Grant and Jenn, our directors, are over in Thailand this summer with a handful of interns. They are scouting things out for future GFM expansion to Thailand. If you want to hear more about what is going on over there, you can check out Jenn’s blog and Zach’s blog.
This is Part 2 in a series of Points 2 Ponder that we are presenting to our mission trip participants this month.
Read the first post in the series here.
Our church planting coach, Rob, explains that as cross-cultural missionaries, we are the scaffolding, not the building. The function of scaffolding is support. Scaffolding is temporary, and once the building is done, the scaffolding is moved elsewhere to work on another building. The scaffolding goes; the building stays behind. For a building to stand, therefore, the scaffolding cannot be a part of it. If bricks or support columns or parts of the foundation are built on top of the scaffolding, then when the scaffolding is removed, the building will crumble.
This analogy holds important truths for the cross-cultural minister. New churches must be self-sufficient. They must be built upon the foundation of Christ, not the foreign missionaries. Cross-cultural church planters should plan on serving among a people group for a finite amount of time and should have a clear exit strategy. It can make us feel good to be in control and have positions of leadership and authority, but doing this puts the churches we plant at risk of crumbling when we leave.
This belief is having a lot of practical implications these days for GFM and the way we minister. For example, in the short-term, it might be helpful for us to provide salaries for local pastors. What happens when we leave, though? Or can we ever leave if we have an arrangement like that? At some point, church leaders we raise up will have to be financially self-sufficient, rather than dependent on foreign funds. It seems a whole lot easier to help them be self-sufficient from Day One, perhaps by working with them to develop new businesses, than to get them dependent on us and then try and cut those ties later on.
Also, when a new church begins to meet, we have the new believers run all aspects of the meeting almost immediately. We disciple them outside of the meetings, but in the meetings we generally won’t do or lead something after about the third time the group gets together. This includes teaching. As long as we are properly discipling the converts, they should have something to teach right away. And after all, to teach something, you don’t have to know everything, right? You just have to know one thing.
By understanding our role as scaffolding, we are able to encourage, support, and disciple, without being the primary pastors or leaders. This allows new churches to quickly mature and become self-sufficient, rather than being weak and dependent on outsiders for years or even decades.
My recent lack of posting is due to the fact that we’ve been very busy hosting two March mission trips. We just hosted a team of 16 from March 8-16, and now we’re getting ready to receive another team from March 19-29. With each team, we provide two days of cultural training, mission teaching, and spiritual preparation at our base, and then we spend several days in various outreaches in town.
One of the most important things we try to communicate to our short-term mission participants is to come in as learners. Christ came to earth with a humble, servant attitude. When we engage a new culture, we need to learn and establish trust with people before we try and have all the answers for them.
The team that came this past week caught the vision of being learners and building relationships with the locals very well. Most people spent the majority of the week tutoring junior high and high school students in English. The timing for this was good, as the high school students had midterm exams last week.
Here are a few photos from the mission trip:
We enjoyed some good times of prayer and worship together
Hannah tutors junior high students in English
More tutoring. That’s me in the middle.
This junior high student lives by himself in our town. His dad moved to the U.S. and started a new family, and his mom lives in the village he’s from. He speaks good Mixtec, Spanish, and English, and was learning Chinese from some of our team members this past week. He indicated a desire to follow Christ and is being followed up on by one of our apprentices.
The English classes our mission training school students have been teaching all year long had their graduations this past week.
Being learners: Our neighbor showed some of the mission trip participants how to make tortillas.
Some of the team helped a widow harvest her corn field.
Once a week, I send out a prayer and praise report on our church planting work for a number of supporters who regularly pray for us. I thought I would paste a few excerpts from those reports below, to give you a sense of the progress that has been made over the past several months:
September 23, 2007
Our church planting team (CPT) is hard at work and seeing God answer our prayers. This past week was the second of a four-week emphasis on making a lot of new contacts here in [our town], in hopes that out of those contacts we will establish solid relationships with a number of people who are open to Christ. So far, this effort has been pretty successful, thanks to God. Our team has met a number of people who are open spiritually and is working to follow up on those people as we also continue to make new contacts. Some of the best contacts are people who, seemingly out of nowhere, initiate a conversation with a team member and it comes out that they are interested in studying the Bible. This is God at work!
September 30, 2007
This will be the final week of our four-week extra emphasis on making new friends at the start of the ministry year. It has been hard work for our team, but this is an exciting phase as we are meeting so many new people. I like to think about how we have no idea right now what God will do in any of our friends’ lives, but no doubt we are spending time with people who will be used in great ways for His kingdom someday.
October 7, 2007
We are very grateful for the ways we’ve seen God answer our prayers these past four weeks to help us make new friends. This has certainly happened. We will continue to put quite a bit of effort into making new friends in the coming weeks, while we also work on following up with people and seeking discernment on who to focus the most energy on. This week we will be holding signups for a few new English classes we will begin offering next week at our rented storefront. We are offering classes for elementary students, junior high students, high school students, college students, and adults.
October 14, 2007
We are all very excited that two friends of ours, a girl named [S.] and a guy named [A.], have committed their lives to Christ and were baptized on Sunday evening! Though our church planting team has spent some time with both of these new believers, [S] and [A.] have mostly been ministered to by our missionary training school students, their families, and local Mexican Christians. It’s exciting to see how God is using all of our combined efforts in the work of making disciples…We are making progress with several other people right now and hope to be baptizing more new converts before too long.
