The Indian Church today is the result of the preaching of the early missionaries interpreted in the light of the organizations which they set up. In the Christian mission, the first thing which the Indian observed was the Christian missionary.
Though the influence of the mission pattern is to be seen in the whole life of the Indian Churches, yet there is a special sense in which the Indian ministry has been influenced by it and which illustrates its limitations.
This attempt to develop the Church without at the same time developing the ministry has deformed the conception of the Church, of the Sacraments, and of the ministry itself.
Michael Hollis Paternalism and the Church,
pp. 40, 51
Chapter 4 Models for Ministry
Discussing the importance of leadership for human communities is something akin to trying to discuss the significance of air for life. It is so fundamental, so commonplace, and so elemental that we naturally lose sight of its significance on a day-to-day basis. Yet, the role of the leader is so necessary to us that it is literally a part of our biological make-up. The very idea of a "leaderless" human community is impossible. What could such a thing be? The viability of any human organization depends on its leaders. Those groups with a tradition of good leadership are the ones most likely to have a viable social, institutional, and organizational life.
The purpose of this chapter and the two that follow is to examine in detail the church leadership relations, strategies, and philosophy of the Laos Mission. The Laos Mission itself assigned great importance to developing church leadership as a key to strengthening the churches. Issues of church leadership were inexorably entwined with the sociocultural attitudes of the mission, the nature of northern Thai social structures, and the late nineteenth century missionary movement ideal of establishing self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing "native" churches. Ultimately, the issue of church leadership in the northern Thai church had to do with power — who had it and how they exercised it. (1)
When we examine how an organization or an institution makes its decisions, maintains authority, and structures power relationships, we have reached its nuts-and-bolts center. The facade of organizational philosophy and public relations statements dissolves into the reality of how human relationships are actually structured.
Mission Church Leadership: Its Form
Throughout the history of the Laos Mission, "church leadership" meant mission leadership of the church. Since leadership is a social role, it is important to begin here with the form, the structure of mission leadership of the churches. In later sections, we will look at the mission's understanding of the northern Thai church and then at how the mission actually exercised its leadership.
The most striking single characteristic regarding the mission's exercising leadership responsibility over the northern Thai churches was that its leadership existed prior to and outside of the community it created. In normal situations, societies and communities and their leaders exist together: leaders arise out of the community and have their existence for the sake of the larger community. Leaders are members of the community. They express the cultural milieu of their community. They, normally, share the values, the language, the habits, the prejudices, and the general world-view of the people they lead.
However, the northern Thai church did not even exist when the Laos Mission began in 1867. The mission, rather, "called" into existence the church. Instead of the society raising up leaders for its needs, the situation was reversed: the leaders raised up a church to meet a set of needs defined by the leaders. Furthermore, the leadership, in effect, decided a priori how the community should take shape, what its values should be, what activities it should engage in, and what should be the qualifications for membership in the community. (2)
The result was an abnormal and unnatural relationship between leaders and followers. In a more normal situation, mutual dependency binds leaders and followers together so that the leader cannot move too far away from the needs and wants of the followers. In this case, the leaders could and did exist entirely apart from the followership and derived no power from association with it. That is, leadership in the northern Thai church did not depend upon the church for its training, for its status, or for its livelihood. Quite the opposite. While the leaders were quite independent of those who followed, the followers through their membership in this new community depended on the leaders, the missionaries, for training, for status, and quite often for their livelihood. One-way dependency built itself into the very existence of the Christian community in northern Siam.
Likewise, the skills required for leadership in this unnatural situation did not arise from within the community led. The pre-community leaders brought those skills with them from outside the community and, thus, enhanced the unnatural one-way dependency structure of the community. Those who wanted to be leaders had to learn leadership skills from and become like those who already were leaders. Anything that had been previously learned in the society was likely to be useless, and those who accepted membership in the community, therefore, appeared inept and unskilled because they lacked the skills needed to advance in the community.
The structure of traditional northern Thai society contributed to the further development of a one-way dependency community because it seemed to have a structure similar to that of the mission-church structure. Traditional northern Thai society based itself on patron-client relationships in which every individual in the society had a place in the hierarchy of relationships. (3) People very naturally thought in terms of phi-nong (older-younger) relationships by which each individual had a place above or below those with whom he or she came into contact. Every member of society had a patron, a person socially superior to oneself to whom one owed respect and service.
The members of the Laos Mission scattered about in their stations fit into this social pattern very well. They became members of the patron class. (4) As late as 1914, William Clifton Dodd noted that most of the converts were former "serfs" who were only just beginning to see the missionaries in a less majestic light as simply leading influential members of the Christian community. (5) The mission owned large pieces of property upon which it built impressive buildings including massive (by northern Thai standards) homes. This highly visible ownership of land in-and-of-itself lent the missionaries considerable status. In northern Thai society, land meant power over others: power to hire, power to lend, power to be generous or to withhold generosity, power to make merit, and power to make one's children powerful. People admired wealthy landowners for their great merit. (6)
The average missionary had a number of personal servants, and the mission employed significant numbers of Christians. It was only "natural" for northern Thai Christians to relate to the members of the mission as patrons. The "unnatural" birth and form of this community meant, however, that the missionaries did not necessarily have to accept the reciprocal obligations expected of natural northern Thai patrons. There was a fundamental lack of communication at a very basic level between the missionaries and their converts: while the converts looked to the missionaries as their patrons, an adult to adult relationship based on reciprocity, the missionaries looked upon the converts as children, a relationship based on one-way dependency.
The dependency of the converts on the mission was even further strengthened by the converts' relationship with the rest of society. Every year, missionary correspondence and reports documented persecution of Christians somewhere in the North. The churches were born in the midst of repression, and even where not overt the repression put social pressure on them. (7) Thus, the Christian community lived under pressure and needed powerful leadership to protect it. Because of their position in society in which they were accepted as powerful members of the patron class, the missionaries often exerted influence to the benefit of their oppressed converts. (8)
Finally, convert dependency also grew out of the social situation of the converts: most of them came from the lower classes. We might also add that, as noted in previous chapters, other significant groups of converts included those who were sick and those accused of witchcraft, people who sat at the edges of society. These people all had needs that the mission could fulfill. They were not about to bite the hand that fed them.
In sum, the social situation and historical origins of the Christian church in northern Siam encouraged in a remarkably coherent and consistent way church dependence. The fact that missionary leadership came prior to the church, that it took the form of patronage, and that it led an oppressed minority group of those on the fringes of society gave missionary leadership of the church a unique potency, one the converts could not rival.
Mission Church Leadership: Its Doctrine of the Church
The form mission church leadership took fostered in its churches an unnatural dependence on the mission. The mission's doctrine of the church, further encouraged that dependency relationship. Indeed, the missions doctrine of the church, its ecclesiology, takes its rightful place next to the mission's ideology of expansion as a powerful source of motivation and action. That is, what the missionaries thought about the church in northern Siam strongly informed their relationship with it.
What was the church? As far as the Laos Mission could see, the church was essentially an agency for evangelism. Evangelism was not just one task of the church among others but rather the very reason for the church's existence. (9) Mission literature generally makes little distinction between evangelism and church activities in general. All church activities, including the visitation and oversight of church members, were taken to be just different forms of evangelism. In the years prior to 1900, mission reports almost always placed church activities under the heading of "evangelism". Mission work assignments assumed that the missionary evangelist worked with and oversaw local congregations in the course of doing evangelism. (10) In fact, the mission believed that evangelism and church nurture amounted to the same activity: The Nan Station went so far in 1914 as to appoint a "pastor-evangelist" (11); and the Chiang Mai Station report for 1910 summed the matter up this way: "The church and evangelistic work are necessarily so interrelated that they are practically identical." (12)
The mission believed that the northern Thai church should be primarily, essentially, and fundamentally an agency for converting the North. This meant that the mission did not, as a rule, look upon its churches as communities but rather as agencies, the "best" agencies, for completing the work of the mission itself. (13) The Laos Mission's model for the church, then, was the mission itself.
Leadership training usually meant preparing church leaders to be evangelists. Those "native" leaders judged to be most successful as church leaders were the ones who won substantial numbers of converts. The mission measured the spirituality of the congregations largely in terms of numerical growth and the strength of Christian communities not yet organized as churches by the numbers of new families and/or individuals joining the community. The ideal, successful, and faithful church was the one actively and successfully engaged in evangelism. The mission also assumed that if a church failed to grow numerically there was something wrong with it. Indeed, they believed the church that did not grow numerically soon began to whither both in numbers and spiritually. (14)
In trying to understand why the northern Thai church became what it was, it is disconcerting to encounter time-and-again a pattern of Laos Mission activity in which the mission's ideology consistently pulled its attention away from the churches. Just as its expansionist ideology pulled the mission constantly outward and away from the church so its ecclesiology focused its concerns outside of the life of its churches. With its heavy emphasis on evangelism, the mission tended to ignore Christian education, pastoral care, and congregational program within the churches. As we will see, it also drew northern Thai church leadership away from the churches.
According to mission thinking, the northern Thai church was a missionary society, and the best church leadership was that which successfully converted people to Christ. This ecclesiology demonstrated a remarkable confusion of biblical roles in the organization of the church as well as a seriously limited doctrine of the church itself. The mission put Paul rather than Andrew, the apostle-evangelist rather than the bishop-pastor, at the head of the church. It confused apostleship, the spreading of the Good News, with discipleship, the wider task of following Christ in all facets of life, and with the office of "presbyter", the one who governs the church. (15) The practical result of this confusion of church offices was that those who most closely followed the model of the missionaries, individuals committed to only one of a number of tasks in the church, advanced within the hierarchy of the church. More to the point, the mission and the "native" leadership it developed did not nurture and pastor the churches but rather continued to evangelize them even after conversion. Theoretically, at least, there could be no "shifting of gears" because worship, preaching, Christian education, and other church activities necessarily fell within the province of evangelism. In actual fact, the Laos Mission did continue to evangelize rather than nurture its churches and, paradoxically, it weakened the evangelistic potential of those churches because it failed to create in them strong communities for witness and service.
Interestingly enough, the Laos Mission would have readily agreed that it had to continue to evangelize the church after conversion. This brings us to the second important element in the mission's understanding of the northern Thai church. Just as it, first of all, looked upon that church as being essentially an evangelistic society so, secondly, it defined the church in northern Siam as "child-like". Since the mission regarded northern Thai society as heathen and consequently, uncivilized, it could not help but feel that its converts remained "tainted" with the heathenism of their culture. This, in turn, meant that they were not adults-in-Christ; they had not yet grown up into the Christian faith. Indeed, they were like children in mission eyes because of their supposedly easy-going manner, sloth, lack of hygiene, and propensity to laugh all the time. They were short, too. They lacked discipline. In general, the members of the mission looked upon their converts as child-like, and for them that usually meant "childish". (16)
The missionary view of the church as being child-like had a deep impact on the life of the church and on the leadership the church itself produced.
First of all, the Laos Mission took a strongly parental and proprietary attitude towards the churches. Missionary literature so endlessly repeats the litany of "our" elders, "our" natives, "our" Christians, "our" churches, "our" evangelists, "our" ministers, "our" helpers, and "our" assistants that one gives up trying to footnote the obvious. Whatever the theory of mission-church relations might be, the mission in practice acted as if the northern Thai church belonged to it as a child belongs to his or her parents. (17)
Secondly, the churches did not have an independent voice of their own. The Laos Mission largely took important actions and made major policy decisions without even considering consulting the churches. With one notable exception in 1895 (see Chapter 6), the mission dominated the deliberations of the North Laos Presbytery, theoretically the voice of the church, until well into the twentieth century. In fact, the mission continued to make major policy decisions about the life of the church without reference to presbytery throughout its history, for example, the decision it took in 1916 formulating a clearer policy on baptism. (18) At the local church level, the individual missionaries, appointed as "stated-supplies," completely dominated the life and program of the congregations. They looked upon the elected elders of the church as being "a board of advisors" composed of "native assistants." (19)
Thus, the church government developed by the Laos Mission did not function in a Presbyterian manner except at the most superficial and formal level. The mission did not adhere to the Calvinist precept that places responsibility for the ordering of church life at least partly in lay hands, in the hands of the churches themselves. (20) The northern Thai church was run on an episcopal form of church government in which the missionaries exercised (from outside of the church) absolute power over local congregations and virtually acted as self-appointed bishops over groups of congregations. Individual missionaries hired and paid elder-evangelists, assigned duties to elders, settled local disputes, established local schools, and appointed teachers. (21) The missionaries believed that they had to do these things for the churches because the churches were incapable of caring for themselves. The mission's understanding of the church in northern Siam as child-like carried more weight in its thinking and behavior than did its inherited doctrines of representative church government.
