A recent study on conversion among Thai people found that 70% came to faith in Jesus Christ through the influence of a friend of relative rather than a missionary or Thai Pastor.
Yet, only about 1 in 40 Thai believers claims to have led another person to faith in a year.
I wrote briefly about this topic January of last year but wanted to share a little more in depth as a part of this series.
Why the disconnect?
I believe this disconnect comes from the way leaders, whether Thai or otherwise, are equipping new believers through a “clergy-laity” mindset.
From this study, we can see that the “clergy” are not as effective in influencing a Thai to come to faith in Jesus as a “lay” person.
Is part of the problem that we have these very distinctions at all or at least we misunderstand the role of leadership in Christ’s church?
The Role of Leadership
Ephesians 4:11-12 is a Scripture that I believe that gives us the proper Biblical view of leadership and its role to “equip the saints (the normal, average, every day people of God) for the work of the ministry (or works of service).
The role of leadership in God’s mission is not to be the group who does all of the work of the ministry
- sharing the Gospel,
- caring for the oppressed,
- bringing justice,
- planting new communities etc.
but to also work to empower others to fulfill the “works that God has prepared in advance” for them to walk in in their day to day lives. (see Eph 2:10)
That “work” includes, but is not limited to, the work of being an “ambassador” for Jesus to others and allowing God to speak through us as we share our own personal stories of how Jesus has transformed our own lives. (see 2 Cor 5:20)
The Expectation For Every Believer
Every believer should be sharing their story with others. We naturally share with others what is valuable to us. If we have no testimony, have we really come to know Jesus as Savior and Lord?
If we do have our own stories, but we don’t share it with the ones we love and others around us when we have opportunity, do we really understand the nature of salvation and our responsibility to love our neighbor as ourselves?
Some Necessary Shifts
In my opinion, any master plan to reach Thailand that does not include real work in empowering every believer is at best defective and at worse missing the mark of God’s intention and role for leadership in His Church.
This will most probably require a shift from
- the “patron-client” aspects of Thai culture (leader talks, protects & provides, we listen and obey without question)
- the emphasis the role of the Pastor/Missionary (implied or not that we should do all of the “ministry” work)
to the privileges, callings, and responsibilities of EVERY Thai believer.
If our way of making disciples is not something that the poorest farmer or street cook can reproduce in his or her own context then maybe we should be re looking at some of our approaches.
If we are serious about discipling a nation can we do anything less than work hard to really empower and commission every Thai believer?
This is a question not only for Thailand, but I would suspect, for all other countries as well.
Part One: Progress of the Gospel in Thailand