Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Helping Without Hurting in Japan (Part One)

Apology: By necessity of speaking to a topic as broad as the health of the Japanese Church I must unfortunately make sweeping generalities--we can all think of examples that contradict parts of the following post (and the upcoming series), but I hope you will hear me out and deeply consider whether there are deeply rooted dependencies in the Japanese Church stemming from the past and current shortcomings and failures of missionaries. 

A lot has been written in recent years about unhealthy dependencies in global missions. Usually when this topic comes up it primarily has to do with finances. Books like 'When Helping Hurts,' 'Toxic Charity,' and 'When Charity Destroys Dignity,' rightly point out that the way that affluent, mostly Western churches often seek to help the Global Church through financial charity frequently leads to more brokenness than it alleviates.

However, finances are only one way in which the Western Church and the way that it does missions actually serves to weaken the Global Church rather than strengthening it. In the late 19th century, John Livingstone Nevius, a prominent Presbyterian missionary to China identified three ways in which an indigenous church must be self determining in order to truly be considered a mature church--the church must be Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating (Evangelizing). Later, another missionary theologian, Roland Allen pointed out that to be fully mature, the indigenous church must also be Self Theologizing.

Roland Allen clearly shows in his book 'The Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, And the Causes That Hinder It,' that at his time, many missionaries and missions organizations that claimed to be pursuing Self Supporting, Self Governing and Self Propagating indigenous churches were often doing so only in theory, but not in practice; 'they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.' In fact, many of them were, and still are, facilitating dependencies in order to maintain power, influence--and many cases out of fear of the potential dangers associated with fully autonomous indigenous churches; namely, syncretism.

The recent interest in financial dependencies in missions and their unhealthy impact on the Global Church really only deals with a quarter of the problem--there are much deeper ways in which Western Missions continues to hamstring indigenous churches, their leaders and their health.

Why so few missionaries grapple with this... [source]
This has been a topic that I have spent my last five months in Japan dwelling on; and one of the main reasons I haven't written much,. It has been rather difficult to write about something that could easily be seen as undermining my very call to ministry here in Japan. However, that has only convicted me further of the importance of grappling with this topic.

Now some people might be wondering why this topic is relevant to Japan--Japan is a first world nation, and apart from the recent influx of finances from the Global Church to deal with the impact of the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami, the Japanese Church for the most part is financially independent of the Western Church. It supports its own institutions and clergy; and therefore on the surface would point to being a mature church.

However, the Japanese Church's dependencies are not quite as easy to point to as the financial dependencies in the churches of many developing nations. The unhealthy dependencies in the Japanese Church are primarily dependencies of Propagation, Theology and Methodology (Governance). 

In upcoming posts we will look at some of the dimensions of dependency within the Japanese Church.

(1) Namely, that the Japanese Church continues to maintain an unhealthy dependency on missionaries for evangelism, discipleship and church planting;

(2) the Japanese church continuously has failed to cultivate indigenous Evangelical theologies that lead to further maturity and effectiveness but are instead reliant on contextually incongruent Western theological voices (this is still an area where, because of my lack of fluency in Japanese I am not able to fully substantiate);

(3) and probably most importantly, that the Japanese church continues to be reliant on Western paradigms of church leadership and vocational ministry that hinders the maturity and growth of Christian lay people--meaning that the greatest potential catalyst for reaching the Japanese with the Gospel, the Japanese Church, is largely unequipped for the task of sharing the Gospel with their own people.

What is the role of the missionary in Japan? How does a missionary help without hurting? Probably one of the main reasons that these dependencies are so deeply ingrained within the Japanese Church is because of the effectiveness of Western missionaries (and increasingly missionaries from the Global Church). Has our short-term effectiveness resulted in long-term ineffectiveness for the average Japanese Christian? Are our evangelistic and discipleship methods reproducible by Japanese Christians? Does our reliance on English ministries, the 'Westernness' of Christianity and outreach events undermine the ability of the Japanese church to reproduce similar efforts? We will look at all of these questions and more in upcoming posts.

1 comment:

Makoto Tsumura said...

Ian! I enjoyed this blog, and I think it is true. Not relying on missionaries is fairly easy to understand because you see the person and money. But you cannot see methodologies and theologies. These are so difficult to discern what is contextualized or not. Thank you for your comments. Missionaries views are so important for us because you see what we don't see. Makoto Tsumura