Brewster and Brewster Bonding Model

The full question:

Evaluate Brewster & Brewster’s  “Bonding model” from biblical, theological, and Australian contemporary cultural perspectives.



The Brewster and Brewster bonding model that they propose is challenging and encouraging for a new missionary. The biblical and theological concepts within this theory seem to reflect a number of concepts within the teaching of the Bible. Australian contemporary culture may struggle to receive this model from new missionaries in a positive light. The concepts within the model are important to consider carefully for any new missionary along with any individual seeking to share Christ in a multicultural society.


In evaluating Brewster and Brewster’s ‘bonding model’ it is important to remember that ‘the task of cross-cultural evangelism is challenging!’[1] This model that they propose ‘is certainly not the norm for missionaries’[2], yet some missiologists realise how this model is ‘one of the more personally challenging’[3] they have read. The Brewsters’ suggestions are worth considering as they have had a wealth of experience. They are a husband-wife team who have worked in ‘more than 75 countries and they have helped train over 2,500 missionaries’[4]. They have also written a textbook that has been ‘widely acclaimed for its innovative approach and pedagogical creativity’[5]. With such experience and qualifications their suggestions for cross-cultural missions should not easily be dismissed. This paper will summarise the content of the ‘bonding model’, then evaluate it from a biblical and theological perspective and an Australian contemporary cultural perspective.


The bonding model is predominantly about formulating a process ‘for the successful initiation of a new missionary’[6]. This is in order that a missionary is able to ‘develop quality relationships in a cross-cultural setting so that a missionary outsider can have a deep and meaningful interaction and ministry with their hosts’[7]. They have experience, anecdotes and a report to back up their recommendations along with the idea of ‘imprinting’ that seems to be the main illustration to depict their intentions. The idea of imprinting is the importance of a mother and a child bonding as soon as the birth takes place to form the closest connection, otherwise adverse effects can come about and the bond will be made with someone or something else.[8]

Translating this understanding of bonding into a missionary context requires a new missionary to immediately absorb oneself into the local culture and context. They stress the importance of ‘the way the new missionary spends his first couple of weeks in his new country’, determining this is how ‘to establish a sense of belonging with the local people’.[9] They warn that if this does not occur then the missionary will find it difficult to ‘have a sense of feeling at home’[10] and will be overly critical. They believe it is important to show a desire to belong and thus reflect the greater sense of belonging they already have established with God by Jesus. They are ‘convinced’ the ‘normal’ missionary is most ready upon their initial arrival. Furthermore, they should immediately attempt to engage accommodation with locals. Without this, it would be too easy to settle into a familiar ‘Western way’ and it would be difficult to change later on.

They argue that cushioning individuals from culture shock is ‘an unfortunate disservice’. By cushioning, ‘the initial blush of life in the new environment is now gone’[11].

The Bonding model stresses the vital necessity of having a humble desire to learn and expressing that to the people they are attempting to reach with the gospel. They believe the benefit of immediate inclusion will provide ‘support from the network of the local friendships’ they have developed. In the end they determine that culture shock may have more to do with ‘the structure’ than ‘a problem of individuals’.

From their experience they have seen how even short-termers can have significant impact through immediate bonding with the local people. It also has the benefit of improved language acquisition. They recommend avoiding ‘experienced but non-bonded missionaries’ claiming they will be an ‘obstacle to the new missionary who wishes to pursue the bonding goal’.[12] The Brewsters believe that the long-term risk of not bonding is greater than any short term risks missionaries may face with their proposals.

Although immersion is important, they believe ‘going native’ is the wrong extreme but rather developing a new self, ‘a bicultural self’, recommending several things including a new name. They also consider ‘formal immigration’ to be an important consideration. This is recommended by reminding Christians of their heavenly citizenship freeing them from ‘provincialism and ethnocentrism’.

