by I. Ben Wati
There is a Chinese proverb that says: “If you are planning for a year, plant rice; if you are planning for ten years, plant trees; if you are planning for a hundred years, plant men.”
There is a Chinese proverb that says: "If you are planning for a year, plant rice; if you are planning for ten years, plant trees; if you are planning for a hundred years, plant men."
Most of us have plans for a year. Some of us have plans for the next five years. But few probably have any idea what they expect to do for the next decade. And it is doubtful that anyone of us has given thought to 2067 A.D. The only time I have been in on such long-range planning was at the Union Biblical Seminary in Yeotmal over ten years ago, where it was said: "We are building the seminary for one hundred years!"1
Yesterday the foreign missionary in India was a pioneer evangelist, a guide, and director to an emerging mission church. Today he is a fraternal worker and a colleague of the national church leader. And tomorrow? Will tomorrow come for the foreign missionary? Is it possible that missions may have reached a saturation point in India?
Only four years ago, speaking at Mahableshwar to a group of missionary language students, I tried to impress upon them that they were in India for the next forty years, and so they might as well settle down and get the language. But the worldshaking events of our time make me wonder if the short-term missionary is not now the answer.
The fact that a number of missionaries in India are seconded or on loan from one mission to another, or from one project to another, seems to indicate that the identity of a given missionary body is changing perceptibly. The idea of a united mission appears more challenging, whereby a certain project is visibly attempted. In India the days of church planting through missions are practically over.
And so these are days of deep questioning for the foreign missionary who is sensitive to the new situation. Even mission leaders are seeking for a new strategy and for theological clarity as they did in Wheaton at the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission. Certainly a deeper theological understanding will contribute to a fuller obedience of the Great Commission. And yet other missionaries are going ahead with their assigned duties, asking no questions and seeking no answers, sending regular routine reports and enjoying a peace that not only passeth understanding, but rests upon very little understanding of the present moment.
It is an unsavory fact that most missions are painfully slow to move with the times. For the last twenty years it has been said again and again that with political independence the church in India should assume a new role. Precious little was done to implement it. It took the Chinese invasion of 1962 and the Pakistan war of 1965 to jolt the missionaries out of their complacency and start them talking again. Unfortunately, only external pressures seem to influence missionary thinking.
Ten years ago as I tried to expedite a missionary visa, the friendly official asked why we in India should depend on foreigners to run the church, and why Indians should not be given the responsibility, unless a person with a specialized stall was needed. After all, what has been done in the 100 to 150 years of missionary work to produce national leadership? Today the same questions are being asked, and rightly so.
Speaking in Wheaton at the Congress on the Church’s Worldwide Mission, Rev. R. P. Chavan said:
In the beginning, missionaries adopted operational policies to fit the colonial context of those days. They controlled everything . . . The Church had no voice. Now the situation has changed. The new Church has grown to maturity . . . . Missionaries should seek prayerfully to create leaders. Nationals are slow to take the responsibility. The preparing of spiritual leadership requires many hours of patient training, many tears, much prayer. Missionaries should not push responsibilities on untrained leaders and watch the results, saying, I am only a counsellor or advisor. The glory of the missionary is to prepare greatleaders in the church, and to work with them in full cooperation."2
VACUUM IN NATIONAL LEADERSHIP
It is true that in the large churches most of the bishops are Indians. However, the pressure of administration has given them little time to shepherd their flocks. Despite church union schemes, the Church in India has become an increasingly confused body, obsessed with authority and position within itself. It would seem that apart from learning and administrative ability, church leaders in India would need holiness of life and deep humility with pastoral zeal.
It is also true that among evangelicals several independent workers have been brought closer in fellowship through The Evangelical Fellowship of India Council of Evangelists. By God’s grace they are outstanding evangelists by any standard and are widely accepted all over India and abroad. But for such a time as this they are too few for the great, open doors of evangelism, and they have no time for pastoral care and teaching ministry. With the exception of one or two, most of the men in the EFI Council of Evangelists are not administrators and wield no influence in the important decisions of church councils or committees.
During the World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin one note which struck was that evangelists should become theologians and theologians evangelists. Assessing the situation today, we would like for all the top national church leaders to be spiritually revived men, and all our keenest evangelists to be good administrators, able to keep filing and accounting systems, and sparing some time for committees that need to hear their concerns and receive their counsel.
A vacuum in national leadership presents a great crisis in the Indian Church today, partly because no adequate training was started twenty years ago. A leader is not born overnight; normally it takes fifteen to twenty years to prepare a man for leadership.
