The Facilitator Era: Beyond Church Multiplication

by Tom Steffen

Wipf & Stock, 199 W. 8th Ave., Suite 3, Eugene, OR 97401, 418 pages, 2011, $46.00.

Reviewed by Damian O. Emetuche, assistant church planting professor, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.

Tom Steffen’s book, The Facilitator Era, is an interesting read for a number of reasons. Foremost is the uniqueness of the style—it is written as a dialogue between a professor (Dr. Nobley) and a short-term missionary returnee couple, the Beavers. This places the book in a different category within the growing literature of cross-cultural church planting in particular, and missiology in general. 

The Beavers are back in the United States from the Philippines and are considering returning to the field as career missionaries. However, the couple wants to sharpen their knowledge of cross-cultural church planting through studies. The couple has been disturbed by the suggestion of a Filipino national that “expatriates are no longer needed to go out on their own to pioneer church plants in the Philippines—even among unreached people groups” (p. 3). 

The desire for further studies in cross-cultural church planting and the unsettling question of the role of contemporary Western missionaries in Majority World cultures form the thesis of the book.

Incorporating the growth of the churches in the Majority World, their involvement in missions worldwide, and the troubled history of colonial missionary baggage of cultural insensitivity, Steffen argues that the Church has entered a new era, the “Fourth Era.” The first and second eras were represented by the time and ministries of William Carey and Hudson Taylor, the third by Cameron Townsend and Donald McGavran, and the fourth era, the mega-church age, as represented by Rick Warren.

In this Fourth Era, Steffen strongly argues that Western missionaries enter the mission field as facilitators. Facilitators would serve from the background, working in partnership with nationals, and planting churches only in collaboration with them. In recognition of the interdependence of the new global Christianity, Western missionaries could serve as needed. He strongly objects to the tendencies of mega-churches going on mission alone with short-term missionaries without “competencies, commitment, culture, and character.” (p. 67)

The book concludes with sixteen facilitative case studies from South America, Asia, Africa, and former Soviet Bloc. Why teach pioneering church multiplication in spite of the changing times? Steffen justifies it by appealing to the Great Commission, unreached people groups, and nationals in pioneer work, and insisting that missionary facilitators would require pioneer experience.

The Facilitator Era is a great work and Steffen deserves commendation for elevating missionary engagement to a greater height. However, my concern is that the dialogue is one-sided. Although the author recognizes the growth and missionary enterprise of the Global South Church, he does not bring it into the conversation; neither does he recognize the cross-cultural church-planting work in the Global North by Majority World missionaries. If it is true that the mission field is everywhere, including North America, then missionaries here in North America, especially those from the Global South, must be considered.

…..

EMQ, Vol. 47, No. 4, pp. 496. Copyright  © 2011 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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