The Essential Tasks of Missiology
[Copyright ©1996 by Gailyn Van Rheenen — excerpt from Missions: Biblical Foundations & Contemporary Strategies (Grand Rapids: Zondervan)]
Developing a strong movement of God in a new city or ethnic area requires the accomplishment of three essential missiological tasks. First, initial evangelism must lead to planting new churches. Second, Christians must be nurtured to maturity within these churches. Third, leaders must be trained to evangelize and plant other churches, pastor and shepherd the community of believers, and train still other leaders. This section briefly surveys various strategies for accomplishing these primary mission tasks. While other mission tasks may amplify these three central tasks, a strong movement of God cannot come into being without their accomplishment.
Planting New Churches
The theological and strategic foundations upon which churches are planted greatly affect their ability to grow and mature. Paul encourages the church planter to “be careful how he builds.” Sooner or later the builder’s work will be tested with fire. Those who build with incombustible materials (gold, silver, and costly stones) will receive a reward, but those who build with combustible materials (wood, hay, and straw) will experience loss (1 Cor. 3:10-15).
Definition of Church Planting
Church planting may be defined as initiating reproductive fellowships who reflect the kingdom of God in the world. A number of characteristics of church planting are reflected in this definition.
First, church planting is aimed at the creation of fellowships. The church is thefamily of God, the body of Christ (Eph. 1:23), a people “belonging to God” (1 Pet. 2:9). These biblical metaphors indicate that the church must become a cohesive body reflecting the qualities of God in an alien world (vv. 11-12). Evangelistic methodologies should not scatter contacts who cannot be molded into bodies of believers; they must focus evangelism in one area for the purpose of creating a community of God. Converts must not be treated merely as individuals but incorporated in the body of Christ. Matayo Lang’at, a Kipsigis evangelist of Kenya, used a farming metaphor to explain why new Christians must work together to become part of a functioning fellowship:
Here in Africa one person cannot cultivate with oxen by himself. There must be people in the field to guide the oxen on each side as well as one who holds the plow. Likewise, one cannot be the church by himself. He must call others who are in Christ to work together with him. (Translation from Kipsigis Sermon, 1976)
McGavran concurs: “Would-be disciples must be joyfully built into his body–they must not wander alone in the wilderness” (1990, 7). Too frequently a few new Christians are left to fend for themselves after a short campaign. New converts are led to the Lord and then left before a fellowship of believers has come into existence. These few Christians will likely fall away from God because they have not been incorporated into a fellowship which can mold and guide them in their spiritual journey.
Second, effective church planting focuses on cultivating reproductivefellowships. Many times churches are established without expecting the new converts to teach others. They soon become like mules who cannot germinally reproduce but must return to the original sources, the horse and the donkey, in order to procreate. They are like seedless grapes, delightful to taste but without reproductive power, or the fig tree which Jesus withered because it did not bear fruit (Matt. 21:18-19).
Professor Wendell Broom has graphically described such churches asterminal (Broom 1976, 88-89). Terminal churches may have spiritual vitality but can reproduce only arithmetically (2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, etc.). Missionaries are teaching others but not training their converts to become reproductive; they are initiating churches but not preparing leaders of these churches to plant other churches.
Ten missionaries can each plant one church each year. If the churches they plant have terminal life, after ten years their field will have 100 churches. If the missionaries die or return home, the number of churches remains static, for they do not plant other churches. The same ten missionaries, by planting churches that have germinal life, will in ten years have 5,110 churches in their field. If the missionaries die or return home, the churches will continue to multiply, because they have germinal life. (Broom 1976, 88)
The author of Hebrews described terminal churches when he wrote, “Though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!” (Heb. 5:12).
Germinal churches grow geometrically (2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, etc.). They reproduce like rabbits in Australia, bananas in Bermuda, and papayas in fertile areas of tropical Africa. They are like starfish which multiply when cut into pieces. It is within the nature of each part to reproduce. Geometric church growth can be illustrated by strawberry plants or Bermuda grass, which send out runners in every direction; these runners develop their own root systems and send out still new runners until the field is covered. The roots each represent a new church or cell group planted in a new village or new area of the city. Once the Christian community develops sufficient roots it is able to plant still other fellowships. Paul urged Timothy to encourage his converts to become germinal: “The things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses (germination 1) entrust to reliable men (germination 2) who will also be qualified to teach others (germination 3)” (2 Tim. 2:2).
Greg Newton describes such germinal growth among the Sukuma of Tanzania. The first churches established among the Sukuma were missionary plants. The missionaries planned where they would preach and did all the teaching. The next six churches were co-plants. Sukuma Christians worked with missionaries in selecting the locations for establishing new churches, went with them each week to the meetings, and did some of the teaching, depending on their level of maturity. In March 1994, after three years of work among the Sukuma, two independent plantings occurred. The location of the plantings, plans for the evangelistic meetings, and the teaching in the area were all done without missionary participation (Newton 1994, 1). Germinal church growth had begun!
Certain Christian beliefs provide special impetus to germinal growth. Anticipation of and preparation for the second coming of Christ is one such belief. When Christians perceive of themselves as standing between the first and second comings of Christ, they are motivated to teach those around them to prepare for his return. The reality that this world is temporary–that their real identity is in heaven–helps disciples of Christ to understand their place in the world and propels them to speak of eternal realities. The understanding that God is active and is convicting the world of sin through the Holy Spirit (John 16:7-11) is another germinal belief. Christians who believe in God’s mighty acts will be ready when the Holy Spirit touches them to teach a Cornelius or an Ethiopian. Their lives are tuned in to God’s reality rather than secular “realities” which deny the active working of God. Greg Newton reflects upon the great church growth among the Sukuma with this comment: “We praise God for the Spirit which is moving to inspire Christians to evangelize” (Newton 1994, 1). Belief in the temporary nature of this world and the working of the Holy Spirit are thus two beliefs foundational to germinal growth.
Third, church planting is more than the mere creation of fellowships. These fellowships must have accepted God as their sovereign and struggle to reflect his nature. Thus church planting is the developing of reproductive fellowships which reflect the kingdom of God in the world. The termfellowship expresses the horizontal relationships between Christians within the body; the phrase which reflect the kingdom of God in the world expresses the vertical relationship between God and the fellowship over which he reigns. This distinction is vital because a church fellowship can divorce itself from the divine and become largely a social fraternity, much like the local Kiwanis or Rotary club. This type of fellowship has no divine impetus to germinate.
