Alibris Secondhand Books Standard

Thursday, October 22, 2009

missions and culture

Eddie Arthur points to a post by Karl and Sun Dahlfred, asking whether long-term missionaries are obsolete.

The post was spurred by a conversation Dahlfred had with a U.S.-based pastor who believes that sending someone to live in another country is just not strategic or cost effective.

This pastor and his church conduct many short-term training events and seminars throughout the world, gathering together a large group of local leaders and teaching them in an intensive course. When the course is done, the pastor and his team go back to the USA and the local leaders go back to their homes and churches, presumably to put into practice what they have learned.…It is his belief that Western churches can have a much bigger global impact for the Gospel by doing missions through this type of short-term leadership training rather than paying for long-term foreign missionaries (I am defining “missionary” as one who intentionally crosses barriers of language and culture to share the Gospel with those who would normally not have the opportunity to hear the Gospel within their cultural and/or linguistic context).

Dahlfred presents three reasons why long-term missionaries are still needed in some areas. A brief summary:

  1. The Numbers Argument: Some countries just don't have enough local Christian presence to make a difference

  2. The Cultural Contextualization Argument: You can't send prepackaged Bible study materials written from a Western perspective and expect them to be relevant to people living in other cultures.

  3. The Incarnation Argument: Jesus himself set the example by coming to earth to interact with people liviing in a specific time and place.

Dahlfred says much more about each of these — read the whole post — but I want to focus on the second argument, cultural contextualization. Dahlfred says:

In cross-cultural teaching and discipleship, it is necessary to understand where people are coming from in order to most effectively help them to understand and apply the Bible accurately. Prepackaged Bible teaching from a Western perspective, addressing the issues of the Western church, and geared towards listeners from a Western background is going to be limited in its effectiveness because it fails to address many of the challenges and issues that Christians in other parts of the world are facing. I am not saying that such teaching is completely ineffective but merely that it is often limited in its effectiveness and is likely not as effective as its teachers believe it to be. Such training by short-term foreign missionaries can be helpful but it is short-sighted to see such training courses as the only necessary strategy in foreign missions today. Because of cultural differences, Bible teaching needs to be contextualized in order to have a long term impact for a healthy indigenous church and not a Western looking church whose growth will be stunted in local soil. The way to contextualize your teaching for greatest effectiveness is to live with the people you are teaching, to learn their language, to learn their culture, to learn the barriers to the Gospel in that culture, and the particular challenges to discipleship in that culture that may be different than those of another culture. [Emphasis in the original]

Sending and supporting long-term missionaries might also help Western churches see beyond their own cultural biases, to realize that strategery and cost effectiveness might not be God's priorities.

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Saturday, December 06, 2008

the bible from a new immigrant's eye

Reginald Mortha is a third generation Lutheran pastor from India, who recently immigrated to the United States. Having lived now in two cultures, he is perhaps more aware than most of us how the culture in which we live affects our reading of the Bible.

Yet the use of Scripture in the Christian tradition in India has been enriched by the influence of Hindu ideas of the sacred. For the Western church of the modern world, the idea of the sacred has become an optional spirituality.

As strangers in a new land, new immigrants may have something to teach us about fellowship, too.

I often attend an Indian immigrant church that worships on Sunday afternoons. They are a faithful and loving congregation. They are a mix of families, friends, distant relations, and strangers. They come from Wesleyan, Lutheran, Baptist, and Charismatic Christian traditions. They look after their own, no matter what their situation. They have a insatiable thirst to be the church.

Furthermore, in most third world countries, the Bible's stories are not so foreign as they are to those of us living in Western democracies:

For me, the world the Bible describes is so close to where I come from — a familiar world of pressing problems, famine and poverty, powerful landlords, and imperial forces. For most new immigrants, the poverty of Lazarus eating the crumbs fallen from the rich man's table is not just a story but an experiential and existential reality.

Read the whole article

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