Developing Indigenous Leaders: Lessons in Missions for Buddhist Asia

by Paul H. De Neui, ed.

William Carey Library, 1605 E. Elizabeth Street, Pasadena, CA 91104, 229 pages, 2013, $17.99.

Reviewed by Michael Lee, an ordained minister, and PhD candidate (ICS) and teaching fellow at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.

Discussions on contextualization, partnership, and local empowerment are well-worn paths in contemporary missiological discourse. However, in more places than not, these promising ideas have yet to be realized in visible, sustainable movements. The challenge of developing indigenous leaders in Buddhist Asia is the focus of this tenth volume in the SEANET (South, East, South-East and North Asia Network) series. In this largely cohesive collection of ten essays, I appreciate what appears to be a concerted effort to assemble perspectives from a multiplicity of locales within Buddhist Asia.

In the opening chapter, Russell Bowers suggests that there ought to be more emphasis on what Christian leaders are for, rather than what we are against. This positive posture is not just a restraint from voicing negative judgments, but also extends to affirming the good that exists in other religions. In chapter 2, Steve Evans explores the differences between oral-circular and linear-abstract cultures. Chronological Bible Storying is presented as an effective training approach, adapted to the needs of oral cultures. In chapter 3, Mitsuo Fukuda advocates “Asian family type” training in developing leaders in the Japanese house church movement whereby empowerment and reproducible discipleship (always with the fourth generation disciple in sight) are the central thrusts.  

Both Carolyn Johnson and J.N. Manokaran (chapters 4 and 6) advise that an informal, mentor-apprenticeship model of leadership development, focusing on spiritual formation and skill development, is an effective, culturally and pragmatically sensible approach where material resources and education opportunities are relatively scarce (Northeast Thailand and neo-Buddhists in India). Similarly, in chapter 5, David Lim describes a decentralized, non-formal disciple-maker training program (Transformational Leadership Development) in the Philippines that prioritizes simplicity, relationships, practicality, context, and participation.

In chapters 7 and 8, Chansamone Saiyasak and Alex Smith speak of Thai cultural expectations and values in leadership, although Saiyasak’s approach involves largely following these cultural cues in leadership selection and development. Smith seems more careful in noting the limits of cultural accommodation. My conclusion is that the book as a whole might have been strengthened by including more substantial discussion on this counter-tension. Smith also argues that the key to growth in rural central Thailand resides in training unpaid indigenous lay pastors and not pushing for ordained, salaried, seminary-trained pastors.

In chapter 9, G.P.V. Somaratna recounts how Buddhist monks in Sri Lanka have recast their societal, priestly roles in the mold of Roman Catholic priests in order to “combat Christian influence.” This chapter felt somewhat out of place in this volume, as it does not seem to speak much of developing Christian leaders. Finally, given the inseparability of Buddhism and national identity in Myanmar, Peter Nyunt concludes the book, arguing that the future effectiveness in mission among Buddhists will hinge on facilitating contextual conversions and forming contextual congregations that can advance an indigenous movement.  

It is not just those focused on Buddhist Asia who will benefit from this volume. The lessons and helpful suggestions shared should stimulate thought and reflection on developing leaders in other contexts.


EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 114-116. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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