Fourth, this definition assumes that nurturing must follow the initial planting of the church. Bodies of believers are not superficially planted and then left but cared for until they “reflect the kingdom of God in the world.” The terminitiating implies that something must follow the planting of the church.
Guidelines for Effective Planting of New Churches
Specifics of church planting vary from context to context. However, four general guidelines are fundamental in every context.
First, church planters must look at their work as a spiritual activity. They must pray and fast both for the city or ethnic group in which God has placed them and for God’s empowerment for the task of evangelizing. They must realize that the people of this particular area have not previously become followers of God because they are still under the dominion of Satan. Christ, however, has come “to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). Church planters, therefore, must pray for wisdom and empowerment from God realizing that evangelization is ultimately taking territory that once belonged to Satan and claiming it for the kingdom of God. Prayer is an admission of God’s role, an acknowledgement that only God in Jesus Christ can deliver the people from the grip of sin and clutches of the evil one. Evangelizing unbelievers and nurturing them to grow in Christ is not primarily a human endeavor but God’s working through his people.
Second, church planters must visualize what God’s church should look like within their target culture and seek to implement this vision. In every culture the church must reflect the presence of God because it is the distinctive people of God called by him through his mission and set aside for his mission. However, the forms of church vary from culture to culture. These forms include such items as language, worship, and decision-making. Should a Russian church speak English in worship services and be reliant upon American models of church? Should the songs reflect the rhythms and harmonies of Western music? Are decisions make by foreigners or nationals, by voting or consensus? Christian meanings must be communicated in indigenous forms. The people of the land should not perceive the church as a foreign religion but as a part of indigenous society. This does not mean that Christianity will be compromised or that syncretism with non-Christian religious elements will take place. It means that Christian beliefs will be communicated in terms acceptable and meaningful to the culture in which the church is planted. Like a banana plant in the Bahamas, the church thrives within the culture because it allows God to use the resources of the culture rather than superficially borrowing cultural forms from a foreign source.
Third, church planters must learn to communicate God’s eternal message within the plausibility structures of the people in the culture. The thought that Christ has defeated the principalities and powers (Col. 1:15) has little impact on secular Americans who have little understanding of spiritual powers. This concept of Christ, the triumphal One who has defeated the spirits, however, is the metaphor which stirs the heart of the animist and brings him to the foot of the cross (Van Rheenen 1991, 141-42). Only in Christ is there deliverance from the fear and control of the satanic realm. Church-planting missionaries thus enter a new culture as learners seeking to glean understandings concerning how to communicate God’s message and to initiate a church which reflects the kingdom of God within this cultural context.
Fourth, church planters must learn what web relationships tie people of the culture together. Kinship, although more dominant in rural societies than in urban cultures, is the dominant web relationship. In African, Asia, and Latin America,
The web counts tremendously. Every man has, knows and is intimate with not merely brothers, sisters, and grandparents, but also with cousins, uncles, aunts, great-uncles, sisters-in-law, mothers-in-law . . . and many others. . . . Members of other clans or families can become Christian and he remains unmoved; but let “one of us” become Christian and he is deeply stirred. (McGavran 1970, 321)
The Kipsigis of Kenya live in patriarchal extended families. According to the research of Fielden Allison 87 percent of all churches in Kipsigis were initiated through kinship contacts, and the strongest churches were those with many interwoven kinship relationships. The most effective teaching relationship was older brother teaching younger brother or sister (Allison 1983, 56-67).
Relationships in urban contexts become increasingly complex. Occupational and associational ties vie with kinship relationships for the time and allegiance of the people. Mr. Chun is a Christian banker who leads a cell group of financial leaders in Seoul, Korea. This group meets each week in the non-threatening atmosphere of a restaurant. Their goal is to bring two monetary consultants to Christ each year and nurture them to maturity within their small group. Evangelization in this context is following occupational networkings.
The church-planting missionary must map out the web relationships which serve to connect people to people. The gospel travels down these relational pathways.
Nurturing New Christians
The second major task of missions is nurturing new Christians to maturity. The Kipsigis say, “We cannot give birth to children and then leave them” (“Magisiche lagok si kebagach.”). In this age of international travel it is relatively easy for Western Christians to travel to another land, preach the gospel through translators for a few days, convert a few souls hungry to know God (and sometimes to know Americans), and leave them without basic understandings of the Christian faith and ability to work out this faith in their everyday lives. It will become obvious in this section that the major problem of missions is not conversion of unbelievers to Christ but reversion from Christ.
Definition of Nurturing
Nurturing stems from the very heart of God. God is a vinedresser who devotedly tends his vineyard (Isa. 5:1-7), a physician who tenderly nurses his patients (Jer. 8:22), and a parent who lovingly teaches his child to walk (Hos. 11:1, 3). These prophetic metaphors reflect God’s desire to personally relate to Israel, his chosen people. God is portrayed in scripture as the ever-present, compassionate Lord sending his messengers to nurture his people to come into relationship with him.
Paul had much to say about nurturing in his letter to the Ephesians. The church is described as the body which, although living on the earth, dwells in the heavenlies with the resurrected Christ. This body has been transformed from life to death by the extension of God’s grace in Jesus Christ (1:18-2:10). Those of Christ’s body–both Jews and Gentiles–must grow together to become one. They should no longer be “strangers and aliens” but “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household” (2:11-22, especially vs. 19). This unity is based on God’s four-dimensional love. Paul writes,
I pray that you, being rooted, and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (3:17b-19)
The gifts of the body are to be joined together so that each part does its function. When this occurs, the body “becomes mature” in Christ, no longer like “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (4:7-16).
Nurturing, then, is building up the body of Christ so that each part of the body supplies its gifts to the whole. It is the process of bringing individual Christians and the Christian community as a whole to maturity. It implies that new believers must be taught how a Christian worldview shapes and influences all facets of life. Nurturing is the preparation to withstand the fire of Satan’s persecution. It is relationally mentoring new believers to live out Christian principles in their life.
