[This post is the second of a series by Joshua Melby, a global Christian leader in Chiang Mai, Thailand.]
Historically speaking, hymn-singing was emphasized more than prayer in evangelicalism. However, leaders like Jonathan Wesley, teach us that prayer is important. All across the world, Christians incorporate it into their private devotional time. Communal prayer has definitely been a feature of the evangelical movement with regular prayer meetings since the eighteenth century. Scholars like Ian Randall note that prayer is a unifying feature within evangelicalism with its focus on the “outpouring of the Spirit on the Church of Christ and for the world.” Within our modern movement, prayer and worship are important to spiritual formation. We should pray and worship both privately and corporately.
In the history of evangelicalism, there has always been a focus on the Bible within the context of personal devotions or group studies. Since the reformation, evangelicals have been dutifully translating the Bible into as many languages as possible. We thank people like Ann Judson and John Taylor Johnson for being forerunners of the Thai Bible translation. People have been memorizing scriptures since they were first written. If one was illiterate or books were too scarce or unaffordable, the only way to retain access to the Bible would be to memorize it. We should still continue to value the accessibility that memorization offers. Our leaders should still be able to recall parts of the Bible to better ground themselves theologically and share truth with others.
Evangelism has been a part of Christianity since Acts. It is a crucial part of being a Christian. We want people to hear the good news. However, evangelism looks different from culture to culture. In Thailand, it might be more appropriate to evangelize through performance. Historically, Thai dance has been an important way of communicating ideas, morals, and history to people. Thai culture does not prize being direct and straightforward. Communicating the gospel message through drama or dance would be historically and culturally appropriate.
In Thailand, prayer and worship are already part of many peoples’ lives. Thai people visit temples where they pay respect to different monks or images of Buddha. Additionally, many people visit or maintain “spirit houses” that pay respect to one’s ancestors. It would not be that difficult to transition people into praying and worshiping to God instead of imagery, spirits, or their ancestors. First, they must know that God is the only one that can give them salvation from their sins. Making merit does nothing for them. Their proper response should be in prayer and worship. However, prayer and worship is not required for attaining salvation. That needs to be abundantly clear because Thai Buddhism is based on works and deeds. We do not want our leaders or the people to whom we minister to think that they must perform certain rituals to attain the love of God.
Many Buddhists memorize sacred texts and repeat them over and over again. These are called mantras. However, the text they memorize is not in Thai. Often times, people do not know what they are actually saying. Memorizing the Bible would be so much more beneficial while being similar enough to what many people already do. The Bible is translated into Thai so people would understand what they are memorizing. Additionally, what they memorize would have a positive effect on their spirituality by imprinting truth onto their hearts.
Evangelism is not a part of Thai culture naturally. However, many people are interested in music, drama performances, and dance. The Gospel message can be communicated through these media in order to reach more people. Also, Thai people love being together. Using these tools, teaching large groups would offer entertainment as well as life-giving messages. In fact, many evangelistic endeavors in Thailand already employ these methods to reach people. Different groups like Bible League travel around Thailand presenting the gospel through dramatic performances.
Application of the Model
Spiritual formation at a personal level will take place through private prayer, worship, and Bible memorization. Our leaders should pray to God as an act of faith. It is culturally relevant to spend time meditating. This should extend to meditating on God. Additionally, we should strive to worship God so that we can place ourselves in the proper relationship with him. Bible memorization will serve to imprint truth on our leaders’ hearts. This is key to spiritual formation. The more we know God, the more we can be shaped by God.
At the one-on-one level, our leaders should pray and worship together. This builds relationships of trust with one another. We can care for each other best when we are praying for God to enter into each other’s’ lives. It is also a source of encouragement to pray and worship together. We are able to minister to one another and depend on God together. Another one-on-one application would be to share appropriate Bible verses with one another to build each other up. Finally, evangelism and discipleship can take place through close relationships with one another.
Corporately, spiritual formation will take place through prayer meetings, worship services, and performing the gospel message for Christians and unreached people alike. Prayer meetings can focus on particular topics. Worship services acknowledge the greatness of God and what He is doing in our lives. Performing the gospel message through dramatic interpretation or dance can be used to evangelize to other people. This takes a corporate effort. We can use our creativity to preach the gospel to the people of Thailand so that they too can receive salvation and experience freedom with God.
Chiang Mai Church Collective, thank you for reading my model of spiritual formation for our Thai leaders. I hope that you see how this model both has the ability to disciple those who are already Christian, while being easy to understand for potential new believers. We have the great joy and opportunity to join in with the Holy Spirit to evangelize and disciple Thailand. Practicing prayer, worship, Bible memorization, and evangelism reflect the nature of the gospel while nourishing the spirits of many.
Randall, Ian M. 2005. What a Friend We Have in Jesus. Maryknoll: Orbis Books
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