Some ministry initiatives among Muslims only survive due to external funding. But how can we stay aligned with the ‘nature’ of the gospel itself when putting money into mission. I continue below, an edited report by a western worker in the Middle East who has observed first-hand the dark-side of the interface between ‘mission’ and ‘money’. He also suggests what we can do about it.
We have to be intentional to avoid making a ‘commodity’ out of ministry to Muslims. Even the jargon we use includes “packaged” expressions such as ‘Direct Muslim Ministry’ (i.e. DMM); ‘insider movement’; ‘insider translations’; ‘Muslim Background Believer’ (i.e. MBB); ‘Church Planting Movement’ (i.e. CPM); ‘Unreached People Groups’ (i.e. UPGs) and so on.
Such expressions can be useful as shorthand, for ease of speech; they can also be helpful code-words in sensitive contexts. However; they can also polarize us; spark divisive debates; and appear to ‘quantify’ the activity of the Holy Spirit.
Care is needed not to label people who might never choose to identify themselves in a particular way. What is clear is that none of these terms originated among the peoples or languages of the Middle East. They are imports from economically and educationally advantaged societies and they are applied to people who are “subjects” of our study, prayer and outreach; but they can default into unwittingly turning the people we are sent to serve and love into a ‘commodity’.
A fine North African church leader spoke of foreign missionaries who come into his small fellowship and take away believers to start a new church or movement. He says these expatriate workers are themselves under pressure from their churches/agencies to produce “results”. So the short-term goals are pitted against the long-term vision of the local church. He said: ‘The drive to establish a church-planting movement is ripping-out the fabric of the local church in our country.
A western visitor expressed excitement to me about local conversion stories. For the visitor it was job done! However locals see conversion as only the start of a journey that will impact their family and community; issues to be addressed head-on in a long process of biblical discipleship.
This shallow understanding of the Middle Eastern context is common and is a problem when western Christian books are translated into Arabic and distributed widely in the Middle East. Some have been a blessing because local Christians normally can’t publish sustainably without financial sponsorship – so what are they to do? The well-endowed foreign ministry can translate and publish in attractive formats while indigenous authors (who write with a deep local understanding of the context) will never get known due to a lack of financial sponsorship.
Middle Eastern churches can have shelves full of books that deal with western issues, while local writers are marginalised – and this is all as a result of our “mission efforts”. Thankfully some Christian organizations, such as Langham Partnership, break this mould by promoting local scholarship in the developing world who are writing for the church in the developing world.
The subconscious driver in some mission to Muslims is a thing called hegemony – a word I learned from a Muslim leader about many western cultures. It’s worth looking it up in a dictionary!
Source: Mike Kuhn – https://imeslebanon.wordpress.com/2016/10/20/the-commodification-of-mission-in-the-muslim-world/