Guidelines for Effective Nurturing
Methodologies of nurturing, like those of church planting, vary greatly depending on the philosophy of missionaries and church leaders and the context in which they are working. However, there are certain general guidelines which apply to all situations.
First, nurturing is most effectively done in the context of a loving, caring community of believers. Roberta Hesetenes writes, “The Christian life is not a solitary journey. It is a pilgrimage made in the company of the committed” (1983, 11). A recurrent theme of early Christian writings is that spiritual nurturing took place within the context of Christian fellowship. It was not an individual endeavor.
They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. . . . Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. (Acts 2:42, 46-47a)
Nurturing, therefore, is not an individual endeavor but must become part of the structure of the Christian community. Christians are guided to know God and find their gifts and ministries within the context of intimate fellowship within the body of Christ.
Second, nurturing leads new Christians to visualize specifically what God desires them to become. Because they only feebly understand the transforming grace of God, undiscipled Christians are frequently overwhelmed by their own sins and inadequacies. They must grow to know the radical nature of conversion and how to live distinctively as pure people in the kingdom of God. Conversion is a radical turning of self to God (Wells, 1989, 30-36). The lost must turn from darkness to light, from death to life, from the dominion of Satan to the kingdom of God (Acts 26:18). They become new creatures who have spiritually been elevated into the heavenlies to dwell with Christ (Eph. 2:6). Through such understandings new Christians begin to image that they can become holy as God is holy (1 Pet. 1:15). They can imagine themselves standing with the heavenly host proclaiming, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Rev. 4:8; Isa. 6:3). They are so consumed by the love of God that they love their enemies in the midst of suffering, forgiving as Christ forgave those who crucified him.
Third, nurturing involves modeling the Christian disciplines. Christians must be discipled to turn their hearts and wills to God in prayer, humble themselves before God in fasting, acknowledge through worship that God is God, seek God’s truth through Bible study, and reflect on God’s work in their lives through meditation. Without specific mentoring “Christians” may embrace the forms of Christianity but not grow spiritually through the Christian disciplines.
Fourth, nurturing must be an ongoing process; otherwise, the church grows stale and dies. One generation teaches the next generation, which in turn teaches the third:
He commanded our forefathers to teach their children, so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. (Ps. 78:5a-6)
Nurturing is passing the baton of faith from generation to generation. Without effective nurturing the baton is seldom passed to the next generation.
Rural Models of Nurturing
Effective mission works in rural areas almost always target a specific ethnic group, one homogeneous unit. The people typically live in large extended families and know everyone in their village. Contacts for evangelism and church planting flow principally along kinship lines. Numerous congregations are initiated because of the distance people live from one another and the expense of travel. The model of church nurturing used in the Kipsigis work in western Kenya has been adopted and revised by numerous African missions works (Van Rheenen 1983, 79-86). It will be presented in this section in revised form.
From the beginning of the work in Kipsigis church planting missionaries were concerned with church nurturing. A methodology of maturing churches was developed after an in-depth study of the concept of the church as the body of Christ in the book of Ephesians (Van Rheenen 1983, 73-79). A mature church was understood as a congregation organized with its own elders, deacons, and evangelists who had matured to the point that it could “build itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph. 4:16). The people within the church had grown to become “fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household.” They were no longer “aliens and strangers” (Eph. 2:19).
Building on this foundation, Kipsigis church planters developed four stages through which all churches were to be matured. The role of the initial church planter, whether missionary or national evangelist, changed according to the degree of maturity of a local church (Van Rheenen 1983, 79-88).
The Initial Church Stage is the introductory evangelism phase of the church when the first converts are brought to Christ. At this point the new converts are hardly a group. They will likely not yet know the names of the books of the Bible, how to pray, or how to teach the central themes of the Christian faith. They are like newborn children who do not yet know how to walk. As “strangers and aliens” to one another, they must be incorporated into the body of Christ. During this stage the church planter serves primarily as anevangelist who proclaims the foundational message of the gospel: God has acted to save his people despite their sins; God has accomplished this mighty act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ; humankind, however, must respond to him in faith and obedience. The objective of this stage is to gain enough converts to form a vibrant group. This stage may take from three weeks to three months depending on the receptivity of the people within the village. It is important to begin the second stage as soon as possible in order to incorporate the young Christians into a body. The joy of this stage is seeing a congregation born through public and private proclamation of the gospel.
The incorporation or “body building” period is called the Developing Church Stage. During this stage initial Christians are mentored to become a germinally reproducing, cohesive body through both cognitive and experiential teaching. The church planter serves as a church maturer, nurturing each member of the body to serve the function that God has given him within the body. He assumes the role of mentor, spending one or two days each week visiting from house to house and holding evangelistic and nurturing meetings throughout the village. This relationship with the new Christians is like that of Paul during the early days of the Thessalonian church:
We were gentle among you, like a mother caring for her little children. We loved you so much that we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well because you had become so dear to us. (1 Thess. 2:7-8)
During the Developing Church Stage, the church planting evangelist seeks to nurture all Christians within the fellowship. Out of this in-depth congregational training, leaders emerge as God works within the body. New Christians should never be elevated to leadership roles by outsiders in developing mission churches. Leaders should be called by God in the midst of active church life rather than artificially selected before nurturing.
The church planter asks two significant questions during this incorporation stage. The first question is “Do Christians understand the central truths of the Christian faith?” The concepts taught during this stage are the basic building blocks of the Christian faith. Although I published a list of concepts that should be taught during this stage (Van Rheenen 1983, 81-82), I now think it wiser for each church planting team to develop its own curriculum for teaching and nurturing during each stage. The second question the church planter must ask during this stage is “Is the Christian worldview, defined by biblical truths, being practically lived out?” The church planter must so intimately relate to the new Christians that they not only teach the concepts of the Christian faith but also guide the new Christians in living out the concepts. The joy of this stage is seeing new Christians grow into a cohesive body able to stand on their own.
Two extremes must be avoided during the Developing Church Stage. If the church planter concentrates on a particular church for too long, the church may look foreign and become dominated. If, on the other hand, there is not enough concentrated teaching, the church may not internalize basic Christian concepts. This might result in its eventual disintegration or syncretism with non-Christian beliefs and forms.
