Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Western Church Globalization Good or Bad?

Written by: on April 10, 2015

Reading Lewis and Pierard’s book, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective, reminded me of the training I received as a missionary. I was involved in a project to translate outreach and training materials into the native language of the countries that the mission was working in. The project was being implemented on a global scale, so it was important that the work consider the broader global view and cultural considerations. The authors did not just focus on Western churches, but looked at evangelism through the global lens.

In my opinion, every American missionary and church should read this book so that they understand that the American way of spreading the gospel is not necessarily the right way. The Western church needs to understand and explore other ways to spread the message of salvation to a lost world. I cannot count how many times I have witnessed the narrow-minded view of many Christians, as they have the mindset that our way is the best way. Western churches should not dictate or run the indigenous churches that they are supporting. Lewis and Pierard assert, “the churches founded by the mission should be ‘self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating.”[1] From what I have experienced, this is very hard for many churches and mission organizations to accept.

I believe that Western organizations often struggle with relinquishing control and oversight is due to fear that the indigenous churches are going to misuse or take advantage of the resources that are provided. On some level, this fear is well founded. However, the church cannot allow this worry to translate into controlling behavior. I recall a discussion with my seminary peers surrounding differences between Catholicism and Protestantism, with regards to spreading the gospel and outreach. My stance was that the Roman Catholic Church’s outreach endeavors are more effective than that of the Protestant Church, because they more frequently help or give without any expectation of getting a “return on investment.” Many times, if a protestant church does not see some type of return on the money or resources they have invested, they discontinue the program or support.  All organizations must understand that money belongs to God. We are to plant and water the seed, and God will make it grow. A key theme of our recent DMin studies addresses the extent in which materialism has infected the western church, and exposes the fact that that we are propagating a consumer style doctrine through our traditional outreach methods.

We are constantly drawing from our own tradition and experience when we minister, without the global success that we should have as a corporate Christian body. How can intentionally change the western mindset and behaviors on a massive enough scale to make a difference?



[1] Donald M. Lewis and Richard V. Pierard, Global Evangelicalism: Theology, History and Culture in Regional Perspective. P. 1776


About the Author

Richard Volzke

8 responses to “Western Church Globalization Good or Bad?”

  1. Deve Persad says:

    Richard, I love that you think every church and missionary should read this book. I couldn’t agree more as there is so much to learn from both mistakes and successes in our past. You ask about making changes significant enough to create a massive shift in our approach. I don’t know if that is possible at this point, however, a massive shift is a product of several smaller shifts and so perhaps we need to be intentional about helping a church, or a small group of churches understand these differences. You’ve astutely listed some of the attitudes and practices that have had small or negligible results in our mission practice. What would you suggest as a place to start in re-orienting our churches or our missionaries in their global evangelism tasks?

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I think the first place to start re-orienting our churches and missionaries is helping them understand that North America is not the center of the Christian world. The problem is a cultural mindset, as U.S. Christians think that we have all the answers and that we somehow have cornered the “market” on God. This false attitude of “Christian superiority”, in my opinion, is the number one reason so many churches and missionaries fail in mission endeavors. I’m not sure how or if this can be changed, but it is something that we as church leaders should strive for.

  2. Richard,

    You bring up some great points here. Thanks for your post.

    Yes, so often, Western missionaries are so narrow minded. It is “our way or the highway.” How sad. How childish. Your point about Catholic missions was powerful and true. You are 100 percent right. The money belongs to God, not to us.

    Not sure I agree with you that everyone should read this book. I thought it was good; however, I thought that it left out a chuck of the whole story. If you have time to read Julie’s post this week, you will see what I mean. Her post verbalized in an excellent way what I was thinking.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      This book does a good job demonstrating that our American way is not the only way to spread the gospel message. Western Christians must grasp the truth that we are just one part of Christ’s church. We must support the church even if we do not agree with how it does what God has called it to do – it is more important that they are doing what they are called.

  3. rhbaker275 says:


    Great post…I would say your experience brings you to this discussion from a different angle than my own experience. I come from a different angle in relating to “Western organizations [that] often struggle with relinquishing control and oversight … due to fear that the indigenous churches are going to misuse or take advantage of the resources that are provided.” I think you come at this more from a “training/management” perspective; correct me if I am wrong. I approach this more from the “giver angle” meaning the individual is handing over a donation based on what the organization is telling me in solicitation of my donation. From that perspective, I demand accountability. Now is different than your concept of “return on investment.”

    This became a difficult subject for me at the South Africa face-to-face. I shared how the child sponsorship program (Children of Promise, Anderson, IN) I am associated with designates that funds for a specific child can only be used for that child. I detailed that each child (over 900 children in Tanzania) had a health care fund (actual cash account) and it was funded by a percent of the monthly support. When I indicated that the funds could only be spent on the designated child – I got a little “feisty” push-back with the question, “What makes you think you ought to say which child gets health care and which one does not receive care?” I tried not to push-back, but it was difficult and remains an issue for me personally. My wife and I sponsor ten children in four countries around the world (Tanzania, Myanmar, Dominican Republic, Holland).

    Does this translate into what you call “controlling behavior?” Or, is it just plain “‘ole’ western accountability?” There is definitively an attachment / identity established between program/sponsor/child. As I read your excellent post, I am made aware that this could become self-serving.

    • Richard Volzke says:

      I don’t think you are being controlling when you sponsor certain individuals or programs. The issue that I am addressing deals with the American church as a whole. The American church has the false impression that it knows the will of God better than any other country, and it is our duty to instruct others and show them the true way to walk with God.

  4. Julie Dodge says:

    Nicely done, Richard. You highlight some of the key points that western churches need to practice, and that we also need to trust God with the outcomes of His work – not in man. Churches should indeed be indigenous led and supporting. And of course we should walk alongside our brothers and sisters throughout the world. But perhaps we should, as you noted, let go of a little control and have a little faith.

  5. Clint Baldwin says:

    Really appreciate your post in relation to suggestions of empowerment and dignity. However, I do differ with the first quote that you offered. I don’t think this emphasis on “self” is healthy. We need healthy connectivity not a new disconnectivity. Of course, this might well be what the authors were driving at, but often this is language for indigeniety at the expense of healthy partnership. I’m for the second which also must include the first.
    Again, nice post.

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