Since the missionaries arrived, there has been a disciplined and dedicated attempt to make Indigenous churches look, act and feel like their non-Indigenous counterparts. We can say, once and for all, it was a failure. It isn’t that Indigenous congregations don’t have the means or capacity to mimic their counterparts. From the beginning and for the most part, Indigenous Christians realized that to be faithful to God and serve their communities they had to allow the Word to become flesh in their midst in an Indigenous way and to make a culturally relevant and community-based witness to the eternal truth of the gospel.
Today, one of the important ways that people may witness Indigenous self-determination is in the growing enthusiasm among Indigenous Christians to see the gospel firmly planted in their own culture and context. You will witness this most powerfully by considering the practice of ministry among the ordained and non-ordained.
The colonial church presented one model of ministry as an unyielding norm: a fully paid individual priest, trained in the philosophy and practice of the Euro-Canadian ministry, placed over a congregation with a variety of Euro-Canadian-styled programs of ministry and fellowship. Culturally inappropriate, this model of ministry has been financially unsustainable, in most places, for several decades.
An alternative has emerged: multiple clergy, elders and lay ministers form a community of disciples. Acting as a council of elders, they provide spiritual leadership and pastoral care in some of the most demanding and stressful situations of ministry on this continent. These circles of ministry practice what we call “Gospel Based Discipleship” and place the gospel in the centre of the sacred circle of their work, local community and the land on which they live and pray. Where this model has been allowed, it has been quite successful, especially when compared with the former model.
Providing equivalent levels of funding for ministry between Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities is an important item of the agenda of justice and reconciliation. It is important, however, to be clear on the type of ministry that is being supported. We do not seek to fund a sinking ship. We desire to finance a noble tomorrow, full of truth, love and compassionate service.