Thirdly, in actual point of fact, the relationship of the convert community of new Christians to the mission did take on the aspect of a parent-child relationship. Just as children depend upon their parents for sustenance and protection, so the "native" Christians tended to cluster around the mission stations and seek their means of livelihood there. The mission encouraged this dependency through its need for teachers, medical assistants, evangelists, personal servants, and skilled craftsmen. It hired Christians whenever possible, and at other times the mission employed potential converts in order to bring them into closer contact with the missionaries themselves.
Although there are no figures available, the mission records indicate that a large percentage of Christians depended entirely or in part on the mission for their income. Thus, situations like that at the Ban Tho Church (organized 1913) arose in which the Mission Press employed half of the men in the congregation. The leadership of the churches was particularly likely to be employed by the mission, as they were the ones who displayed talents the mission valued. In 1906, for example, 140 of the "pick of our Christians" enrolled in the mission's vaccinators' class, which class taught men how to give vaccinations from which, in turn, they received an income. (22)
This child-like financial dependency of the churches on the mission had a number of repercussions. Briggs expressed particular concern that the mission created a new set of values and appetites in which converts wanted to have a better life, one like the missionaries had. He feared that the mission could not begin to satisfy such appetites. (23) Furthermore, the dependency of the converts on the mission only served to enhance the already high status of the missionaries in convert eyes. It served to confirm the patron image. At the same time, the financial policies of the mission began to create a hierarchy of privilege and wealth within the church itself. Some "natives", especially household servants, received relatively large salaries from the mission while others did not benefit so greatly from the mission's largess. Finally, some converts developed an expectation that when they needed money the mission would oblige them. They could become resentful of the mission when this expectation was not lived up to. (24)
Fourthly, since it assumed that converts had a child-like nature, the mission showed little inclination to train them for church leadership. By-and-large, the highest office that the "native" could aspire to was that of missionary "assistant." I mention this point here in passing only to suggest the roots of an issue that we will examine more closely in the next chapter. That is, that the mission simply did not expect and could not believe that these childish people made good leaders. One does not ask a child to lead. One does not expect a child to lead.
Finally, many members of the Laos Mission believed that their presence would be required for many years to come to care for the still immature church. In an official mission statement of 1912 made in response to questions sent by a visiting Board deputation, the mission stated:
The foreign missionary is necessary (and for two or three generations, will continue to be necessary) as leader, teacher, and counselor of the native church, which in the last analysis is the efficient agency for preaching the Gospel to every creature. Without an adequate number of foreign missionaries the growth of the native church will be slow and the evangelization of the entire field will be delayed. (25)
Once again, the fundamental view of the mission that the church was child-like and its equally fundamental view that the essential task of the church was evangelism meshed, the one supporting the other. The pattern of missionary thinking consistently placed themselves at the head of the church, denigrated the potential role of the "native" leader, and saw their own role, place, and position as being key to the life of the church.
Viewed from within, the mission's understanding of the church had a logical consistency. Yet, the fact that the view was logical does not mean that it reflected the actual potential of the church to create and sustain its own life. Missionary ecclesiology in northern Siam did not begin with the actual situation of northern Thai society and culture or with the real and potential abilities of its converts. It began, rather, with its own ideological perspective that the society was "heathen," "uncivilized". It began with the largely unacknowledged assumption that the indigenous traditional society did not have its own integrity that might contribute something to the creation of a northern Thai church. Given this assumption, the strong dynamic of the ideology of expansion, and the church's dependence on mission leadership, we have all the makings for extreme paternalism. The nature of traditional northern Thai society with its structures of patron-client relationships did not challenge missionary assumptions and attitudes and, superficially, seemed to the missionaries to only confirm what they already knew.
At the last, the mission's doctrine of the church in northern Siam only contributed to making the church more fully dependent on the mission.
Before closing this section, we need to look briefly at the way in which the mission physically organized its churches. The "necessity" of mission leadership for the churches plus the geographical distribution of the churches determined the organizational structure of the church.
The distinctive pattern of the northern Thai church throughout the history of the Laos Mission was what I have chosen to call (for want of a better term) the "regional church". The regional church was a widely scattered "church" in which small groups and individual members lived at greater or lesser distances from each other, distances too great for developing a community life. These widely scattered groups and individuals had little to do with each other and were held together as a "congregation" by an itinerant leadership based in one central station. Often these regional churches had several chapels and preaching points and employed a number of men to visit the various groups. Even the smaller churches, which at first glance might not seem to fit this model, had their membership distributed through a number of villages. The church building might not even be located in the community with the highest concentration of Christians. Nearly all northern Thai churches were regional rather than purely local congregations. This form of church structure put a great deal of emphasis on the center of each congregation since the other groups and individuals were often unable to maintain a viable identity of their own. The regional church, then, constantly looked to the top, to the center for leadership. (26)
Organizationally, in sum, the typical northern Thai "church" was an artificial construct that reflected the unnatural origins of the church by being little more than a conglomerate of scattered groups and persons.
Mission Church Leadership: Its Practice
Churches, like other human communities develop their own styles of leadership, styles that differ. Styles of church government vary by denomination, by culture, and from congregation to congregation. These styles of leadership do not, somehow, suddenly appear full-blown. They accrue through practices developed over the years, a recapitulation of the organization's problem-solving experience. In this section we will look at how missionaries led the northern Thai church and the leadership traditions they created for it.
The Laos Mission had to cope with two very serious limitations on its ability to lead the churches. First of all, there was the problem of health. Secondly, mission structures and procedures further limited the effectiveness of mission church leadership.
Missionary health... a constant concern... an ever present source of strain, of care, of worry. The inescapable fact of missionary life was that physical and mental breakdowns occurred regularly and posed a constant threat to and limitation on the effectiveness of missionaries.
During the 1870s and 1880s, health problems were a key factor in weakening the mission. Statistics gathered in 1896 show that of the thirty-two times the members of the Laos Mission left on furlough up to that year, in 23 cases (72%) they left because of failing health. More often than not, health furloughs had to be taken before the a missionary finished his or her term. To the date of those statistics, seven missionaries retried because of ill health, five died on the field (one by drowning), and only four resigned for other reasons. In 1908, William Harris surveyed the years 1895 - 1908 and found that, of thirty missionaries assigned to the Laos Mission in the period, nineteen had already resigned, usually for reasons of health. Their average stay was less than six years including furlough time. Statistics collected by Freeman for the last six years of the Laos Mission, 1914— 1920, indicated that in those years 22 missionaries either died (six) or resigned from the mission (sixteen), that is, just over 40% of the total force. Health dominated the causes for resignation. (27)
A summary of the general state of mission health shows that in the period 1900 — 1910 the work of the mission suffered from a debilitating instability resulting from frequent health problems. In 1900 the mission doctor in Chiang Mai made about five hundred medical calls on station members, one of the worst years in a decade. Records show that the years 1902, 1905, 1907, 1908, 1909, and 1910 were all especially bad years. Even into the next decade, health remained a constant worry with years like 1915 and 1916 being unusually difficult. Smaller stations, such as Nan, were hardest hit and sometimes found it difficult to sustain any program at all. Rev. H. Vincent compiled another set of statistics showing a direct correlation between the ideology of expansion and mission health. From November 1905 to August 1908, the eighteen missionaries assigned to Chiang Mai Station all remained in the mission. But of the 38 assigned to other stations exactly half, nineteen, resigned. (28)
The mission tried to help its members escape the ravages of illness by giving furloughs, periodic visits home. Because numbers of mission personnel were constantly going back to the United States for reasons of health or to take their regular furlough, the mission found it necessary to transfer other members back-and-forth to cover for those absent. Thus, one of the chief characteristics of the Laos Mission was its frequent shifting of personnel. The Denmans, transferred from Chiang Rai to Nan in 1905, wrote of the serious problems facing those so moved: a great deal of time and money wasted in packing and shipping and unpacking; a loss of effectiveness as one's former work was dropped (and suffered or lapsed thereby) and a whole new situation had to be learned; and obstruction of the missionaries' relationships with the people.
In that same year of 1905, Irwin condemned the mission's habit of incessantly transferring its people. In fifteen years including furloughs, Irwin served in five stations. Each time he just began to know his new situation when the mission voted to move him on again. He strongly urged the mission to halt this practice. It didn't. The mission's habit of moving its personnel around caused Dr. Arthur J. Brown, Secretary of the Board, to complain in 1911 about the heavy expenses the mission incurred with all this moving about. He observed that of all of the Board's 26 missions the Laos Mission seemed the most prone to transferring personnel. (29)
Yet another related problem had to do with the psychological make-up of the missionaries themselves. For them, mission work involved a special calling. Many of them believed in their calling and had a deep commitment to it. They felt driven to expend themselves to fulfill their calling, and many of them gave their time, their energies, and their talents in a sacrificial way. They tended to take on more work than they could carry including a lot of peripheral mission business and administration work. The fact that they did not rely on their "native" assistants for many tasks further burdened them with responsibilities. The Rev. C.R. Callender, a veteran of the mission, wrote in 1911 that because of the fewness of workers and the many opportunities to serve, the Lampang Station members were "...kept pretty close to the danger line of breaking down. "(30)
Finally, the mission's concern for the health of its members compelled it to engage in activities that consumed great amounts of time that might have otherwise been given to church work. The mission felt that it had to build large, comfortable homes for its missionaries as a preventive health measure. The building and maintaining of those homes took time, energy, and resources. The mission also believed it necessary for the mission to order large amounts of American and European supplies and foodstuffs from Bangkok and overseas to help its members survive the climate. (31) Rev. William Harris expressed deep concern about all of the administrative time these activities consumed. As the mission's treasurer for many years, he felt that the ordained clergymen of the mission not only lost valuable time that they could have been using for church work but also set a very poor example for the churches because they spent so much time on "secular" concerns. (32)
The limits of missionary health and related factors had a direct impact on the church because they limited the missionary's time and ability to work with the churches. In different periods, churches such as Chiang Mai, Chiang Dao,
Muang Phrao, Lamphun (all three churches), Chiang Rai (several churches), Mae Dok Daeng, Fang, Nan, Phrae, and Mae Pu Kha, for examples, suffered neglect by the missionary assigned to the church because of health and health-related reasons. Missionary health problems limited the effectiveness of the missionaries themselves in their work with the churches. In the frailty of missionary health, we begin to see some of the implications of the church's unnatural origins and condition. The structures of the church depended on a foreign, unhealthy leadership that often did not function effectively or responsibly because it lacked the physical capacity to do so.
Even if missionary health had not been such an important limiting factor on the mission's ability to lead the churches, that ability would still have been greatly limited by a second factor: the administrative structure of its own organization. The Laos Mission began as a small, uncomplicated two-family organization with no need for elaborate structures. It developed only slowly and did not really begin to expand until after 1890. But, as we have seen, in the decade of the 1890s mission work expanded rapidly both institutionally and geographically. Mission churches grew more rapidly. By the mid-1890s, the administration of the mission became much more complex and required more attention, needed more coordination. (33)
Over the course of the years, the mission developed a number of organizational mechanisms to cope with its increased load of administration. These mechanisms included the annual mission meeting, the body with the most power, and annual meetings of the North Laos Presbytery, permanent and special committees, and eventually a standing executive committee. The mission appointed from its number a secretary and a treasurer.
