The Western Church is extremely fortunate in the abundant amount of opportunities it has to grow in the knowledge and understanding of Jesus Christ. In many cities, churches of various denominations dot every corner, multiple ministries exist on the same street, and pastoral and personal counseling are available for those who seek it. The average church member could visit their local Barnes & Noble bookstore and find more choices on study Bibles and books giving life advice than anyone could consume in years. Readily available knowledge and wisdom from ancient as well as modern thinkers has made this society a rather informed one in comparison to a global community in which “[e]ighty-five percent of churches . . . are led by men and women who have no formal training in theology or ministry.”19 Combine this knowledge with the tremendous amount of wealth and resources at the West’s fingertips, and it seems we have the answer to life that everyone else is obviously waiting for.
It sounds a little presumptuous, doesn’t it?
Perhaps the thing that most excites you about traveling to do ministry in another country – a poor country – is your ability to help other people. You can’t wait to lend your skills, your service, to share your deep store of knowledge, to bring the glorious message of Christ to a dark world. That is wonderful. But just as many of the other “good” motives that we discussed earlier have lurking evils, so does this perception of ministry. As missionaries from places or cultures like the West, it is easy to think that we have it all together. We have the knowledge, the wealth, the tools, and the ability to bring the good life to populations that just can’t quite get their act together. This can be exhibited in both a material and spiritual sense.
However, when we do this, we place ourselves on the throne that belongs to God: we have a god-complex. We set out on missions thinking that we are saving the world through both our knowledge and our stuff.
The Western Church especially views material things – whether wealth or superior resources – as a sign of success, and thus as the answer to most problems. However, this mindset is especially potent when working with impoverished peoples and can actually be a hindrance to the very communities you are trying to help, as well as to your own spiritual health. In fact, “[o]ne of the biggest problems in many poverty-alleviation efforts is that their design and implementation exacerbates the poverty of being of the economically rich – their god-complexes – and the poverty of being of the economically poor – their feelings of inferiority and shame. The way that we act toward the economically poor often communicates – albeit unintentionally – that we are superior and they are inferior.”20
The reality is, despite the abundance of resources and knowledge, wealth and counseling, the Western Church is still in need of Christ’s saving power as much as churches in less-developed nations worldwide. We don’t have it all figured out. In fact, our tendency is to put stock solely in ourselves and our capabilities instead of relying on the God who has provided them, and who is our creator and sustainer. 21 No tool of ours can “fix” the world. Instead, our ministry to the global community should be an invitation to show who has, and who is continuing to fix us. Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert put it well in their book, When Helping Hurts:
Our relationship to the materially poor should be one in which we recognize that both of us are broken and that both of us need the blessing of reconciliation. Our perspective should be less about how we are going to fix the materially [and spiritually] poor and more about how we can walk together, asking God to fix both of us. . . . We must do our best to preach the gospel . . . but part of our striving is also to fall on our knees every day and pray.
One of the greatest tragedies of missionaries with god-complexes is that they believe they are bringing Christ to Cambodia. Christ is already working in Cambodia; God has long been working to establish His Church that currently exists in there. Local disciples have already been made and the work of the kingdom is underway. With that in mind, Western missionaries should be aware of the fact that although they may be equipped with valuable resources, they are not God’s superior blessing to Cambodian believers. Yes, you can provide care and knowledge that might not otherwise be available, but your great privilege is that you get to partner with what Christ has already started in Cambodia.
Wealth and resources are vital to the advancement of the kingdom, but don’t allow those resources to give you a god-complex. Remember that God chose the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, the weak things to shame the mighty, 22 and the poor to be rich in faith.23 And the body of Christ is not made up of separate entities with some better than others. Rather, “[t]here is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”24
In doing ministry in Cambodia, it would be helpful to be aware of a possible god-complex, and to consider and live out the words of Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi: “In lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself.”25
Here are some questions you can ask in order to prepare yourself to come alongside the ministry being doing in Cambodia:
- What areas can I identify that still need refinement in my life?
- Do I view those who are economically less fortunate to be spiritually inferior?
- In what ways might I offer service to local believers and staff members in a way that is humble and helpful to existing ministry?
19 David Livermore, Serving with Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 41.
20 Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2012), 62.
21 Ibid., 92.
22 1 Corinthians 1:27.
23 James 2:5.
24 Ephesians 4: 4-6, NKJV.
25 Philippians 2:3, KJV.