I’m hardly a seasoned veteran yet, but I’ve now spent over five years learning some of the basics of mission work and helping a lot of new apprentices on the field. In that time, I’ve developed the following working list of books I think are great for new cross-cultural church planters to read. This list doesn’t represent an exhaustive library of missiology, and I think certain vital elements are better taught through discipleship than books, but I think these are a great start, hitting on many of the most important issues:
A Vision of the Possible by Daniel Sinclair – This is a good book for a team to read before going on the field as it gives a great overall roadmap for cross-cultural church planting. It’s very practical, dealing with such issues as team formation and leadership, preparation, entrance and residency, language learning, spreading the gospel, discipleship, raising leaders, and church multiplication.
Bonding and the Missionary Task by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – This one should also be read before arriving on the field. If there is any book I want a new missionary joining us to read, it’s this one. This short booklet gets straight to the heart of one of the biggest mistakes missionaries make – not bonding with the local people and culture – and gives practical direction on how to bond effectively.
Language Learning IS Communication IS Ministry by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster – The companion to the Bonding booklet, this one presents language learning as the first important ministry the missionary should have in the host country. We don’t learn language so that we can minister; rather, our language learning communicates powerfully to the locals and is itself an important ministry.
Christianity Rediscovered by Vincent Donovan – This excellent books deals with what the job of a cross-cultural church planter is and isn’t. Through Donovan’s personal experiences as a Catholic missionary to the Masai of Tanzania, he casts a wonderful vision for mission work. The vision is that missionaries should carry out the simple task of delivering the gospel message, trust the Holy Spirit to reveal the gospel’s application, make disciples, and then do one of the most important things they’ll ever do – leave.
Missionary Methods: St. Paul’s or Ours? by Roland Allen (available free online from Google books) – This book, overlooked for decades, has gained popularity in recent times. Vincent Donovan was heavily influenced by it, so it’s a great read after Christianity Rediscovered. Christianity Rediscovered casts the vision, and Allen’s work lays out the framework of thinking behind that vision – getting rid of extra baggage and simplifying our work to the type of ministry that allowed Paul to establish churches all over Asia Minor in just a few years.
Organic Church by Neil Cole – Organic Church gets at the heart of what the Church is in its simplest form and how God intended it to reproduce organically. I like our new missionaries to read it to give them a clear and simple vision of Church, because complexity kills.
Church Planting Movements by David Garrison (either the full-length book or the concise booklet available free from the IMB) – Based on research of movements on several continents, Garrison’s work lays out characteristics common to every movement of rapidly multiplying churches as well as discussing factors that hinder them. It hits on important topics such as the importance of prayer, broad sowing of the Word, lay leadership, and avoiding restrictive, authoritarian structures.
Two Ears of Corn: A Guide to People-Centered Agricultural Improvement by Roland Bunch – I recommend this book not because I think missionaries have to do agricultural development, but because its principles carry over very well to church planting work. Two Ears of Corn deals with important issues like dependency, reproducibility, and simplicity.
What do you think? If you were making your own list, is there anything you would add or subtract? Those of you helping new missionaries entering the field, what are you recommending to them?
Right now is a bit of a regrouping time for me and the rest of our church planting team. Last year, up through early summer, we went through a lot of turnover as many of our apprentices finished their time with our team. The rest of the summer was largely a time of internal focus in preparation for GFM moving to the U.S.
Erin’s and my role with the team is now shifting into an actual focus on the church planting work, rather than on discipling other young church planting apprentices. I mapped out some plans/goals for myself for the months of September through November. I chose that time period because we’re planning on being the the U.S. for the month of December. Here’s what I’m working on doing between now and then:
My top priority for September was doing anything needed to help get Grant and Jenn on their way to Atlanta. This consumed most of the month for me. Now I’m focusing on the following goals.
