Perhaps, but I am more concerned about the American dependent spirit. I believe a pervasive attitude of dependency is very detrimental to Christian mission. Millions of Americans are increasingly big government and anti-church. The big government claim that it can meet the needs of people is a farce. Eventually the bottom will drop out and the church should be prepared to pick up the pieces. But will people then expect to become dependent on the church? Presently the government is attempting to eclipse the church in social work. The church should never let that happen. But neither should the church promote the kind of dependency that government programs create. With that said, it may be that the pendulum has swung it is not the American independent spirit that is as much of a threat as the American dependent spirit.
American ways encourage efficiency, motivate progress, and improve life around the world. But in missions they have complex results when not balanced. Some examples: (1) Multiple American denominations have churches in the same fields without cooperation. (2) American young people are encouraged to follow their own spiritual ambitions, ignoring the wisdom and needs of their local congregations. (3) We look for individuals with ability and attract mavericks who have talent, but no loyalty to a spiritual family. (4) We expect individual initiative from nationals who cannot imagine success apart from group effort. (5) We work hard to develop mission-field programs that collapse when we leave. (6) In countries most impacted by American religion, backyard and storefront churches are everywhere, started by religious entrepreneurs who have not bothered to seek credentials or prove credibility.
Most American missionaries work hard, but long-term results depend on finding a transferable blend of American efficiency and the values of the local culture.
The American independent spirit is widely identified as a major reason for much of our nation’s progress. As the “masters of our own fate” we have explored, invented, innovated, and expanded. That same spirit has been a positive force for church and missions advancement. Missionaries are usually self-starters, anxious to reach their goals.
However, that lively spirit, if not properly controlled, can be detrimental to missionary work. Most cultures outside our country are built on relationships; first steps in new directions are often made by groups rather than individuals. “Hurry up and go” is not a primary characteristic of many societies.
If the American independent spirit is allowed to pressure people into making decisions or press them into things they’re not ready for, then, yes, it can hinder missions. But if that same spirit helps others discover new horizons and develop appropriate means of reaching them, it can be a great boon.
The American independent spirit does not hinder mission work. In fact, it is this generous, hardworking, self-reliant attitude that has sent missionaries and developed mission fields around the world. We should uphold and affirm that attitude. Too often we have been self-deprecating when, in truth, millions have been reached because Americans have sacrificially prayed, given, and gone.
However, if by “independent spirit” one means an arrogant, materialistic, selfish, paternalistic, my-way-or-the-highway approach to missions that has sometimes tinged our Gospel message abroad, then, yes, it is a hindrance. That tendency of our fallen nature to see ourselves as the center of the universe is a problem. American or not, a self-centered, me-first mentality cripples the spread of the gospel wherever it’s found.
Our message is not Americanism. The cross is not a bulletin board for our cultural ideals. We must remember who we proclaim; it is Christ crucified.
Our “independent spirit” usually does not function well in mission work. “Togetherness,” group dynamics, “extended family,” and other features best describe most cultures. The independent spirit is a foreign concept to them. We Americans pride ourselves in the proverbial trailblazing pioneer with a double-bladed axe resting on one shoulder and a black-powder rifle slung on the other as he leads the wagon train into the western sunset. “Achieving” is a key concept in our American mindset. “Belonging” is key in many other cultures. These often clash in mission work. Like it or not, many people view us as “the ugly Americans.” However, when you do not manifest an independent spirit and you gain the trust of national Christians, they eventually do open up and are transparent regarding their view of Americans. Our perception of their perception of Americans is most often skewed.
In the political, economic and national realms, an independent spirit is to be applauded. America has been blessed with this attitude throughout her history.
However, an independent spirit in God's kingdom becomes a liability that can cripple missionary endeavors.
Foreign nationals can be easily intimidated by this American forwardness. Often they interpret it as brashness and pride, perhaps for good reason. This causes the nationals to react in two ways: 1) They "dig in their heels" and dare the missionary to accomplish his/her work apart from their cooperation; or, 2) just as damaging, they cooperate because of intimidation and manipulation by the missionary.
The American missionary must instill confidence in the national church leaders by assuming a teachable posture. The missionary should look for some ways to be dependent on the national's cultural, religious and spiritual intuition. When the missionary humbles himself and becomes accountable to the nationals, his/her influence is ultimately enhanced.