by Our Readers Write…
Are We Really about Church Planting? Several quotes caught my attention in Larry Sharp’s article “Are We Really about Church Planting?” (July 2005). Twice he mentions the “end-in-view” church planting model/strategy; once he notes: “If church planting becomes the work of national believers, missionaries don’t have to pass a baton; the baton is in national hands from the beginning.”
Are We Really about Church Planting?
Several quotes caught my attention in Larry Sharp’s article “Are We Really about Church Planting?” (July 2005). Twice he mentions the “end-in-view” church planting model/strategy; once he notes: “If church planting becomes the work of national believers, missionaries don’t have to pass a baton; the baton is in national hands from the beginning.”
Whose hand is the baton in first? In the New Testament, church multiplication within most Pauline team efforts were with same culture (Jews) and/or close cultures (Judea-Samaria). Rarely did they face the cultural and linguistic complexities of distant cultures experienced by many missionaries today. I doubt that Pauline teams thought the recipients of their modeling and message already had the batons in their hands (Rom.15:20).
First, we must consider the roles church multipliers take. Those involved in pioneer ministries, such as the Pauline teams, differ from those involved in facilitative ministries. The latter go where churches already exist while the former go to unreached areas. Even so, both go with batons of new contributions to offer.
Second, we must consider power issues. Every social relationship is unequal because presence always creates hierarchy. As co-laborers sent and entrusted with authority by God to start or renew communities of faith, wise church multipliers pass the baton until the final baton is passed.
Perhaps we should ask whose hand the baton remains in. Dead-end links stifle spiritual maturation, multiplication and genuine worship. Fulfilling the goal of having obedient worshipers within cross-cultural settings is more complex, comprehensive, integrative and strategic than Sharp suggests. While Spirit-led strategy is certainly not the sole factor, it is still necessary.
— Tom Steffen, School of Intercultural Studies, Biola University
As always, Tom Steffen’s comments are cogent and useful, especially when using the presupposition that we are church planters. As he states it, “sent and entrusted with authority by God to start or renew communities of faith.” However, it seems to me the scriptures teach us to do every other spiritual activity and NOT plant churches; the contextualized church emerges through the work of the Holy Spirit as the word of truth is written on hearts. Probably the baton metaphor should be abandoned, for it does carry cultural components which we find impossible not to pass. In an article of this size, it is impossible to deal with the complex nature of this question. The focal point for me is simply that communities of faith (movements and churches) should emerge without our starting them. This will happen if we appropriately teach, disciple and “rightly divide the word of truth.” Thanks, Tom, for helping us grapple with these issues.
— Larry W. Sharp
I’m writing in reference to two articles in the July 2005 issue of EMQ: Gary Corwin’s “Ministry Idolatries” and Larry Sharp’s “Are We Really about Church Planting?” The basic argument of each is that missionaries should not focus on church planting since it isn’t a direct, biblical command. Instead, we should focus on evangelism and discipling, which are clear biblical commands. Both authors are concerned about how missionaries, mission organizations and churches wrongly emphasize the use of management insights to produce growth. I agree that missionaries should not rely on methodologies and insights. Our confidence should be in God, and we should remain humble before him. However, I have three concerns regarding the articles.
First, if we stop short of church planting in our missionary efforts and simply evangelize and disciple, the result will be woeful individualism among new converts.
Second, our ultimate task may not be to plant local churches, but our primary operational mission until Jesus comes is to establish local churches. A disciple who is not in a local church is a contradiction in terms.
Third, I believe Corwin and Sharp are exaggerating the dichotomy between human methods and heavenward faith. Yes, reliance on methods to the exclusion of God is wrong. But innovative implementation, creative strategies and visionary thinking can and should be an expression of faith.
God has told us how to live and what our mission should be. Shall we go about it cautiously so as not to displease God with arrogance and self-reliance, or shall we humbly embrace the idea that he has delegated to us an important role? I think the latter option better approaches biblical faith.
