Guest post by Roger Thoman: 5 pitfalls of missions


Roger and Brooks Thoman train and coach leaders in several developing countries, to multiply disciples and simple churches.  The poor are empowered as part of the process of disciplemaking assisted by strategic investments in projects that are pioneered and managed by national leaders.

Their ministry site can be found here, and Roger’s blog, Simple Church Journal, is here.

A few days ago I received an email from Roger Thoman in response to some of the posts I’m writing on missions. His thoughts were so relevant I asked permission to use them as a guest post. Here they are:

Felicity, I love these posts on missions.  I definitely believe that the organic/simple church movement has the potential for transforming missions, and thus the world, because it supports planting the pure seed of the Gospel which has in it that transformative power and ability to naturally reproduce.  However, as you shared, there are many pitfall we have seen in missions and, unfortunately, many of these mistakes are easy to propagate even with those who have the ‘organic’ message.

You mentioned well the issue of exporting our native culture and our religious culture.  Though, with the organic message, we are not exporting our traditional buildings and church models, we still often export our western cultural norms and our Christian religious culture without realizing it.  You pointed this out when you spoke about the church of Nepalese needed to look like the Nepalese. 

Here are some additional pitfalls that, unfortunately, I see all the time in the mission field.

  1. An attitude that our culture is inherently better than the culture we are serving in.  This causes us to try to export our culture, as already mentioned, and it also causes us to take on a better-than-thou attitude among those we are seeking to serve.  We can find ourselves trying to change ideas or behaviors that the Holy Spirit is not working on.
  2. An attitude of paternalism which some have referred to as the ‘poison of paternalism.’  This is the attitude and motivation that comes from thinking that we are somehow above those we are ministering to because we come from a more ‘developed’ country serving those who live in a less ‘developed’ country.  This causes us to act like benefactors rather than partners and to believe that we are there with something to give while those who live in that country are meant to receive from us.  This pride keeps us from giving and receiving mutually which is essential for a beneficial, Biblical partnership.
  3. We make the mistake of going to teach knowledge rather than learn from, support, and come under the movement within that culture.  The only thing we have to offer others is to call them back to the pure Word of God so that they can embrace it and adapt it to their life and culture themselves.  We can confess the mistakes the church has made (that we have made), but the truth of how to go forward and walk out becoming the true church must come from those who live in that culture.  So, we can call them back to the Word and then we must take the position of learners to see how they take the Word of truth and apply it into their own lives and situations.  Ninety-nine percent of what I have learned about ministering in the context of Africa I have learned from Africans.  Too many cross-cultural missionaries do not understand this and imagine that those they are serving are in need of their endless teachings.
  4. We go to have our own ministry built up and to feel good about ‘our’ ministry rather than to serve the ministries of the nationals.  As already mentioned, only those who are native to a culture can fully adapt the Word to their culture.  Our role must be fully to support and serve them, not the other way around.  Our goal must be to stand in the background and to give away whatever is in our hands until we are no longer needed which is usually sooner rather than later.
  5. We give finances in a way that creates dependency.  We feel good about giving but we do not understand the importance of first empowering people spiritually through discipleship that brings about worldview change and then partnering financially in projects that are owned by them.

I could go on but let me just say that I am more excited about God’s purposes in the world than ever before because of the organic/simple movement.  But we must realize that the potential is in the Word of God and the Spirit of God organically taking root allowing the church to take its own shape in the culture it’s planted in.  As outsiders in a given culture we must learn how to support what God is doing in others and truly serve the movements, along with the national leaders of those movements, that He is currently birthing throughout the world.

4 replies on “Guest post by Roger Thoman: 5 pitfalls of missions”

I give a hearty “Amen” to the sentiment Roger expresses here. But I suspect the way he expresses himself in point number three is not how he intended. Since the need is to get back to the “pure Word” as he writes early, people in the new culture are not supposed to “fully adapt the Word to their culture.” Between these two opposing affirmations is what I am confident he intended: “So, we can call them back to the Word and then we must take the position of learners to see how they take the Word of truth and apply it into their own lives and situations.” The application must be adapted to the culture, not the Word itself.

Thank you for posting this, Felicity. Our times in India and Africa confirm what Roger has written here, as well as what you have been sharing lately. Much of what has been exported globally by the Western church has, built into, many elements that will hamper the life of His church, likely for a long time. Seemingly, it’s by the suffering of tremendous persecution that His people in those places are being freed from many of the restraints of religious forms, and being connected more vitally to God Himself..
A practical snag — the link to Roger’s ministry site produces a “page not found”.

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