As a summary, it is through their observance that they believe the most critical time of a missionary is the initial entry of the newcomer to develop a ‘sense of identity and belonging’. It is during these first few weeks that the missionary has a unique opportunity to become ‘a belonger with insiders, in order to live and learn and minister within their social context’[13].

Having summarized much of the content in the bonding model and understood the concept we will now turn to an evaluation of this model.


In order to evaluate the bonding model this paper will contemplate it through a biblical and theological perspective and an Australian contemporary cultural perspective.[14]

Biblical & Theological

There are a number of biblical and theological concepts that must be considered in evaluating the Brewster’s bonding model. The most startling Scripture passage that applies directly to this model is Paul’s own experience in reaching other cultures in which he reflects many of the concepts taught within this missiological model (1 Cor 9:19-23)[15]. It seems within this passage that he ‘became’ like those he attempted to reach. There does not appear to be any hesitation or ‘cushioning’ time but Paul ‘jumps in the deep end’ and becomes ‘all things to all people, that by all means I might save some’ (vs. 22)[16]. This attitude is picked up by Blomberg when considering modern day application of this text. He believes

‘coming along side and getting to know unbelievers, valuing them as God’s creation in his image in and of themselves, and not just as potential objects of conversion. Then as we become familiar with each person’s unique hopes and fears, we may contextualize the gospel in such a way as to speak most directly to those concerns’[17].

This attitude that Blomberg states that reflects Paul’s intentions, seems to be part of the goal that the bonding model desires. By becoming a ‘belonger’ of the culture, this can be more easily achieved. At the same time, he does not ‘go native’ in that he still retains his identity in Christ stating, ‘I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law)…to those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ)’ (vs. 20-21). The difference between Paul’s mentality and the Brewster’s bonding model is that Paul’s only culture and identity in these verses appear to be wrapped up entirely in Christ rather than his national Jewish identity, while the bonding model identifies a bicultural identity that includes one’s place of origin. On the other hand, this supports Brewster and Brewster’s suggestion to have the missionary remember that one’s citizenship is in heaven and not with their ethnicity.

Another clear link to a biblical and theological outlook is the applicatory example of Christ. The Brewsters pointed out in their article how it ‘parallels the model established by Jesus, who left heaven, where He belonged, and became a belonger with humankind in order to draw people into a belonging relationship with God’[18]. This is reflected especially in Philippians chapter two where Christ is set up as an example. ‘Have this mind among yourselves…though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men’ (vs. 5-7). This picture of humility shows the greatest example of choosing to belong with humanity to save humanity. In one sense, Jesus truly gave up all he had to become like those he came to reach. Although we in no way are able to reflect exactly what Christ accomplished, Paul is clear that Jesus’ model is an example to our own attitude and humility. As Thielman applies this section of Scripture, ‘this means that the church and the believer must adopt an “incarnational” demeanor’[19]. Surely the bonding model includes an aspect of counting ‘others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also the interests of others’ (vs. 3-4). This is an exceptionally challenging mindset that the Brewster’s model seems to reflect. This sense of humility is also exemplified in the encouragement of the bonding model to have a willingness to learn from the culture one is immersing into.

Another biblical and theological concept that must be addressed is the claim within the model that Scripture supports the idea of changing one’s name. It points to examples of how the Lord changed many names including Abram, Sarai, Jacob, Simon etc. and how Daniel and his friends’ names were changed along with Naomi changing her own name and possibly Saul. It may be that this is an example of reading an idea into the text and using the Bible to support a possibly good suggestion. Each of these examples in their context do not support the idea of changing one’s name for missiological purposes without stretching the context illegitimately.