Taken in its entirety, this was a weak and cumbersome administrative mechanism. Although, for example, the annual mission meeting could and very occasionally did take effective action to change the basic direction of mission policy and activity, by-and-large it was a poor way to run a mission. First of all, the annual meetings consumed great amounts of time, time that might have been put to use in other ways. The meetings always lasted several weeks, usually about a month including travel time. A great deal of time went into the planning and preparation of the annual meeting, normally held in December. Thus, missionaries were gone from their stations or otherwise engaged in meetings for at least four weeks every year. Secondly, the annual meetings exhibited little continuity from year to year. Those attending changed every year because of furloughs or illness. Thus, policies introduced one year would be dropped, altered, or ignored the next. One group might have a majority or strong minority voice at one meeting and carry through a motion initiating certain policies, but then another group or issue would come up the next year. The previous year's work went ignored. Mission policy flitted from flower to flower, year to year. Thirdly, annual meetings could be as tedious as they were long, and during the 1890s some mission members developed a serious aversion to the annual meeting because every year something divided the mission into warring factions. Interpersonal tensions were commonplace. (34)
The network of mission committees did not work even as well as did the annual meeting, this in spite of the fact that the mission dealt with specific issues largely by appointing committees to deal with those issues. Many of the committees, standing or special, met only infrequently or not at all because committee members were busy and scattered among distant stations. Even when the committees did function they had little real authority. Although committees were supposed to oversee various aspects of church and mission work, the actual pattern of action was this: the stations took what actions, on property matters for example, they deemed necessary and only then, after the fact, informed the "proper" committee about their decision "requesting" committee consent. Even key committees found it difficult to find time to deal with mission problems. (35)
In effect, while the missionaries administered the church as strong executives ("bishops"), they left themselves with no effective executive body or individual to administer the mission. The executive officers, secretary and treasurer, had no real authority of their own. The executive committee was not strong either. (36) McGilvary chose not to impose his will or desires on the mission, especially after the mission began to grow in the 1890s. It is doubtful if he could have done so in any event, since even when he did offer advice (which often proved to be quite insightful) it was not always accepted by the mission. McGilvary served as more of a general model for what the mission held to be the "ideal missionary" rather than as an effective administrative leader. (37)
As a result of this administrative situation, the Laos Mission drifted with the currents: it had no strong policies, no unified course of action even when a consensus of opinion existed. Changes were fitful and often ineffective. (38)
In any given situation, the system allowed manipulation by strong individuals or groups who could force through decisions not widely popular. One of the most important examples of this phenomenon was the long battle Dodd and others waged to open and keep open a station at Kengtung in the Shan States. That battle—fought both within the mission and with the Board—wasted incredible amounts of time and energy and still, finally, proved to be futile. (39)
These structures encouraged individual missionaries to go their own ways, to think that they could do almost anything that they wanted to do, and to ignore or even work against stated mission policy. Different stations had different policies and procedures. There was even competition between institutions within the same station where individuals would actually try to undercut the work of colleagues. (40) The administrative situation of the Laos Mission was chaotic and, in a very real sense, law-less. In a report highly critical of the Laos Mission's weak structure and its members' propensity for going their own way, Dr. Robert Speer observed that the members of the mission needed to develop "a different attitude toward all constitutional authority both toward the Board and toward the field." (41)
It was ironic that those very individuals who gave so much effort to "protecting" the churches from errors in doctrine, behavior, and administration should come in for criticism on the charge of lawlessness. In a larger sense, it was ironic that the ones who frequently looked on the "native" church as childish should themselves be so poorly organized, so poorly disciplined, and so inept. In the largest sense, it was tragic that those who suffered the most were the people in the churches.
Interpersonal relationships within the mission only compounded the administrative weaknesses of the mission because the mission tended to be politicized and factionalized. Serious personality conflicts existed with the mission and within the stations. Differences of vision erupted into open conflict. Petty problems assumed disproportionate significance. At some points, life in a station became almost unbearable, a cauldron of conflict and emotion. (42) All of this caused one young missionary to quote the veteran Dr. Mason, "The mission field is just like a great big family only without the family love. "(43)
Mission Church Leadership: The Missionary Model Revisited
The model of local church leadership that grew out of mission ideology, ecclesiology, and practice emphasized distance between leadership and the ones who followed. Physical distance: the practical implication of the regional church system was that the leaders of the churches did not live with the churches and seldom even saw them. There is the instructive and not unusual example of the Chiang Rai missionary responsible for oversight of nine churches in fifty villages. In 1916 he spent 150 days touring his field of which he devoted about 100 days (including travel time) in church work. Even if we ignore travel time, that missionary spent just barely eleven days with each church that year, and the actual time he spent with each church must have been considerably less. In spite of this blatant absentee form of pastoral care, the report in which his labors are recorded argues that the northern Thai were still "children" in the matter of self-government. (44) Social distance: the missionaries moved and lived on a much higher plane than did the average church member and benefited from a conspicuously higher standard of living. Cultural distance: in the way they spoke, conducted themselves, ate, and traveled the missionaries stood apart from the language, behavior patterns, and traditions of both the general population and the people of the churches.
The experience of the churches with leadership was one of distance in which the powers-that-were stood far removed from the life of the average Christian and did not participate in their lives. The missionary church leader appeared to be a person of immense wealth who was not tied to the rhythms of plant-and-harvest, plant-and-harvest. (45) In a most profound way the missionary "pastor" functioned as an absentee pastor.
Based on the attitudes and practices of the Laos Mission in its relationship to its churches, the leadership model it provided for them may be summarized in this fashion: it did not respect the integrity nor the rights of the individual churches. It did not make decisions in consultation with the churches nor even see that it should do such a thing. It did not trust the churches. It did not share power. Yet, the Laos Mission did not recognize thatit had responsibilities to those in authority above it. The members of the mission acted as a law unto themselves. In its relationships within the mission it often showed a lack of cooperation and mutual forbearance. It was an ill-disciplined form of leadership not likely to create strong churches.
Hans-Ruedi Weber succinctly summarized the situation facing the northern Thai church in his general description of the situation of the church living under mission leadership in the missionary era. He writes that the period of missionary guidance of the churches was deadening. It resulted in paternalism, clergy-dominated churches with inactive lay people, an emphasis on institutions, the concentration of power in missionary hands, and an emphasis on buildings. He goes on to say:
But this has happened at the expense of the most important level of church life, the life of the local congregation where most laymen and laywomen get their spiritual food and where they should be helped in their response of obedience to the demands of the gospel. The flock, in its unimportant village church, was left with the poorest quality of shepherds. (46)
Weber's critique carries this study now on to describe how the mission's model for church leadership actually worked. For, this model, based on distance, distrust, instability, lack of respect, irresponsibility, and ill health did become the style of leadership that the mission developed in the church.
"As I now look back over these years, it is plain to me that the great lack of the mission all the way through has been the lack of well-trained helpers; and for this lack the mission itself is largely to blame." (1)
One of the fundamental issues that every human community must solve is that of succession: who will follow those now in authority and how will future leaders prepare for leadership? This chapter describes how the Laos Mission dealt with these issues and how it prepared leaders for the church. The chapter follows on from Chapter 4, for the preparation of "native" church leadership depended upon the model for leadership exhibited by the mission itself. That model functioned as an example for performing church leadership and programmed the kind of leadership training provided by the mission. McGilvary's comment is important because it correctly described the failure of the mission to train church leadership while also stating correctly whose failure that was. His comment also contains the most common fallacy in mission thinking about leadership training, namely, that one can prepare leaders by training them to be "assistants".
April 1883. McGilvary had just returned from furlough, rested and restless with new ideas. In his absence, the mission hit a low point, and McGilvary, determined to strike off in new directions, chose as the forum for presenting his new ideas the organizational meeting of the "Chiang Mai Presbytery" (North Laos Presbytery). For some time previously, McGilvary had trained one elder, Noi Intachak, possibly from the Mae Dok Daeng Church, as an evangelist. Now, he wanted to expand his training work into a larger and more formally established program. The purpose of the new program was to train evangelists. McGilvary proposed that the mission hire about six elders at a rate of six rupees (about $2.00) per month to engage in full-time study of the Bible and in short, practice evangelistic trips. He expected the program to improve the mission's evangelism program and to produce a better corps of evangelists for the future. McGilvary's presentation received enthusiastic support from his three fellow missionaries in presbytery, and they began to make all manner of plans, establish committees, and prepare elaborate sets of rules for the training program. However, on one point they all disagreed with McGilvary: six rupees, they felt, was too high a rate to be paying evangelist-trainees. They cut the amount, over McGilvary's protests, to two rupees per student per month. Four students were selected.
Three of the four chosen, however, declined to take part because they could not support their families on just two rupees per month. They needed more support because they could not farm and attend classes as well. McGilvary was left with only Noi Intachak, his original student, and he died within a year. (2) The first training attempt failed.
Mission Schools and Church Leadership
In Chapters 2 and 3, I described in brief the beginnings and the development of the mission school system. From the very first mention of the need for schools in 1870, McGilvary justified them as essential to the church. He firmly believed that intelligence and Christianity were necessarily and inevitably associated. (3) McGilvary and his colleagues in the mission, therefore, easily saw a particular need for church schools in the North where traditional education took place entirely in the temples. They considered the education given in the temples schools to be poor in quality and obviously unacceptable for Christian children. Furthermore, those schools did not educate women, a key educational concern for the mission. Lillian Curtis reasoned that the Christian church needed its own schools in order to strengthen it so that it could fulfill its role as the hope of the "heathen" world. (4) The mission built its educational policy on its perception of northern Thai society as "heathen," and proposed to free Christians from the bondage of traditional society by providing them with Christian schools. In a larger sense, the mission wanted to "civilize" northern Thai society by educating the church. (5)
The mission thought it faced one serious problem educationally: first generation Christian converts, the missionaries believed, clung in many ways to the old society they had been converted out of. The first generation retained too many of their old beliefs, ideas, and practices, as well as the forms of their old life, forms fixed too firmly and rooted too deeply to be given up. Therefore, the Christian school system sought to remove Christian children, the second generation, from the environment of their "heathen-like" parents. The mission built boarding schools where Christian children both learned their various subjects and lived in what the mission considered a more fully Christian environment. Since not all children could be placed in the large, centrally located boarding schools, the mission also established smaller village schools in many churches. From 1898 onwards, it was the official policy of the Laos Mission that its schools, boarding and village, were to be primarily for the education of the church. (6)
More specifically, leadership development (our concern here) served as another crucial justification for the mission's school system. The mission expected that the more capable students in its schools would become leaders of the church. Good church leaders needed the kinds of skills taught in and the level of education provided by the schools. The mission assumed that, very naturally, this better-than-average education would produce better-than-average leadership. (7) In other words, the mission school system formed the first step in the development of trained, capable church leaders. It provided the pool of talent out of which would surface the church's leadership.
Although the mission schools did produce some church leaders (8), the school system actually developed into an independent institution that competed with the church for funds and resources. It engaged considerable mission attention, again, competing with the churches for the time and concern of the mission. In 1895, when the mission's school system just began to expand, Briggs expressed concern over the direction of educational trends. He argued for a simpler educational system because the one then developing took too much time away from working with converts. He called on the mission to give more attention to "shepherding the flock." (9) In fact, the schools did not arise out of the life of the churches even though the mission founded them on the basis of what it perceived to be the needs of the churches. This competing institution quickly developed its own needs, one of the most pressing of which was for teachers to sustain and expand the system. The mission schools tended to siphon off the best students for teachers. (10) Thus, the strategy of using mission schools to prepare church leadership worked against itself from the beginning. Instead of putting the best potential leaders back into churches, the schools co-opted those individuals for its own purposes.
A second flaw in using a non-church institution to prepare church leadership was that as the years went by the schools more-and-more confused a general "secular" education with Christian education, especially in the "show case" station boarding schools. As the government's schools began competing with the church schools, the central concern of the church schools shifted towards high academic standards and improved physical plants. Religious education in the mission schools eventually formed only one part of a larger curriculum that included general and vocational components as well. The trend and pressure drifted towards improved academic program without a countervailing pressure to improve Christian education in the schools. The pressure for curriculum development moved away from preparing individuals for church leadership and even away from general Christian education as the mission schools sought to maintain standards in order to attract the best Christian students as well as wealthy Buddhist students. (11)
A third weakness in using mission schools to prepare church leaders was that the whole idea grew out of a vague concept about the value of education rather than on a carefully thought out strategy for leadership training. It grew out of mission attitudes about "heathen" northern Thai society rather than perceptions about the actual situation and needs of the churches it established in that society. Therefore, when mission educational activities quietly shifted away from Christian education and church leadership training, those functions were lost in the shuffle. (12) Mission thinking proved itself too nebulous and undirected about the role of the schools in church leadership training to seriously provide coherent training for the churches.