Network with every significant worker/leader in the region, getting to know them and what they’re doing. I’ve made several great contacts already in recent months, including getting in touch by email with some missionaries who served here around the 60s, 70s, and 80s. I still have a list of 8 or 10 people to meet with in the next few weeks. I don’t want to proceed much further in ministry without a good idea of what’s happening in the region.
Develop a comprehensive list of written Bibles, recordings, and other ministry resources available in our region. What languages, what translations of Spanish, where to get them, and how much they cost. I’ve found most of the information I need already in recent weeks. When I meet people from different villages, I want to know off the top of my head what resources are available in their languages.
Develop significant relationships in the hill community and the airstrip community through at least bi-weekly visits to each community. These are very strategic places because they are made up of people from a bunch of different villages. The primary goal of these relationships is to look for people who are receptive to the gospel who I can disciple. A secondary goal, which keeps Immigration happy, is to identify together with the people ways I can serve them through community development, create action plans, and implement them.
Develop a Vision and Strategy Paper and Memo of Understanding for our team. The VSP will describe who we’re working to reach, what the goals of our work are, and how we intend to work and what big steps we must take to accomplish our goals. The MOU is an internal document for our team that establishes mutually agreed-upon guidelines for our work and how we’ll be accountable to one another. These two documents will be born out of discussions with our newly solidified team in the coming weeks. We got the idea for the VSP and the MOU from Daniel Sinclair’s book A Vision of the Possible, which is more or less a textbook for pioneer cross-cultural church planting in teams.
Help our team solidify their roles and implement ministry plans within our Mexican nonprofit. What we do through our Mexican nonprofit is what gets us approved with Immigration to be in the country. I’m currently helping David work through the implementation of a well drilling rig he has spent months building. I’m also working with Rhonda, Nick, and Sarah to get a more established ongoing medical outreach rolling in area villages. I hope to blog more about these activities soon.
Coach new church planters in the region on language learning and acculturation. Erin and I are currently working with our new team member, Sarah. I have also been communicating with a new church planting team that’s arriving tomorrow in a town two hours from us. I’m helping get them settled in, and I’ll be visiting them every couple of weeks to help them get rolling in Mexico. We’ve benefited tremendously from those who have helped us along the way. Though we’re far from experts after only five years, I enjoy the opportunity to help others by passing on things we have learned and tips based on our experiences.
Implement my tribe building plan. I have a passion to use modern technology to help connect those back home to the work on the field better than has ever been possible. My tribe building plan currently consists of my online presence and communication. I have a number of improvements planned, as well as a couple of entirely new things that I intend to roll out in the coming weeks.
Do one hour a week of voice recorder drills to work on my accent, inflection, and fluency in Spanish. I get along very well in Spanish, but I need to continue to push myself to improve. The only time I should ever relax about my Spanish ability would be if I reached the level of a native speaker. I think these drills are one of the best things someone learning a foreign language can do. I’m pulling them from Language Acquisition Made Practical by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster.
Read a local newspaper at least once a week, learning words, expressions, and constructions I’m not familiar with. I think reading local newspapers is also a great exercise. They’re written at a level a junior high or high school student can understand, they use everyday language common to the area, and they cover a wide range of topics, including many that don’t often get touched in conversation. Newspapers are a goldmine for new, useful vocabulary.
Our transition from discipling church planting apprentices to focusing ourselves on church planting is in full swing. As you can see, I’m currently focused on a lot of setup work to get us in a position for good church planting work. My current ministry plans are a little light on connecting with villagers. Coming back in January, though, we’ll be well-connected with other leaders in the region, knowing exactly what’s going on and where the areas of greatest need are. Our team will have a plan of action in place. We’ll be armed with the best available resources for our work. I’ll have a system in place for connecting with friends back home and taking you along on the journey. I’ll be in a rhythm of ongoing Spanish practice. So from January on, I expect my time to be weighted quite a bit more heavily towards direct connections and discipleship with villagers.
We love sharing the ministry with you, so your comments or questions are welcome!