by Jim Reapsome
All missionaries can be thankful for the research Larry Keyes had done on the exploding growth of the Third World missionary force (see pp. 216-224). We now have adequate documentation for a most significant trend in the missionary advance of the church worldwide.
All missionaries can be thankful for the research Larry Keyes had done on the exploding growth of the Third World missionary force. We now have adequate documentation for a most significant trend in the missionary advance of the church worldwide. It is possible that we have turned a corner in world evangelization.
Of course, this development poses many questions, some that involve our attitudes and some that involve future relations with the non-Western mission agencies. While we praise God for missionary growth overseas that is surpassing growth in North America, when the cheering subsides we may have to face up to the pride and superiority that too often have characterized Western efforts in the past. Thankfulness to God must be accompanied with humility and servanthood on our part.
This situation is not unlike that of U.S. businessmen, who have had to adjust to being outdistanced by both Europeans and Asians in some industries. Businessmen look at percentages of world markets. Mission agencies look at the world in some sense as a market, too. While competitiveness spurs growth in business, and in mission work, it can be detrimental as well. Not too many American businesses have been willing to learn from their overseas competitors. Will North American mission agencies behave any differently?
Related to the need for Western humility and servanthood is the need to acknowledge in North American churches the fact that Third World missionaries are on the move. Every missionary speaker, in schools and in churches, must convey the sense that world evangelization is not the sole burden of Western Christians. For too long we have denied North American churches systematic ministry from brothers and sisters overseas. If the field is the world, as we love to preach, then the laborers come from all over the world, too. We must learn how to receive. We must learn to confess that a Third World missionary is not only our equal, but our superior in many situations.
At the same time, we need not gloss over the growing pains of the Third World missionary movement. Keyes frankly admits problems, such as lack of support and a high one-term fall-out rate. But he is satisfied that the movement is maturing. The lack of adequate preparation is being overcome. These agencies are standing on their own feet and they want to work together, not only with other Third World agencies, but also with Western agencies.
This brings us to the crucial matter of cooperation. The West is the wrong place to look for models of missionary cooperation. There are more than 700 North American agencies working overseas, and nearly 600 of them have less than 100 workers. Proliferation and duplication abound. Add to this the fact that there are 368 Third World agencies in 57 different countries, which shows how monumental the task of cooperation will be. To be realistic, we must also throw into this mix the usual competitiveness between denominations, and the tensions between denominational and independent agencies.
Keyes calls for supportive partnership between North American and Third World agencies. He sees the need for conferences to plan global partnership. Partnership is one of those easy-to-say words that sounds great, like apple pie, mother, and the flag. Everyone likes to say they are for it; no one would dare say he is against it.
But what really happens when the chips are down? How often do North Americans really consult with Third World agencies? How often do they pay attention to the counsel of their national brothers when it comes to deciding what to do? Too often, the Westerners listen and then go their own way. Planning the work is still seen as something North Americans do better.
Cooperation cannot be decided at an international congress. If it is ever to be decided, it will be in the board rooms of North American agencies. But we suggest that before it is ever put on the agenda, time be taken to find and put on the mind of Christ. We must not fall into the trap of planning how to work out cooperative marketing agreements, treating the world mission of the church like an international business.
Some corporations have been smart enough to learn from the successful strategies of management in other countries. They have been forced to by the profit motive. Missionaries have no comparable motive, but a much higher one, namely, planting the flag for Jesus Christ and his church in every community around the World.
Let us pray that pride and competitiveness will not thwart the next great advance in the church’s world mission. Let us start to work now, to build on the facts that Keyes has compiled, to visit our Third World counterparts, to sit at their feet in their planning counsels, and to offer aid when and if it is requested.
What seems most sensible at this stage, in addition to the above, would be to find out in advance of I starting any new work, whether or not a Third World mission agency is already there or even thinking about starting in the same territory. When we look at our world maps in our home offices, stuck full of pins showing our work, we must also get some new pins for the Third World missionaries working side-by-side with us. That might be a modest step toward obeying our Lord’s command for unity and cooperation in his universal church.
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