A fourth drawback in relying on mission schools to provide the first step in church leadership training was that large numbers of Christian children never or seldom attended these schools. The Suan Dok community of the Muang Phrao Church had only twenty of its 135 children in school (15%), and that for only a very brief time. That was in 1916, and this was reported to be "typical" of the situation of nearly all Christian communities under the Chiang Mai Station. This was long after the growth of the mission school system began and in the most educationally advanced station of the mission. The situation in the cities appeared to be better. For example, in 1916 Lampang Church reported all but two of its boys were in school. Yet, even here the situation was less rosy than it appeared since average attendance figures for mission schools were frequently considerably lower than enrollment figures. Even where the children were "in" school, they often did not go very regularly. For many years, Christian parents saw little reason to send their children to school, and still another problem that faced many Christians was that they lived far away from the nearest school. (13) Overall figures are not available, but the weight of mission records indicates that the mission schools' pool out of which leaders emerged was actually quite shallow.
The "strategy" of training church leadership through the mission's schools had precisely the opposite effect of that intended. It did not put the church at the center. It deprived the church of badly needed attention and resources. It took the place of church-oriented Christian education without providing a good replacement at the local level. And the result? The Speer Deputation Team report of 1915 stated that church life was being generally ignored in the work of the Laos Mission. The congregations were poorly organized. They had very few activities. Many of the churches had little or no Christian education. There was almost no Bible study. The churches lost many young people because of this inattention. The report concluded: "If we were to be asked what is the greatest need in Siam, I think we should have to answer that it was the training and use of the church." (14) Dr. Charles Crooks, writing in 1919, confirmed that the schools failed to serve the church. He observed that the mission education system had no method for directing students towards theological education, church vocations, or even for assuring their continued membership in a church. Freeman suggested that Christian education through the schools actually caused "nominalism", that is, indifference among Christians. The schools simply accustomed children to Christian teaching without "...awakening a real heart religion." The schools only made nominal Christians all the more nominal and hard to reach. (15)
Up until its last year, then, the Laos Mission failed to train and use the church. It fixed so much of its hope upon the schools as the training ground for the church that when the schools failed to be such there was nothing left. In fact, the Laos Mission violated the integrity of its churches when it established a separate set of institutions to train church leadership. And, in sum, the first level of church leadership training, the mission schools, actually hindered the emergence of a competent church leadership.
Try Again: The Training School
The Laos Mission did not intend that the mission school system carry the burden for training church leadership. As we have already seen, McGilvary committed himself to creating a more formal program specifically for the evangelistic training of church leaders. Even though his proposed program did not work out in 1883, the idea of a training school for elders did not die.
After the reinforcements of 1887 arrived, establishing a training school became possible, and in 1889 the North Laos Presbytery formally opened a training school and appointed the Rev. William Clifton Dodd to start the first class of that school. The first term of his first class began on 28 March 1889 and lasted two months with fourteen pupils meeting five days a week (Tuesday to Saturday noon) to study Genesis, Romans, theological principles, sermon preparation, and evangelism. The students were older men, elders in the churches. The only woman reported to have studied at the training school was Pa Wan, a Bible woman at the Chiang Mai Hospital who began studies in 1890. She wanted to improve her understanding of Christianity. The mission spent a total of one hundred rupees to support the students. The school proposed to train elders in evangelism, and the students devoted their weekends to evangelistic work. (16)
Kru Nan Ta
The Training School's popularity grew quite suddenly when word began to spread among the churches that the mission paid students to attend it. The mission did not really want all of this kind of sudden interest, and it had to institute a new policy regarding stipends: only room and board would be paid. Even with the less liberal stipend policy, the number of students rose to 21 in 1890. (17) By 1891, the Training School taught classes for 25 weeks and had 35 students, many of whom planned to become ordained ministers. One of the most serious problems facing the school was that it lacked textbooks, and Dodd began to prepare course outlines in northern Thai for the students. Nan Ta, the only ordained northern Thai, assisted Dodd making him the first northern Thai theological educator. (18)
The purpose of the Training School as defined by Dodd was to train evangelistic assistants for the missionaries. Dodd felt that it would take a long time before the school could train enough evangelists to meet the needs of the mission. He also believed that it would be even longer before the mission could trust those evangelists on their own without mission supervision. He did admit that the students could make good evangelists as long as they remained under missionary supervision. (19)
After an auspicious beginning with large classes, the Training School suffered its first setback in 1891 when the Dodds moved to Lamphun to open a new station there. The school "moved" with them, but when it reopened it had only a handful of students. By July 1892, there were still only eighteen students, half the number that attended in Chiang Mai. Further problems developed as the Dodds began to prepare for their September 1893 furlough. To cover for Dodd, the mission appointed the Rev. Robert Irwin, a relatively new missionary stationed in Lampang, to the Training School. Irwin joined the Dodds in Lamphun in 1893 and took charge of the school when they left. (20)
Irwin had very different ideas about teaching. Although the purpose of the school remained evangelism training, Irwin used alternative methods for attaining that purpose: he put the advanced class of five students to teaching the less advanced class under the theory that these five men would make better evangelists if they had leadership training and experience. Unlike virtually any other member of the mission, Irwin believed that both the church and the society already had individuals capable of good leadership. In 1894, he introduced another new educational device: he set up a "mock presbytery" with the students playing all of the roles. His mock presbytery established three committees: Evangelism, Education, and Foreign Missions. The studentssoenthusiastically involved themselves that the Foreign Mission Committee actually, of its own accord, raised money for and sent two students to two distant cities to do evangelistic work. (21)
The Training School reached something of a pinnacle in 1894 under Irwin, but new problems came up when the mission transferred the school back to Chiang Mai in 1895. Even as the move disrupted the school, it also became embroiled in a controversy between the churches, graduates of the school, and the mission. The "Pastors' Revolt of 1895" will be dealt with in Chapter 6. It is sufficient to say that several ordained graduates of the Training School entered into a dispute with the missionaries at the North Laos Presbytery meeting of December 1895 regarding salaries. Out of the resentment and confusion of that event, the number of students at the Training School in 1896 dropped drastically.
In the meantime, Dodd returned in late 1895 and took over the school again. Although mission records are not entirely clear on the matter, it is more than likely that Irwin and his unorthodox methods came under fire in the mission for stirring up feelings in 1895. In any event, he was sent to Nan. And the school fell on hard times as the Dodds moved off to Chiang Rai in 1897 to open that station. (22) In its brief eight-year existence, the school moved twice, had to cope with two heads that had very different goals and methods, and suffered through the fires of divisive controversy. For most of its existence, it was located at Lamphun on the periphery of the mission. Thus, after 1896 the school ceased to exist in any meaningful sense. Whether it closed because there was no one to take Dodd's place or because the mission decided it wanted no more Training School for a while is not clear.
Nowhere is the effect of missionary ecclesiology on the life of the church more clearly seen than in the history of the Training School. The mission defined the church as an evangelistic agency, which meant that leadership training proposed to equip church leaders with evangelistic skills more useful outside of the church than in it. It taught its subjects with an eye to how those subjects might be used to win converts, as, for example, when the school taught geography because of its usefulness in "disproving" traditional cosmology. (23) The confusion of roles in which the apostle-evangelist took precedence over the presbyter-pastor meant that training for a competent church leadership did not take place.
And, indeed, as we have already seen, the Training School did not even intend to train leaders at all except in the period when Irwin took over from Dodd. Dodd, the permanent head of the school, did not believe that his students would ever make more than acceptable missionary assistants for many years to come. His belief was a result of the view that the northern Thai church was child-like and would have to depend on the mission for a long time. All of this represented a species of circular thinking: the church is childlike—it cannot lead itself—therefore, we cannot teach people to lead—therefore, we will train them to be assistants—see, they cannot lead—they are like children. Only Irwin questioned the premise of this circular thinking. In the Training School, at least, the students received his more trusting and positive approach with considerable enthusiasm, doing more than even he expected.
Give Up! The Interregnum
Although mission records continue to refer for some years to the "Training School", the permanent institution with regular teaching and a resident student body went out of existence in 1896. In 1897, the Rev. Howard Campbell, pastor of Chiang Mai Church, took over responsibility for conducting training classes. He held two short sessions with seven students the first session and 21 the second. In the years 1899 and 1900, he ran itinerating training classes with short sessions in a number of Christian villages. This program greatly increased the number of students attending while turning the "school" into more of a lay training institute. (24)
In the meantime, the Laos Mission reacted negatively to the whole idea of ordaining northern Thai pastors. The crisis years of 1895-1896 and their aftermath, left a sour taste as the mission observed what it thought to be the results of the work of those ordained. (see Chapter 6) An attitude of caution developed: Go Slow. Do not train northern Thai to be pastors as such training and status only goes to their heads, ruins them. This go slow attitude effectively suspended any thoughts of setting up a permanent training program. (25) Consequently, during the years following 1900 the "school" generally held sessions of only a few weeks under Chiang Mai Station and only for the Chiang Mai churches. In 1903, the numbers attending increased to sixty because a large number of men employed by the mission hospital as vaccinators were sent to the training classes. But as the years went on, the sessions tended to become shorter and shorter. This was largely because so many of the men who might attend the training classes were vaccinators who had to attend monthly training sessions any way. There was less need for the Campbell-run training sessions. By 1909, McGilvary held a single eight-day session. (26)
After a decade without any serious training program either for evangelism or church work, members of the Laos Mission changed their minds and more-and-more felt the need for a better training program for church leaders. After 1906, changes in their thinking increased, and by 1910 pressure grew in the mission to start up a theological training school for training pastors. In 1912, the Rev. Henry White took up responsibility for developing such a school, and he held the last classes of the "old style" during which he and others taught a total of two hundred students for anywhere from ten days to two months. (27)
Try, Try Again: The Theological Training School
The Theological Training School grew out of two basic factors. One was the growing sense of urgency in the Laos Mission for theological training for northern Thai church leaders. The second was a gift in 1912 from Mr. H.L. Severance of the Presbyterian Church for $15,000 to the Board for aiding the development of theological education in northern Siam. (28)
Although officially begun when White took over responsibility for theological education in 1912, the newly established school really took shape in 1913. In a significant shift in mission thinking, the purpose of the new school differed considerably from that of the old Training School. Unlike the first school, this one had a dual purpose: to provide trained leadership, especially pastoral leadership, for the churches and to promote evangelism. White wrote in his school report for 1913 that the chief function of the school was to train an educated ministry. Evangelism was a secondary concern. (29) Thus, this school centered its attention on the church.