— Karry Kelley, Americas area director, World Team
I appreciate Karry Kelley’s thought- ful response. There is very little that Karry has written, particularly with regard to the centrality of churches in God’s plan, with which I would disagree. What I would suggest, however, is that Karry has not really understood what we are saying. An over-emphasis on church planting as the expatriate’s primary task, rather than being the logical outcome of Jesus and new disciples doing their primary task, leads to: destructive shortcuts in our primary task of making disciples; lousy contextualization of resulting churches; and too much emphasis on receptive areas at the expense of least-reached ones. With hopes that this clarification is helpful to Karry and others.
— Gary Corwin
Thanks to Mr. Kelley for his thoughts. The presupposition that “our primary operational mission until Jesus comes is to establish local churches” is one I am challenging. When stated that way, we are not finished until a local church exists. I believe that the goal indeed is to have churches, but we are not responsible, nor instructed in scripture, for their planting. Local disciples are to be in communities of faith or churches, but our missional role is teaching, discipling and doing our best to be culturally-appropriate, while leaving the “look” of the church to the believers.
— Larry W. Sharp
Building Teams, Building Walls
We found the article “Building Teams, Building Walls” (July 2005) so interesting that we discussed it in our staff seminar. It seems that Ms. Zehner had legitimate issues with a process of doing team that caused a lot of pain for her and others. However, to say that team is not biblical is weak and misleading. Unless we are to assume that using the model of the lone Old Testament prophet is the only way to go, we must remember that most others worked in teams. Jesus had the team of disciples and Paul’s missionary bands were teams.
Certainly, having a team thrust on you is not the way to go. Nor are we to use the team to be our only support while working cross-culturally. There were good points in Ms. Zehner’s article, but it would have been better to insert the word “can” or “could” in many areas. However, several benefits were given of teams, including having the leader recruit people to join him or her and knowing what was expected from the beginning (which led to different and more effective ways of serving).
— Greg H. Parsons, general director, USCWM
“Building Teams, Building Walls,” in the July 2005 issue of EMQ was a breath of fresh air. In many organizations, teams have become an idol. Ms. Zehner’s situation sounds much like our own. On our way to a new mission field, we were in a serious accident that made us totally dependent on local people. For the first six months we had to live with a national family. This built a sense of trust and relationship that has strengthened our ministry for thirty years. Because we did not have teammates for the first ten years, we were forced to work closely with both local people and missionaries from other organizations. We developed a respect for the ministry of others. Eventually we did have an informal team where everyone concentrated on ministry instead of on each other. Some people want a team that plans daily schedules and takes care of the children. They call this unity and focus. I call it unnecessary and frustrating. The point of teams is to create synergism and be more effective in ministry, not to take care of the team.
— Jon James, Central Asia
From her perspective, the teams that Damaris Zehner (July 2005) has known have been impediments to the ministry, so she makes a generalization that all teams are distractions. We served on two very different ministry teams during our years in the Philippines and both functioned very well. One included five nationalities and four missions and I believe everyone who served on those teams would agree that team was a crucial enhancement to ministry.
I believe we can indeed say that ministry in community is firmly biblical (though it may not come in the exact form we practice or use the same terminology we use). Teams allow a forum for: training new missionaries; complementing gifts and skills; and providing personal and ministerial accountability. Jesus said that such a community forms a key apologetic for the gospel (John 17) and allows mandated biblical relationships to be formed from the beginning of a ministry. Just as God existed in community from eternity, he designed us to live and work in community. Whether we call it team or not, that priority must be part of our ministry strategy to build bridges to the world.
— (Name withheld), vice president of International Ministries, CrossWorld
I would like to congratulate you on your July 2005 edition of EMQ. As usual I was able to glean material for my classes on missiology and for an article I am writing about contextualization. I would like to especially thank Damaris Zehner for her courage in questioning working in teams, a widely-accepted strategy these days. In my thirty-three years of experience in the Brazilian missions movement, I have seen that teams certainly do build walls—the modern-day missionary compound.
