Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Why Do They Do It? Lessons on Missionary Mobilization and Motivation from Indian Indigenous Missionaries

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Why Do They Do It? Lessons on Missionary Mobilization and Motivation from Indian Indigenous Missionaries

Article excerpt


Non-Western mission agencies provide lessons for the global mission community in how to motivate and recruit cross-cultural missionaries. India, as the largest non-Western producer of cross-cultural missionaries, has a mobilization story that needs to be given voice. Survey research was done among a sample of indigenous Indian missionaries from one well-respected, inter-denominational organization. Candidates were found to be most influenced toward missions during their youth years, and by a variety of mostly para-church factors. Key among these were the influence of missionaries, specific scriptures which had spoken to the young people, and the mentoring of them by mission agency personnel. Often, this influence was felt in the spiritual context of youth camps and prayer gatherings. Notably, the role of local churches and Bible schools in motivating people toward mission careers was nominal. Corrective suggestions are made for the local churches and theological institutions.


Much of the discussion of factors that moved the early Western missionaries to travel to what the West often called "the mission field" is seen through the rose-coloured spectacles of hagiographic history. These histories, though noble, often favoured Western men from colonial origins. The reality of pioneer missionary motivation may best be studied through the living history that is being written in the contemporary non-Western missionary movement. This movement is still in its formative and pioneering stages, and features many outstanding living witnesses.

The booming growth of the emerging non-Western missionary movement offers lessons on recruitment for mission mobilizers around the world. Contrary to some predictions, the numbers of cross-cultural non-Western missionaries serving internationally has still not passed that of missionaries from the West. The non-West has, however, far surpassed the West in the rate of growth. The numbers of Four-Fifths' World missionaries grew at the remarkable rate of 210% during the decade of the 1990s. The Western rate of increase during the same ten years was only 12%. (1) If we broaden this comparison to include those serving cross-culturally but within their own national boundaries, the figures would necessarily include the estimated 30,000-plus missionaries of India. With this number included, India is the largest missionary-producing country of the Four-Fifths' World. This growth in both missionaries and mission agencies is an expression of the indigenous nature of Christianity in India. (2) Though they serve within their own country, Indian missionaries are indeed cross-cultural because they face ethnic, cultural and language barriers greater than those faced by many international missionaries. This is due to the fact that India is a country composed of many "countries", and has so many dialects and sociological divisions within her national boundaries. This article will look at a sample of these cross-cultural Indian missionaries to learn lessons about missionary motivation and recruitment.

The situation of need in India is paradigmatic for the needs in many places. While the numbers of missionaries, agencies and Christians are increasing, only a small percentage of ministries are targeting the genuinely unreached. (3) One estimate is that only ten percent of Indian Christian ministry is carried out among the unreached, and only two percent concentrates on the neediest non-Christian majorities. (4) If this is correct, it means that 90% of full-time ministers are doing ministry among Christians, and most of these Christians are from two minority communities, viz. the scheduled castes and the scheduled tribes. One means of correcting this imbalance would be to step up recruitment for genuine mission work. In order to improve recruitment, the motivational dynamics of enlisting cross-cultural missionaries need to be better understood. Similar situations exist in other contexts, and lessons that can be learned from the Indian context may have relevance for other settings both in India and elsewhere. …

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