GOD’S PLAN IS POSITIVE
I am trying to present a realistic picture. And I believe that in the providence of God the situation we face today will turn out to be for the best interests of the church in India. Whatever the situation today, we must accept it as God’s plan to make India’s church what it should be. Truly, God means it unto good.
Some years ago the church was described as "a witnessing, worshipping, suffering and expectant community." Perhaps India’s church is at least a worshipping community. It is our concern that it becomes a truly witnessing community. As for suffering, it is just around the corner; and one aspect of it will be to suffer from lack of leadership.
What’s the answer? Let us expose ourselves to some questions raised by Dr. H. Wilbert Norton at Wheaton:
Leadership determines objectives. Leadership is the activity of getting people to work together to achieve a common goal. The Apostle Paul recognized the meaning of true leadership: "And the things which thou bast heard of me among many witnesses the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also" (2 Tim. 2:2) . . . . Have we learned to define the roles and delegate authority trustingly and confidently in the development of the national churches (1 Cor. 4:17; Exod. 18:13-26; 2 Tim. 1:11; 2:13)? Are we teaching our colleagues how to complement one another in achieving our objectives? Are the processes o£ decision-making and problem analysis adequately outlined for implementation by those involved? What do we understand by communication and what kind of communication exists between us and the various groups and personalities, organizations, and governments involved in our field of service? Are we providing the motivation needed by the members of the body of Christ among whom and with whom we work (2 Tim. 3:10-14)?3
The answers are inherent in Norton’s questions, but unfortunately in a negative way. Generally speaking, missionaries and nationals, though "partners in obedience," have not been partners in planning and decision making. And many prayer meetings between them may not have produced the intercommunication indispensable between missionaries and nationals. Far years we have talked something like this: "Accelerate transfer of responsibility to the church; concentrate on the training of leaders; encourage local initiative; and transfer mission property to the church or to a responsible body." Today we can only repeat these with more urgency.
Today there is a great concern over the paucity of suitable men responding to the call of the ministry. Under the circumstances we should seriously consider part-time ordained ministry. This will mean calling upon responsible laymen to serve the church.
Mergers of theological institutions have been going on, and with the decline of qualified teachers from overseas, more of these may be reduced to the very minimum. Endowments for Christian workers’ training centers like Yeotmal is a must.
May I suggest that we consider using God’s talents not in planting rice for this year’s statistical report, but in planting trees (training men) to be used as pasts and pillars in the church for the next decade, and in planting men for national leadership for the next hundred years. It is not my purpose here to spell the "how", but I venture to mention one item. Missions and organizations may assist in this future planning by having a less rigid budget and providing more scholarships both for general and professional training to potential leaders. If budgets could be slanted less toward pet projects and more toward promoting national workers in study and travel within India and abroad, the result would be gratifying. Such investments would definitely lead to enriched experience, steadier confidence, and greater vision for God’s work in India. Management seminars and leadership training courses should be utilized to the utmost. Invest all you have in training people.
Today we repent, because we have majored in minors, and have left a vacuum in national leadership. Today we rejoice, because in God’s plan, less and less foreign missionaries will certainly mean more and more national workers. Today we are challenged, because the night is coming when no man can work, neither missionary nor national. Till then we occupy ourselves in the unfinished task in the strength of the Lord God, and we await God’s tomorrow.
1. Union Biblical Seminary started as a Free Methodist institution in 1937. It became a cooperating school in 1946. In 1953 it was constituted a Union with thirty-two students. It is the official ministerial training center for the twenty-two missions, churches, and organizations in the Union. Each has a voting member on the Board of Governors, supports the seminary financially, sends students, and furnishes faculty as needed. Cooperating bodies are: Free Methodist Mission, Berar-Khandesh Christian Conference, India Holiness Association, Christian and Missionary Alliance, Wesleyan Methodist Mission, World Gospel Mission, Central India Baptist Mission, Ohio Yearly Meeting of Friends Mission, Oriental Missionary Society, Evangelical Fellowship of India, General Conference Mennonite Mission, Mennonite Church in India, India Free Methodist Church, Alumni Association of Union Biblical Seminary, United Missionary Society, Bible and Medical Missionary Fellowship, Women’s Union Missionary Society, Indo-Burma Pioneer Mission, World Vision, Youth for Christ, Assemblies of God Mission, Church of God in South India.
2. The Church’s Worldwide Mission, Harold Lindsell ed. (Waco, Texas: Word Books), pp. 151, 160.
3. Ibid. pp. 187, 188.
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