by James E. Plueddemann
Human development can be divided into stages of growth. A newborn baby is dependent on its parents for every need. A mature adult can world with parents as an equal, and there can be genuine interdependence.
Human development can be divided into stages of growth. A newborn baby is dependent on its parents for every need. A mature adult can world with parents as an equal, and there can be genuine interdependence. During the in-between years a child needs to learn independence, to think for himself, and to solve his own problems. For the child to have a responsible, mature and equal relationship with his parents, he must go beyond independence.
Church development may have similar stages. A newborn church is often dependent on outside mission for much of its existence. A biblically mature church forms responsible partnership with the church world-wide. But often an in-between stage is needed before the church learns independence. The proper objective of the missior is not merely a self-reliant, independent church, but a church that is actively engaged in evangelism and nurture. Thus, while a self-reliant, independent church is not the ultimate goal of a mission, it may be a necessary and important in-between step. Responsible partnership may not be possible without the church first going through a stage of independence.
National churches are progressively becoming more independent and self-reliant. Many have assumed authority and responsibility for the work of local churches. Many national churches have been given authority for the work of the mission as well. But before responsible partnership can be achieved it’s quite possible that the church must become fully independent. However, the ultimate goal goes beyond mere independence to the unfinished task of evangelism and building the Body of Christ.
An illustration may help in understanding the stages. Before a father and son can take a bicycle trip together as equals, the father must teach the son how to ride a bicycle. Typically, this is done with the father running alongside the son while holding onto the bicycle. The son will not be able to ride as a responsible partner until the father lets go of the bicycle and the son first learns independence. Independence is a necessary but not sufficient stage in developing responsible partnership.
Today, many churches started by mission groups are ready to ride alone. Now is the time for the mission to more fully let go in preparation for responsible partnership. But if the mission is to actively encourage independence, there will need to be a change of thinking regarding typical mission strategy. If the mission is to both strategize and actively encourage independence, then it faces a dilemma.
In the past mission agencies have looked at needs, set objectives, planned a program, and gone to work. In the last few years the mission has tried to involve the church as a partner in the strategy process, but often with limited success. Church leaders often feel they wish to pursue different needs and priorities. They are not afraid to complain about mission strategy, even when they are asked to participate with the mission. This new assertiveness may be a healthy sign of development in the church.
But one wonders about the resulting role of the mission. Yes, we need to let go, but is there nothing the mission should be doing to help the church with the maturation process? One fears that if the mission ignores its own concerns and merely does what the church tells it to do, the mission may actually hinder development in the same way such treatment would spoil a child. Thus, the dilemma-we must let go, but to have no strategy is irresponsible. Mission boards should not force the church to do things our way; yet we may hinder mature growth if we unthinkingly do only what the church asks us to do.
A responsible father teaching a son to ride a bicycle will follow two principles: (1) He will let go. If the child learns to ride alone then all rejoice, but if the child falls, it is considered a learning experience. Where there is no freedom to make a mistake, there is no freedom to grow. (2) He will look for "hands-off" ways to help the child, looking for the day when he and his son can ride together as true partners. Developing a biblically responsible partnership should be the primary immediate concern. There are two principles for accomplishing this task: the mission should more fully let go, and the mission must look for supportive, nondirective ways to stimulate maturity in the church.
1. The mission should more fully let go. We should more completely turn over authority and responsibility to the church. A domineering father will stifle the development of his children. But a maturing church is one that is free to determine, under the direction of the Holy Spirit and under the authority of Scripture, its own affairs. It must be free to make mistakes.
James Dobson, in the book The Strong Willed Child, writes that parents often hinder children from maturing. They even encourage their children to become irresponsible parasites. He writes, "The main fault of parents is that they prevent children from understanding the problems of survival by always solving their problems for them." Children mature through facing the consequences of actions that they have the authority to make.
Mission agencies must step aside and give the church the freedom to be accountable for her actions, and free to face the consequences of her actions. Even if the consequences may be painful, the mission should not interfere or "bail the church out" of the consequences. We don’t need to assume, though, that when the church is given the freedom to face consequences the results will necessarily be painful. When a child learns to ride a bicycle, both the parents and the child become ecstatic.
