He looked like an “insider.” His hair was black, his skin brown. When he wore a kurtah shirt and walked down the street, he looked like an Indian. He had even picked up some Hindi language skills. My friend Jordan* was definitely not an insider though! He had been raised in America by adoptive parents. Though born in India, he was definitely an outsider. Movements that grow rapidly are led by insiders. Who is an insider? Who is an outsider? This week’s blog explains the difference and why it matters.
An insider is someone from the local culture and community. Accepted by the community, they are seen as “one of them.” They speak the language in the same way as those who live there. Their lifestyle mirrors that of the majority. Worldview has been shaped from within the culture and context.
Can Insider Status Be Lost?
I had worked hard to learn to speak Nepali. Fluency was a big accomplishment. Careful how I dressed, I made sure I didn’t stand out as a foreigner. I’d learned to use idioms and the gestures common in Nepali society. After many years of study, I had a good handle on many of their customs and cultural practices. Since I participated in my community, the people loved me. Still, I was a foreigner- an outsider. No matter what I did, I would never fully be an insider.
In contrast, a good friend of mine was Nepali. He was from Nepal, born in Nepal, and spoke excellent Nepali. He knew how to squat in that uniquely Nepali way and greeted people with ease. A very effective evangelist, he had started several churches. He was an insider…until he went away for several years of studies in America.
When he returned, he experienced a great difference in how he related to Nepalis around him. He thought differently than he had before. Now, he preferred Western style worship to the repetitive, traditional, Nepali songs. His English was excellent and he had many foreign friends. He was even interested in a girl from England who was a missionary in Nepal. Perhaps they would marry. His living standard had also improved as he now had foreign supporters for his ministry.
Though my friend had been an insider before, he no longer was. His lifestyle and worldview had changed too dramatically to be effective in leading his own people. They could no longer relate to him.
To become an insider again would take significant effort on his part. It was not something he was likely to do. Knowing this, I advised him to do what we as foreigners did – lead from behind.
He, like us, would need to work to raise up insiders to lead the movement forward. He would need to listen to them, learn from them, and allow them to make the key decisions about how things would be done.
Jesus did what none of us can do! He was actually born as a human being. He became an insider by being born into our world’s culture.
“Jesus ’emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.'”Philippians 2:7 NIV
The only way to be an insider is to be born one. If you are born an insider, though, you must also be careful to stay one.
It is a characteristic of Disciple-Making Movements that they are led by insiders. If outsiders begin to lead, it usually hinders growth. When insiders lead, the movement grows organically. It adapts to the local culture and context quite naturally.
3 Things to Avoid in DMMs
1. Avoid extraction evangelism.
Extraction is when you pull something out. We use the word with teeth, “I had my molar extracted.” When someone comes to faith, be careful not to extract them from their normal context. You don’t want to pull them out of their relationships and friendships, even if it seems best for their early growth as a believer. If you do, they will lose the natural network of friendships through which they can spread the gospel. They may also come to be viewed as an outsider.
Instead, help them learn how to live as a Jesus follower from within their community. Through them, jump inside of their friend and family circle – don’t pull them out!
2. Avoid sending people away for training.
If you send people away for training, it is likely they will pick up habits that will not work well in their context. Instead of sending them away, take the training to them. It is expensive to send people outside for training, even if it is just from the village to the capital city. Many who train outside are unable to apply what they learn when they return. They adopt new lifestyles and worldviews. These may cause them not to want to go back to the village or living standard they were previously comfortable with.
Carefully think and pray through the implications of sending someone away to be trained…even if the training is truly excellent! Will it cause the movement to grow and reproduce? Or could it become a hindrance?
3. Avoid importing foreign culture.
When you bring foreigners, or foreign cultural practices, into the church, it affects the local image. No longer will the church be viewed as Kenyan, or Thai, or Arab. Instead, it will be seen as foreign. Avoid translated worship songs and Western instruments. Using anything that is not locally available can slow reproducibility. Instead, affirm and uplift the local music styles, instruments and ways of working.
With the rise of the internet, YouTube, and social media, those who come to faith may ask questions about the use of local things. They may watch a preacher on TV. A stage filled with people jumping around and singing Western music is what they see. Help them understand that it is okay, even better, to worship in a way that fits their own context.
To explain this, I often talk about farming. Some plants grow well in the cooler mountains and others grow well in the hot plains. If you try to transplant something that is from the mountains and grow it in the plains, it may survive. But it will not thrive and reproduce well. Instead, let’s appreciate the mountain plants when we visit there. Here where it is hot and humid, let’s grow what produces lots of fruit!
Always Think Multiplication
These decisions can be difficult. It’s not always easy to train people locally, or to use indigenous songs. This is especially true if you are an outsider (or someone who has become an outsider by exposure.) In everything you do, consider these questions, “Will this cause the movement to grow naturally? Or will my actions hinder multiplication?”
If you have further questions about who is an insider, and who is an outsider, ask them in the comments below. Or, discuss this with others in the DMMs Facebook group.
Note: This article does not address the subject of insider movements. Insider movements are movements to Christ that stay within the religious context of the people. Those who come to faith do not call themselves Christians but remain as Hindu, Buddhist, or Muslims followers of Jesus. To learn more about that, please refer to this issue of Mission Frontiers magazine.
*name has been changed.
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