Friday, March 16, 2007

Lessons from Yesterday and Today in South Korea

Earlier this week, I read an article in The Christian Science Monitor concerning how Christianity came and grew in the Korean peninsula. According to the article, "About one-third of South Koreans are now Christian. Seoul, the capital, boasts 10 of the 11 largest Christian congregations in the world. And South Korea sends more missionaries abroad to spread the word than any other country except the United States." According to Rev. Samuel Moffett, professor emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, Christianity has grown from a few hundred adherents in the late 19th century to "about 9 million Protestants and 3 to 4 million Catholics in South Korea today."

It was interesting to me to note that, according to Timothy Kiho Park, a Korean who directs Korean studies at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, that one key to the rapid growth was the strategy adopted by the young pioneer missionaries, which emphasized developing indigenous leadership: "self-government, self-propagation of the faith, and self-support."

"This encouraged national leaders to take care of their own affairs without foreign control or funding," Dr. Park says. "They practiced it from the beginning, advising but letting the Koreans preach and run the churches."

This is only one more piece of evidence that the practice of supporting national pastors and evangelists with foreign funding is not essential to church growth in a nation. We are often told by those who promote such ministries that the gospel is being hindered today in many nations because local leaders cannot afford to minister full-time or because they are so poor. We at The Voice of the Martyrs in Canada do not believe that this is the case. Hence, we refuse to get involved in such ministries for both missiological and biblical reasons (click here for our position paper on the issue). It is a core value to us as a mission that we empower the Persecuted Church by standing with them, encouraging and equipping without creating dependency, maintaining and promoting their ability to be self-governing, self-supporting, and self-propagating, and resisting any programs or ministry that would detract from this. We believe in taking the long-term view. We try to ask ourselves and those we work with what is it that will be best for the spread of the gospel in the long run and not just at the urgent moment. Every action, every program, ever methodology has consequences. We believe at VOMC that churches that do not depend on outside funding of their leadership, in particular, grow more consistently in the long run and are healthier from a biblical perspective. Personally, I believe that in the years to come, many of us are going to look back at the last few years, with the emphasis on "partnering" with national worker by paying for their support, and conclude that this was one of the most significant missiological mistakes that we ever made.

Amoung them will likely be some South Korean mission leaders. Sadly, as Glenn Schwartz of World Mission Associates reminded me in a recent email, many South Korean missionaries seem to have unfortunately forgotten the lessons of their own history and lost the emphasis on three "selfs" in their mission work in the churches they plant in places like Africa.


Rob Somers said...

When I was still in school, I had an assignment which basically consisted of reading a book (we could choose one of five different books) and writing a report on what we read. I chose the oldest one, as I thought that would increase my chances of finding it in the library. The book was called Missionary Methods: St. Paul's or Ours? by Roland Allen. What you have written in this post reminds me very much of what he wrote.

I agree with you on this one. What sort of message does it send to the mission church if they are not to be trusted with finances and leadership and so on?

I am glad to see that this is the position VOM holds to on such matters.

Glenn Penner said...

I read Allen's book when I was in seminary, as well. It did impact me significantly.