This stage takes from six to fifteen months depending on how quickly the church matures as a body. Frequently stronger churches mature quickly and weaker ones more slowly.
The third period of maturation, the Independent Church Stage, begins when the founding church planter is able to allow local leaders to assume all major leadership roles. The church is able to stand on its own feet independent of the founding evangelist. Frequently a rite of separation–a time of commissioning, of laying on of hands to commend the new church to the Lord–occurs as a church enters this stage. The church has now developed enough leadership to function as a cohesive body without the continual presence of the initial church planting missionary.
A church in the independent stage is ready to begin leadership training. God has raised up those qualified to become the leaders of a mature church. The church planter thus becomes a periodic catalyst to train leaders. The objective is to train leaders to the point that local Christians are able to “build themselves up in love” (Eph. 4:16). The joy of this stage is seeing leaders develop.
If leadership training precedes the congregational training of the Developing Church Stage, a clear distinction between clergy and laity is developed, which can rarely be overcome merely by concentrated teaching on the subject. Also, if leaders are selected by outsiders and trained before a fellowship is incorporated, those trained leaders often are not respected by local village leaders and, therefore, seldom are able to initiate a fellowship. It is better for church leaders to be selected from fellowships who are maturing. The nature of leadership training will be more fully described in the next section.
The Mature Church Stage is final period of church maturation. At the beginning of this stage and after intense leadership training during the Independent Church Stage ordained church leaders are selected. Elders are selected to pastor the flock; deacons are chosen to serve in various ministries; evangelists are set aside to lead the congregation to proclaim God’s redemptive message both in the local village and in adjoining areas. Sunday school teachers and other ministry leaders are also selected. The founding church planter can now look at the church and see with joy how God has worked to bring this body to maturity. The ordination of these trained leaders thus infers that the founding church planter now assumes the role of occasional guest. As a guest, the church planter may come periodically to exhort and strengthen the body, but his presence is not needed for the ongoing of the body. He must overcome the temptation to maintain control over the mature church, thus preventing the church from continuing on its own.
Churches in Kipsigis were classified according to their stage of maturity. For example, of the one hundred Kipsigis churches in 1987, twelve were in the Initial Stage, thirteen in the Developing Stage, sixty-eight in the Independent Stage, and seven in the Mature Stage. Specific goals were set each year in terms of church maturation. For example, in 1982 personal goals set were to (1) plant two new churches during the year (one during the first six months of the year and one during the final six months), (2) nurture one initial and one developing church all the way to the Independent Church Stage, and (3) teach ten leadership courses to leaders of Independent churches on how to use the themes of prophetic literature to strengthen local churches in Kipsigis.
The following time line depicts the spiritual maturation of a Kipsigis church from its inception to its becoming mature.
Time Line Designating the Kipsigis Nurturing Model
Our schedule in Kipsigis practically reflected our goals to plant initial churches, nurture Christians to maturity in Developing churches, train leaders in Independent churches. I reserved Monday as family day. From Tuesday through Thursday I worked one day with other Kipsigis evangelists to initiate a new church and two days to nurture two Developing churches to become independent. On two weekends each month (Friday to Sunday) I taught area-wide training courses for leaders of Independent churches. Kipsigis was divided into ten areas with training courses conducted in all ten areas. During alternate weeks when I was not conducting a leadership course, I gave additional attention to the village where a church was being planted, to the two churches who were being nurtured to maturity, to lesson preparation, or to special family activities. I also worked to prepare lessons every morning before leaving for the days activities. A effective teacher is always a prepared one. This schedule provided diversity of ministry and contact with numerous types of people: In one week I worked with initial, developing, and independent churches.
Urban Models of Nurturing
Contrast between Rural and Urban Contexts. Because of differing social contexts, strategies for urban church planting are significantly different from rural models. Rural areas are largely homogeneous while urban centers are heterogeneous and pluralistic. In rural localities people tend to live in extended families and know everyone within the immediate village; in urban contexts people live in close proximity to thousands of other people but paradoxically are neighbors with few of them (Smalley 1978, 708-710). In rural communities kinship is the dominant relationship connecting people; in urban societies associational and occupational webs overlay kinship relationships and frequently are considered more important. In the urban environment people become more job oriented and less family oriented. In rural areas education originally consisted of the informal learning of subsistence skills; urban contexts, however, required the formal learning of technological and informational skills. People grew to believe that they could control and manipulate their universe rather than live in submission to it.
Urban mentalities. Four characteristics delineate the mentality of the world’s urban people.
First, a passion for commodities consumes the urban consciousness. People are overwhelmed by culturally induced “needs” for material things. Advertisements bombard the senses declaring that people cannot live without certain items.
Second, communities are disintegrating. Many people are so focused on the demands of their jobs and the social responsibilities inherent in them that family time and involvement are minimized. The cohesion traditionally present in world cultures is disintegrating as a result of the break-up of extended and nuclear families. Jerrold Footlick in a special edition of Newsweek on “the 21st century family” writes:
Marriage is a fragile institution–not something anyone can count on. . . . The divorce rate has doubled since 1965, and demographers project that half of all first marriages made today will end in divorce. Six out of 10 second marriages will probably collapse. One third of all children born in the past decade will probably live in a stepfamily before they are 18. One out of every four children today is being raised by a single parent. About 22 percent of children today were born out of wedlock; of those, about a third were born to a teenage mother. One out of every five children lives in poverty; the rate is twice as high among blacks and Hispanics. . . . Parents feel torn between work and family obligations. Marriage is a fragile institution–not something anyone can count on. (1990, 16)
This disintegration of social fabric results in intense loneliness! People, as social beings, yearn to live in community but are forced by culture to live privatized lives.
Third, culture is becoming exceedingly complex. Humans, therefore, are forced to make innumerable decisions. The increasing options of the material marketplace–models of cars, brands of foods, and types of housing–are reflected in the ideological marketplace. Many people believe that they can choose to be homosexual or bisexual; monogamous, polygamous or promiscuous; married or single. They can ascribe to Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, New Age, or Christianity, or any form of these religions. People can seek to relate to the god within through meditation (pantheism), or believe that God is uninvolved in the world He created (deism), or seek to relate to personal creator God through prayer (theism). In this pluralistic culture the innumerable options available create disequilibrium.
