July 29, 2004

A post-colonial missions movement

That's William Carey over there, the "Father of Modern Missions." My recent thinking on the effect of the end of colonialism on the church (here and here) has led me to wonder: What will Christian missions look like in a post-colonial context?

Under the colonial paradigm, missionaries went out from the colonial powers on the heels of the commercial or military forces effecting colonization. Their aim was to use the church's God-given resources to influence indigenous cultures for Christianity. While their motives were usually biblical, their methods were often much less so. In fact, on a corporate level, missions methodology of this period often looks a lot like commercial methodology. In one of Carey's more influential works, An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens, he uses the eighteenth century trading company to illustrate how Christians should conduct missions:
When a trading company have obtained their charter they usually go to its utmost limits; and their stocks, their ships, their officers, and men are so chosen, and regulated, as to be likely to answer their purpose; but they do not stop here, for encouraged by the prospect of success, they use every effort, cast their bread upon the waters, cultivate friendship with every one from whose information they expect the least advantage. They cross the widest and most tempestuous seas, and encounter the most unfavourable climates; they introduce themselves into the most barbarous nations, and sometimes undergo the most affecting hardships; their minds continue in a state of anxiety, and suspense, and a longer delay than usual in the arrival of their vessels agitates them with a thousand changeful thoughts, and foreboding apprehensions, which continue till the rich returns are safe arrived in port. But why these fears? Whence all these disquietudes, and this labour? Is it not because their souls enter into the spirit of the project, and their happiness in a manner depends on its success? Christians are a body whose truest interest lies in the exaltation of the Messiah's kingdom. Their charter is very extensive, their encouragements exceeding great, and the returns promised infinitely superior to all the gains of the most lucrative fellowship.
History shows where Carey's illustration fails. The traders' (and other colonizers') happiness did depend on their project's success--it's financial success. And that success often came at the expense of the indigenous peoples.

The citizens of the world beyond the former colonial powers have learned history's lessons well. Not only are they suspicious of such commercially-derived missions methodologies; they are finding that they no longer have any need for what the churches of the developed nations want to offer them in terms of doctrine or methods. There is, of course, one notable exception: money. This is where the remaining influence of the Western church lies. In this Kingdom, the Western church is the Finance Minister. We have the power to bless or to curse our brothers and sisters in the developing world with the stroke of a pen upon a check. How will we use that influence?

From my perpective there are two options. First, we can use our financial influence to continue to enforce a colonial paradigm on the churches of the developing world. We can choose to support movements that are willing to submit themselves to our doctrinal and methodological standards. We can support seminaries that teach our Western views and publishing houses that churn out translations of The Purpose-Driven Church and churches that look just like ours. In other words, we can use our influence to extend the range of our voice to the developing world.

There is another option--we can use our influence to give our brothers and sisters in the developing world voices of their own. More on this later.

3 Comments:

At 11:46 AM, Blogger david said...

. . . i was involved in a similiar discussion somewhere ?? . . . the point is that the real world outside of america does NOT have the choice of re-creating the church . . . they have little to no resources . . . and i agree with you that it is our moral responsibility to help them have a voice and follow God's voice as THEY hear it . . .

 
At 12:06 AM, Blogger Anna said...

mmm... interesting parallel between colonialism and this cut and paste method that I've been ranting about over on my blog... me thinks I've got another post coming on now... Same mentality as the colonialists. And to think that Americans don't have that much of a concept of "post-colonialism." The first time I heard that particular "post" was sitting in on a class at King's College London this spring. And yet the mentality is the same...

 
At 9:56 AM, Blogger dear church said...

Just this morning, I was outlining American History lesson plans that I'll be delivering in a little more than a week. And as I turn through the pages, I am often disheartened with previous expressions of Christianity. I try to take each incident as incentive to seek God's grace in my own life. I wonder, what will the history books say about the Church of our generation? What our own blind spots?

 

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