Tony and I were in Nepal training church planters:
"What should simple/organic church should look like?" someone asked me.
My answer surprised them: "It should look Nepalese!"
I have a photo in my possession that epitomizes the problem with much of what is seen on the mission field today. The picture, taken in a culture hostile to the gospel, is of a secret church meeting taking place where the authorities cannot find them. A group of new disciples,dressed in rags, squats on a riverbank. A man, clad in a suit and tie and holding a large black book, stands in front of them, obviously teaching them. He looks totally out of place. What have we done?
Western missionaries have exported their culture as well as Christ!
In Hindu culture, the sign of marriage is a red dot on the forehead. It has the same significance as our wedding ring. Missionaries asked their new converts to remove the dot because it is a Hindu symbol. Naturally, women do not wish to appear unmarried, so this is a big hindrance to the spread of the Gospel. The missionaries simply didn't understand the local culture. There are countless examples of this kind of cultural insensitivity.
We have exported a rulebook based on our culture, not Christ!
In the early 90s, there were 6 known Christians in Mongolia. Now there are around 100,000. Praise God for an amazing work of his Spirit. But there are also denominations, organizations, church hierarchies, and all the trappings of Western (and Asian) Christianity. We missed an opportunity to see the body of Christ grow without all the divisions we take for granted.
Christians exported denominationalism, as well as Jesus!
In many nations we have been to, the church resembles any traditional church in the West. The buildings look the same, the people dress in Western clothes for services; they sing translations of Western hymns or songs. Pictures of Jesus portray him as Anglo. The people love God with all their hearts, but Christianity is known as a foreign religion by those outside the church because it looks so different–so Western.
The history of missions shows much insensitivity to local culture. Missionaries, with the best of intentions, confused Christianity and Western culture. They are not one and the same.
The Good News of Jesus transcends culture; it can be contextualized within any culture.
Please, in simple/organic missions, let's not make the same mistakes. Let's introduce people to a Jesus who is relevant to the local culture. I'm not talking about compomise or syncretism, but, like Paul did in Athens, demonstrating a Christ who is culturally relevant.