The Theological Training School faced some initial problems because it lacked facilities during the construction of the Severance Building. Nonetheless, it opened in 1913 with over fifty students in three grades (including six preparing for ordination) and a teaching staff of four—White, Roderick Gillies, Kru Semo, and Elder (soon to be Rev.) Kham Ai. In contrast to the original Training School, the new theological school drew its student body from across the whole church even from as far away as Nan. The school encountered further difficulties of a sort in the next two years. In 1914, White left for furlough and Gillies became ill. Nearly all of the teaching fell to the two northern Thai "assistants", and mission records indicate mild surprise that these two men did as well as they actually did. The formal administration of the school remained in mission hands until White returned in March 1916. Soon after he returned, the school moved into its new facilities. (30)
Actually, the most serious problem facing the school by 1917 was funding. In spite of assistance from the churches, the school found itself so short of funds that in 1917 it had to cut back the number of students attending to a mere eighteen. It tried to reach others through a "Christian Workers' Conference", something of a throwback to the old days before 1913, which had 25 church leaders in attendance and focused its attention on practical issues of local church life and organization. The school continued in this limited fashion for the next three years. It did attempt to expand its curriculum by involving other missionaries in the teaching of music, hygiene, and special courses from time to time. A new development that began about 1918 took place when a few students began to enter the theological school straight after their graduation from Prince Royal's College, the mission's most important boy's school. The Training School's three grade levels, advanced, middle, and junior, all emphasized biblical studies very heavily but their curriculum also included courses in theology and Christian education (mostly related to Sunday School). On weekends, the students worked with rural churches. Classes were in session in Chiang Mai for nine months of the year. (31)
In the period 1913 to 1920, then, the Laos Mission finally began to establish a church-oriented program of church leadership training. As of 1920, the prospects of that program appeared to be quite good: it had its own facilities; it had a growing staff that included capable northern Thai; it had students from every station; and it had a core of students preparing for the pastoral ministry. As the Theological Training School entered the 1920s, it began to grow in numbers again, and it provided a desirable institution for theological study for young men interested in becoming pastors of which there seemed to be a growing number. (32)
Even so, Gillies evaluated the school in this way in 1928: the school was still in evolution, the implications of which were uncertain. It had yet to become a Siamese institution. It had yet to solve its financial problems. Gillies concluded that, "At the end of one hundred years since the Gospel first reached Siam, what confronts us with regard to theological training is not an achievement but rather a complicated problem. "(33)
The reason theological education remained a "complicated problem" was that in the period after 1910 nothing changed in the mission's attitudes about its churches and theological students. Gillies touched on the heart of the problem when he noted that a way had to be found to make the school "Siamese". The Theological Training School did not belong to the churches. It did not emerge from their concerns and needs. It remained an expression of the paternalistic attitude of the Laos Mission.
The Locus of Instruction
Leadership training consists of more than developing institutional structures for education. It also includes content. It includes the "message" that those doing the training want to communicate to their students in order to prepare them for leadership. More specifically, it includes the opportunities the mission gave its churches for developing self-reliance in theology. In this section, I assume that the training of church leadership requires a solid, intelligible, and biblical theological base as the locus of instruction. If that base/locus does not exist, the church must fail to be the church.
The Case of Phra Intra
Unfortunately, the historical record is largely silent regarding the beliefs of northern Thai Christians excepting only notable instances where the converts expressed themselves in a manner pleasing to the missionaries. (34) Therefore, it is difficult to recover the actual theological concerns of the first generations of Christian converts. Existing studies and evidence suggests that their theological orientation and values differed from those of the mission. They remained concerned about the world of phi and winyan (spirits) and how to cope with these unseen but powerful beings. (35) In most cases, then, the missionaries did not refer to theological positions differing from their own, and it is difficult to measure closely mission impact on northern Thai theological development.
One intriguing exception to the general silence in mission records regarding indigenous theological ideas in the early northern Thai church is found in Wilson's annual mission report to the Board for 1880. There he mentions one recent convert who had many "fanciful" interpretations of the Bible. In one instance, this convert reportedly claimed that the Hindu god Phra Intra was actually the Angel Gabriel. Somewhat disturbed with this man's unusual ideas about Christian beliefs, Wilson wrote, "...they hardly seem right for him to be saying." Yet, Wilson also noted that the convert's heart was in the right place and that he was an apt learner. Wilson concluded with the thought that the new Christians still had so much to learn and that the mission needed more teachers for them. (36) In short, Wilson's response was one of mild discomfort, bemusement, and dismissal. He saw only a person with insufficient education in Christian faith (a child-like person) that represented a "problem". In this case and more generally, indigenous expressions of Christian faith were discouraged by the mission with the result that it forced the church to rely on the inadequate resources of the mission for its theological instruction and growth. In 1881, the year following Wilson's comments, both he and McGilvary expressed deep concern over the fact that the church did not receive proper instruction. (37) They assumed that both the content of instruction and the instruction itself had to come from the mission, as the church was ignorant, in their view, and could have no voice.
The Case of Evander McGilvary
The matter of developing a "correct" theological expression for the northern Thai church became more complicated when a missionary also showed a certain receptivity to traditional religion. The Rev. Evander B. McGilvary, son of the McGilvarys, returned to Chiang Mai with his own family in late 1891 to join the mission in order to translate the Bible into northern Thai. He was well received in the mission not only because of his parents but also for his own abilities. He soon became a useful member of the mission contributing capably as mission treasurer, sometimes pastor of Chiang Mai Church, and as the mission's Bible translator. (38)
Evander's understanding of the Bible, however, led to a crisis over his theological views. Just at the time he came to the field, the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. found itself embroiled in a deep controversy over the nature of Scriptures. On the one hand stood those who held to the inerrancy of the Bible while on the other were those who used higher criticism (historical methods) for studying the Bible. Matters came to a head in the General Assembly of 1893 where the Presbyterian Church again affirmed a previous declaration that the inerrancy of Scriptures was a necessary article of belief for Presbyterians. Evander McGilvary strongly disagreed with that position and submitted his resignation to the Board of Foreign Missions.
He believed that the Bible was not inerrant, not without textual error, and that higher criticism was a proper tool for the interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, he believed that one did not have to be a Christian in order to be saved. In fact, Evander stated that his language teacher, a deeply committed follower of the Buddha, was saved. He resigned because he could no longer remain, to his own way of thinking, an ordained Presbyterian minister while holding views so opposed to those of the General Assembly.
The Laos Mission and its individual members felt torn about Evander's resignation. No one wanted him to resign. The mission wanted the Bible translated as rapidly as possible, and it needed his help in other tasks as well. Yet, the mission's members worried because Evander's views had become known in the U.S. Although about half of them stated their willingness to back him against any action by General Assembly to remove him from the field, a number feared that his presence might weaken support for the mission in the home churches. Others in the mission worried considerably about his influence over the northern Thai church. The churches supported him and even showed some inclination towards his viewpoint. Wilson feared Evander's influence most strongly and wrote that the churches could not decide such issues as Evander raised for them. It was, he wrote, "wicked" to push such issues on the "unsophisticated Laos." (39) After considerable correspondence, maneuvering, pleading, and confusion, Evander McGilvary and his family left the field in June 1894. (40)
Before the entire affair died down, five members of the Laos Mission signed a joint letter to the Board requesting that it send no more "liberals" to the field for the sake of mission unity. (41) Mission letters related to this case show that while most of the mission professed to respect Evander for his stand and sympathized with his concerns, no one agreed with his theological position. In the entire history of the mission, the only other member known to have held similar views also experienced theological difficulties in the mission. Dr. C. C. Hansen of the Lampang Station had a very positive regard for northern Thai culture and religion. Popular with the Christians in Lampang, his views were disapproved of in the mission, and it is likely that he was not reappointed in 1909 because of those views. (42) In effect, the Laos Mission sought to limit the theological perspectives available to the church to only those that fit under the general rubric of "conservative" and specifically discouraged theological positions that denied the sinfulness of northern Thai society and its traditional religion.
There are certain indications that the church itself felt less uncomfortable with Evander's theology than the missionaries. The correspondence cited above states that the churches supported him and all the Christians wanted him to stay. Nan Ta supported his continued presence on the field. Indeed, Wilson and others worried about the church's susceptibility to such views as Evander held. (43) We have already noted that the Lampang Christian community respected Hansen, for all of his "unacceptable" views. At the very least, it may be concluded that the churches of the 1890s and early 1900s accepted theological diversity and a more positive view of their own culture and its traditional religion more readily than the mission. While every missionary felt torn about Evander's going or staying, the Christian community wholeheartedly, openly supported his staying.
Nowhere is the mission's "theory" of indigenization of theology more clearly seen than in its development of church music. Many of the missionaries had musical talents that they shared with the church. For them, "indigenization" meant taking Western forms, in this case Western church hymns, and translating them into northern Thai. Otherwise, they assumed without question that Western instruments, musical notation, tunes, and content met the church's needs for its own music. (44) Indigenization meant simple-minded translation.
By now, we should not be surprised that these specific mission attitudes fit in with its larger ideological and ecclesiological positions. It was all very logical: if northern Thai society was "heathen," filled with darkness and under the control of Satan, no ideas taken from it could possibly be of use. Since northern Thai Christians were child-like, they could not possibly contribute anything to theology. The result also fits into the historical processes at work in the northern Thai church. The church became fully dependent upon the mission for formal, systematic theological understanding, but since the mission had so little time for the churches they left the churches mostly in ignorance, without a coherent theological voice.
The Case of the Bible
Dependence on an over-worked, under-staffed, paternalistic mission had serious repercussions on the northern Thai church in another area. The Laos Mission found it difficult to get to translating the Bible and making it available to the churches. Before the founding of the Mission Press, the mission relied on the Siamese Bible and a few hand-copied northern Thai Scripture portions. Since few people in the North could read Siamese, the mission long sought to establish its own northern Thai press. (45) (see Chapter 3).
Although the press began in 1892, it did not publish the first two books of the Bible, Matthew and Acts, until the following year. The primary purpose of the two books was evangelistic, but the missionaries were also delighted to have them for use by church members as well. They filled a longtime need. (46) However, the pace of translation and publication remained slow (see Appendix III), and the whole New Testament did not appear until 1914, at which time Coffins wrote,
At the time of printing this report we are printing 2nd Corinthians which will complete the New Testament in Laos. Perhaps it is not wise to report that it has taken more than twenty years to complete it; due wholly to the fact that our over worked missionaries have had their hands more than full with evangelistic and medical work and the translation of the Scriptures has had to be given a secondary place. (47)
This slow rate of translation meant that churches received the Bible only in fits and snatches, piecemeal as first one book and then another came off the press. Since most of the Scriptures came out printed as single books (or collections of shorter books), converts did not necessarily even obtain all the portions available at any one time.
Consequently, the church remained largely ignorant of the Bible. For example, in 1900 a group of Chiang Rai Christians earnestly searched the seven books of the Bible available to them in northern Thai for a prohibition against drinking alcohol. Finding none, they started drinking, and the church eventually suspended four of them. (48) The dilemma and misadventures of the Chiang Rai group may seem somewhat comic and inconsequential were it not for the fact that Christian groups and churches generally displayed ignorance of the Bible throughout the history of the Laos Mission. Dodd tells of two cases: in the first, a missionary assistant mistakenly used a chapter from the Westminster Confession of Faith thinking it was from the Bible. In the second, one Christian advised another to stop reading storybooks and devote himself to the Bible. The "story book" the first man was reading was the Book of Job. (49)
The mission did not purposefully set out to withhold the Bible from the churches. Considering the circumstances of geography, the problems in establishing the press, and the weight of other commitments, the missionaries did what they could. Yet, because of those circumstances and limitations, the mission could not provide the churches with adequate access to the Bible. Freeman, writing in 1910, admitted that the churches needed more thorough and systematic biblical instruction. However, the pressure of other work on the small Laos mission force prevented it from meeting the need. (50) The crux of this problem (and many others) originated in the mission's insistence thatit had to oversee virtually everything. Too busy to translate.. .too busy to teach.. .and, at the last, too busy too busy too busy to show the "natives" how to do for themselves what it could not do for them.
Although after 1914 the mission did give more attention to Bible distribution within the churches and encouraged more Bible study, there is no evidence that their attention and encouragement had appreciable results. (51) Even then, this emphasis came nearly fifty years after the founding of the mission and in the closing years of its existence.
The northern Thai church was an ignorant church. It lacked access to the Bible. It lacked regular Bible study. It did not know the Bible. It lacked a theological voice of its own. It lacked training in theology. Consequently, what theological expression it had either came from mission or from pre-Christian traditional beliefs. The Laos Mission purposefully limited the theology that the people did hear to one particular Western expression of theology.
Maen Pongudom summarized the situation well in his discussion of the effects of mission attitudes about Thai and northern Thai culture on the church. He concluded that mission attitudes prevented it from cultivating a substantive and effective proclamation of the Gospel and prevented the converts from developing their own theological voice so they could proclaim the Gospel effectively. He wrote, "Consequently, the missionary has imprisoned and dwarfed the Gospel."(52) While stated somewhat polemically, Maen's observation carries weight in light of the historical evidence available. The locus of instruction for church leadership and the laity in general remained firmly in mission hands with a result precisely the opposite of that intended. The mission intended to protect the "purity" of the Gospel from "heathen" influences by dominating the content and the teaching of the Gospel in the North. What it accomplished, in fact, was to prevent the church from discovering its own understanding of the Gospel, thus, leaving it to try to adapt in some vague fashion as best it could beliefs about phi and winyan to what it understood of Christianity.
