At the conclusion of his theological treatise to the Romans Paul describes how he had fully preached the Gospel from Jerusalem to Illyriucum, laying new foundations wherever he ministered (Rom. 15:19-20). In this process it was his custom to appoint elders, and through prayer and fasting, “commit them to the Lord” (Acts 14:23). His words to the Romans demonstrate the heart and motivation of phase-out: “But now, since my work in these places no longer needs my presence . . . . Let us go somewhere else. . . . so I can preach there also” (Rom. 15:23 Phillips). His goal was to visit Rome so that they might send him onto new fields in Spain (Rom. 15:24).
Phase-Out is thus the farewell period when missionaries overtly and intentionally pass the baton of leadership to national leaders as they transition to other missions contexts.
The major missionary roles during this stage are those of encourager and adviser of national leaders on both the congregational and associational level. As encouragers, missionaries affirm national abilities to carry the mission of God in responsible, reproducing ways. Elders and evangelists in local churches are affirmed as God’s ordained servants. Equippers on the associational level are confirmed as leaders with godly dedication and experience. As advisers, missionaries suggest models of teaching, ministry, and administration to the relatively new Christian movement and its leadership. A good rule of thumb is to make five affirmations to every one suggestion. In other words, the role of encourager should surpass that of adviser.
A significant danger during this period is inadvertent paternalism. Without realizing it, missionaries are tempted to control the structures that have been developed collaboratively with national leaders. They plan for disengagement with one hand while developing structures of control through money and placement of personnel with the other. Like parents of young adults, they know that they should not dominate but have difficulty letting go.
“Ownership,” Cox writes, “should be the main criterion by which missionaries and nationals determine the timing of disengagement” (Cox. 1999, 227). This ownership is a process. During the Growth Stage, Christian leaders assume leadership roles in their home churches and learn how to plant and develop other churches. During the Collaborative Stage, missionaries and national leaders vision and plan together to develop the structures of continuity appropriate to the church in their context and are equipped and empowered to lead those structures.
It has been a joy to see the church of Christ in Kipsigis grow during the past few years without missionary involvement. Recently, while visiting Kipsigis, I journeyed by public service vehicle and foot to an area where I had ministered many years before. During the time that I was a missionary in this area, the church was weak. I had worked with national evangelists to start one church who, in turn, established a second. Now, twelve years later, there are ten, much larger churches in this particular area. A crowd of 489 gathered for the Sunday morning service and 120 vocational preachers ministering in these churches attended the Sunday afternoon evangelists’ meeting. I stood amazed at their their mature faith in God, in-depth knowledge of the Bible, and incisive plans for ministry. I could only say, “Praise God. May He use the Kipsigis churches as missions-sending and missions-mobilizing churches!”