I’ve been a fan of Compassion with its program of child sponsorship for as long as I can remember…so when I heard about the indigenous missions movement being spearheaded by K.P. Yohannan through Gospel for Asia (GFA), I was (of course) excited. In the past I’d read through significant portions of his debut book, Revolution in World Missions, and more recently I read it again. I’d like to take a few minutes to share what I am sure will be somewhat controversial thoughts on the book.
I do so with some fear and trepidation for several reasons:
- I like what GFA and Yohannan are doing and I want to see their ministry flourish and multiply.
- The book has been highly recommended by highly respected Christian leaders such as Patrick Johnstone (Operation World), George Verwer (Operation Mobilization), Erwin Lutzer (Moody Church), and the late Dr. John Walvoord (Dallas Theological Seminary).
- Many of my respected friends are fans of Gospel for Asia.
- I don’t want to recoil against harsh words simply b/c they are harsh, but ensure that my objections are legitimate.
I should also note that my thoughts herein are from the 2003 28th printing of the book, which is my copy and note from the latest printing which was updated in 2004. I did review the PDF of the book (which is available free from GFA) in its most recent iteration and it appears to be substantively the same content with some small but positive improvements.
Lets start off on a positive note. There is much to be commended about Yohannan’s book:
- His personal biography is shared in the book and is both encouraging and challenging as he shares the many dramatic ways in which God has worked in his life personally.
- The concept of indigenous missionaries is exciting and revolutionary, something which I think the Christian church should support.
- Yohannan brings deep personal commitment and integrity to the ministry and I have heard of no valid complaints against him on a personal level – he lives what he preaches (and writes).
- The book challenges us to step out and recognize just how “rich” we as American Christians – even “poor” American Christians are and the opportunity we have to use our resources for God’s Kingdom.
Problem 1: Is This What We Need to Hear?
There is money in America and mobilizing that money for good and for the gospel is important – but is the way in which Yohannan communicates the message the most effective? Overall, I found the book to be rather guilt inducing rather than change producing. At least in the church circles I frequent it seems we have been beat over the head with the knowledge of our affluence, but not necessarily given the tools to change anything about it. Most Americans I know are struggling to get by in many senses and while the sentiment that we should give more is nice, the question is, “How are we to give more?”
This is not necessarily a question I expect Yohannan to answer – rather it is something the church should work to answer in America. For example, financial literacy among the working classes could provide significant relief of financial troubles and free up resources for missions work. Similarly, helping folks cope with overwhelming stresses of postmodern American life in more healthy ways than constant TV consumption, etc. could help reduce the amount spent on mindless recreation. Making folks aware of the opportunities to give to specific needs as opposed to general giving (e.g. the way Compassion and GFA allow for specific sponsorship rather than dumping money into a general bucket) is another way to foster giving.
I am always concerned when I hear the message “do x” but there is not a “by doing a, b, c you can successfully move to point x.” For me, greater financial literacy has been an important tool in my ongoing battle against debt and towards the wise stewardship of my finances – and it has and will make a big difference in my giving…but without this tool, I’m just left feeling guilty for not doing better and giving more.
Problem 2: Is This What We Want to Encourage?
Throughout the book Yohannan recounts the “sacrifices” made by indigenous missionaries in order to share the gospel – many of these at the expense of their families and their health. I recognize the need for sacrifice within the Christian walk but I am concerned by the systematic portrayal of “ministry at any cost.” I think we have seen in America the results of this mentality on the Christian family. How many successful pastors, missionaries, and businessmen – committed to the Christian cause have sacrificed their families in order to do “ministry at any cost?” In the process – how many generations have abandoned the faith due to being abandoned by parents for the ministry? Paul tells us that the man who has a wife has to think of her, and his focus is divided – so he encourages us, if able, to be celibate as he is and focus entirely on the ministry of the kingdom…but he does not suggest that if we are married that we should ignore our wife (or children) for the sake of the gospel…and yet Yohannan’s stories sometimes seem to encourage this sort of thinking…and in the process of winning the world this mindset loses one’s Jerusalem and Judea.
I see also in some of these stories recipes for burnout and I ponder how long the indigenous missionaries will continue to thrive and minister in the conditions Yohannan sets forth. I think of the many individuals I know who have spent time fervently working for the Lord for a short period of time, but then have left the ministry and now are burnt out and wandering. What happened? They used up all their intensity in a span of years rather than a lifetime. I want to follow Christ and minister each day for a lifetime – but I fear this sort of burnout fueling mentality will result in many who do not.
I’m still a fan of GFA. I have two more books of Yohannan’s on my shelves and I am working through one of them now. Reading this book raised some major concerns for me, but it hasn’t made me move away from GFA – just made me want to know more about where the ministry is now and what is happening within it.
I would encourage Yohannan to reconsider his tact in his writings. Does he really want to encourage guilt and burnout? I don’t think so…but that is the “feel” I received from his book. I’d encourage GFA to consider ways in which it can partner with local churches to help them facilitate better stewardship of individual (and church) finances and thus spur change rather than simply demanding it without explaining how.
For those who are interested in learning more about GFA or reading more about Revolution in World Missions, here are some great resources:
- Revolution in World Missions Free PDF eBook.
- Official Gospel for Asia (GFA) website.
- Heather VanTimmeren’s Review of Revolution in World Missions.
- Goodread’s Revolution in World Missions Page.
- Matthew C. Keegan’s Review of Revolution in World Missions.
- Jeff Noble’s Review of Revolution in World Missions.