Ministry in Russia is entrusted by God first and foremost to the Russian people. An effective mission agency will understand this and always try to facilitate local efforts. Even if Russian believers make mistakes, it is presumptuous to think the West always knows best. God may want to teach Russians even through failures.
Two Mission Philosophies
One common mission philosophy involves the implementation in Russia of ministry strategies that have proven effective elsewhere on the assumption that they are universal. In such cases local cultural sensitivities receive scant attention. A contrasting mission philosophy steers clear of instruction in transferable concepts. Rather, respect for the uniqueness of each context leads missionaries of this approach to meet with indigenous Christian leaders asking, "How do you view your ministry in your homeland? In your opinion, what shape should it take?" This strategy of facilitation consists of coming alongside local believers to assist them in their efforts. In my opinion the latter philosophy is more likely to succeed.
An effective ministry will include thorough training of missionaries in the cultural and historical sensibilities of the people. According to Lawrence Uzzell of Keston Institute, one of the foremost priorities should be acquisition of the local language. The accent may always be there, but as practice shows, even rudimentary language skills will help break the ice, even in the most hostile environment.
Avoid focusing on the number of new converts. The question missionaries must constantly ask, when so many people come to the church through the front door, is "How many are leaving through the back door?" An effective ministry also takes into account the factor of time. On the mission field, building relationships and being involved in lifestyle evangelism takes time and patience, as opposed to a fast-food style of witnessing.
The above mentioned considerations are not designed to discourage Western missionary activity. The truth be known, the West has a lot to offer. In my opinion, Russians, who are often swayed by emotions, frequently need a more disciplined approach to ministry. If something goes wrong, Russians often adopt a fatalistic approach to life and ministry. At the same time, in the West with its culture of setting and achieving goals, a more responsible attitude towards ministry has developed.
Right and Wrong Approaches
Westerners have provided immense help in the reemergence of Russian theological education. They have helped to develop curricula and have provided staff for new Russian schools, for example, the Russian-American Christian University in Moscow, St. James College in Kyiv, the Methodist Seminary in Moscow, and scores of others. I am convinced that without Western help, Russians would not have been able to establish such educational programs.
The West also can offer expertise in teaching life skills to Russian believers. One example is a ministry based in Dallas, TX, that teaches computer skills to foreign believers. Also, a ministry in St. Petersburg trains Russian women in sewing skills to help them become self-sufficient. On the other hand, ineffective ministries continue to provide financial assistance and grants to Russian believers on every occasion (such as paying for train tickets, conference accommodations, etc.). Such ministries, in fact, stifle Russian initiative by providing an easy way out in every situation.
A couple from California who spent six years in Russia provide one example of effective ministry. They mentored a young Russian pastor, not only training him, but also providing an everyday example and encouragement as a Christian couple. Never once did they preach or speak to the congregation. Rather, they stayed in the background assisting him. From the very beginning their goal was to work themselves out of a job--and they were successful. The Russian pastor was entrusted with more and more areas of responsibility and trained to pour himself into other people's lives. When the American couple left, the church ministry continued to grow. Today this church has an effective community outreach through children's and discipleship programs and training for Russian parents in raising godly children. While the missionaries did teach the pastor certain American concepts and techniques, they also worked with him to rethink, rework, adapt, and apply appropriate methods to particular Russian situations. Today observers of this church would not see an American clone, but rather an effective Russian church.
Stas Karassev is a graduate of Dallas Theological Seminary and works for Josh McDowell Ministry, Dallas, TX.
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© 2002 East-West Church and Ministry Report