The Role of Existing Churches in an African Movement
– By Shalom –
Existing local churches play a vital role in this disciple-making movement. From the beginning of our ministry, we underlined this principle: whatever ministry we do, we make sure the church will be actively involved in kingdom ministry. Sometimes people think, “If a church isn’t traditional it won’t be accepted by existing churches.” But I believe the vital key is relationship. We approach church leaders at whatever level they are and share the bigger vision: the Great Commission. That’s more than the local church, more than their neighborhood, more than their immediate context. If we share with love, relationship, and sincere motive of kingdom expression, we have found that churches will listen.
In one area, we currently have formal partnerships with 108 totally indigenous groups. Some are local churches and some are indigenous ministries. From the beginning, we approach them through informal conversation. We talk about the task God has given in the Great Commission, and that takes us toward formal discussion with whoever is responsible in the church. If they are open, we set up a training for initial exposure. That may be two to five days. We strongly encourage them to make sure the right people are invited. We want to have about 20 percent of attendees be people in leadership and about 80 percent be practitioners. That proportion is very important. If we only train leaders, they are so busy that even though they have a good heart, they usually don’t have time to really implement what they’re learning. If we only train field leaders or church planters, it will be very difficult to implement because the church leaders will not understand what needs to happen. So we make sure we have the decision makers and the implementers being trained together.
We focus first on heart issues. We talk about the Great Commission, the unfinished task, and the challenge. Then we talk about opportunities and how we can fulfill the Great Commission. That’s where the disciple-making movement strategy comes in. The final question is: “What are we going to do about this together?”
Whenever we do a training, we commit to follow it up and really involve the decision makers in the development. One training event with a church is not the end. We want to walk with them on a journey. Our motto is: “Ignite, accelerate, and sustain disciple-making movements.” We don’t stop at just igniting. We work for accelerating and sustaining.
We have a strategic coordinator and grassroots coordinators doing follow-up after trainings. At the end of each training, an action plan is laid out. A copy is given to each person who received the training and a copy to the church, as well as a copy for our ministry. The plan includes the name and phone number of the church’s contact person. Our leaders then follow up by phone – both individually with those who have taken the training and with the church’s contact person. After three months, we make a formal call to follow up and learn what’s happening, relative to the plan they made.
We then continue communication with those going forward in doing the ministry. We make sure to cultivate those relationships and provide the needed training, mentoring, and coaching. We link them with other field workers in that area so they have a network to encourage them. Then we watch for workers who show significant potential to become a strategic coordinator for their area.
As people begin to implement, their reports from the field must pass through their church. The church has to stand with it and verify what’s happening. We don’t want to go around the local church. We want the church involved with the ministry. That gives the church a sense of ownership and helps the relationships to grow stronger.
We always make sure to update church leaders on what progress is being made. Some unreached groups being reached are quite sensitive. In those cases, the church may not need or want to be directly involved in progress with that movement. But the church will be aware of and praying for the ministry and helping in appropriate ways. They also allow the new churches being planted to worship in a ways that fit the new believers’ cultural context and feel appropriate to the new believers.
In this process, we don’t try to change the ministry patterns of the existing churches, which would just make them feel threatened. The existing church can go on as it is. Our mission priority is to reach the unreached. The paradigm shift we aim for relates to the unreached. So we challenge, train, and equip the church to reach the unreached. We communicate clearly that the church’s normal patterns will not effectively engage unreached people groups. We want them to have a movement mentality and attitude towards the unreached people groups.
Sometimes that new mentality ends up coming back and transforming the whole church. Some of the church leaders also become practitioners and become movement leaders. So the paradigm sometimes impacts the local churches directly. But that’s a by-product; not our goal.
Partnering with existing churches is a critical element that has helped us accelerate the disciple-making movement. We all came from those churches and our goal is to impact other churches and start new churches. So we praise God he is present and working – in and through existing churches – to bring movements of brand new churches planting churches among the unreached.
Shalom (pseudonym) is a movement leader in Africa, involved in cross-cultural ministry for the past 24 years. His passion is to see Disciple Making Movements ignited, accelerated and sustained among unreached groups in Africa and beyond.