by Joseph D’Souza
We need to review how we recruit and send national workers.
A number of societies only allow a husband and father (i.e. the family head) to participate in the decision-making process in religious and cultural matters. How do these societies react to foreign single young men and women who tell them about religious and cultural realities? Do they tolerate and hear if the messenger is a white person? What kind of a hearing would he or she get?
What if the single person is their own national? What credibility does he or she have? The question becomes pertinent if nationals in the 10/40 Window are church planting among their own people. Young, single nationals are great at communicating the gospel to other young people. But young, single men and women are not decision-makers in Hindu and Muslim societies.
Even if they make a decision about their own religious convictions, they do not have much impact on the family or social group. If young, single converts to the Christian faith are extracted from their families and societies, we create further barriers and negative attitudes in the societies concerned. We can forget about establishing viable, growing churches within a people group if extraction is going on. So-called churches, fellowship groups, or prayer groups made up of "fringe" people make little or no long-term impact on the people group of an area. Fringe people are those who, by definition, have little or no say in the decision-making process within a social group or family.
The point is to take a fresh look at the recruiting and training strategies of national missionary movements. A goal like raising up 250,000 single young men and women for missions in India will not make much difference to long-term church planting among unreached people groups for the first 10 to 15 years. It will take about that long for the adult decision-makers in society to take them seriously. If these single men and women are untrained, immature, and do not know how to build credibility, a potentially open group can become a hostile, closed group. This is not uncommon.
We need to review how we recruit and send national workers. Young, single missionaries are good for presenting, proclaiming and informing people about the good news. They can also help where indigenous church planting and church growth movements are already taking place. But they are ill-equipped to break new ground. They are ill-suited to bring long-term change in any social group.
National movements like Operation Mobilization, which primarily recruit young people, are crucial in presenting the gospel to the immense numbers who need to hear it. Such movements also make a key contribution in training young people to become mature long-term workers in a cross-cultural society. But they have definite limitations.
We need a new breed of mature, experienced people who have some social standing. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels and Acts shows that the majority of missionaries were either family heads or established adults in society. The Gospels and Acts deal with Asian societies, and these societies have not changed much in the way they function, whether in South Asia, Central Asia, or China. Perhaps this is one reason Jesus waited 30 years before launching into his own cultural context.
While in the West young people have as much, if not more, power to bring about change than family heads, in traditional societies, the crucial decision makers are still family heads. It seems we have copied an alien model of recruiting and sending without adequate attention to our context. Christian society in India is more Western in its upbringing and thinking than other segments of society. This may have something to do with the recruiting and sending strategy of mission agencies.
Directly recruiting family heads for missionary work is difficult and costly. Moving families across cultures is hard. Supporting families in mission work is expensive. But these family heads have age and experience on their side. They have skills and competencies which can be profitably used in their new culture. With proper training in cross-cultural work they will know what to do to enter a society and establish a church-planting movement. Missions history reveals that there is never a shortcut to long-term church growth.
A fresh look at missionary recruiting will also give us the opportunity to consider the professional as well as the dual-profession missionary. A dual-profession missionary is a lay person who has a secular job and lives among an unreached people group, but is recruited specifically to start a church among the group. There are many mature, committed Christians working among unreached peoples. New mission structures will be required to handle these recruits, but we must build them if we are to penetrate traditional societies.
Joseph D’Souza is chair of the All India Christian Council and director of Operation Mobilization India.
EMQ, Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 156-157. Copyright © 2000 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.