Author: Becky Douglass
Category: Evangelism Among Children, Leadership Development, Media and Communications
I was reading a book on Missions a while ago and was struck by the following quote from an Indian evangelist, Mr Murthi: "Do not bring us the Gospel as a potted plant. Bring us the seed of the Gospel and plant it in our soil." The quote was used in the context of discussing the dangers of sharing the Gospel encumbered by our own cultural expectations and norms. It espoused the need for indigenization - being careful to preserve the meaning of the Gospel even as we express it in native forms.
This got me thinking about how we engage in cross-cultural Children’s Ministry training. Are we sometimes guilty of giving people "potted plants" - fully-developed programs which make sense to us, are aesthetically pleasing to us, and which have worked for us in our settings? Do they always "fit" in other settings? For instance, several times here in Australia I saw well-meaning groups bring over programs from the US. Being American, I could appreciate the programs and knew that they were good. However, having a good chunk of Aussie in me, I could also see that they would never totally work here. Sometimes it was something as simple as the fact that all the Christmas activities assumed that it was winter, Easter activities were based around spring and the spelling was American instead of Australian. Not really a big deal, something you could work around, but it was irritating! This is just an illustration of a superficial difference between similar cultures. What about when we try to transport programs and ideas between cultures with radically different worldviews and behavioral norms?
So, maybe we should instead seek to plant the "seed" of Children’s Ministry in the local soil and help it to grow in culturally relevant ways. But then that raised the question, "What is the seed?" What is the irreduceable core of ministry to children? Obviously the Gospel needs to be shared. Children need to develop a relationship with God, their heavenly Father. But what about how we help them to do that? Do the child development guidelines we follow in the West hold true in subsistence-farming communities? How has our individualistic mindset molded our programs and are they relevant in communalistic societies? Do our logical/linear presentations of the Gospel reach children in oral/experiential cultures? And the questions could go on.
I love potted plants, but the cost of buying them full-grown is prohibitive, they are hard to transport and I have often failed to find the right place to grow them where they will thrive. The hot-house where they have been raised is so different to the realities of my home! I have had much more success with seeds - or even seedlings. They are cheaper, travel better and adapt to the new surroundings more readily. They may not end up looking like the hot-house plants, and it takes patience to wait while they grow, but they are well suited to their environment and thrive. It seems to me that in order to be sure that Children’s Ministry grows and thrives around the world, we need to be thinking about what it is that we are exporting and how to reduce it to its essentail core so that there is then the freedom for it to develop in culturally appropriate and sustainable ways. It seems to me that if the Holy Spirit can guide us in developing effective programs, we can trust Him to guide the church in other parts of the world as well - maybe it is our job just to get it started? It may not look like what we would do and it may take longer to get going but it will ultimately accomplish the growth of the Kingdom in ways we could never imagine.