Releasing Indigenous Leaders: Empowerment vs. Enlistment

by Kelly Malone

By emphasizing the empowerment of national leaders, we become more effective in multiplying not only leaders, but also believers and churches, and ultimately church-planting movements.

When I was serving as a missionary in Japan, I saw a number of mission organizations that either came with a pre-designed church-planting strategy or designed a strategy they believed would be appropriate for the local context. Only after all the meaningful decisions had been made were nationals invited to participate.

When Japanese Christian leaders raised questions about the appropriateness of these plans for the local context, missionaries castigated them as spiritually immature, un-evangelistic, and close-minded. Perhaps the worst comment I heard was that these believers were “contaminated by their exposure to historic Japanese Christianity!” When I heard these comments, I wondered, “Aren’t these Japanese brothers and sisters spiritually mature believers in Christ? Don’t they know their own culture better than we do? Isn’t the same Holy Spirit working in them as well as us? I am certain they have weaknesses. We all do. But shouldn’t we at least listen to them?”

In his book, Searching for the Indigenous Church, Gene Daniels observes that we “usually don’t ask local leaders what their visions are because we are too busy thinking about our own. We find it easier to use them as a means to reach our dreams than to help them explore theirs” (2005, 98).
My question is, “How do we develop more indigenous churches by cutting local indigenous leaders out of the planning process?” Rather than empower local leaders to develop a truly indigenous strategy to reach their nations for Christ, missionaries often enlist Christians to help them carry out a strategy that is not sufficiently rooted in the local context.

James F. Engel and William A. Dyrness write that Western mission agencies are often guilty of “managerial reductionism” which is preoccupied with “strategies and methods” rather than concern for people (2000, 67-70). Local churches and people become only the means through which agencies and missionaries fulfill “their own evangelistic aspirations” (2000, 76-77).

Another possible approach is to empower leaders to participate in mission on the basis of their own calling and giftedness. Bill Easum writes that leaders are most effective when they help individuals discover and use their spiritual gifts for the benefit of the Body of Christ. This results in the multiplication of leaders which, in turn, leads to the multiplication of disciples (2000, 99). By emphasizing the empowerment of national leaders, we become more effective in multiplying not only leaders, but also believers and churches, and ultimately church-planting movements.

Lessons from an Enlistment Strategy
When I was in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to partner in the development of a training center designed to equip nationals for ministry in local churches. Initially, I sat in a donut shop with a missionary from another agency and listened to his vision. After prayer and consultation, he and I began to refine this vision.

Within a few months we had a leadership team on board with the intent of bringing our training center to fruition. At this point, the issue came up of whether or not our leadership team should include Japanese leaders. After much discussion, we reached the consensus that in the beginning leadership should be limited to missionaries. We agreed to consult with key Japanese church and denominational leaders and to take their opinions in account, but those who actually made initial decisions regarding the vision, strategy, and direction of the training center were all missionaries. There were three reasons that we decided to exclude Japanese from leadership.

We were confident that our plan would be effective in providing contextualized leaders for the local churches.

We were afraid that the Japanese would not share our vision, so they would try to change our plans.

We desired to carry out our strategy without possible interference from those who might disagree.

Once our strategy was set and our plans were made, we encouraged many local leaders to send church members to receive training at our center. We also invited those with giftings in teaching, evangelism, and discipleship to become instructors.

My question is, “How do we develop more indigenous churches
by cutting local indigenous leaders out of the planning process?

In the beginning, the response was encouraging. A number of qualified pastors and church leaders taught courses that were highly contextualized to the current situation in Japanese churches and society. Young adults from churches throughout the Tokyo area participated in classes.

Over time, however, interest among pastors and their church members began to fizzle. It became more difficult to find both instructors and students. As we investigated the reasons behind this response, one primary factor was that the training center lacked local identity. The pastors and churches said, “This is not our training center. It is the missionary’s training center.”

If Only We Had Have Done Things Differently
In retrospect, we could have been more effective if we had included Japanese from the initial stages of planning. As Tom Steffen notes, “Effective action plans call for immediate involvement by nationals in planning and implementation.” Nationals should be involved in answering crucial questions “before they commit the action plans to writing” (1997, 87).

If we had done this, the Japanese would have enjoyed the donuts and the initial vision and approach to training. The resulting training center would have looked and acted more Japanese. Local pastors, churches, and future church leaders would have believed that the leadership training center belonged to them.

