Last night my wife and I attended the annual supporters dinner for TEAR in Queensland. CB Samuel, an Indian church leader, spoke about the role of Westerners in the global church. A few things he emphasized are below
Referring to the work of Philip Jenkins, the composition of the global church is dramatically different from one hundred years ago, when it was Western, white, and wealthy. Now it is predominantly, non-white and poor. These people read the Bible differently from Westerners. Samuel only elaborated briefly on this when asked. He said Westerner's tend not to believe it, particularly with regards to promises about prayer and miraculous healing. I would also be interested to know if he thinks Westerners largely filter out the texts about social justice, poverty, and the idolatry of wealth.
Australians seem quite comfortable accepting Biblical interpretations coming from the USA and Europe, but not from Asia, Africa, or Latin America. People will say to CB Samuel, "You have an interesting Indian perspective." But he doubts anyone said to John Stott, "Well that is an interesting English perspective."
India is rapidly changing. There is little reverence for the state. People has a sense that they have rights that they are demanding they be met. Many young people are becoming followers of Christ through informal networks and interactions in secular urban workplaces. The established church is playing a minor role.
There is a limited role for Westerners to play. They are more willing to take risks than others and to play a pioneering role. But they need to be quicker to hand over leadership and control to the indigenous leadership. There are certain areas where Westerners have competence they can contribute. These areas were not specified, except for documentation. [My guess would be higher education and medicine would be two others.] But they need to come with a servant attitude, come along side local workers, listen, learn, and equip. Competence does not give the right to control.
Short term missions are not effective and sometimes laughed at by locals. Direct church to church partnerships which ignore the expertise of established organisations are of limited effectiveness. [This same point was made by Ralph Winter in a paper discussed in an earlier post].