LEARNING COMPETENCIES
People so often go to the field or come back from the West, with notebooks full; then both missionaries and nationals repeat these same notes over and over. It's not really needs-based, or very interactive in its application.
Research not only shows that worship tops the list of important church-based experiences but it also points out that we need to emphasize the development of spiritual maturity at an early age. Worship also is the most influential part of church growth in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
How do we integrate worship into our curriculum? Offering courses in worship may not be the most effective way of handling it. We need to find a way to accomplish this through a process of integration, not by just offering separate courses in worship.
TRAINING IN THE USE OF MASS COMMUNICATION
More people around the world come to hear the name of Jesus Christ through the messages that are broadcast, telecast or printed, using mass communication strategies. How do we train our missionary students in using such mass communication?
ISSUES RELATING TO SOCIAL JUSTICE
Publications indicate that more and more people around the world look to Christians for social justice, and to show love to people groups. Action-oriented programs to bring social justice are much stronger among the NGOs belonging to the mainline denominations. However, at the ground level, even evangelists, itinerant preachers and village pastors are being approached by the newly converted and by those who are seeking Jesus for help in procuring social justice. This is a growing trend. But we do not approach this issue in our training anywhere.
SOUND BIBLE TEACHING
Research indicates that a Biblical world-view has a radical effect on a person's life in America (Barna group materials). At the same time research also indicates, unfortunately, that "only half of the Protestant pastors have a biblical worldview." Thus, the students we try to train as future missionaries need to be grounded in Bible teaching and a biblical worldview. Bible teaching must not be diminished. And we need to not only find ways to give our future missionaries a much greater and bolder exposure to the Bible but give them the tools to discern what teachings are biblical.
THE POWER OF HIS RESURRECTION
There has never been a time before or since Jesus walked on this earth that holiness and power for service were never needed. To be holy as God is holy is a mandate for every Christian. And to teach and live in the truth and reality of being dead to sin, the law and the world and alive unto God in union with Christ is a mandate that we all believe in. With the evidentiary need of seminary, Bible college and church people to live a genuine life of holiness as one abides in the truth of the gospel and Vine, our role in this must increase instead of decrease.
Power for service is mandatory for any believer. We also have the responsibility to teach and help students walk in the reality of that power. This goes beyond encouraging people to prophecy, or speak in tongues, to living in the power of the Spirit in ministry.
A PERSONAL AND GROWING RELATIONSHIP WITH THE LORD JESUS CHRIST
The spiritually mature apostle wrote to the Philippians that one of his goals was "to know Him" (Phil.3:10a)-not just 'about Him.' How do we develop and encourage the maintenance of this personal relationship now and beyond our training process? This is a major issue, and we need to weave this into the very fabric and fiber of all that is part of the students' lives during their time with us.
Paul Strand, a life-long senior missionary to Indonesia, oobserves:
All of these issues cry for more careful attention, on the part of the trainers, to the development of the spiritual lives of the missionary trainees. More intentional mentoring involving scheduled time is called for. In fact, the discussion here at Fuller is that to make it work, that is to really prepare people for ministry, far more than their knowledge must be enhanced. You don't develop by reading and talking about it. Spiritual disciplines must be practiced, scheduled and required both corporately and individually:
Learning to hear God's voice and journaling each time; Learning to pray and spend required time doing it both in prayer meetings and alone; Ministering to each other on and off campus; Spiritual retreats for extended hours focusing on worship, prayer alone, and in small groups. Faculty participation required for all of these exercises. They have come to realize that the students always notice, which faculty attends and which misses. It has an impact on students because they always tend to imitate the practices and the values of those who teach them. The thinking is that just as there are many hours of required labs in the sciences at universities, which require a disproportionate amount of time for the credit received, so it is with these "spiritual labs."
An Informal Note prepared for group discussions.
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WHERE ARE THE CHILDREN? | CULTURAL REALITIES AND TRENDS IN MISSIONS - An Informal Report by a Team of Missionary Trainers | AT THE SCENT OF WATER - Linda Nichols' Writing Mission | CHRISTIAN MATURITY - GLIMPSES FROM 2 PETER | SHAPED BY GOD | WHAT GOOD IS YOUR SCRIPTURE ALONE THEORY?
A Timely Book by James R. White | HOME PAGE | CONTACT EDITOR
Ed Dudek; Steve Eliason; Carol Freeman; Mike Leeming; Tom Shetler; and M. S. Thirumalai
Bethany College of Missions
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