by Sharon E. Mumper
An interview with Chris Marantika.
If church planting has a cheerleader, it is Chris Marantika. Grasping the podium with both hands, he leans forward, eyes sparkling, and roars at his audience: ”The world is winnable because our God is alive!"
"God is not dead – he’s alive!" is another favorite cheer, followed by a quieter, "He’s not even tired." It draws a laugh every time. In both the United States and his native Indonesia, Marantika’s listeners clearly appreciate his enthusiasm. They listen raptly, laughing, responding-and taking notes, because Marantika is more than simply an inspiring speaker. He is a man who has a lot to say.
Undoubtedly, the fact that he says it well helps. But Marantika has earned his hearing. The founder and president of the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Indonesia (ETSI), Marantika speaks from experience when he talks about church planting in Indonesia. Since 1979, seminary students have planted more than 300 churches within a 100-mile radius of the school.
Despite this fact – or perhaps because of it – he declares that Indonesia will not be won without the help of the Western church. The church planting seminary students are Indonesians. But some of their teachers and much of the funding for the seminary come from America.
Marantika’s vision is to reach all of Indonesia-every tribe; every village. He estimates there are 50,000 villages untouched by the gospel, and he wants to see a church planted in every one. The task is Gargantuan, and his confidence seems to falter a bit as he considers it. But he remains the visionary. "I think we can do it," he says. But Marantika is a pragmatist, too, and he adds, emphasizing each word, "if we do it together."
"We can do it, if we do it together." It is a constant refrain. And it is the heart of his message to churches and mission agencies in the West.
In an interview with the Evangelical Missions Quarterly, Marantika talked about his vision for Indonesia, his church planting seminary, and his views on working with Western missions. These are some of his comments:
On church planting in Indonesia: According to Marantika, church planting is the best method of evangelization in Indonesia. "It doesn’t create too much tension, and it doesn’t attract too much attention," he said. "The giant is asleep. We don’t have to wake him. We just keep planting churches until when he wakes up, there is no way to stop the movement, because there will be so many churches."
On the evangelization of Indonesia: Church planting is the foundation of Marantika’s ambitious plan of evangelization for Indonesia. Called "Indonesia 1:1:1," the plan calls for planting one church in every unevangelized village in Indonesia in one generation.
In 1979 when he founded ETSI, he determined to plant 1,000 churches by the year 2000. In the first year, students planted 27 churches. "I looked at our goal and realized that rationally, it’s going to be reached," he said. "I feel that we should have an objective beyond what is rational, so that we can believe God for it. So, in 1980, I changed the goal to Indonesia 1:1:1."
On the church planting seminary: From the beginning, ETSI has been a key ingredient in Marantika’s plan of evangelism for Indonesia. "We combine in-depth Bible teaching with church planting/evangelism," Marantika said. Students spend four days in the classroom and three days in the villages. During their three-or-four-year program, each student is expected to plant at least one church with at least 30 baptized believers, not including any who transfer from other churches.
On working with the established church: "None of the churches that are planted belong to ETSI," said Marantika. The seminary students come from 34 denominations, and the churches they plant are expected to be adopted by the denomination of the church planter. "This excites the established churches, because they see that ETSI as an interdenominational ministry doesn’t own those churches. We can be a service to the entire body."
On the seminary’s record: "In the last five years, 294 students have planted churches," Marantika said. Nearly 200 have graduated from one of three programs, which range in length from one to five years. The seminary is attracting much attention in Indonesia, and the school year began last fall with a record 410 students.
On satellite seminaries: ETSI’s church planting record is remarkable. But 50,000 churches in one generation is a goal that calls for an even more aggressive church planting approach. If one school in one location can accomplish great things, Marantika reasons, what could hundreds of schools scattered throughout Indonesia do?
When Marantika talks about church planting he gets excited. And when he discusses the potential of the church planting seminary movement he radiates enthusiastic confidence. "By 2015, we will have 450 centers with 1,800 teacher/evangelists," he declared. "The plan is to start four centers this year. By 1990, we plan to have 14." In every following five-year period until 2015 the number of campuses is expected to nearly double.
Unlike the original ETSI, the schools will offer only a two-year diploma and will appeal primarily to lay people. Like those at the main campus, students will be expected to assist in church planting within a 100-mile radius of the campus. Because students must attend classes on campus four days a week, they are limited as to how far afield they can carry their church planting activity. This is a major reason for the planned proliferation of campuses throughout the country.
On ETSI as a catalyst: Marantika does not expect to evangelize Indonesia alone. "I believe that to reach the goal of Indonesia 1:1:1, it should be done together with the whole body of Christ. It is not just ETSI. But I see the school as a catalyst." He wants to inspire the established church with his vision for church planting. "Our commitment is not only to church planting evangelism, but to influence the whole body, he said.