Westerners are “driven people.” We are driven by our desire to achieve success. We want to excel in every endeavor, whether business, education, athletics, or religion. We fear that our models and methods will be replaced by something “new and improved”—whether that be the car we drive, the computer we use, or the churches we develop. We are driven to be the best in every pursuit: not only to improve ourselves, but also to exceed others.
We measure everything against the dictum, “How much can I get for what I put in? How do I get the greatest gain on my investment?” (Luzbetak 1989, 260-62). When this drive to achieve and to excel is applied to mission, it leads to an enlistment strategy. Charles Van Engen writes,

We work hard to create our own structures, to define our own purposes, to protect our own interests, and to direct our own unique vision. Each of us is trained to emphasize our own special contribution to world mission. Each of us sees our mission endeavor, the church, and the world through the colored glasses of our own agenda. (2001, 12)

There is a mindset in which westerners think they are the ones in charge and that nationals must agree. But Larry Jones reminds us that in this situation, “yes” does not always mean, “I agree with you” or even “I will work with you.” In many cases, it only suggests that “I will let you have your way because

I must, even though I’m certain you’re wrong” (2009, 406-407).
Nationals who come on board with our agenda may become so absorbed in Western organizational culture, patterns of ministry, and models that they suffer “extraction”. Other nationals begin to regard them as Western rather than as participants in the local culture and society (Daniels 2009, 426). The final result is that the enlisted worker’s capacity for truly contextualized evangelism, ministry, discipleship, leadership, and church development becomes limited.

Principles for an Empowerment Strategy
In order to develop a strategy for empowering indigenous leaders, we must be willing to lay aside our personal agendas and “work together with people around us, building mutual understanding and cooperating to make decisions and solve crises in a manner acceptable and beneficial to the entire community.” We must accept our own God-given limitations while at the same time realizing the God-given potential in others (Lingenfelter and Mayers 2003, 74, 82-83).    

James Stamoolis writes that if we are going to develop spiritually mature leaders, we must adhere to five training principles (2001, 491-495):

• Train in response to the heart questions and worldview of the people.
• Train in a manner appropriate to the learning style of the people, based on scripture and the leadership of the Holy Spirit. (Stamoolis emphasizes that appropriate teaching will lead to contextualized application of biblical principles.)
• Train to “change behavior, not merely impart knowledge.”
• Train so the training can be replicated. Those who are trained will be able to train others.
• Train so that those who are trained will claim the training program as their own.

One example is Asian Access’ approach to contextualized training for local leadership. Their training process and curriculum was first developed in Japan, “by Japanese, for Japanese,” and is taught by Japanese, to Japanese, in Japanese. Twelve emerging leaders are carefully selected to engage in a two-year process which combines classroom instruction with mentoring. Special emphasis is given to assisting emerging leaders in understanding both their unique gifts and the giftedness of their congregations. They are also given training in skills that will enable them to equip their congregations for more effective ministry in their communities. Finally, they are encouraged to develop a vision for church growth and multiplication.

As the training of indigenous leadership in Japan has escalated, the word has spread across Asia. This has led to the development of a training program in Mongolia and Asian Access has expanded to include leadership development initiatives in nine Asian nations (Asian Access n.d.).

Edgar J. Elliston makes four crucial points that we must keep in mind when considering the issue of empowering national leaders (1992, 124).
First, the source of empowerment is the Holy Spirit. Our equipping, training, and sending out of leaders are inadequate unless the Holy Spirit has already empowered them for the work. This is one of the pitfalls of the enlistment method: we enlist people to serve based on the needs of our strategy rather than the gifting of the individual. When we assign a person to a task for which God has not prepared him or her, we sentence that person to failure. On the other hand, when the Spirit’s empowerment determines a person’s place in mission and ministry, the ministry is in line with God’s clear purpose for the person’s life, and the chance of success is greatly enhanced.

Second, the means of empowerment is spiritual gifting. Some seem to suggest that empowerment for mission and spiritual gifting are two different (perhaps even mutually exclusive) issues, when in fact they are one in the same. The word charismaton, which we translate “spiritual gifts,” is derived from the Greek word charis, meaning “grace.” Thus, spiritual gifts are God’s “grace gifts” given to members of the Body of Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit. These works of God’s grace empower each person in a particular way for participation in Christ’s mission carried out through his Church.
Third, spiritual leaders exercise leadership through the use of their spiritual gifts. People with the gift of evangelism lead in the area of evangelism. Those gifted in the area of administration lead through administering. Those gifted in service lead by serving others.

Two cautionary notes should be made at this point. First, we must not think that a person can serve only in the area of his or her giftedness. For example, to say that a teacher could never carry out responsibilities in the area of prayer or evangelism is not practicable. But we must keep in mind that leaders are most effective when they lead from their giftedness and, as much as possible, leadership outside of giftedness should be considered secondary, perhaps working in partnership with someone else, rather than primary. Second, the exercise of spiritual gifts should take place within the context of the Body of Christ. This does not mean that the use of gifts will always be directed towards the Body. But it does mean that they will always benefit the Church in some way. Ministry and evangelism, for example, are essential to the Church’s mission in the world.

Finally, spiritual power is developed through the use of spiritual gifts. It is important to remember that this power is not human power; it is the Holy Spirit’s power. We release God’s Spirit to work when we allow indigenous leaders the opportunity to lead on the basis of their giftedness. It is the work of God’s Spirit that transforms the character of the leaders and works through them to transform the church, culture, and society.