The fact that impresses me personally the most about Laos Mission leadership training is this: in general education, in medicine, and in technology, the various members of the mission performed near wonders in institution building. They introduced an impressive array of changes in the North. They persevered against all manner of obstacles to establish schools, hospitals, and even a press. The Collins', the Harris', the Campbells' and others were competent administrators. McKean built up a hospital and then established the first leprosarium in Siam. Why was it, then, that this mission with all of this talent and all of these institutions failed to establish a credible, stable program for leadership development and theological education ? How was it possible ?
Ideologically, the Laos Mission believed that its convert churches could not provide their own leadership without many years of training and guidance by the mission. The leadership training the mission gave to potential church leaders failed because it did not actually train for leadership, because it emphasized evangelism to the exclusion of pastoral skills, because it failed to root the church in the Bible, and because it eschewed theological creativity and balance. The Laos Mission, then, failed to participate in any meaningful way in the late nineteenth century missionary movement's redefinition of the purpose of that movement. Creative missionary thinking shifted from simply spreading Christianity to the establishing of self-propagating, self-supporting, and self-governing indigenous churches in "non-Christian" areas.
This chapter focuses attention on the actual historical development of northern Thai church leadership, especially the clergy, in light of the issues discussed in chapters 4 and 5. Its examination of that development immediately involves us in the larger issues of self-reliance in evangelism, stewardship, and church government. My purpose here is to see how mission ideology and leadership training affected the emergence of indigenous church leadership.
The Pastor's Revolt of 1895
The events of the Pastors' Revolt of 1895 form the most important single complex of events in the history of the northern Thai church since September 1869. Prior to the early 1890s, the church grew without much thought given to planning. The mission showed no concern that the churches either run themselves or have financial responsibility for themselves. But, by 1894 new ideas permeating the international missionary movement began to influence events in northern Siam. The mission itself had grown larger, more complex, and now it entered a time of ferment resulting from the clash between opposing interpretations of how to develop a self-reliant northern Thai church. The importance of these events was that the church and mission came to a fork in the road where the choices were significant change, a break with the past, or continuity, embracing the past.
Nan Ta, who received ordination in 1889 and proved himself to be a capable evangelist and church leader, who impressed and pleased the mission with his work. (1) Some of its members felt a need for more men like him, and in December 1893 the North Laos Presbytery ordained Kru Wong and "licensed" Noi Lin, both students of the Training School, and made them pastors of the Mae Dok Daeng and Wang Mun Churches, respectively. In the meantime, the understaffed Chiang Mai Station, considerably distracted with the Evander McGilvary case, called upon Nan Ta to take over most of the pastoral duties of the Chiang Mai Church while an elder took over the Sunday School. This was the first time that "First Church" found itself almost entirely in northern Thai hands, and the end of 1894 potentially marked the first signs of the emergence of a pastoral system for the northern Thai church. (2)
During 1894, several other men at the Training School prepared for the ordained pastoral ministry. Dodd, who opposed ordaining any more northern Thai, happened to be in the U.S., and Irwin's voice as head of the Training School carried considerable weight in the weakened Laos Mission. Irwin saw that the churches needed pastoral leadership and believed that the best way to get that leadership was to train northern Thai Christians for it since it was their work and responsibility anyway. He also believed that the churches could supply enough men for their own leadership. (3)
Then came the next annual meeting of presbytery in December 1894. According to McGilvary, the presbytery decided to ordain one or two more men, but when they began to select candidates they kept thinking of others nearly as qualified, nearly as ready. Presbytery did not want to discourage or disappoint them, and so it ended up ordaining six more men, for a total of eight, to the ministry while licensing another three. The presbytery assigned all eleven men to pastoral or evangelistic work. (4) It also voted to assess churches pastored by them for part of the salaries of their pastors since it was felt that the churches should begin to be responsible for paying their own pastors. Irwin, who also served as chairman of the Evangelistic Committee at this time, tried to make a number of financial changes in conjunction with placing pastors in the churches. First of all, he and other Chiang Mai missionaries (including McGilvary) visited the churches to explain the need for self-support and create enthusiasm for it. Secondly, Chiang Mai Station sent out a letter to the other stations and churches urging the necessity of self-support. Finally, Irwin reduced the number of paid elder-evangelists and the amount of pay those remaining received. Evidently, in cutting evangelists' pay he also cut off the pay some of the now ordained men received from evangelism, thus making them dependent on the churches for their income. (5)
Without planning or preparation, the Laos Mission and the North Laos Presbytery embarked in December 1894 on a daring experiment. Considering the fact that only Chiang Mai Station showed any enthusiasm for the experiment while missionaries in the other stations opposed the self-support and self-government movement, (6) things went surprisingly well. For his work in 1894 as "assistant" pastor (though with full responsibility), Nan Ta received a promotion to the office of "co-pastor" of Chiang Mai Church. Seven of the nine men assigned their own churches did well enough to be reassigned to the same churches for 1896. Some of the churches, however, did not respond as well in terms of financial support—although Mae Dok Daeng did pay half of Kru Wong's salary and Chiang Mai paid all of Nan Ta's. (7) Under the influence of Irwin in Lamphun, the Lamphun, Bethel, and Wang Mun Churches all supported their own pastors in 1896; and even smaller groups in the area pledged to join together and support pastors. Even after Irwin left Lamphun in 1895, both the Lamphun and Bethel Churches sustained their own pastoral leadership until 1899. (8)
Throughout 1895, however, an undercurrent of unrest built up among the pastors and their churches, and as the year went along Irwin became more-and-more isolated from important elements in the mission and the church. First of all, he ran into trouble with McGilvary over the issue of paid evangelists. McGilvary felt that Irwin had gone too far and too fast and in one or two cases had been unfair about cutting evangelists salaries and reducing the number getting salaries. At the same time, both the northern Thai pastors and the churches were uneasy and unhappy. The pastors felt they did not get enough pay. The churches felt they had to pay too much. And just to make things all the more exciting, the champions of the go-slow faction in the mission, Dodd and Collins, both returned from furloughs. Thus, the Laos Mission itself fragmented into two groups: Irwin and a group of younger and less influential missionaries (Campbell, Denman, and Freeman among them) against the strong voices of the second generation missionaries including especially Dodd, Collins, and Taylor. McGilvary vaguely sided with Irwin, but he displayed less enthusiasm for the changes Irwin sought.
Four issues rendered the "deliberations" of presbytery at its annual meeting in 1895 nearly chaotic. One, the northern Thai pastors demanded salaries of thirty baht per month, twice or more their current salaries. Two, the churches refused to pay these salaries although some churches did not object to doing so voluntarily. Three, a number of missionaries expressed anger with Chiang Mai Station for its letter on self-support arguing that Chiang Mai had improperly usurped power in sending it. Four, Irwin's opposition sought to reinstate the old paid evangelists system.
And an amazing thing happened: the eight pastors, with the full support of the eight organized churches, pushed through two motions in the presbytery meeting over the negative votes of the missionaries: first of all, they voted higher salaries for the pastors. Secondly, they voted that the churches could not be forced to pay those salaries, effectively shifting the burden over to the mission. It was a revolution and the only instance in which the churches and their leaders ever took a stand against the missionaries publicly. Eventually, the presbytery appointed a committee of elders and missionaries chaired by Collins to straighten out matters, and the committee arranged compromises on the matter of pastors' salaries (raised, but not as high as wanted) and on paid evangelists (reinstated). Irwin himself played little role in the meeting, as he was quite ill and weakened by fatigue. The vigor of Dodd and Collins, just back from furlough and in good health, dominated most of the meetings. (9)
Subsequent correspondence with the Board (which supported Irwin) voiced a number of criticisms of Irwin as his opponents sought to explain what had happened. They wrote that Irwin forced pastors on the churches and then forced the churches to pay for them. They argued that Irwin worked too fast and that the whole scheme for getting pastors into the churches had been only the idea of missionaries. They argued that he upset both the churches and the pastors, none of whom understood what he expected of them. (10)
An evaluation of the event suggests that the matter was more complex than stated in these criticisms. The presbytery meeting of December 1894 involved no coercion of anyone either in the matter of ordaining pastors or calling on the churches to pay for those pastors. The meeting enthusiastically endorsed the former and accepted the latter. The evidence suggests that the events of 1894 when so many were ordained or licensed did not result from Irwin's "planning" them. Rather, having taken such relatively drastic steps as ordaining men and placing them in churches, Irwin seems to have tried to preserve those gains while also making other changes. He knew that the strongest voices in opposition to his views were absent and that the time he had to effect change was limited. He had only a limited amount of time, and it seems that he used that time for all it was worth.
However, Irwin may be charged with not playing the game wisely. By pushing self-support in which the churches had to pay for their pastors and cutting off the funds of the elder-evangelists at the same time, he greatly weakened his standing with church leaders, the leaders from whom he needed support. Irwin must have known from his experience in Lamphun that the churches could have pastors and pay for them — it was not a matter of asking them to do the impossible. He was unwise in confusing the matter of self-government and self-support at the local church level with the touchy issue of paid evangelists, a matter of deep concern not only to the evangelists but also to most of the missionaries, people committed to winning converts in numbers. Thus, the issues of self-government and self-support became confused and entangled with other matters that obscured the possibility of self-reliance that Irwin pursued.
As for the other criticisms of Irwin, it is difficult to take them seriously. Every missionary agreed with Irwin's objective of a self-reliant church. Normally, they did not object to pursuing goals of their own without consulting the churches, and the criticism of Irwin that he pursued plans not wanted by the churches rings very hollow in this mission. The whole matter came down, finally, to trust and timing: Irwin believed the churches could be more self-reliant and should be so immediately. Dodd and the dominant voices of the mission believed they could not and should not.
In view of all of this, it is worth noting again that in those churches Irwin worked with personally, the Lamphun churches, considerable progress in financial self-reliance and the creation of a pastoral system took place. The weight of historical evidence consistently supports Irwin's trust and his sense of timing.
The Myth of the Incompetent Pastors
In spite of the fact that Irwin failed to bring about radical changes in northern Thai church history at the time of the Pastors' Revolt, the event itself proved to be a key event in the history of the church, a key "non-turning" point if you will. For out of the event and its aftermath a myth spread about the pastoral abilities of the men ordained in December 1894. Hence, the Pastors' Revolt dominated mission thinking about developing northern Thai leadership for years afterwards.
The "myth" (I use the word in the popular sense) claimed that all of the ones ordained in 1893-1894 failed as pastors and soon gave up pastoral work and active ministry. Speer quoted Laos Mission members as claiming that within a year of placing those men in churches their pastoral relationships had to be dissolved—that is, at the time of the Pastors' Revolt. (11) Commenting on Kru Chai Ma's failure with the Khamu (see Chapter 3), the Lampang Station Report observed that his moral lapse, "serves as an index of the Laos character and invites caution in developing and using the weak material at our command." (12) Fourteen years later one missionary commented on the events of 1894-1895 by saying that, "Experience has shown that there are no Lao men as yet competent to be made pastors." (13)
We have already seen that as one consequence of the events of 1894 -1895 serious theological training lapsed for sixteen years. Was the reaction of the mission to those events and their aftermath warranted? Did that reaction reflect reality? It will serve us well here to briefly look at the careers of the seven pastors ordained in 1893 and 1894.
