Does Thailand still need missionaries?

 In All

7th Apr

In recent years, there has been a trend for some missions supporters and churches in the West to move away from sending their own missionaries in favor of supporting “native missionaries” (sometimes called “indigenous missionaries”).   The logic goes something like this: “Why pay $60,000/year or more to support a family of foreign missionaries who will struggle to learn language and culture when you can support a native missionary who knows the language and culture already for $50/month?”  At first glance this seems like a great idea. And in some places it might be.

The historical, cultural, religious, and economic situation varies greatly from country to county and not all non-Western nations can be lumped together when evaluating whether foreign missionaries are still needed. In this series of posts, I want to look at several questions that can help us evaluate whether missionaries are really needed (or wanted) in a given location. I will use Thailand as a case study since it is the context that I am most familiar with.

1) Can the local church(es) carry on without missionaries?

A rule of thumb for foreign missionaries is that if there are local people who can do the job, then it is time for the missionary to move on to someplace else. In the case of Thailand, if all the foreign missionaries went home tomorrow, would the churches in Thailand be able to carry on by themselves?  Absolutely, they would.  As of February 2016, there are more than 400,000 Thai or tribal Protestant believers in Thailand, and over 5,000 churches (see stats).  There are numerous viable Thai-led, largely Thai-funded Protestant denominations.  So in one sense, foreign missionaries are not needed anymore in Thailand.  If they all left, the church would go on without them. In any location where the church(es) are able to take care of their own finances, train their own leaders, and evangelize their own people, there may be a good case for phasing out foreign missionaries or finding a new role for them.

2) Are there enough local evangelists and leaders?

While it may be that churches are growing and taking care of themselves in a given country or people group, Christians might still only make up a tiny percentage of the overall population. In Thailand, Protestants only make up 0.7% of the entire population of 64 million people.  Thailand is divided into 77 provinces, which are then divided into districts and sub-districts. 62% of all the sub-districts in Thailand have no church of any kind.  Those churchless subdistricts have a population of about 38 million people (more stats).  That is 38 million people without any local church to check out and learn about the Gospel.  So how are we going to reach those people with the Gospel?

It is sometimes claimed that “native missionaries” are the solution. The era of foreign missionaries is over, it is said, and (mostly Western) missions supporters should make the financially and strategically sound decision to support so-called native missionaries instead of expensive Westerners. So where are all those “native missionaries” for us to fund and send out? Maybe other places are different, but Thailand has no army of native Thai evangelists and church planters sitting around, waiting to receive Westerner dollars so that they can go out there and plant churches.  Only about half of the existing 5000 or so churches in Thailand have a full-time Christian worker of any sort, and it is hard to find anybody (Thai, tribal, or foreign) to go plant churches in all the places that need them.  Therefore, when there are not enough local people to get the job done in the places where work is needed, a strong case can be made for foreign workers to come and help.

Karl & Sun Dahlfred

Showing 10 comments
  • Darlene Briskey

    I am so pleased to hear this from you. I have been telling people this for years, but one voice is not enough. Thailand needs STRONG believers to help in spreading the gospel and create disciples. Bless you

  • Jennifer Tibbetts

    May I add to this that though Thai people are often the best to evangelize and disciple, they are still a very young church and do not have nearly the experience or resources of the western church. The longer we were in Thailand, the more I wanted to help develop Thai marriage courses, parenting courses, money management, pastoral training, preaching training, etc. There are so few Christian families – Thai Christians have very few examples of what a godly marriage should look like or what godly parenting looks like. Of course, western Christians still struggle in these areas and don’t have it all together, but we do have many more examples to learn from – what to do and what not to do, and resources like books, courses, seminars, etc. I think one of the most important things western missionaries can offer these days is how to walk out the Christian life – walking alongside our Asian brothers and sisters and encouraging them, challenging them, gently pointing out Scriptures that speak to these areas. Of course, this can NOT be paternalistically or condescendingly, but humbly. We also have to try to separate our culture from Scripture – this is not easy to do!

    • Monique Lemus

      what do you mean “separate our culture from scripture”? This sounds most exciting, yet difficult.

      • Dear Monique,
        The Bible says that the gospel is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:16). The last words of Jesus to his disciples recorded in Acts before he ascended to heaven were “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in Judea and all Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) We praise God that his gospel is bearing fruit across the world.
        Christian believers in every place and age are deeply rooted in their own culture and worldview, influenced by other religious beliefs, secularism and materialism. So the challenge for all Christians (and especially cross-cultural workers in this globalised world) is to be sensitive to our own traditional values, removing any non-biblical obstacles from our understanding of sin and our proclamation of the gospel to others – to become less ethnocentric and more loving like Christ. The apostle Paul is a good example, please see 1 Corinthians 9:19-22. We are not to import our own brand of Christianity and should be wary of making disciples that reflect our home culture.
        Yours, OMF Thailand

  • Ernest okonkwo

    I want to join u people to work for God if only u can send me letter of invitation

  • Luke

    Hello

    I am not sure if my previous post went through. I am passionate about spreading the gospel and I am living in HatYai till August 2018. May I know if there are any activities. I am not talking about attending church service.I am talking about either door to door evangelism or open air crusades. I have a limitation on using Thai but if I get company with anybody who can understand Thai then I think that can be easier. Please let me know if there are any upcoming activities around Songkhla/ HatYai

  • Sujil thangaraj

    Want to join

  • Godwin Supramaniam

    I has to be a combination of foreign missionaries and local Christian leaders . The goal is to have a self propagating and self supporting church that in turn will send missionaries to the unreached in Thailand and beyond. Praise the lord for all that He is doing

  • pastor mf somo

    How can I visit Thailand on a preaching/witnessing/evangelising mission in 2018 I have been to Kenya in 2007 and should have gone there in 2017 had it not been the political instabilty.I have just returned from Botswana country.

  • Larry

    Strong and wealthy churches in Bangkok support many “missions” with fully paid “missionary pastors” who are not adept at evangelism. Once they get 20 in church on Sunday whether local Thais or foreigners (world and Laos Christians working in town), they become somewhat satisfied. As a church, there is little evangelism, and few in the church are willing to witness. Their focus is often on land and a building, not living stones. Slow, slow. The pastors seem to only get interested when their provider in Bangkok expresses some dismay at church growth. Small groups are few and far between. Outside orgs bring seminary style Bible study but without practical applications or spiritual growth. I see some who can understand the Bible but will not witness. Some (most ?) foreign M’s stay focused in small villages that are very resistant to “foreign religions” and even if a small church is started will not go beyond the village borders. Some of the Bangkok “senders” require years of seminary and not a single subject on preaching, evangelism, small groups, administration, or counsel. One M told me we brought the foreign concept of paid pastors and buildings. A focus on towns and cities by M’s and large local churches would be great, less seminary, more how to plant and grow a church, more accountability for local M pastors in new towns. Yes some funding for local M’s but with the agreement up front that financial support will be stair stepped down after a set number of years and perhaps multiple people the first year or two to get going. The Baptist strategy used to be plant a church and leave when that church can plant a church on its own-a good model if in towns and cities. Pray for wisdom and power from the Holy Spirit for all of us.

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