In his multi-cultural study of home groups in urban contexts, Mikel Neumann notes that the key to the development of new groups is not the outstanding gifts of the few, but rather the recognition and use of the gifts of everyone within the group (1999, 82). One pastor of New Life Fellowship in Bombay comments, “The leader must give others freedom to develop and not try to dictate. The leader must get underneath and lift them up to prepare them for ministry” (Neumann 1999, 86). This statement by an indigenous leader is an excellent summary of a strategy of empowerment.

As I train students for cross-cultural ministry, I try to impart to them a sense of wonder of what the “Lord of the harvest” is doing among the nations. It seems that in our generation (as none that has gone before), he is responding to the prayer of his followers to “send out workers in to his harvest field” (Luke 10:2). This new generation of laborers includes millions of believers in the East and the Global South whom God has called, gifted, and envisioned for the task of bringing the people of the nations to him. We must encourage them to carry out God’s vision for their lives in the power of his Spirit.

 


The Impact of Empowered Leaders

Paul Gupta writes that church-planting movements occur when we
enable gifted national leaders to develop churches in which the “forms
and styles of worship, music, leadership, communication, community, and
learning…are contextual to the culture of the people” (2006, 60). While
those engaged in cross-cultural ministry know this by both intuition and
training, the reality is that we have difficulty releasing nationals to
develop churches that are truly indigenous. Yet when we are able to
take this crucial step, big things can happen.   

When I was in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to meet Nobuo
Watanabe, the associate pastor and principal of the Bible College at
Tokyo Horizon Chapel. Nobuo is a Japanese national who has MDiv and DMin
degrees from Fuller Seminary. Following fifteen years of ministry in
the United States, he returned to Japan to take his current position at
Horizon Chapel, assisting long-time pastor Koichi Hirano. Missionary
involvement in Horizon Chapel is limited. From time to time, they invite
missionaries to assist in the training program at the Bible College.
Currently, they have an American missionary who leads an English
language ministry, working under the direction of the church’s Japanese
leadership (Tokyo Horizon Chapel). 

Following the leadership of these two Japanese leaders, Horizon
Chapel has launched an innovative, multi-campus approach. There are two
main campuses and a network of smaller congregations and ministries,
centered in the greater Tokyo area, but spread throughout much of Japan.
When I asked Nobuo what method they used in order to develop new work,
he responded that no two of these ministries is exactly the same, and no
single pattern is used to establish new work.

They encourage their Bible college graduates to move into areas
that do not have churches in order to begin new work. But they also have
lay people without any special training who have followed God’s call to
begin work in new locations. Some groups have developed as independent
churches with their own buildings and paid staff. But others are small
house gatherings that remain closely tied to the parent church in Tokyo.
Nobuo stressed that each “church” must be allowed to develop on the
basis of local initiative in a way that fits the local situation. This
is a good description of indigenous church planting. 


 References
Asian Access. Accessed June 3, 2011, from www.asianaccess.org/ministry/leader development.html.

Daniels, Gene. 2005. Searching for the Indigenous Church. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

_____. 2009. “Decoupling Missionary Advance from Western Culture.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 45(4): 420-427.

Easum, Bill. 2000. Leadership on the Other Side: No Rules, Just Clues. Nashville: Abingdon Press.

Elliston, Edgar J. 1992. Home Grown Leaders. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Engel, James F. and William A. Dyrness. 2000. Changing the Mind of Missions: Where Have We Gone Wrong? Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.

Gupta, Paul R., and Sherwood G. Lingenfelter. 2006. Breaking Tradition to Accomplish Vision:Training Leaders for a Church-Planting Movement. Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH Books.

Jones, Larry B. 2009. “The Problem of Power in Ministry Relationships.” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 45(4): 404-410.

Lingenfelter, Sherwood G., and Marvin K. Mayers. 2003. Ministering Cross-Culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic.

Luzbetak, Louis J. 1989. The Church and Cultures: New Perspectives in Missiological Anthropology. Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books.

Neumann, Mikel. 1999. Home Groups for Urban Cultures. Pasadena, Calif.: William Carey Library.

Stamoolis, James. 2001. “How Are We Doing at Developing National Leaders?” Evangelical Missions Quarterly 37(4): 488-495.

Steffen, Tom A. 1997. Passing the Baton: Church Planting that Empowers. La Habra, Calif.: Center for Organizational and Ministry Development.

Tokyo Horizon Chapel. Accessed June 3, 2011, from www.horizonchapel.jp/index.html.  

Van Engen, Charles. 2001. “Toward a Theology of Mission Partnerships.” Missiology 29(1): 11-44.

….

Kelly Malone is associate professor of intercultural studies and holds the Jack Stanton Chair of Evangelism at Southwest Baptist University. Prior to this, he served as an educator and church leadership trainer in Japan for fifteen years.

EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 4, pp. 406-413. Copyright  © 2012 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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