I've recently been talking with a "native" missionary about new Christian movements in his homeland. While in past centuries we might send a missionary from England or the U.S. to locations all over the globe, now we find leadership is best developed "in country." The person may study elsewhere, but intentionally returns to their native land. Rather than send a white missionary who would be high cost (of time and energy to learn new language and new culture, plus the annual costs of such a person or family) and high risk (ever wondered how many missionaries make it more than 5 years? how fluent could anyone become in a language and culture in 5 years? does the outsider do more harm than good?), the movement has been toward developing culturally appropriate investment in leadership.
My missionary friend is a leader with "contextually appropriate" Christianity in his nation. No one is content with merely adopting western Christianity methods, values, and approaches. Instead, how is the Kingdom expressed, the Scripture shared in the language of the people, and the way of Christ lived out in ways that make sense to the tribe or people or culture. For instance, does a sermon or study illustration of baseball make sense in the land of cricket? Is Sunday School mandatory in a place that might find other educational and small group approaches appropriate? Would you build a large building for every "church" (i.e. gathring of believers) or might some other forms of gathering for worship and study be most appropriate?
Imagine a place that is perhaps 2.5% Christian with a long tradition of another major religion and subcultures galore. Think of large crowds and basic preaching and teaching. Imagine a pervasive poverty and as you piece this together you get better views of the life of missionaries all over the world. Think of the early days of Christianity, or pre-denomination, and you get the picture of some of his work on the frontier.
We had a fascinating conversation pursuing this topic of "new missions" which makes use of "local wisdom" and engages in a new partnership beyond the old colonial approaches. Unfortunately the old denominational approach handed down by the colonial powers in Africa and Asia has succeeded, in many places, in merely handing down a systemic corruption and weak church which is in decline. He said that one problem of the denominations in his country is that they have trouble because they have too much property! The old line churches can't attend to the spiritual and respond to the work of God in appropriate ways in that setting as they must keep up with the buildings, the administration, the programs, and the financing of the institutions.
Now, this guy isn't a negative, gloom and doom type by any means, but is a thoughtful leader in both the national and international movement of Christianity. As we spoke my mind spun with the implications both there and here.
Some countries and some movements in Christianity are "coming into their own" now as they enter the 30-50 year time period after power has been handed over. Not all escape the "colonial hangover," and exciting things are happening as a contextually appropriate Christianity emerges. Now this is not without difficulties as my missionary friend expressed both the highs and lows of this emerging movement. Some of what he described sounded like the churches in the earliest days that Paul addressed in some of his New Testament writings. One challenge has been the importation of the "prosperity gospel," which in a land of poverty is an alluring message that can draw a crowd and detract from the Christian message. The challenge is to express an incarnational Christian message, in word and deed, that is appropriate to a culture or subculture and which helps the Kingdom of God to come alive today. So, my friend looks for "redemptive analogies" which connects the words of Scripture with his context so that people might respond to the true Good News.
This isn't a new partnership, and we'll continue to explore what it means to be intentionally interdependent as we express what it means to be the Body of Christ which breaks through nationality and culture. These MUST BE the most exciting days to be alive and work in the Kingdom as God seems to be doing so many new things!
P.S. I've been studying John 4 this week.