Ministering in Patronage Cultures: Biblical Models and Missional Implications

Written by Jayson Georges Reviewed By Tom Steffen

With over fifteen years of ministry in Central Asia and the Middle East, Jayson Georges (pseudonym) certainly has the credentials to address the topic of patronage, as co-author of Ministering in Honor-Shame Cultures: Biblical Foundations and Practical Essentials (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2016) and founding editor of,. Although the subject dominates the landscape of Scripture (linguistically and culturally), from Genesis to Revelation, books rarely discuss it. I began reading Ministering in Patronage Cultures with high expectations and was not disappointed.

Ministering in Patronage Cultures alerts the reader to a cultural, biblical, and theological blind spot that impacts our relationships with others and the divine patron. Rather than providing rules for the reader to follow, Georges gives principles to help clarify the cloudy conversations that surround patronage in antiquity and today. He does so because patronage differs from culture to culture as demonstrated in the text by past church historians and the numerous case studies Georges includes from around the world.

Georges defines “patronage” as a “reciprocal, asymmetrical relationship” (p. 10). This is in contrast to an impersonal contract that demands equal fulfillment by both parties. The author then walks through anticipated objections by Westerners—a big one being that non-Western locals are just after my money. He also notes that all patron-client relationships are not equal; this point does not imply they are all malevolent. Georges concludes, “A biblical perspective on patronage reframes our relationship with God and reframes our relationship with God and adds depth to theological concepts such as faith, grace, and salvation” (p. 3).

Georges divides the book into four parts. Collectively, they help readers to discern a biblical perspective of patronage. Part 1 (chapters 1–3) introduces cultural issues, such as the meaning of patronage and its various expressions and misperceptions. Part 2 considers biblical models demonstrated by Yahweh, Jesus, and Paul. Their examples provide the backdrop to develop a biblical theology of patronage. The third part considers theological concepts in relation to patronage—God, sin, and salvation. Part 4 investigates missional implications. These include how we engage patronage, transforming relationships, and reframing the Christian life.

Georges writes clearly and avoids technical terms. He also provides further resources for those who wish dig deeper (appendix 1). Two appendixes and two indexes (general and Scripture) are included. Here are a few outstanding quotes that I found particularly instructive:

  • “Patrons are the ‘haves,’ clients are the ‘have-nots,’ and patronage is when the ‘haves’ solve the problems for the have-nots’” (p. 9).
  • “Reciprocity is a moral obligation” (p. 16).
  • “Extending patronage towards other people is not a means to acquiring honor or authority, but an expression of thankfulness towards God” (p. 59).
  • Grace is gift-giving benefaction, the relational giving and repaying of favors” (p. 99).
  • “Patronage is not a system of dependence, but a model of relational interdependence” (p. 115).
  • “The goal of cross-cultural relationships should actually be stewardship—managing resources and relationships for kingdom purposes” (p. 129).
  • “Wealth is not just financial in nature” (p. 136).
  • “Patrons love to ‘play God’” (p. 140).
  • “A biblical theology of grace and divine patronage keeps us from the grace-denying extremes of ungratefulness and repayment” (p. 145).

The chapters in this introductory book on patronage are well laid out and offer plenty of meat for the reader to chew on. Sprinkled throughout each chapter are case studies and ample quotes from theorists and/or practitioners. With 246 footnotes, the ambitious reader will have much to digest beyond that found in the text. A number of helpful summary figures, tables, and colorful illustrations are scattered throughout the text. Georges fulfills what he proposes to do in the book.

The book presents a number of ideas that some readers will find controversial. For example, Georges proposes that God is the divine patron and Jesus is the client. This will be a difficult pill for many to swallow. While seldom considered, this needed insight affords a whole different (and necessary) perception of the relationship between the Father and Son.

A second example is found in how local and expatriate organizations relate. Georges asks, “Is ‘partnership’ the most helpful (or even realistic) approach to cross-cultural relationships?” (p. 127). Advancing from paternalism to partnerships in the missions world has resulted in numerous books advocating partnerships (which are noted in a footnote). Often overlooked, however, are the Western values that drive the partnership model. Georges then asks, “Might patronage be a more appropriate, life-giving model for cross-cultural relationships?” (p. 128). The answers are found in the questions. Patronage challenges the Western values found in partnerships, e.g., individualism, independence, democratic equality, goal-orientation, earned respect, guilt, efficiency, private ownership, and directness.

Books always raise a number of questions not addressed due to brevity or because they fall outside their parameters. If I could ask the author a series of questions, here are a few: What is the central question that drives this book? How do we avoid seeing patronage as the same across all cultures as was done with honor and shame in the past? How does patronage relate to present-day politics in the West? My final question would be followed by a comment. What will be your sequel on this long-minimized topic? We eagerly await 2.0!

Tom Steffen

Tom Steffen
Biola University
La Mirada, California, USA

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