The attitude the Brewsters believe is necessary for the new missionary to have is one of mediating between Jesus and the culture one is attempting to reach with the gospel. They state one’s life should proclaim, ‘I belong to Jesus who has given me a new kind of life. By my becoming a belonger here with you, God is inviting you through me to belong to Him’[20]. This attitude reflects Paul’s same desire for people to look and follow him so that others may follow Christ. As he says to the Corinthians, ‘be imitators of me, as I am of Christ’ (1 Cor 11:1 cf. 1 Cor 4:6, 16-17; 7:7; Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 1 Thess 1:6; 2 Thess 3:6-9). Paul desires others recognise his wholehearted commitment to Christ and follow his example.[21] The only way he can do this is by reflecting Christ to the culture at hand. Paul ‘shows himself to be a man for others, who has consciously modeled his ministry on that of Christ’[22]. As we have seen above, Christ gave up all for others and so Paul ‘is always given up to death and carries in his body the death of Jesus’[23]. To communicate this effectively one must be a part of other’s lives which is what the ‘belonger’ becomes. This is not so that one can build themselves up but solely for the purpose of pointing people to the Saviour.[24]

One final evaluation of the bonding model’s biblical and theological ideas is their encouraging reminder of God’s sovereignty. They realise that God is sovereign and ‘does not make mistakes in creating us with our first ethnicity. Yet in His sovereignty He may…call us to go…to a people of a different ethnicity’[25]. Remembering that God has all things planned and knows where we will go and how we will fulfill the Great Commission should encourage and spur Christians on in their evangelistic efforts.[26] This theological concept also emboldens Christians to adapt the bonding model as God’s sovereignty is over all they do. At the same time it may be necessary to keep in mind that God’s sovereignty also dictates the personality and upbringing of each individual and its diversity.[27] Perhaps a weakness within the bonding model is its blanket application in a world where everyone is unique and may not be suitable to this method of immersion into the culture immediately upon arrival.

Australian Contemporary Cultural Perspective

Applying the bonding model to an Australian contemporary cultural perspective has a number of positives and negatives. The concept of humility in desiring to be a learner instead of a teacher may be a major positive within an Australian culture as it would resonate with the ‘tall poppy syndrome’ which is still alive in Australian culture in various sectors.[28] Communicating early that you want to be a learner could appeal to many Australians.

Perhaps a difficulty with applying the bonding model to the Australian culture is the expectation of almost instantaneous results. The bonding model appears to believe that in a mere few weeks friends will be made and breakthroughs will occur. This attitude may not resonate in a Western society where many people already feel as though they have much of what they need. They appear to be content with their friendship circles and it may take more time to assimilate into a culture that does not feel it ‘needs’ anything else. This can be seen in how Australia ‘performs very well in many measures of well-being relative to most other countries’ according to a 2017 report.[29] It is also difficult to ascertain how some Australians would react to befriending people from other cultures as people find familiarity comforting. This can be seen in that ‘many individuals experience unfair treatment and racism because of how they look or where they come from’[30]. This may change on the locality of Australia as rural, suburban and city have different exposure to multicultural people. In the 2016 census it was found that eighty-three percent of overseas-born population in Australia live in a capital city compared to sixty-one percent of people born in Australia.[31]

It is more than likely that the Brewster’s model that encourages limited acquisition of the language is enough to engage the culture may not resonate with the Australian culture. A limited capacity to speak English can be seen as a lack of desire to ‘integrate’ into the culture. Many Australians may not find this as an opportunity to engage and teach but rather a boresome and burdensome task to assist one with when the government or some other organisation should be teaching the English language.[32] Perhaps some would consider they should have learned the language in their home country before coming to Australia. As an example, one review of human rights and social inclusion noted that many African Australian communities feel as though they are only assessed based on the colour of their skin in Australia.[33] In many parts of Australian culture there is an attitude of determining someone by their perceived origins according to this review.

The Brewster’s belief that simply by asking local people for accommodation that will engender a place to stay seems slightly unrealistic in Australian culture. It may be more affective to go through other channels that can be found on the internet to find a share house or something similar in the area one is attempting to immerse themselves within.


The Brewster and Brewster bonding model has a wealth of experience behind its conclusions which support many of its suggestions. In general, the biblical and theological concepts are in positive agreement with the ideas proposed yet to apply this model within a Western context like Australian culture may require many alterations. This method proves itself to be a consideration amongst the many other missiological methods proposed by missiologists.