Fourth, cultural relativism, spawned by Western individualism, is a typical urban response to culture’s complexity. Cultural relativism is the perception that there is no absolute truth in the world. Relativists believe that diversity should be tolerated, that each person is entitled to his own beliefs, and that all perceptions of truth are valid.
In order to survive and to reflect the nature of God, the church must encounter each of these urban mentalities. The church must seek release from the bondage of materialism by teaching and modeling sacrifice for the cause of Christ. In the midst of disintegrating community, the church must be the community of God–an intimate fellowship ministering to the lonely who live among the urban masses. In complex, urban contexts Christian leaders must become “meaning-makers” clearly articulating the central tenets of the Christian faith eternally rooted in the nature of God. Posterski writes,
Meaning-makers are people who make sense of life, people who make sense of God, people whose lives ring with clarity in the midst of contemporary ambiguity, people who have integrity, people who reside in today’s world revealing with their living and their lips that Jesus’ death is the source of vital life. (1989, 15)
These urban mentalities demonstrate the need for radically different models of strategy. These urban strategy models must provide community in an impersonal urban environment and stand against the materialism and relativism of urban life. Urban churches lacking organized structures for providing nurturing on an intimate, personal level are nominal and stagnant, unable to reach out.
Small Group Methodologies in Urban Contexts. Many urban missiologists are suggesting various types of small group ministries. Roberta Hestenes describes using small group evangelism in the context of more traditional program-based churches (1983). Program-based churches organize the church around specialized ministries (Sunday schools, 12-step programs, “Friends Day,” etc.) and seek to attract unbelievers through these programs. Carl George (1991), suggest creating cell-based churches. Cell-based churches organize the spiritual life of the church around small groups. These cells serve as beacons for reaching the lost, assimilating new Christians into Christian fellowship, and providing spiritual nurture for all Christians. George’smeta-church model suggests a highly organized church which worships together on Sunday in a large celebration meeting but uses small cell groups of fifteen or fewer people to nurture believers and incorporate unbelievers.
Ralph Neighbour’s cell group church considers the cell as a fundamental unit of the church. Neighbour suggests that cell group churches are more appropriate for world-class cities because (1) they involve many more than the traditional ten to fifteen percent of the membership in the activities of the church; (2) Christians become part of a community of believers in which they feel a sense of belonging; (3) Christians in small groups focus on prayer; (4) the church personally and deeply penetrates the structures of the city; (5) their structures are “flexible, able to adapt to their environment”; (6) they are not “circumscribed by the size of a building”; and (7) the gospel is communicated in terms of the life of the community rather than through cognitive, impersonal propositions.
These cell groups effectively reach non-Christian urban cultures because (1) they provide numerous points of light within neighborhoods; (2) they focus on needs to make contacts with unbelievers; (3) the group holds members accountable to God and equips them to break the strongholds of Satan; (4) the laity are trained to testify and proclaim the message of Jesus Christ within the context of intimate community (1990, 21-23).
Yonggi Cho of Seoul, Korea, was one of the first to form a cell-based church. This congregation has grown from five people meeting in a tent in 1958 to a church of over 700,000 people today. In 1964, when this congregation had grown to 3,800 members, Cho fainted from mental exhaustion because he was trying to do all the work of the church himself. During this time, he read Jethro’s advice to Moses: “The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone. . . . But select capable men from all the people . . . and appoint them as officials over thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens” (Ex. 18:17, 21). Soon afterwards he instituted cell groups to be channels of growth and to provide pastoral care for the church. By so doing, he began to equip hundreds of lay people to carry on the work of the church.
These cells were developed around the homogeneous (people group) principle, the understanding that Christian groups most effectively evangelize if they minister to similar types of people. McGavran expressed the principle by saying, “Men and women like to become Christians without crossing barriers” (McGavran 1979, 227). Housewives find more in common with other housewives than with female teachers; factory workers have more in common with other factory workers than with medical practitioners. Financial administrators sense more commonality with other money managers than they feel with doctors or college professors. Cell groups based on geography are consumed trying to develop a feeling of oneness; groups based on homogeneity more easily develop a sense of unity. All other programs of the church, including the Sunday assembly, make no distinction between types of people within the church. Cho writes that:
the homogeneous unit principle is used in developing our cell system, not in developing our entire church. We do not differentiate between rich and poor, high and low, or well-educated and uneducated; we are all one in the body of Christ. (1984, 51-54)
McGavran said that this church may be the most organized in the world (Towns 1982, 66). Members are intimately related to the members of the cell group which they attend and are nurtured within this context. All cell group leaders go through a prescribed training program to prepare them to nurture the group. Cell group leaders are trained both in special training courses and by working as an assistant to a trained leader. When a group births to become two, an assistant is prepared to lead one of the groups. A treasurer is chosen to handle the finances of each group. A licensed minister shepherds participants of every thirty cells. The cells are divided into twelve districts, each overseen by an ordained minister. Each level of leaders has a specific type of experiential training (1984, 54). Cho expects these leaders to surface naturally. His job is then “to direct that leadership quality toward useful service to the whole church” (1984, 59).
Cho, in collaboration with church leaders, prayerfully sets goals for growth. Upon entering their new facility in 1973, the congregation set a five-year goal of 50,000 members by the end of 1978. That goal was attained in only four years. A goal to grow to 100,000 members by 1981 was achieved two years ahead of schedule. Each cell group set specific goals for outreach, and each family was asked to reach another family during the year. Expectation of growth was, therefore, built into the life of the church.
Although nurturing in small groups is neither exclusively urban nor the only model of effective urban modeling, it does (1) provide the community so necessary for urban missions, (2) multiply the number of trained lay leaders, and (3) can personally nurture disciples to live distinctive lives in the midst of the complexity and relativity of urban cultures.
The third major task of missions is training leaders. As stated earlier, in rapidly maturing Christian movements leaders are seldom selected; they are found. They are raised up by God while the whole church is being nurtured to perform various ministries within the body. Congregational nurturing, therefore, must always precede or be coupled with leadership training. In the midst of this congregational nurturing God raises up leaders and places them in the body “just as he wants them to be” (1 Cor. 12:18). Once these leaders rise to the surface, they should be specifically trained.