The mission must put a greater emphasis on achieving process goals. The goal must be to foster the process of maturation and growth of people. Our top priority should be to foster the developmental process in church leadership. Our goals have often focused on programs and institutions. We have wanted to get a certain number of programs or churches going in certain places by a certain time and see certain results. Typically our goals have been product goals. Process goals often require more patience. We don’t plan for the growth of a child through the use of a PERT chart. We don’t measure human development on logarithmic graph paper. Process goals take a different kind of planning. We can foster, stimulate, and encourage growth, but we can’t force it, no matter how efficient we are or how much money we spend, or how systematically we plan. Mothers of small children often know much more about process goals than even the most successful businessman.
Too great an emphasis on product goals usually hinders process goals. Often the most efficient, high-powered executives are successful in getting much work done, but they are least effective in developing innovative and creative subordinates.
Our objective must be to develop leaders who will take initiative and solve problems. It is not enough merely to develop programs and institutions, no matter how worthy they may seem, and no matter how often they are requested by the church. This doesn’t mean missions should ignore product goals. But product goals are important if they foster process goals. For example, if our goal is to build a seminary, we could make faster progress if we take initiative. But if our goal is to develop leaders who will take initiative, learn how to solve problems, and learn how to build seminaries, then it is better for us to be patient and to use the situation as a tool for the process of leadership development. Often mission leaders are so concerned with the product, such as a new school, that we hinder the process of development of leadership in the church.
In order to foster process goals, missionaries must be withdrawn from leadership positions in church administration, even if national church leaders ask missionaries to remain. The church is not developing leadership when it only has authority to make decisions but does not need to take responsibility for carrying them out. The church can make irresponsible decisions and not have to face the consequences. Or the church can let missionaries continue to make decisions and avoid learning how to make their own responsible decisions.
Withdrawing missionaries from national church leadership positions in no way suggests a moratorium. The mission could increase the number of missionaries; place them in positions where they could have a great spiritual ministry, and still not hinder the development of leadership in the national church. But we should have a phasing out of missionaries in leadership positions in the national church.
In order to foster process goals, mission agencies must phase out of funding church institutional running expenses. Gifts toward running expenses create a parasite mentality, an inferiority complex, hinders local initiative, and stifles long-range planning. We hinder a responsible budgeting process. When a Bible school experiences financial trouble, it knows the mission will regularly supply emergency funds. There is thus little motivation to spend money carefully or budget wisely.
Yet time and again when the mission has not provided funds for programs that the church felt were important, the funds have come in locally. The only projects that die are those in which the church has little concern. We are in no way asking for a moratorium on funds from overseas. There is opportunity to increase mission giving for certain projects that do not hinder the development of a responsible church, without fostering an ongoing dependency. But we must phase out as rapidly as possible overseas funds for institutional ongoing running expenses. The first principle for developing a biblically responsible partnership was that the mission should more fully let go.
We will now discuss the second principle:
2. The mission must look for supportive, non-directive means of stimulating maturity in the church. There are at least two ways a parent can hinder the development of a child: first by dominating the child for too long; second, by spoiling the child through giving everything asked for. If we let go and more fully turn over responsibility to the church we will avoid the first pitfall. But if we merely respond to every request of the church, we are in danger of the second pitfall. We must respond in a responsible and consistent manner.
In order for the mission to respond in a responsible and consistent manner, leaders must previously have sorted out priorities. The mission will not use these priorities in a coercive manner, but as guidelines for responding to the requests of the national church. An urgent need is for the mission to decide its own priorities for the work in a specific country. Naturally, the priorities are open to further-discussion with the church and there should be opportunity for "in-flight" changes of priorities. But without priorities, there is no basis for responding to requests from the national church. If a parent would merely respond to every demand of the child, the result would be a spoiled, irresponsible child. If a mission responds blindly to every request of the national church, the church will not learn to take responsible initiative.