Kru Wong...served Mae Dok Daeng as pastor/stated supply for three years, but he had to leave because of problems with the church, namely, he did very little pastoral visitation. He went to Nan to work with Irwin and started the Christian community at Muang Thoeng where he became embroiled in controversy (see Chapter 3). Inactive from 1903, he retired to Chae Hom and sometimes helped the Christian community there. (14)
Kru Lin...served at Wang Mun for four years, but he did very little work and the people disliked him. He later assisted Dodd in the Kengtung Station for a while, but he was largely inactive from 1898 until his death in 1910. A greedy man, he caused the mission headaches with his demands for help when he migrated with a small group of Christians from Lamphun to the Wiang Pa Pow Church in 1901. (15)
Kru Chai Ma (from Bethlehem Church)...performed ably as an evangelist under the Lampang Station and as an assistant pastor for the Lampang Church for five years. He disappeared from mission records entirely after his "lapse" among the Khamu in 1901. (16) [It turns out, as I learned later, that Kru Chai Ma stayed on with the Khamu after his infamous "lapse," and the mission did lose all track of him until the 1920s, when it resumed contact with the Khamu. It discovered that he had continued to work as a pastor among the Khamu for all of those years, and one article published in the Presbyterian press in the United States described him as "faithful" and "competent.' See Presbyterian Magazine 33 (November 1927), 616.]
Kru Pook...served as a very capable pastor at Bethlehem Church and in later years as an evangelist for Chiang Mai Station. When Kru Pook died in 1912, missionaries praised him for his excellence as a pastor and evangelist. (17) Oddly enough, no one commented thathis abilities and personality served as an "index" of the "Laos character" as had been said (above) of the lapsed Chai Ma.
Kru Supa...worked as an excellent, irreplaceable pastor at Bethel Church until he died in 1900. Although he had his share of problems at Bethel, Kru Supa overcame them to do commendable work and proved himself an invaluable asset in the Lamphun area churches. (18)
Kru Pannya...had some trouble finding himself as a pastor at first. Eventually, he became the outstanding assistant pastor at Chiang Mai Church and an instructor in the Theological Training School. In both of these capacities, he received fulsome praise for the quality of his work, and for a time he took up the mantle of Nan Inta and Nan Ta asthe single most important northern Thai leader in the church. (19)
Kru Chai Ma (from Mae Dok Daeng Church)....had his problems at first, as well. After a year at Chiang Rai, he moved to the Muang Phrao area to work with the Chiang Dao Church, but he soon lost interest when the church did not pay his salary. However, in about 1901 Chiang Mai Station began to employ him for work in the Chiang Dao-Muang Phrao area, and as the years went by this elderly man became an increasingly capable and respected pastor. (20)
These were not the men of the myth, but, rather, older men ordained into the pastoral ministry without pastoral training for churches that had no heritage of having pastors and often did not want to pay them. In spite of all of these limitations, they proved themselves able pastors more often than not. Campbell, who witnessed the events of 1895 as a young missionary, commented twenty years later that the mission put these men in churches and left them there with no visits, counsel, or support from the mission. He concluded that with greater mission support a pastoral system could have been made to work in 1895. (21) The weight of his testimony becomes all the more conclusive when we consider that the three men licensed to preach in 1895 all proved to be capable pastors, particularly Kru Chailangka. (22) If to this little pot of bubbling leadership we add the many years of service of Nan Ta, we find that out of eleven ordained and licensed men only three proved to be failures as pastors while at least five proved to be from good to outstanding local church pastors.
We now begin to see the depths to which Laos Mission ideology and ecclesiology went: it so rigidly defined the church as child-like that it could not see the plain reality in front of it. And that is prejudice, which is precisely one of the points of this study: that the Laos Mission prejudged the northern Thai church as child-like and, therefore, incompetent, when the facts did not warrant that judgment. Robert Speer, on his official Board visit in 1915, confessed himself "dumbfounded" by this prejudice. He stated that he did not accept, on the basis of Board experience in other mission churches, the statement that the "Laos" could not raise up a capable ordained clergy. He found the mission's belief that it would have to run the church for another fifty to one hundred years "disconcerting." The elimination of pastoral leadership in northern Siam deeply troubled him since such leadership was a source of strength for other "native" churches. (23) In point of historical fact, Speer had reason for his doubts. The possibility of capable pastoral leadership was there. The mission, simply, failed to accept its existence.
The Myth of the Improvident Churches
The Pastors' Revolt of 1895 had serious repercussions for the development of pastoral ministry in northern Siam. It also initiated the debate over how the mission could get the churches to take more financial responsibility for themselves. When Irwin began pushing pastors for the churches, he linked with it the idea that the churches should support those pastors. Irwin tried to move even further down the road of self-support when he cut off the paid evangelists, again, arguing that the churches and not the mission should take responsibility for the evangelists. The principle of self-support transformed itself into a debate over means and timing. Appropriately enough, it also gave birth to another long cherished myth.
According to that myth, the mission claimed (and believed) that it had "tried" the Nevius Plan, an advanced program for ecclesiastical and Christian institutional self-support, and it failed. Writing fifty years after the fact, Taylor misremembered many of the events of the Pastors' Revolt of 1895 while contending that the Laos Mission in 1894- 1895 tried the Nevius Plan with the result that mission work came to a "stand-still" for a decade. By claiming that the Nevius Plan did not work in the North, he actually meant that the mission tried to institute financial self-support and failed. They felt that the reason they failed was that the churches were not "ready" for self-support. (24)
"We tried the Nevius Plan and it failed." This statement betrays a fundamental misunderstanding both of the "Nevius Plan" and actual events in the North. Briefly, the "Nevius Plan" resulted from the work and writing of John L. Nevius, a Presbyterian missionary in China, who in 1885 began publishing his ideas for changing mission work. He became influential in missionary circles, particularly among American Presbyterians, and the best known application of his principles was in Korean Presbyterian missions. Nevius proposed four fundamental goals for mission work: one, missions should keep their churches from depending upon the missions financially; two, missions should emphasize Bible study and Christian education using more knowledgeable Christians to teach the less knowledgeable ones; three, missions should not establish foreign systems of church government and church work; and four, missions should work to improve the economic life/independence of the churches. Nevius did not say that missions should not have paid evangelists although he himself tried to limit the numbers hired. He did support the idea of the churches paying their own pastors when they themselves decided that they wanted pastors. (25)
In fact, the Laos Mission never applied the "Nevius Plan" in any systematic way although its principles did influence some of the actions of the mission. The rationale behind self-support as pursued by the mission and as outlined by Nevius were quite different. Where Nevius emphasized self-support in all facets of church life and especially in Christian education and the Bible, the Laos Mission saw self-support only as a matter of finances. That misunderstanding, however, did not lessen the intensity of the debate between Irwin and his opponents in the mission. For, once again, the matter came down to one of timing. Irwin sought immediate change while Dodd, Collins, Taylor, and others argued for a gradual approach that educated the churches first and won their consent for self-support. (26)
It is unlikely, in light of later events, that the majority approach of "gradualism" would have made much headway. However, events overseas now intervened: during the 1890s the American economy fluctuated considerably so that by 1897 the Board found it necessary to cut mission budgets. At first, many of the missionaries in northern Siam expressed considerable alarm over the heavy reduction they experienced, but within a short time most of them showed a more positive attitude. The budget cuts had forced the mission to spend less money on paid evangelists and direct local church support with the result that the churches had to take on more financial responsibility for themselves. (27) Particularly in the matter of paid evangelists, the mission adopted a stringent policy of limiting them to one per station, and more generally it greatly reduced the number of mission employees. (28)
However, the mission's enthusiasm for fiscal self-support did not last very long. The mainspring of the drive to return to the good old days of numerous mission employees came from the mistaken impression that volunteer evangelism could not win as many converts as paid evangelism. Dr. Peoples, writing in 1903, claimed that the policy of limited paid evangelism instituted in 1897 was "suicidally parsimonious", and as a result, he requested that year's annual meeting to reverse the policy by allowing him two paid evangelists for Nan. A special committee deliberated on the issue and came out in favor of increasing the numbers of paid evangelists as did another special committee appointed in 1905. (29)
One person, at least, objected to the widespread sentiment to return to the system of mission paid evangelists. In 1904, when the movement back was just beginning, Dr. Briggs pointed out that the mission was about to make a serious mistake in changing its policy because it was bypassing the churches. He felt that the responsibility for evangelism should be in the churches and that the mission should only assist the churches with supplemental funds. They should pay the evangelists they hired themselves. Briggs also concluded that the whole concept of mission paid evangelists violated the principle of self-government by perpetuating the church's subservience to the mission. (30)
Nevertheless, the mission did gradually shift back to the paid evangelist system and in the process quietly dropped the whole push for self-support. After 1900, mission records hardly mention the matter at all for more than a decade. In 1909, Briggs concluded with some discouragement that the larger issue of self-support would have to wait for at least another generation as the churches were just not prepared for it. Bachtell in Chiang Rai commented in 1916 that the whole idea of self-support was a new one for the northern Thai church. After 1900 the only one who remained committed to the goal of self-support in practice was Irwin who worked towards that goal in Nan and then Phrae.(31)
The retreat from fiscal self-support for the churches reflected the Laos Mission's primary commitment to evangelism, that is, to the converting of large numbers of non-Christians. The fear expressed by Peoples and Taylor (above) and widely believed in the mission was that unless the mission paid for its evangelism the churches would not engage in it and the numbers would cease. In point of fact, a number of missionaries in the 1890s had pointed out that paid evangelism actually discouraged the church from taking responsibility for evangelism because most Christians saw it as a profession, one they did not get paid for and therefore did not engage in. The paid evangelists (usually elders) themselves discouraged others from doing "free" evangelism and often showed that they worried more about numbers than the quality of conversions of those numbers. (32) On the other hand, the missionaries themselves observed (in other contexts) that most new Christian groups came into existence through the (unpaid) efforts of converts who took their new faith home with them or Christians who moved into a new village. (33)
Yet the belief persisted that paid evangelism worked better. Campbell wrote in 1913 that the accumulated experience of the mission proved the wisdom of hiring paid evangelists in numbers. (34) This in spite of the fact that mission statistics indicate that in the period 1899 to 1902, after the brief dip in church growth immediately after the Pastor's Revolt, the churches grew at a rate of 6.4% per year without paid evangelists. In the period 1904 to 1910, after the restoration of the paid evangelism system the churches grew at a lower rate of 5.7%. And the best year for church growth of that period was 1904 when the system had not yet been widely reinstated. (See Appendix II. 1903 is not included because it was a year of serious political instability when conversions dropped sharply. The period after 1910 is also not discussed here because it was a special case. See Chapter 8). While these statistics may not be taken as conclusive, what they do suggest is that no firm evidence for the relative merits of paid evangelism could be taken from actual church growth rates. Indeed, those rates suggested that volunteer evangelism equaled or bettered the numerical rates of church growth of paid evangelism.
It was not a coincidence that the "movement" for self-support lost its steam as the mission reinstated paid evangelism in 1903 and afterwards. The mission felt it could not entrust the churches with evangelism. It also felt that the churches showed little inclination towards supporting themselves more generally. Thus, once again the mission took action to preserve its major concern, evangelism, while acquiescing to the churches' passivity in the matter of self-reliance. The majority in the mission was not willing to sacrifice its conversion rate for a self-governing, self-supporting, self-propagating church because it feared that the sacrifices needed for the latter would destroy the former. Push evangelism! Go slow on the rest! Again, the results of this policy of putting other matters before the life of the church resulted in ultimately frustrating the goals of the mission. The evangelism-over-all policy resulted in, among other negative repercussions, a church that could not sustain evangelism.
Nevertheless, the myths of the incompetent pastors and the improvident churches remained firmly in the minds of a generation of Laos Mission missionaries. The power of the myths was that they confirmed the mission's adherence to structures and procedures that remained unchanged as a result.
