My Ph.D. professor of Christian Missions, Dr. David Sills, recently asked this question:
Considering the shift to the global south, make some informed prognostications about the future of missions in the next few decades if current trends continue. Given all of the trends and developments, what do you think is the future value of the Western missionary?
Here was my response:
I work for a company called Training Leaders International (TLI). I joined this company because of some key conversations I had with two of the five chief leaders of the house church in East Asia. I asked them what contribution they would like to see from the average American missionary for the church in their country and the unreached peoples of their country. They both said that they don't want American money; they don't want more English teachers; and they don't want more Bible smugglers. Independent of one another, both leaders told me that the biggest need for the church and for the sake of reaching the unreached is the need for Bible teachers. Their Bible translation is too difficult to understand even for for the educated, and this is mainly due to the grammatical and conceptual limitations inherent in their language. Many can understand the English Bible better. It has been projected that 20,000 people become Christians every day in East Asia (which I think might be a high number). But if that is true, then the average house church gathering in a small apartment room might be 10-20 people. Essentially, that means that there is need for 1,000-2,000 new pastors every day in that country. That is a massive challenge in a restricted-access country where the lack of reputable, biblical training is widespread. Many would give their right arm to study at an American evangelical seminary for even one year.
All that to say, from my experience of working with house church leaders in East Asia, I am not sure pouring money from the American church into churches in the developing world is the wisest and most sustainable option. I think that more than our monetary resources, we have access to a historically unprecedented amount of wonderful theological resources. Money can be spent, and it can help alleviate a lot of pressure for poor ministers. More importantly, solid gospel-centered theology can be disseminated and bring eternal relief to peoples' souls who otherwise wouldn't have the access to such resources. Life-altering biblical concepts such as justification by faith or the sovereignty of God can be spread for free. And once they invade the hearts of theologically famished believers, such biblical truths could take off like a raging forest fire in the heat of summer. Moreover, one of the main reasons unevangelized people groups are not being continually accessed and successfully reached is not because there is a lack of willing and ready missionaries. But it is fundamentally because the countries in which those unengaged people groups reside will not allow Westerners to live there. Yet rarely do those countries mind if a Filipino, Brazilian, or an Indonesian live there. It seems to me that the best use of the Western missionary's efforts in the future will be spent training, teaching, and facilitating missionaries from the global church.