Definition of Leadership Training
Christian leadership training is the equipping of “God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12). Christ is the prime mover of leadership development because he has provided, by his grace, specific gifts to the body (Eph. 4:7-8, 10, cf. 3:7) and thus prepares various leaders (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors and teachers) to nurture the body (Eph. 4:11). Equipping infers a process of growing to maturity: The separated become unified; infants grow to maturity; the empty attain to the “fullness of Christ”; those blown about by worldly winds or “tossed back and forth” by non-Christian cultural currents become anchored in Christ (Eph. 4:13-14). The works of service of these leaders can thus be summarized by the phrase spiritual formation. The leaders, performing their diverse tasks, guide the entire body to “grow up in . . . Christ” by “speaking the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). These ministries of spiritual formation lead to building up of the body of Christ to become a mature church. A mature church is one in which all parts are related to Christ and joined to each other, while the body continues to grow as “each part does its work” and “builds up itself in love” (Eph. 4:16).
In the social sciences leadership is frequently defined as the process of influence. Leaders are those who exert influence over followers within the immediate situation and overall community in which they live. Leaders shape the goals, values, and worldviews of the people within these contexts (Elliston 1992, 21). Clinton defines a Christian leader as one who brings the Christian influence into his particular group or situation. He writes that a leader is “a person with God-given capacity and with a God-given responsibility toinfluence a specific group of God’s people toward God’s purposes for the group” (1988, 245). Although it contains truth, the influence metaphor has its dangers. Too frequently influence is understood as power to manipulate the material and social order. When influence is defined as power, it stands in contrast to biblical metaphors.
Elliston suggests three dominant metaphors that define leadership in scripture (1992, 23-24). First, Christian leaders are servants who voluntarily submit themselves to the lordship of Christ and sovereignty of God. This meaning of the term is frequently inversed: the mighty become servants of the weak. Christ “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Just as divinity serves humanity, those “great” in this world must become servants (Mark 10:43). Second, Christian leaders areshepherds who tenderly care for their flock. This analogy implies that the shepherds feed, protect, and guide their flock. They know the names of the sheep and will even lay down their lives for their sheep. The true shepherd “gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart” (Isa. 40:11). Third, leaders are stewards who “are entrusted with the message of the gospel, gifts for ministry, and [God’s mission] to perform” (Elliston 1992, 24). Stewards are “trustees” guarding “what has been entrusted to [their] care” (1 Tim. 6:20). Blending the metaphors of servant, shepherd, and steward produces the distinctive hue of leadership intended by God.
Types of Leaders
Vibrant Christian movements require different kinds of leaders. Five types will be described in this section.
Type A leaders are lay servants who provide massive grassroots leadership within local churches. Within the church they may serve as cell group leaders, Bible class teachers, youth organizers, and committee participants and leaders. Within the community they serve as beacons of light for the gospel–the front-line soldiers of the kingdom of God. Unbelievers have most contact with this type of leader, and new believers are typically nurtured by Type A leaders in vibrant, growing churches.
Type B are also lay leaders, but they have more authority and broader influence than Type A leaders. They serve as elders and deacons of local churches, supervisors of Sunday School programs, mentors of cell group leaders, and lay counselors. In various mission contexts, especially in the Two Thirds World, Type B leaders are unpaid evangelists who preach in local churches or work to initiate other churches. Like Type A leaders, their ministries are direct or face-to-face but, unlike Type A leaders, their influence extends beyond their immediate group.
Type C leaders in Western contexts are full-time ministers in local congregational settings involved in face-to-face ministry but are likely to be bivocational in the Two Thirds World. Their sphere of influence is the local church and the community in which community of believers exists. They usually have some form of theological education which has equipped them to preach, teach, and evangelize. Their influence is generally deep but not broad–significant among those to whom they minister but not extensive beyond their local area.
Type D leaders have a regional influence much wider than in the church or agency in which they work. They serve as full-time ministers of multi-staff or multi-cell churches, as administrators of small agencies, or as missionaries planting churches, nurturing new Christians to maturity, and training leaders in a domestic or foreign context. These leaders have completed a formal system of training and their influence reaches beyond the people with whom they personally relate (adapted from Elliston 1992, 31).
Christian leaders who have national or international influence are called Type E. These are highly competent professional leaders, who because of their writing, teaching, and speaking, greatly influence the nature of ministry. They provide the philosophical models out of which ministry occurs. Although much of their ministry is indirect, they influence many people. Type D and E leaders, to some degree, must remain Type A and B leaders in order to continue to be connected to real life.
Understanding these different types of leaders enables local and national church leaders to make plans for appropriate leadership training. After considering these types of leaders, it becomes apparent that mature churches need hundreds of Type A and B leaders but, in many contexts, no program for training them exists. For effective evangelism to occur all people in a community must be influenced personally, face-to-face. Elliston says: “The number of people one may . . . directly influence at a worldview level may range between ten and twenty.” If there are 100,000 people in a community and if leaders relate to an optimum of ten people personally within the community, 10,000 Type A leaders are needed, 1,000 Type B, 100 Type C, ten Type D, and one Type E (1992, 31). Since Types C, D, and E leaders usually have a broad theological education, they tend to understand leadership training only in formal terms: Leadership training is interpreted as formal training. Specifically, what types of training do Types A and B need? Broadly, what modes of training are effective for different types of leaders?
Modes of Leadership Training
A study of curriculum theory is significant in planning the training of leaders. Elliston writes,
Curriculum theory suggests that the broad outlines of the results can be predicted from the kinds of educational structures and processes which are employed. One can look at the goals and then work backward to design or modify the structures and processes to match the goals. Or, we can begin with a structure and predict the kind of results we are likely to achieve. (1988, 211)
Curriculum theory differentiates among three modes of training–the formal, nonformal, and informal. Effective leadership training blends these modes of training into different combinations in order to train various types of leaders.
Formal Training. Formal training refers to classroom instruction within an organized school setting. This mode is extremely beneficial in conveying paradigms of thinking and information. Applying knowledge and developing communication skills are secondary. Formal education is hierarchically organized: teachers guide the learning process of students through syllabi and tests; teachers, in turn, are supervised by administrators, etc. Students are trained outside the arena in which they hope to minister and, upon completion of their training, they receive diplomas or certificates which attest to their level of training.
