Friday, 30 September 2011

The Western Missionary Machine - A Western Missionary Weeps For Africa

Who is to blame for the ungodliness and corruption of Kenyan society and church?

Ultimately Kenyans are, of course - the Bible teaches us that personal responsibility is always ultimate and non-transferable. Nevertheless, the Bible also teaches us that secondary causes exist, and secondary responsibility exists.

My journey has led me to become convinced that the sad shape of the Kenyan church is the predictable outcome of Western missionary policies. I'm not just talking here about rampant heresy and the health-wealth-prosperity "gospel". I don't just mean the bad eggs.

I'm talking about the fact that few Kenyan churches have believers who know how to deal with their ordinary challenges, to take responsibility, to grow to maturity and lead others along that path. The number of leaders who know how to live lives of godly self-sacrifice in order to build the church is vanishingly small.

How could they know that? The missionaries didn't teach them to. The missionaries didn't set them that example.

I'm painting with broad-brush strokes here, of course. Each missionary is different. Each enterprise has its own flavour. There are many good men trapped in misconceived enterprises. Everyone has their own calling, etc. But the number of misconceived enterprises is way too high.

The pattern of Pauline, Biblical, Christian missions, is that missionaries are servants and that the nationals are the served. The way up is down: true leadership means radical servanthood. "Radical servanthood" means more than simply condescending to exist in the so-called "Dark Continent".

The pattern of Western missions has been too much that the missionaries are the controllers, and the nationals are the controlled. A reversal. All of this can be defended quite plausibly of course, and sometimes with a seed of truth. The nationals are not yet mature; they need help to get up and going; the missionary has all the experience/education/funds/etc.

But how can those reasons still hold true in Kenya after 150 years of Protestant missions? How long is the stage of infancy meant to last? Isn't it time to ask if it's only the nationals who are responsible for still being in infancy? Doesn't the parent have to wonder if he's done all that he should? Doesn't he have some responsibility for a failure to raise the infant into manhood?

The big man from the West thinks he has the answers. These answers are quite often institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes. These normally need large amounts of funding - and thus the oversight of the white man (money has to be carefully stewarded... or, "he who pays the piper calls the tune" - or put another way, nobody hands their wallets over to the infants). It's unfortunate, and we don't mean it to continue too long in the long term, of course...

Institutions, constitutions, programmes, procedures, rules, programmes, boards, institutions, directors and more formal programmes played a remarkably small part in Jesus' training of his disciples, or Paul's missionary activity. Jesus' training of his disciples and Paul's missionary activities were astonishingly successful, despite being apparently radically under-funded. Western missionary activity in Africa, on the other hand, has been astonishing unsuccessful, given how many years, workers and dollars have been involved, when measured in terms of Biblical fruitfulness and maturity.

The reasons for doing it this way are explained, of course: the modern world demands all the institutions, constitutions (etc.). We have to adapt to today's realities. And yet, for all this adapting (or rather, non-adapting - for the Westerner is simply doing what the Westerner does)... the fruit is rotten. The fruit is rotten! The populations of the African nations have not been discipled according to the Great Commission. They have not been trained to themselves disciple other nations - or even their own backyards. There are churches on every street corner in many countries; but those churches are very largely full of spiritual infants (leaving aside the downright heresy - again, I'm not talking about the followers of T D Jakes, Benny Hinn, etcetera). If the Western Missionary Machine's methods have been adapted to today's realities, then why didn't it work out better?

It's time to dismantle the Western Missionary Machine. The parts of it need to be repurposed in a new body. We need to return to the roots. Jesus walked with his disciples, prayed with them, suffered their ignorance from day to day, rebuked, corrected, trained, enabled, empowered, oversaw as a painful day to day task of bringing them to maturity. Then he sent them out, and they changed the world.

Jesus wouldn't have had much to write on his missionary newsletters. Not much that is, of what the Machine grinds out. There were no buildings, programmes, directors or programmes of our sort. The sort that we measure with numbers, year after year, to demonstrate our astonishing progress (but which perpetually needs us to remain in charge to prevent the house falling down). Likewise Paul; the society would have raised a few eyebrows at him (perhaps you've come across this well-known skit). Where's your denomination, Paul? Where are the programmes? What, you meant you just spent your time in a hired room talking to people who came in, and worked with your hands to show them an example of how to serve poor people? How do you expect anything substantial to come out of that? Where's the seminary, the conferences, the buildings, the organisation? You mean you're trying to teach them how to love Jesus and serve the poor in their everyday lives? That's nice of course, but when are you going to get onto the real meat of the work? (Poor naive fellow!).

The Machine is too professional, too impersonal. And sadly, the fuel in the engine is too much man, man's wisdom and man's effort, instead of that of the Spirit of God. Jesus and Paul were neither professional nor impersonal; and yet they changed the world. Their principles were folly in the eyes of the world and of The Machine. They believed in simple preaching in the power of the Spirit backed up by a life of radical self-giving. Their kingdom was not of this world; and because it wasn't of this world, it had the power of the other world which made it destined to be the kingdom over all in this world. We praise the Lord that there's still enough of their kingdom and principles in the machine to have done much good. But if our goal is actually to see the African church come to maturity, we need to take it apart and rebuild it. It needs reconstructing with the living, breathing sacrifices of lives laid down for Jesus in a far more radical way.

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