On limited resources: "I went into full-time ministry when I was only 19 years old, and for many years I struggled with the concept of self-supporting, self-propagating, and self-governing," Marantika said. "My dream was Indonesia for Christ. But I looked at the Indonesian church and I said to myself, ‘We can’t do it if we do it by ourselves.’ The church in Indonesia is so small and poor." He conceded that miracles can happen. "I believed a miracle would happen for me to go to study in the States. But it happened that people in the U.S. gave money to sponsor me to come to study. I don’t want to say we can do it alone. We can do it-but we are expecting the body to help."
On the "three-self" principle: Concerns about the "three-self" principle (self-supporting, self-propagating, self-governing) continued to plague Marantika after he came to the United States to work on two master’s degrees and a doctorate. Then, he began to examine the biblical principles underlying the widely-accepted missions principle.
"The more I studied, I came to the conclusion that self, self, self is not biblical. The concept of the body- the family of God-is togetherness. Of course, there is diversity of gifts in the body. But that doesn’t mean that we go by ourselves. I believe togetherness or interdependence is the biblical ideal.
"People tell me ideal missionary work is something that is supported only from within the country. I say that is not a biblical idea. That was caused by pressure-the fear that if the government closed the door, the church would die. I don’t want to operate based on fear."
On Western individualism: Marantika charges that the "three-self" principle is supported by an individualistic mentality: "The people who came up with the concept were Westerners. Of course, they had good intentions, but they were influenced by the Western philosophy of individualism. For Westerners, the ideal is to be independent; to stand on your own."
On weakening national resolve: Marantika admits that in practice such sharing of resources could weaken the recipient’s growth in faith. His solution is what he calls, "survival level assistance."
"For example, a student at ETSI needs $50 a month for food, transportation to the village where he will do church planting, and other expenses. We are asking God’s people outside of Indonesia to provide $25 a month, and we ask the student to believe God for the rest. So, we don’t weaken his dependence on God. He is supported by the body inside the country and outside the country. That is my concept of the body working together."
On accountability: Marantika recognizes the importance of donor accountability. Funds for the work of ETSI are channeled through the Christian Nationals Evangelism Commission. "CNEC helps to bridge the gap and gives us someone to be accountable to," Marantika said. "Every four months I have to send a financial report, and once a year an annual report. Prayer letters from individual students go to CNEC and are channeled to supporters. It takes a lot of pressure off me.
"I have a board here and I am accountable to a board there. The two boards work together beautifully. We can do it together. It can be done."
On partnership: Marantika rejects the idea of proclaiming a moratorium on missionaries. "It is unbiblical not to send missionaries," he said. "But it is also unbiblical not to support nationals, because we are all one body. I do believe we have to work as partners."
ETSI’s faculty is composed of 16 nationals and seven missionaries from four different agencies. "We still need missionaries," he said. "In the centers we are establishing, we will begin with a staff of one missionary couple and three or four nationals."
On nationalism: In order to counter mounting nationalistic sentiment, ETSI’s board decided to approve a faculty ratio of at least three nationals to one missionary in the satellite schools. "Extreme nationalism is common in Asia today," Marantika said. "Even some Christian leaders are telling the missionary to go home. They ask the government to deny missionary visas. We say, ‘No, we are one body. We do it together: We pray together; we pay together; we proclaim together.’ We want to demonstrate true biblical teaching."
On recruiting national workers: Missionaries who plan to work in remote sections of Indonesia should recruit nationals to go with them, according to Marantika, "Why should a missionary after a year of language study go directly to the interior of Borneo, for example, and suffer there for several years before he sees fruit?" he asked.
Many tribes in unevangelized regions have kinsmen in areas where there are churches, he said. "Dyak tribes-people in Central Kalimantan are the same Dyak people as those in the capital city of West Kalimantan. Why don’t we do it this way? Why doesn’t this missionary go to the capital city and spend a year and begin to recruit Indonesians who come from the Dyak background?
"Let’s say one missionary couple recruits five nationals and teaches them for a year. They orient them to the mission organization and the philosophy of the ministry they are going to do. Then, they tie them into the mission organization and they go as a team."
Marantika sees the seminary as a readily available pool of qualified workers. In fact, there are nearly 50 students whose background is Dyak, he said.
On working together:"Somehow we have come to the idea that the ideal Christian life is when you can stand on your own strong and independent," said Marantika. Students have not been taught to work together, he said, "At ETSI, we structure the training so that the ideal Christian worker is one who emphasizes the concept of the body. The local church is a miniature of the body. The features of the body are taken to the local level.
"So, the most relevant way is to start by doing it together. You go out and plant a miniature here and one there, so that the local church is a miniature of this body. We need to restructure the body anew. I think we can win the whole world for Christ if we start that way."
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