Formal modes of training have long been used by those of the Judeo-Christian heritage. Ezra established the synagogues for the purpose of teaching the law. Because of this firm teaching many Jews retained their identity in Babylon and continued to believe God’s promises to restore his people. Jewish rabbis, especially the Pharisees, embraced this form of training. Hillel wrote, “The more teaching of the law, the more life; the more school, the more wisdom; the more counsel, the more reasonable action. He who gains a knowledge of the law gains life in the world to come” (2.14). Paul was taught in this manner by the rabbi Gamaliel (Acts 22:3). Origen of Alexandria established a school in Egypt “for elementary instruction in the faith,” but this school also became an evangelistic agency when unbelievers began to attend (Green 1970, 204). Centers of formal education have been in the forefront of the mission movement of North America.
Nonformal Training. This mode of training is based on the premise that students most effectively learn through designed experiences in a deliberately organized program. The training, however, is both “non-programmatic” and “non-institutional” (Clinton 1988, 251). Edgar Elliston writes that nonformal education is “planned, staffed, and organized, but structured outside the normal school system” (1988, 212).
Currently the Department of Missions of Abilene Christian University is initiating a program to combine formal and nonformal training. It is felt that formal education alone is not adequate to prepare candidates for the mission field. All students are mentored in four significant areas of development: (1)character (C) that reflects the mind of Christ in areas of values, ethics, emotional stability, and self-discipline; (2) ability (A) that is demonstrated by competence in use of scripture, mission principles, interpersonal skill, and public communication; (3) relationship with God (R) as evidenced by consistent, meaningful communion with the Lord through the Christian disciplines; and (4) experience (E) as an active follower of Christ in a local community of believers, including evangelism, nurturing, and cross-cultural practicums. At a Foundations Retreat during the first month of school, initial assessments are made in each of these four areas, described by the acronym CARE, and students are prayerfully joined to a mentor and small group. Within a week after the retreat students meet with their mentors to review the results of their assessments and set objectives for the coming semester. Between two and four objectives are mutually agreed upon by student and mentor for focused attention during each semester. These objectives are clearly written and signed by both student and mentor. Mentors meet with students as a group on a monthly basis to deepen personal relationships and individually with trainees at least twice a year to assess progress made on their objectives and plan for the coming semester. Each year a week-long assessment period occurs for all students who will graduate within the year. Results of this assessment are used by students and mentors to clarify the most significant objectives to be addressed during their remaining months in training. At the close of academic work, a board of review within the department considers students’ overall development and readiness for the mission field. Based on this review, students receive a recommendation concerning their ministry for the next twenty-four months. This recommendation takes one of three forms: (1) recommended for mission work; (2) recommended with qualification, with specific remediation suggested; (3) not recommended for the following twenty-four months, with specific remediation suggested. It is understood that most of those in the third category are channeled into other disciplines by the mentoring process before reaching the end of their program of study. Students commended for mission work (#1 and #2 above) receive a certificate of commendation signed by their mentor and the department chairperson. This program, although coupled to a formal educational institution, is an example of nonformal education.
Informal Training. Informal training “uses life-activities as the basis for purposeful training” (Clinton 1988, 244). This type of training is highly relational yet is “unstructured in the sense of being controlled and deliberately planned” (Elliston 1988, 212). This mode is participatory: Teachers and students participate together in accomplishing the mission of God. Teachers model effective behavior in ministry while students learn how to minister. The following account relates how I informally trained two Kipsigis evangelists:
Each Wednesday I am presently working with two Christians, Michael Chepkwony and Johanna Lang’at, from the Kapsinendet church in Kipsigis to initiate a new church in a nearby village. Michael works as a night watchman at nearby tea estate, and Johanna is the overseer of the local cattle dip. I chose these two men because they both have the God-given gifts to plant churches and nurture new Christians to maturity. They also desire to teach relatives and friends in an adjoining village.
Michael, Johanna, and I meet at the village about 12:00 each Wednesday. We first go from house to house visiting those we think might be interested. Later in the day we have a large meeting in one of the homes of our first contact people. In these home visits and evangelistic meetings Michael and Johanna learn the fundamental Gospel message and how to teach this message to different types of people as they hear me teach. I also gently guide and encourage them as they teach. When the first converts were baptized, I began to teach them how to nurture new Christians to maturity. We then worked to equip our new brothers and sisters in Christ to teach the first principles of the kingdom of God and the gospel of Christ to their relatives and nurture them in the Christian lifestyle.
I remember that day when the first five people were baptized in Mombwo. I told Michael, “These are your friends who now believe in Christ. It is your responsibility to baptize them.” On the way to the river, Michael pulled me off to the side and said, “I have never baptized anyone. Would you show me how?” I then demonstrated to Michael how to baptize.
This training is informal. It is based on the perspective that Christian ministry must not only be taught but also modeled. We have grown to believe that formal and nonformal training without concurrent informal training is inadequate. (Van Rheenen 1983, 40-41)
Peter Wagner writes that informal training is one of the great reasons for the growth of Pentecostals in urban contexts of Latin America (1973, 89-100). Evangelists conducted “seminaries in the streets” to train developing Christians for effective ministry. In fact, before Christian leaders could be ordained, they had to start a self-supporting church. Jonathan Chao comments that the training of itinerant evangelists in “seminaries of the field” is the cause of the great growth of the church in China (Chao 1989, 58). Jesus took twelve men, as diverse as a tax collector and a Zealot, revamped their conception of reality, and molded them into a cohesive group. He appointed these twelve “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (Mark 3:14).
Guidelines for Effective Leadership Training
So far, five types of leaders have been discussed and three modes of training them. This section seeks to specifically apply these understanding: What modes of training best equip different types of leaders? How do training patterns change as a movement matures? Although the need for training Christian leaders exists in every developing and mature church, modes and methodologies of training vary within each congregation and from context to context. The following four general guidelines are, however, fundamental in every context.
