Complexities of Money and Missions in Asia

by Paul H. De Neui, editor

SEANET Series, vol. 9. William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 2012, xiv+156 pages, $15.99.

Reviewed by Edwin R. Zehner, Department of Sociology and Anthropology, Westmont College, Santa Barbara, California.

This volume asks what levels of missionary living and organizational expenditure best aid effectiveness while avoiding dependency and overly lavish operations. It also asks how to address cross-cultural value differences between mission and church partners. Although primarily referencing Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Cambodia, the discussions potentially have broader relevance.

In the volume, G.P.V. Somaratne notes Sri Lankan Buddhists’ concerns that Christians’ greater access to outside financial resources gives them an unfair advantage in competing for adherents. OMF missionary Alex Smith, referencing experiences in Thailand, illustrates that local cultural patterns must be kept in mind when deciding on personal charitable outlays. He also shares why consultation with local cultural brokers may be necessary when making these decisions, and that sometimes the roles most appropriate for missionaries are different from those played by local cultural patrons.

Mary Lederleitner highlights the complexities of negotiating expectations across culture and class boundaries. She calls for a process of “sharing deeply, suspending judgment, and listening” in such a way that “the whole of a situation can be brought into the open, and practitioners can begin to grasp their [ministry] partner’s experiences and context” (p. 99). David Lim similarly calls for an atmosphere of mutuality and for “the willingness of each [partner] to plan, budget, and discuss all matters openly and honestly” (p. 139). By contrast, Paul De Neui discusses traditional patron-client systems as potential models for ministry. His suggestion overlaps Smith’s mention of potential clientele expectations (e.g., p. 34), but with some important differences.

I agree with De Neui and Smith on keeping culture in mind; however, doing so raises complexities. For example, the honest mutuality urged by Lederleitner and Lim may fit westerners’ expectations better than the more indirect style preferred by local partners. Also, I join Smith in urging caution when taking on patron-client relationships, even though they are often at the heart of how church-mission relations work.

In Thailand, hierarchical ministry relations often involve hopes for reliable ministerial and instructional support rather than simply desires for money. Therefore, just as Smith notes on the personal level (see p. 34), local churches often expect overseas partner-benefactors to commit long term. Such partners should also distinguish their support from attempts to control, as only the former is culturally appropriate. Finally, cultural outsiders should take special care that changes in support are truly negotiated since local partners may be culturally unaccustomed to stating their expectations directly (see p. 102).

There is potential to take all these discussions much further. It would be nice, for example, to hear the voices of more Asian church leaders, even if via translation of oral remarks. It would also be beneficial to see interview and survey data exploring local leaders’ perceptions of mission lifestyles, asking how unequal access to external funding may be affecting local relations, and investigating ways that local churches are responding to such issues. Many Asian Christians and resident missionaries already have the skills to pursue such questions. Perhaps the results will appear in future SEANET volumes.

Check these titles:
Kumalo, Simangaliso. 2011. “Missions Are Money and Money Is Missions: Methodist Ecclesiology in South Africa, 1872–2004.” Studia Historiae Ecclesiasticae 37(2): 1–17. Open-source peer-reviewed journal hosted by the University of South Africa. Accessed May 15, 2012, from
Lederleitner, Mary. 2010. Cross-cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
Wilson, Douglas O. 2004. Field Statement #1 Submitted to Dr. Priest in the Form of a Course Syllabus on Missions and Money. Developed as part of graduate coursework at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Accessed May 15, 2012, from


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 500-503. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…

Upcoming Events