Regional Church & Regional Ministry
Take a core sample of the northern Thai church: Lampang, 1911. The Christians of Lampang Station were organized into two churches, the Lampang Church and the newly founded (1910) Muang Yao Church. The Revs. C.R. Callender and H.S. Vincent served as co-pastors of the city church while its six elders and two deacons functioned as "an efficient board of advisors." The two pastors were just initiating a new scheme by which the two full-time
and three part-time evangelists employed by the station would itinerate through four circuits of villages where the church had members. In addition, the station would continue to send out leaders from the city to lead worship in the various rural groups. During the year, Kru Nan Ti and Elder Noi Kwang from Chiang Mai spent some time working with the rural groups of the church, and Kru Nan Ti proved especially helpful at Chae Hom (under Vincent) where the station planned to establish another church. In addition to these and other native assistants, Kru Noi Wong of the Muang Yao Church, just ordained, also worked with the station. Since he was heavily engaged in itinerating evangelistic work, he spent very little time with his home church. In fact, he spent about six months of 1911 working in Phrae with the church there because they had no resident missionaries. His work was reported to be very good wherever he went. (35)
This core sample indicates that a regional ministry grew up to serve the "regional church" describes the main features of that ministry:
+ church leadership proceeded from the center, the station and its "city church," outward. Thus, the urban Christian community dominated the rural communities. Church leadership, including pastoral leadership, was sent to churches rather than called by the churches. The churches passively accepted those sent rather than actively supported those called.
+ at the very center of the urban center stood the missionary pastor-evangelist in whom was vested all authority over the Christian communities. The session of the city church functioned as merely an advisory body while those who visited the churches as quasi-pastors were employees of the station. All real power rested in the hands of the missionaries.
+ the model for church leadership and pastoral care came from that of the itinerating evangelist-missionary who moved from community to community.
+ the system removed capable local leaders, such as Kru Noi Wong, from their local churches and gave them itinerating assignments while failing to fill the leadership "breach" left by the absence of a capable local leader.
This system had two important consequences for the churches: first of all, it encouraged dependency on the mission and the city churches for formal leadership and effective program. Secondly, it did not localize the church, which remained, for all practical purposes, institutionally and structurally an amorphous conglomerate of disconnected, scattered small groups.
The regional church system had its roots in the very early days of the church when the missionaries traveled widely, established scattered groups of converts, and often trained convert assistants by taking them along on their evangelistic trips. Always the mission had to work from the center outwards. When new groups of inquirers appeared it served them by sending out elders, and by the mid-1880s the habits of itineration and centralization of authority had taken hold so that when Nan Ta "joined" the mission team he was assigned evangelistic work on the model of the itinerating missionary. The mission's habit of using elders for itinerant evangelism only served to strengthen the system. (36) The model became increasingly institutionalized in the 1890s, and in 1900 Dodd very aptly described pastoral work as involving a great deal of horseback riding. (37)
Because of its incorporation into the regional ministry system rather than remaining a purely local church office, the office of elder developed into a surprisingly complex position. When it became apparent that a pastoral system was not emerging in the church, many of the duties and functions of the pastoral office, sometimes including observing the sacraments, fell to the local elders even as they also often worked as itinerant evangelists. It has even been argued that a system where local elders served as de-facto pastors, "...harmonized with the social structures under which the people lived." (38) In fact, the elders did not evolve into pastor-like figures partly because they lacked pastoral training but also because the regional ministry system co-opted many of the best for work away from the local church. By the mid-1890s, the mission hired significant numbers of elders for itinerating evangelism, and by 1905 large numbers of them had been incorporated into the itinerating vaccinator-evangelist program of the Chiang Mai Hospital. (39)
The regional ministry model came to fruition in the ministry of Howard Campbell, pastor of the Chiang Mai Church. He developed a team-ministry approach in which he served as senior pastor and supervisor to a team of elders and clergymen. In 1908, for example, the two northern Thai clergymen assigned to the church plus four elders served under him — three in city work and three in rural work. Campbell not only itinerated but also gave much time to counseling and conferring with this team. It was typical of the regional ministry model that he spent about one-third of his time away from Chiang Mai. (40)
From about 1900 onwards, the few remaining northern Thai clergymen became fully incorporated into the regional ministry system so that they too worked mostly in itinerating situations based in the urban centers. (41) In sum, the regional ministry created an urban clergy responsible to the mission and distant from the local rural Christian communities. The ordained ministry existed apart from the churches. It was evangelistic in form rather than pastoral.
By the late 1910s, the institutional structures of the Laos Mission, educational and medical, received most of the mission's attention. All members of the Chiang Mai Station except Campbell, for example, were directly and deeply involved in institutional work. (42) The churches received far less attention. There was, in the closing years of the Laos Mission, no effective attempt nor even any will to attempt to correct the inadequacies of the regional church-regional ministry complex. Therefore, the northern Thai churches remained dependent on outside, foreign, and urban leadership.
Therefore, the northern Thai churches did not develop a tradition or system of strong local leadership. The elders and pastors were continually being drawn off to do work other than church work. The direction of "church" leadership was away from the church.
Did it have to be this way ? The events in Phrae after 1900 give some interesting insights into the answer to that question.
The Self-Governing Church in Phrae
Phrae Station opened in 1893, and for the next ten years it went understaffed and suffered through numerous personnel changes and some very difficult interpersonal tensions. It acquired a reputation as the weakest station in the mission, one that added numbers to its church only slowly. The Phrae Church in 1903 had just 151 members that were scattered widely across the countryside. (43)
In 1904, the mission transferred Irwin to Phrae, and he immediately moved to turn it into an experiment in his confidence in northern Thai church leadership. For a number of reasons, it looked as though the mission might have to close the station, thus Irwin saw that he had an opportunity to prepare the church to run its own life. He started by placing all administrative responsibility for the church in the hands of the Session, improving the church's oversight of local rural groups by having them select their own heads, and turning himself into merely an advisor to the Session. (44)
During the first year of the experiment (ending June 1905), Irwin felt that the Session did a reasonably good job of running the church. The elders shared in pastoral duties, and even though the rest of the mission predicted that the church could not run itself even for such a short time, things worked out well. The elders were all now able to lead worship and preach, and since all of the ones he had chosen to share in pastoral work had temple religious training he felt sure they could take on this added responsibility. He was sure of success. When the Session asked him to please take back full responsibility for the church, he refused and merely gave them suggestions for improving their administration of the church. (45)
He felt particularly proud of the church when, in a unique departure from standard procedures in other stations, the church itself conceived the idea for an all-member convention (then popular in other stations, see Chapter 7) and organized the entire matter without him. Even the question box, usually the preserve of the missionary, was handled by an elder. Irwin felt the church coming alive. (46) The Session made mistakes, of course, such as when it set up a "permanent trading fund" for church members to borrow from and promptly ran out of money, or when the Session set up a school with insufficient funds. The elders clearly did not want as much responsibility and authority as Irwin gave them, but when pressed again to take it back he again refused. (47)
In December 1905, the mission closed the Phrae Station, and Irwin returned to the U.S. where he resigned from the mission for reasons of health. Phrae became an out-station of Lampang with Roderick Gillies in nominal charge of the church. Gillies appointed one elder, with permission to administer the sacraments, head of the church. The church was not very happy about all of this claiming that the mission had "orphaned" it. (48) But, for the next year, 1906, things went along fairly well with Nan Chi serving as moderator of the church and the Session fully responsible for all aspects of its life. Two problems did arise: the Session largely ignored the village groups; and it proved difficult for the Session to discipline church members without a missionary to back them up. The church pleaded for the missionaries to come back. Margaret Gillies, after a visit to Phrae, expressed an opinion of the church quite different from that of Irwin. She pitied the poor people; they acted like sheep without a shepherd. Yet, she did note that they seemed to do a good job on their own in spite of it all. (49)
Yet, by 1907 Roderick Gillies and the rest of the mission were convinced that the Phrae experiment had already failed and regretted that the mission had ever "abandoned" Phrae. Previously convinced that the experiment could not have worked, the mission now laid plans to reopen the Phrae Station before, as some feared, the church there died. (50) The whole matter took on urgency when it seemed in 1908 that things were rapidly deteriorating in Phrae. Two more elders quit the church (one had already left previously) and village work remained totally neglected. But, then, reports from Phrae in 1909 showed that the situation had stabilized with Nan Chi, Ai ("Elder brother") Loom, and their wives showing themselves increasingly capable leaders. They still eagerly awaited the promised return of the missionaries; yet, the condition of the church was improved with women's work being particularly strong. (51)
For a brief five months in 1910, the Callenders re-opened the Phrae Station, but they soon had to leave. The station remained closed. The pace of renewal at Phrae did not suffer, and in 1911 the church had its best year yet made even better with the assistance of the very able Kru Noi Wong from Lampang who spent six months with the church. Not only did the church grow by 31 members, it also established its own boarding school under Noi Chun.(52) Never had the church itself been stronger or more active than in 1911.
Finally, the mission reopened the Phrae Station in 1912 with two families assigned to it. According to the record, all of the problems the station faced and dealt with during its first year had to do with station administration, buildings and grounds, and medical and educational work. It had to find a new site for the station, build new buildings, and reestablish institutional work. On the other hand, church renewal, the justification for reopening the station, received very little attention. (53)
At first things seemed to go exceedingly well, as the church increased rapidly because of the medical work of the station during a period of intense epidemic. Growth was rapid enough so that the church group at Ban Pa Pung was constituted as a full church with 95 members in May 1914. Things were not quite as rosy as they seemed, however, and Marie Parks expressed considerable discouragement in 1915: firstly, most of the new converts had been more interested in medicine than religion and showed little interest in spiritual matters; secondly, because of mismanagement of funds the station was left without money for evangelistic, educational, or medical work. An article in the Laos News, "official" magazine of the mission, indicated that the Phrae Church and especially the Ban Pa Pung Church both suffered for want of good leadership. Meanwhile, the station largely ignored its two churches because of its heavy load of institutional and administrative work. (54) Events over the next four years proved Parks' discouragement well founded, and by 1920 the situation had gotten nearly out of hand as the Phrae families were reassigned to open the Chiang Rung (Yunnan, China) Station and temporary replacements had to be brought in. (55)
Irwin's experiment at Phrae was the only instance in which a missionary consciously prepared a church for and gave it responsibility for its own government. The conditions of his experiment were not encouraging. The Phrae Church was weak to begin with and showed no enthusiasm for self-government. Irwin had only two years to work with the church, and for six months of the period he was incapacitated by illness. Furthermore, the other members of the mission did not expect the experiment to succeed and did not really support it. Gillies, one of those skeptical from the beginning, was assigned to look out after the church from his post in Lampang. Thus, Irwin's experiment had to be carried out in the weakest station of the mission, with the weakest church around, and in a general atmosphere of skepticism. It was a formula for failure if ever there was one.
All of these liabilities make the results of the experiment all the more convincing as the record indicates that by 1911 the Phrae Church had made good progress towards self-government. It grew. It developed its own leadership and its own program. The church's situation may not have been greatly exciting in 1911, but it was encouraging. Yet, one missionary commented on that situation to the effect of how much better it would have been, as good as it was, if missionaries had been present! Acknowledging that "native" leadership had performed acceptably, the missionary still assumed that anything the church could do the missionaries could do better. (56)
Given what actually happened in Phrae, the proposition that the missionaries could run local churches better than local church leadership is hard to accept. What happened was that the missionaries confused the Phrae Church's desire to be irresponsible with what it could actually do on its own. Where Irwin gently refused to allow the Phrae Church to use him as a convenience, the rest of the mission took the plaintive cries from the church for missionary leadership at their face value. They believed that those cries proved the necessity of missionary leadership. The record described above shows that the mission, in actual fact, couldnot lead the Phrae Church better than the church could lead itself. Perhaps, rather, I should say that even poorly trained lay leadership given the opportunity to lead proved to be better than mission "leadership" because the missionaries ignored the church. Between illness, personnel changes, building up the physical plant, and running the institutions, the station had no time left for the church. (57) Again and again, the pattern of the Laos Mission was that it prevented the emergence of indigenous leadership while failing to exercise that leadership itself.
Self-propagating. Self-supporting. Self-governing. The ideals. One of those patterns in the records of the Laos Mission that eventually sinks in to the researcher thus betraying an underlying tendency in the mission is this: when members of the mission wrote about these three ideals of self-reliance they frequently dropped the last one. They wrote of the goal of a self-propagating and self-supporting church, that is, a truncated "Two-self" movement. (58) The Laos Mission vigorously avoided doing those things which might actually have resulted in a more self-reliant northern Thai church. Had it not been for Irwin, the historian might draw this conclusion with less certainty. His ministry in Lamphun, in Nan, and in Phrae provided clear evidence for what the northern Thai church could have been given a different mission environment.