First, leaders need training appropriate for their ministries and time schedules. Type A and B leaders almost always need informal training to effectively carry out their ministries within the body. Small group leaders learn to facilitate a group while serving as interns under small group leaders; Bible class teachers learn to teach while studying in Bible classes; lay youth ministers learn to organize activities by participating in youth programs; committee leaders learn the functions of their committees while serving as members of them; new Christians learn to evangelize by seeing older Christians model evangelism. Formal and nonformal training, however, greatly enhance what these lay leaders learn by experience. Week-long or weekend formal seminars effectively provide lay leaders with the theologies and philosophies which undergird their ministries. Models of nonformal learning provide task-oriented experiences and exercises which greatly enhance what has been learned informally. Type C, D, and E leaders generally require some level of formal training since the informational undergirding required is broad. How can one preach the message if he has not studied it thoroughly? How can one organize the curriculum of a large church if he does not know the resources available? However, years of formal training without corresponding informal and nonformal training create informational nerds, who are able to relate ideas conceptually without personally ministering. Many of the disciplines required of Type D leaders are best learned through nonformal learning and many of the specialties of Type E leaders through informal learning.
Second, effective training integrates various modes of training. In the following case study I am working with leaders from Independent churches in Kipsigis to train them to initiate a new church. Elements of formal, nonformal, and informal education are all present.
Presently I am working each Thursday for seven weeks with twelve vocational evangelists of the Kamaget and Kipsuter churches in Kipsigis. My purpose in these weeks is to spiritually, theologically, and practically equip these evangelists to initiate and mature a new church in an adjoining rural village. To accomplish this goal, I combine aspects of formal, nonformal, and informal training.
Each Thursday I arrive at a designated home in Kamaget about 12:00 after an hour and a half trip from my home in Sotik. After a fellowship meal the evangelists and I discuss and apply the content of a home-study course that they have been studying during the week. The topics covered during the seven weeks are: God–The Source of Mission; Christ–The Message of Mission; The Holy Spirit–The Power of Mission; The Church–God’s People in the World; The Church–The Embodiment of God’s Mission; Paul–The Preacher; and Nurturing–Preparing New Christians to Live within the Kingdom of God.
An initial planning session was used to help organize the course. During this session, I taught a lesson outlining fundamental Christian motivations for evangelism. These motivations were then discussed at length and compared to earthly, pride-directed motivations. We then prayed as a group for God to spiritually work in our hearts to prepare us as his messengers and help us select a nearby village to initiate a new congregation. After prayer, we selected Chepng’ung’ul as the focus of our seven-week evangelistic effort because there was no organized church there and many people in Chepng’ung’ul have kinship relationships with Christians in Kamaget. Because of the prayers and mutual consent of the Christians, we feel that God guided us in the selection of Chepng’ung’ul.
After the village had been selected, we began discussing key people in Chepng’ung’ul who would not only be receptive to the message of Jesus but also could become leaders in a newly-forming church. Five names were then written on the blackboard and prayer made to God for each of these people. We then selected one older man and his family unit to initially teach and prayed that they might become the host family for the initial evangelism meetings in the village. Evangelists from Kamaget were chosen to go and make plans for the meeting for the following week. Finally, I gave each developing evangelist the first lesson to study before our meeting the following week.
On subsequent Thursdays we continued to meet at Kamaget for our evangelists’ meeting at 12:00. This was our period of interaction about the lesson of the week. About 2:30 p.m. we began our trip to Chepng’ung’ul for our “practicum”. As the weeks progressed, new evangelists from Kamaget were learning what spiritual resources God had given them and how to organize a plan of evangelism to initiate and mature a new church. Timothys were trained in action to become Pauls. Disciples were trained to become apostles.
As I write this, we are in the fourth week of training at Kamaget. In our third week thirty seekers attended a vibrant meeting at Chepng’ung’ul. One evangelist, Edwin Rono, daily teaches people house to house in this village. He also has started a Sunday school for children there. Kamaget evangelists are saying, “We know that God is working through us to start the church at Chepng’ung’ul.” (Van Rheenen 1983, 38-40)
The effectiveness of this methodology is attested by the fact that the church at Chepng’ung’ul has grown to become one of the strongest churches in this area of Kipsigis. In this example the material studied by the evangelists in their homes each week was formal, most of the activities in the weekly training session were nonformal with a small portion of the formal, and the late-afternoon trips to evangelize Chepng’ung’ul were informal.
A third guideline for effective leadership training is that modes and methods of training should vary depending on the maturity of the Christian movement. When churches are newly established and Christians know little of the Christian lifestyle, almost all training must be done informally. New Christians are trained to lead prayers, read the Bible, share their faith, and live a Christian life within the arena of life. They learn through effective modeling, which must continue even when churches grow to maturity with their own Type C, D, and E leaders. When early Christians grow toward maturity and a sufficient number of Christian leaders develop, short intensive courses are of significant value. They provide leaders with knowledge of scripture and understandings of practical ministry in a short period of time. When developing leaders study together, motivation is also greatly enhanced. Leadership training by extension, as illustrated in the above paragraph, becomes an alternative. As the movement matures, nationals and missionaries working together must make plans for the more structured training required for Type C, D, and E leaders. This will give the movement both cohesion and the necessary formal training for developing Christian leaders.
Fourth, churches must be initiated with a comprehensive strategy for phasing out missionary personnel once local leaders have been trained. Steffen writes that too often strategies develop piecemeal. New missionaries “focus more on `phase-in’ activities (e.g., evangelism and discipleship) than on `phase-out’ activities (e.g., activities that would empower nationals to develop leadership among themselves with an eye toward ministry that reproduces)” (Steffen 1993, 3). He suggests a phase-out model consisting of five distinct stages: preentry, preevangelism, evangelism, postevangelism, and phase-out. Missionaries’ roles change during each phase. During the preentry stage, missionaries are primarily learners. During ensuing stages, phase-out oriented missionaries develop the overlapping roles of evangelists, teachers, resident advisors, itinerant advisors, and absent advisors while continuing to be learners (Steffen 1993, 24). Church movements are initiated with the understanding that missionaries will eventually phase-out when their tasks have been completed. Hopefully, they will also phase into new areas when they phaseout of old ones. One of the saddest events in missions is seeing mature missionaries leaving the mission field when they are still in their prime.