October 28, 2007
We have exciting news! [G.] and [C.], two women that Pam and Ali have been meeting with, were baptized on Friday! Praise God for this step of faith they have taken. They have been studying the Bible the last couple of weeks, and were recently convicted of their sin and need for cleansing. They gave their lives to Jesus Christ and obeyed Him in baptism. Thank you for praying for them!
November 4, 2007
CPT enjoyed a short retreat this past week on the coast of Oaxaca and then spent a couple of days in Oaxaca City renewing visas and being mentored by another missionary couple. We are now back in Tlaxiaco and ready to dive into ministry again. Our team will be working to disciple new believers [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [G.] and [C.], and will also be hoping to see [M.C.] and her husband [Go.], baptized. We also are developing relationships with a number of other friends and studying the Bible with some of them.
November 18, 2007
We are hitting some tough spots with several of our friends and people we are discipling, which is something we have expected. Prayer is so important in these times. A spiritual battle is being waged for the souls of those to whom God has called us to minister. We need God to break through in people’s lives and free them from spiritual bondage.
December 2, 2007
I wrote some about spiritual attack last week and appreciated hearing from you all about how you’re praying for us. We know that attack comes because we’re doing things that Satan doesn’t like. That became evident this past week as Tino and Jason baptized another new believer, [Juan] from Tino and Angela’s English class. Praise God for [Juan’s] decision to follow Christ! It’s really exciting to see the ways that God is working, answering prayers, and changing the hearts of those who haven’t known Him.
January 27, 2008
As we have come back together as a team, we have…heard God calling us to a greater commitment to prayer. As a result, we are now meeting together as a team five days a week to pray for the people of Tlaxiaco. We believe that prayer is absolutely the most important element in church planting work, and we thank you so much for your role in that important ministry.
February 3, 2008
This past week we had a milestone event in our church planting efforts when two couples came together for a self-led church meeting for the first time. This is just one small step among many along the way, but it is an important step towards self-leadership and self-sufficiency. It was [Ca.] and [Sa.] and [J.L.] and his wife [D.R.] who met, with [Ca.] teaching from Philippians and doing a good job of inviting discussion from everyone. Everyone enjoyed the time a lot and decided to meet again this week, this time with [J.L.] teaching.
February 10, 2008
We can kind of get lost in the trees of the week to week church planting work sometimes. But when we step back to see the forest, we recognize that God is moving. Progress is being made. Our team started September with two baptized believers we were discipling. Now there are five baptized believers, a small church group that has been meeting, and a number of other people are open. Our team has deeper friendships with many of the people we know.
February 17, 2008
If you have been following our church planting strategy, you know that we are working to plant reproducing churches here in [our town] that will spread out to all the villages surrounding us. Many of these villages are without any Christians or any established church. This past weekend gave us a little glimpse of this vision being played out. Pam, Liz (a mission training school student), and [C.] went out to [G’s] village to visit her. [G.] and [C.] accepted Christ and were baptized in October, and then in early January [G.] and her husband returned to their village to live there. The women found [G.] doing well and encouraged with the fact that there are others in the village who are open spiritually. Some of this openness is due to the fact that a believer visited their recently and laid hands on some sick people and prayed for them and saw them healed. [C.] noted that people have been healed recently when Pam has laid hands on them and prayed for them as well.
It’s going to be a difficult road for [G.], and we appreciate your continued prayers for her, but we are excited to think about the power of transformation for this region as believers in [our town] take the gospel back to their villages. Situations like [G’s], where a family lives in [our town] for a time and later returns to their village, are quite common. As we make reproducing disciples here, in time we can send a small army of church planters into all the surrounding villages–church planters who already have established relationships, know the culture, and speak the indigenous languages.
I came across this great article by Carol Davis, entitled Let’s Stop Planting Sterile Churches, via Guy Muse’s blog. In it, Carol talks about the difference between church growth and church reproduction. In Manila, Philippines, she noticed that some churches were planted quickly, always produced their own leadership, were never dependent on outside funds, and always reproduced. Other churches, by contrast, were planted slowly, were dependent on outside help, never reproduced, and could never produce their own leadership. Why is this so? I’ll let you read her article for the answers. It’s not too lengthy, and well worth the time.
Here are a couple of excerpts:
Now I have a very simple mind. I knew that anything that was alive was reproducing. It is a natural thing for trees and plants to drop their seeds and spontaneously spring up. We don’t try to have babies, we try to not have babies. In fact, if an organism does not reproduce, we say it is sick, dead or sterile…
…The second thing Charles told me was, “I never do anything that a one-week-old Christian can’t do. If I preached like I did in my home church they would think they couldn’t carry the gospel until they had my skills, my abilities, my training. If I prayed like I did in my home church they would think they couldn’t talk with God until they had words and phrases like mine. I don’t bring a worship leader because if I did they would think they couldn’t worship God until they had someone trained.
“Everything they see me do, they can do. Sometimes I don’t get back to the area for several weeks. But since they didn’t know they couldn’t do it, they went and told their cousin in another area and they already had another group started.”
That’s simplicity. We have made things so complex and required so much training…