One mission in particular promotes this and has passed it on to hundreds of leaders. Not only is their own work closely bound to their expatriate team, but they teach that discipleship should take place in an office or classroom. They believe making disciples is the same thing as teaching them face-to-face. The problems resulting from this method occur because the disciplers have forgotten how Jesus taught his followers—walking dusty roads, asking questions, touching lepers, healing the blind and delivering the possessed.
— Barbara Burns
“Globalization and the Missionary Potential of International Churches” by Dan Bowers (July 2005) was very encouraging, as I have been involved in a growing international church in Malawi for the past two years. Capital City Baptist Church (CCBC) began in Lilongwe over fifteen years ago. It was designed and built by an Asian architect.
CCBC was first pastored by a Southern Baptist missionary, then by a South African lay pastor and is now under the leadership of an African American missionary. CCBC has both an English and a Chichewa service every Sunday and has grown enormously in the last year. Every Sunday the congregation, made up of expatriates and middle- to upper-class nationals, sings both Chichewa choruses and English hymns. CCBC has a sister church in Blantyre and has an active ministry to victims of HIV/AIDS and orphans.
The church also has a cell-group ministry to build stronger relationships within the church. Baptisms, held every six months, are preceded by an intense discipleship program. Fifteen people were baptized during the last baptism. CCBC has recently planted a daughter church in Bunda, a town on the outskirts of Lilongwe. They had an outreach to Bunda College for some time, and the Christians discipled through this outreach grew into a small fellowship. In May 2005, this Bunda fellowship officially became an offspring of CCBC. It has been a great two years at CCBC for me, and I am excited about what God is doing in and through international churches around the world.
—Charisa Chinchen, missionary, ABC Christian Academy, Malawi
The article “Mission and Church Partnership Dynamics” in the July 2005 issue of EMQ was both informative and useful. We appreciated reading of what SIM and their Nigerian partner, ECWA, lived through as their respective roles changed. The issues of the dynamics of partnership and role change between mission agencies and national leadership must be faced sooner or later. The experiences shared by Rick Calenberg represented fundamental issues universal in missions.
This being said, I was disappointed in the repetitious use of “African” in the article, as if that adjective somehow accurately describes a country or a nation. Africa is a continent that contains some fifty-five distinct sovereign entities. I recognize there are things that all people from the continent of Africa have in common, yet I find no validity in using terms such as “Africans,” “African culture” or “African mindset,” as if these designate a shared African experience or homogeneity. I believe the only valid use of “African” is a geographical one.
Gary Goodge, director of Enlistment, Evangelical Baptist Missions
Gary’s comments are both appreciated and well taken. My desire in writing the article was so other agencies could benefit from the lessons we in SIM have learned through our partnership with ECWA. By identifying lessons learned, I was attempting to extend our experience in Nigeria to encompass similar dynamics in West and sub-Saharan Africa. While I am well aware of the diversity of tribes, languages, cultures and sovereign nations in that region of the world, I have observed through experiences with friends, colleagues and others that there are significant similarities in worldview, values and cultural practices among many of these ethnic groups. I have also noted that the people we call Africans are not offended to be called by that designation, especially when they are outside Africa. It is often used to distinguish them from “African-Americans,” identifying a cultural, not just geographical distinction.
I agree with Gary’s contention that greater preciseness in referring to ethnic groups is needed and appropriate in such a context. But at the same time I wonder what other designation could be used given my observations.
In the October 2005 issue of EMQ, the bio which ran with Randy Friesen’s article, “The Long-term Impact of Short-term Missions,” was incorrect. The correct bio should read “Randy Friesen is general director of MBMS International, the international mission agency of the Mennonite Brethren Churches of North America. This article is based on his research data for a doctorate of theology in missiology at the University of South Africa. Randy and his family live in Abbotsford, BC.” We apologize for the error.