Letters to the Editor

Westerners and Middle Easterners
Perry Shaw’s “Westerners and Middle Easterners Serving Together” (January 2010) was excellent.

Westerners and Middle Easterners
Perry Shaw’s “Westerners and Middle Easterners Serving Together” (January 2010) was excellent. Recently, I participated in a conversation with a pastor and a lay leader as they expressed frustration concerning an Arab Christian whom they financially support. On one hand, they see the exemplary qualities of this man of God. Conversely, they struggle to understand what they consider to be his inadequacies. When I read Shaw’s article, I was amazed to see how, in seven observations, he had highlighted my friends’ conflicts with their Arab brother. More interestingly, for me, was to see how these same issues are prevalent in what I have seen in my missionary career in Bangladesh and the Philippines. Bengalis and Filipinos are offended by what they perceive as a lack of trust in their integrity. The American responds that detailed (and bureaucratic) procedures ensure honesty and morality. Accountability is the oft-repeated mantra that is resented by many Majority World Christians. Sure, they may reluctantly acquiesce, for, after all, money and power reside with the westerner. But what really goes on in their hearts?

Is it possible to insist on a high level of integrity which goes by the book (i.e., mission handbook!) and still forge a deep, intimate relationship with our Majority World colleagues? I postulate it is not only possible, but imperative. If it weren’t, our witness for Christ is seriously impaired. As Shaw points out, the onus is on us. We are the ones to be broken and humbled, even humiliated at times. When our brothers and sisters see this attitude, they are much more likely to respond in kind. Perhaps foot washing should be more than a symbol; instead, it should be instituted as a physical act of preferring our fellow Christians as better than ourselves.

Phil Parshall, SIM

Keeping Church Planters Productive
Thank you for the article by David Diaso on “Keeping Church Planters Productive” (January 2010). Although Diaso’s article seems targeted to traditional sending agencies which use the old model of sending church planters to work cross-culturally in other countries, his four principles are excellent advice for all church-planting ventures. Mission India has trained nearly eight thousand indigenous church planters in India through an on-site program that follows Diaso’s four principles exactly. As a result, tens of thousands of new churches have been established in all of the states of India, including the historically neglected northern half of the country. Sixty percent of the church planters continue in church-planting work after seven years, and ninety percent continue in some form of full-time Christian ministry, so Diaso’s goal of “preventing discouragement” also seems to be confirmed in our experience:

Mission India provides a clear definition of success. Each church planter seeks to establish at least two worshipping congregations, composed of at least twelve baptized adults, within their first two years of ministry. These congregations must be growing and reproducing. Independent third party research shows that, on average, church planters have established more than two congregations and that these new churches reproduce 3.5 additional daughter churches during the next five years of their existence.

Mission India provides a clear description of the tasks required to plant a church. Among other tasks, church planters must make evangelistic presentations in at least 1,200 homes in at least two separate unchurched communities during their first two years. Church planters must also organize and operate children’s Bible clubs and adult literacy training during their first two years of ministry (and they receive training in how to do this). Church planters are required to provide written monthly reports that detail their success in accomplishing these assigned tasks.

In cooperation with the sending agency in India, Mission India provides training, coaching, and mentoring in tangible church-planting principles. All church planters attend on-site classes in church-planting skills and principles, in groups of not more than ten students per on-site class. These classes are interspersed in periods of full-time ministry, and occur close enough to ministry locations to allow weekend ministries even during the class times. In addition, Mission India staff visit church planters in their target locations where the mentors can receive their reports, give advice, and pray with them.

In cooperation with the sending agency in India, Mission India provides consistent encouragement and feedback. Field visits by Mission India staff, and by staff assigned by the sponsoring mission agency or church, are an essential part of the program structure. In addition, every church planter meets periodically with nine of his church-planting peers (during the classroom sessions), where church planters pray for each other and encourage one another. This natural accountability between peers provides the church planter with a team of like-minded individuals who share his or her task and vision, much like Paul’s apostolic team must have functioned in the New Testament period.

I highly recommend Diaso’s article to any organization that has church-planting objectives. He has given us valuable principles that are critical for church-planting success.

Dave Stravers, president, Mission India

Church Planting and Kingdom Building
This letter is in response to Ken Baker’s article, “Church Planting and Kingdom Building: Are They the Same?” (April 2009). Baker makes a valid criticism of the Unreached People Group Movement (UPGM) approach as an end in itself. The Great Commission is about extending God’s one kingdom through the unity of all believers, rather than planting contextualized, homogeneous—but exclusive—churches. Where a church exists among unreached people groups, part of its incarnational witness must be the way the transforming love of God transcends cultural boundaries and unites its members of different backgrounds.

Baker’s comments are very pertinent to ministry among urban diaspora communities of Muslim Unreached People Groups (UPGs), such as Somalis, in the Global North. However, at least in this type of setting, the UPGM approach seems an essential stage if “kingdom building” is to include individuals from UPGs.

We receive justification upon conversion; however, sanctification is a life-long process. In the same way, a multicultural Church united by bonds of love that break down cultural barriers must be a goal to pray and strive toward, rather than a starting requirement. Yes, with God’s help, the Church must work to overcome the prevailing sins of all cultures, while redeeming their positive features and incorporating them into its own biblical culture. But no, we cannot expect to see much of this at the beginning. Somalis are one fiercely ethnocentric people. An emphasis on their own distinctiveness is part of their cultural baggage that hinders their integration into multicultural situations—whether neighborhoods, schools, or churches.  

“I hate their worship music, I can’t eat their food, and they talk in their language!” complained a Somali Christian after visiting a predominantly South Asian Muslim Background Believer (MBB) church. He refused to go again. Mentored by outsiders at the time, he needed to be in contextualized fellowship with other Somali Christians. He found cultural differences a stumbling block at that stage. But the ethnocentrism of one culture is no more a hurdle to building a biblical church than the materialism or excessive individualism of another. As we grow in spiritual maturity, we all become more able to integrate with others from different backgrounds. In one location, several Somali fellowships meet on different days. On Sundays, their members attend various culturally mixed local churches where they can participate and grow. Another strategy in an urban situation is for an evangelizing church to create a designated nurture group led by mature members and adapted to the culture (and even language) of new believers from a particular background, as a temporary stage to help integrate them into the church. 

Churches tend to reach out to particular neighborhoods and to whoever lives there, rather than to members of any one resident UPG community. This seems both biblical and natural; it may also result in culturally diverse churches. But this approach usually leads them to those most responsive or easiest to relate to. We have seen workers join us in Somali ministry and then change direction for this reason. Sure, everyone’s spiritual need is the same, but the more resistant people remain sidelined and still unreached. Progress among resistant people groups requires long-term, focused engagement. 

If urban workers learn one language from among the many spoken locally, then speakers of that language will inevitably become their focus and comprise the membership of a resulting church. However, in diaspora or highly urbanized contexts, the mainstream language may become the heart language of a minority community. Its youth may speak the dominant language but still lack meaningful relationships with anyone outside their tightly-knit community who could communicate the gospel to them. When this happens, the priority the UPGM gives to language study must change accordingly.

Jim Rowe (pseudonym)works among the European Somali diaspora in urban multicultural situations    

….

EMQ, Vol. 46, No. 3, pp. 260-263. Copyright  © 2010 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. 

 


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