Who is in the Driver’s Seat? A critique of mission partnership models between Western missions and East Asian mission movements

Author: Kang-San Tan, Head of Mission Studies, Redcliffe College, Gloucester


The church in East Asia is growing at a phenomenal pace, both in spiritual vitality and missionary enthusiasm. For example, The Korea World Missions Association (KWMA) claimed that there were 14,086 Korean missionaries in 180 countries in 2006 (about 19,000 according to non-official counts). [1] India and the United States of America represent the two largest contributors to Protestant cross cultural missionaries. The Indian Missions Association represents more than 200 mission agencies working throughout India and beyond. However, some Western mission groups still operate without much reference to these growing indigenous mission movements from Korea, India, Philippines, Singapore and China. When partnerships are formed, non-Western members are commonly invited to join some elite club to perpetuate the mission goals and boundaries set by existing structures. Unless both parties explore new models of genuine partnership, many of our mission endeavours may lead to duplication, wasting of resources, reinventing the wheel, and repeating the past mistakes of colonialism and imperialism. Past Western paternalism still exerts its control due to the fact that the power associated with mission paradigms, leadership patterns, structures, economics and technology is still located in the hands of Western churches and agencies. Lest we think the problem of control and power is primarily a “Western problem”, we will see that newer sending mission structures from Asia are also repeating the same mistakes.

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