More Than I Expected or Imagined: Serving Thai Believer’s Vision
Protestant missionaries have been working in Thailand for almost 188 years, and yet this nation, known as the most Buddhist country in the world, still has less than 1% evangelical Christian. The remaining Thai population is made up of 93% Buddhists and about 6% Muslim. So why has there been such slow progress in seeing Thais receive the Gospel? I began to think that maybe we missionaries have not been as helpful as we thought we were. After studying how Christian movements in the past have accelerated, I was convinced that reaching the city and seeing churches established was the most effective way to reach a nation.
After serving in a campus ministry organization in Thailand for 14 years, I changed mission organizations in 2005 and joined UWM. During this transition time, I was encouraged by my director to do an informal survey to see what Thai leaders thought about what kind of work missionaries should be doing in Thailand. After so little progress, I thought this would be helpful to see what Thai’s thought about the how ministry was being done and the missionaries’ role. I talked with several leaders, but one Thai leader, who was the president of a Thai seminary, told me something that changed the trajectory of how I approach doing ministry. He said, “in the past missionaries would come to me and ask, ‘Do you have any seminary students you could send me to help me start my church, or my denomination or ministry organization?’ So, we would send Thais to the help the missionary accomplish their vision.” He said, “this was okay in the past, but now we have Thai leaders who have a vision and are equipped to start churches and ministries on their own. Now, we need the missionaries to come alongside us Thais, to help us accomplish the vision God has given us for our nation.”
At that point, the organization that I was working with had started two very weak churches, one in Bangkok and the other in the Northeast of Thailand. Not only was it propped up financially by us missionaries, there were too many missionaries in both churches and this inhibited the Thais ability to step up and lead. So when this Thai leader said this, it made sense, and I’ve never gone back to trying to get Thais to help me accomplish my vision. It’s their nation, and they know their people better than me. Therefore, they are more likely to see Thai people come to Christ. At that point the Thai leader invited me into what was called, the Thailand National Plan. This was a plan to see churches started all over the nation.
Over the past 11 years, I’ve been able to come alongside Thai leaders on the local, regional and national level to help them accomplish their vision to reach their nation. This has been much more fruitful and rewarding in seeing churches started. Locally, I am partnering with Thai business leaders to establish a church, and just this month we moved into a new facility that was not your traditional way of building a facility. The business leaders partnered with another businessman who has soccer sport complexes throughout the city, so when he was planning to start a new business in our area of the city, we invested in the business and built our facility within the sport complex. A creative and more economical way of getting a more permanent facility. The thing about joining with a national to help them accomplish their vision of planting a church is that, if I have to leave at anytime, the ministry will continue because it was the Thais vision from the beginning. I see missionaries struggling to turn over the churches they’ve planned or the ministries they have started, and many times the ministry dies because it was never owned by the Thais.
Regionally, our team has come alongside churches and organizations to provide discipleship and leadership training. Offering this kind of training to many churches has been exciting and the local pastors welcome and appreciate the opportunity to partner with us. On the national level, as God opened the door for me to serve through the Evangelical Fellowship of Thailand and on a national planning committee thinking and planning for strategic initiatives on the national level. Over the past 11 years, I have been able to serve denominational leaders and to bring resources, training and ideas to the table help enhance and expand the vision and plans of national leaders working together to reach the entire nation.
One recent example of working with Thai church planters is that I have been able to join with a church planter training team who trained over 250 pastors and leaders in four regions throughout the nations. These pastors set a goal to start 150 new churches over the following year. Last year when we followed up on these pastors 134 churches had been started. Through helping the Thais accomplish their vision God has done more than I expected or imagined.
By: Gregg Nicholson, Serving in Thailand