Some may object to the mission unilaterally sorting out its own priorities. But for two people to have a responsible friendship, both must first have thought through issues as individuals. "People learn from one another, just as iron sharpens iron" (Prov. 27:17). True friends must be free to have their own ideas. Differing ideas help friends to sharpen each other, and ongoing dialogue allows intervals for individual reflection. The mission must not use these priorities in a coercive way to manipulate the church in a direction she is not interested in heading. In fact, not to individually reflect on priorities would be a sign of irresponsible friendship. Thus, a mission organization that has no priorities is irresponsible.
Once we have thought through priorities, there are at least three models for guiding the implementation of these priorities in a way that will neither dominate or manipulate the church in a direction she does not wish to go. We will call these models: (1) The Foundation Aid Model: (Z) The Cloud Seeding Model, and (3) The Catalyst Organization Model. Each model can be used by itself or with other models. The models are an exercise in matching priorities between the church and mission.
1. The Foundation Aid Model. Many foundations exist to give aid to worthy causes. But a responsible foundation does not respond equally to all requests, neither does a responsible foundation try to coerce other organizations into accomplishing the objectives of the foundation. A responsible foundation has its own objectives and priorities, but has learned that if local people aren’t genuinely behind a project or idea, the aid will be given in vain. A responsible foundation will not violate local initiative, but neither will it be without objectives of its own.
The mission leadership needs to think out prayerfully where, in its limited, humble, correctable wisdom, it senses the national church should be moving. It needs to sort out these matters privately and independently of its ongoing dialogue with the church. Otherwise, it will neither be a responsible friend of the church or a responsible servant of the Lord.
Yet the mission will not "push" these objectives and priorities on the church. It will use them as tools for evaluating requests by the church. The mission would then be ready to respond to requests for missionaries and funds. The mission should not respond equally to all requests, nor would the mission act unless requested.
2. The Cloud Seeding Model. Cloud seeding does not create moisture that is not already present. Cloud seeding is a stimulus to help the rain to fall in a more predictable place.
Within the national church there often are large pockets of spiritual vitality. There are often churches, church groups, and individuals with deep spiritual concern for biblical maturity. One could give examples of certain women’s fellowship groups, youth fellowship groups, urban churches, educated laymen, theological students and many others, who are eager, ready, and able to assume initiative in moving the church toward maturity.
When the mission leadership has sorted out priorities it will be better able to identify these groups in accomplishing their objectives. We must discern potential "prophets" in the church and discover how they can be activated, encouraged, and directed. Some national churches have already requested help in areas of theological education and church education. New ideas and new vision can be seeded into clouds of ready individuals. While the Foundation Aid Model can work at top administrative levels, there is much need for creative initiative on the part of each local missionary to discover where and how they can seed ready clouds.
3. The Catalyst Organization Model. A catalyst aids or speeds up a chemical process. Usually the process would take place without the catalyst, but not as quickly. There are parachurch organizations outside national church structure that act as catalysts to stimulate the process of maturity. For example, the church in Africa has often been involved in evangelism, but New Life for All acted as a catalyst to speed up the rate of evangelism. Other African organizations have acted as outside agents to aid the spiritual maturation process, such as Boy’s Brigade, Girl’s Brigade, New Life For All, Campus Crusade, Scripture Union, The Bible Societies, Fellowship of Christian Students, and others. The church is already participating in many of these bodies. An indirect way of influencing and encouraging the church toward biblical maturity would be for the mission to stimulate and encourage parachurch catalysts. We can encourage church leaders to participate in these catalyst organizations more fully. We can encourage our local missionaries to become involved locally in parachurch organizations. We can loan staff to these organizations and support them financially.
The development of a biblically responsible and mature church must be the primary immediate concern for missions, or we could lose all missionaries have worked and sacrificed for.
The mission agencies must more fully turn over authority positions in the national church so that she can more fully learn from the consequences of her decisions.
We must more vigorously stimulate church maturity in an indirect, supportive, low-profile manner.
We do this in order to develop a responsible, mature relationship with the church, so that together we may continue the task of evangelism and of building up the Body of Christ around the world. We must change our present attitudes toward strategy. More than ever before there is the urgent need for Holy Spirit-directed, creative, and biblical innovation in missions. Because Jesus lives and answers prayer, we look forward to the task with excitement.
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