    1. Jonathan Lewis (ed.), World Mission: An Analysis of the World Christian Movement (2nd ed.; Pasadena, Calif: William Carey Library, 1994), 12–1.

    2. Lewis, World Mission, 12–11.

    3. Mike Webb, ‘The Missionary’s Task: Bonding’, HEART Village – Sustainability Training in Central Florida, October 24, 2013,, (accessed March 16, 2018), 1.

    4. Lewis, World Mission, 12–2.

    5. Lewis, World Mission, 12–2. It is called Language Acquisition Made Practical (LAMP).

    6. Lewis, World Mission, 12–1.

    7. Webb, “The Missionary’s Task,” 1.

    8. Lewis, World Mission, 12-1-12–2.

    9. Lewis, World Mission, 12–13.

    10. Lewis, World Mission, 12–14.

    11. Lewis, World Mission, 12–15.

    12. Lewis, World Mission, 12–18.

    13. Lewis, World Mission, 12–11.

    14. There are numerous other categories of evaluation that would bring to light many of the strengths and weaknesses within the Bonding Model theory yet due to the parameters of this essay only the areas mentioned will be considered.

    15. Tim Keller believes this passage is exceptional when considering the topic of contextualization and application to a culture. Timothy Keller, Center Church: Doing Balanced, Gospel-Centered Ministry in Your City (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2012), 110–111.

    16. This does not infer that he had no ‘theological or moral limits to this principle’. Alan F. Johnson, 1 Corinthians (The IVP New Testament Commentary Series; Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 148.

    17. Craig L. Blomberg, 1 Corinthians (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994), 188.

    18. Lewis, World Mission, 12–14.

    19. Frank Thielman, Philippians (The NIV Application Commentary; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan Pub. House, 1995), 129.

    20. Lewis, World Mission, 12–14.

    21. Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians (Teach the Text Commentary Series; Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Books, 2014), 143.

    22. David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2003), 502–503.

    23. Garland, 1 Corinthians, 503. Garland does well in noting quite a number of other areas in which Paul directly correlates with Christ p. 503.

    24. Leon Morris, 1 Corinthians: An Introduction and Commentary (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity, 2008), 147.

    25. Lewis, World Mission, 12–10.

    26. J. I. Packer describes God’s sovereignty as a key motivator for any evangelistic efforts. He also sees this wonderful doctrine as providing a sense of security and reliance on God in all mission endeavours. J. I Packer, Evangelism & the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity Press, 1961).

    27. God has created us with unique gifts and talents to serve him. Art Lindsley, ‘The Image of God and the Dignity of Work’, The Gospel Coalition, April 2018,, (accessed April 20, 2018).

    28. M. O’Neill, A. Calder, and B. Allen, ‘Tall Poppies: Bullying Behaviours Faced by Australian High Performance School-Age Athlete’, Journal of School Violence 13/2 (2014), 210–227. Although this article specifically deals with Australian schools and high performing athletes it demonstrates an attitude that pervades wider society.

    29. OECD, ‘Australia’, in OECD Better Life Index, 2017,, (accessed March 20, 2018).

    30. Australian Human Right Commission, ‘About Racial Discrimination’, in Australian Human Rights Commission, 2018,, (accessed March 20, 2018), 2.

    31. Media Release, ‘2016 Census: Multicultural’, in Australian Bureau of Statistics, June 2017,, (accessed March 20, 2018).

    32. This researched opinion piece recommends the government does more to teach English to new migrants. Danny Wang, ‘Language and Opportunity for Immigrants in Australia – Economics Student Society of Australia (ESSA)’, Economics Student Society of Australia (ESSA), July 17, 2013,, (accessed April 20, 2018).

    33. Graeme Innes, ‘In Our Own Words – African Australians: A Review of Human Rights and Social Inclusion Issues’, in Australian Human Rights Commission, June 2010,, (accessed March 20, 2018).




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