The New Paternalism in World Christianity

You may be familiar with the old paternalism. A white European or American missionary evangelizing and church planting in a “heathen” nation, with the help of “native assistants.” These native Christians, who often go unnamed in missionary reports, will someday lead the churches in their homelands but somehow they are never quite ready to do so… according to their missionary patrons. The missionaries hang on to leadership and control of local ministries for longer than they should, either in an official capacity or unofficially as their foreign money continues to hold veto power over local initiatives even after the reins of leadership have been formally turned over. The missionaries may give lip service to putting local Christians in charge, but in reality they doubt whether the locals will really get it right. So they hang on to control just a bit longer. In Western missionary circles today, that kind of overt paternalism is frowned upon, even if it continues to exist in various, more subtle ways, than it did the 19th and 20th centuries.

Missionary in Northern Thailand, 1925
Missionary in Northern Thailand, 1925

But as the world has moved on from the era of European colonialism and the “white man’s burden,” new forms of paternalism are emerging. Issues of trust, power, and control are as relevant as ever in a globalized church where denominations and networks stretch across international boundaries and missionaries travel from everywhere to everyone, not just from the West to the rest.  Paternalism, in all its forms, hurts relationships, hinders healthy church growth, and dishonors God. Here are a few examples of the new paternalism in world Christianity.

Three Ways the Bible Re-Defines Leadership

It seems that every time you look at the news these days, there is another story of a fallen Christian leader. Leaders suffer moral failure for different reasons, and sometimes there are specific cultural dimensions that have contributed to that failure. In a number of cultures around the world, false beliefs about gaining and retaining honor compromise Christian leaders. Those leaders may or may not ever experience a crisis-level failure of personal leadership in the way we see in the media, but the influence of worldly models of leadership is serious all the same, and requires biblical correction.

Should Missionaries Seek Ordination?

In a previous era of Protestant missions, it was very common for evangelistic missionaries to be ordained (or married to an ordained man). There were exceptions, of course, if you were a school teacher or doctor (or a woman). But for men who went to the mission field to do evangelism and church planting as their primary task, ordination was often expected. That has gradually changed over the years, beginning in the 19th century with some interdenominational faith missions, and in the present day, it is very common for evangelistic missionaries to not be ordained. A minority might be, but it is not necessarily expected in many missions circles, be it denominational missions or interdenominational groups. 
 
Does ordination matter?  Theologically, I think there is meaning and significance to ordination.  In practical terms, it depends on the context. In some cultural contexts, it is very important. In other cultural contexts, it isn't. In some creative access contexts, there would be great danger in being known as an ordained minister. But even in open access contexts in a given culture or country, some churches value it highly and others don’t.
 
The question I want to answer in this brief post is whether missionaries should seek formal ordination by their home church (or church denomination). There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but I want to suggest some personal and practical benefits of ordination that a missionary (or potential missionary) would do well to consider in deciding whether seeking ordination is best in their given situation. Providing a full theology of ordination, however, is beyond the scope of this post.
Presbyterian Ordination, Southern California, 2006
Presbyterian Ordination, Southern California, 2006

Christians Don’t Need a Bucket List

Do you have a bucket list?  I first heard of this term in connection with the movie, “The Bucket List”, a story of two terminally-ill men who try to do a bunch of things they’ve always wanted to do before they die, or “kick the bucket.”  On the one hand this sounds like a great idea if you’re going to die soon.  But on the other hand, it displays a very limited perspective.  It indicates a short-sighted, scarcity mentality that the only time we have to enjoy is the here and now.  But that simply isn’t true for Christians.
 
Bucket list - pixabay

Offending Buddhist Sensibilities in a Globalized World

On the motorway heading to the airport in Bangkok, there are some very large billboards informing you in multiple languages that Buddha statues are not to be used for decoration, and that such a conclusion is just “common sense.”  Here’s looking at you, foreign visitor, who has a Buddha statue in your luggage heading to the airport.  Consider yourself informed that if you think it will be cool to take an exotic Thai Buddha home to Europe or America and place it in your living room for decoration, you are committing a grave sacrilege that is highly offensive to Thai Buddhist people.   

I’m not sure how many foreigners try to take Buddhas home with them or how many have been persuaded by the billboards. But apparently NOT using Buddha images for decoration is distinctly NOT common sense for foreigners, otherwise there would be no need for such billboards. 

The Real Value of Large Scale Evangelistic Events

I rarely get excited when I hear about large scale evangelistic events in Thailand (or anywhere else, for that matter).

I don’t fault the motivation of anyone involved but for all the time and money put into these colossal under-takings, especially at a national level in a big arena, the results seem meager.  What results am I talking about?  The goal, directly or indirectly, of these events is to get a lot of people to become Christians through praying a prayer or going forward in response to an altar call.  Even when events have impressive results, such as the 2009 “My Hope Thailand” campaign which produced 12,000 decisions, most of these decisions rarely translate into committed Christian disciples.   

But regardless of what I or others say, it is unlikely that altar call evangelism will be given up anytime soon.  It just looks too good on the surface to abandon entirely. Even if most new converts fall away, many advocates for such events are fully persuaded by the justification that “even if one person comes to Christ, it was all worth it.”  Is it? For the time and money expended, maybe different activities would be even more worth it?  Just a thought. 

With that preamble out of the way, I want to get to the main point of this post. Even if large scale evangelistic events have dubious value in terms of directly producing new Christian disciples, they do have two other distinct benefits that I believe gives them real value and justifies their continuation. 

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