Reading a book “we are not the heroes” recommended by Celeste I came across this passage that made me think about SO many churches and missions in Bangladesh. My question is whether the church our disciples are trying to plant in sreemongol is falling into the same traps even though the foreigners are not directly involved….
It seems to me that we often rush into church planting before many of the precursors are in place. Can you list the precursors?
Here is the passage…
VIEW CROSS-CULTURAL MINISTRY WITH “PHASE-OUT EYES” As I write these words, emergency teams are headed to Haiti to offer relief to earthquake victims. There is no water or food available in Haiti; thus, anyone entering the country has to be able to supply his or her own necessities, and this includes fuel. Do you know what that means for planes entering Haiti? Pilots need to ensure they have enough fuel to return home, or their planes will be stuck at the airport. And this cannot be allowed because other planes, loaded with supplies, are waiting to land and contribute to the relief effort. Any pilot that looks at his entrance to Haiti with only “phase-in eyes” (not “phase-out eyes”) is in trouble and will cause trouble. Like the pilots of emergency flights to Haiti, we need to consider our arrival to a country with phase-out eyes, not merely phase-in eyes. We tend to be in such a hurry to establish our presence and ministry that we give little thought to how our approach will affect our phase-out plan. Phase-out eyes are absolutely necessary if we truly want to ensure an indigenous movement for Christ. Tom Steffen coined the terms “phase-in eyes” and “phase-out eyes.” During Steffen’s first term of missionary work in the Philippines, he became alarmed as he identified a gap between verbal goals in pursuit of the indigenous church and that which actually happened on the field. Steffen makes this comment: Reluctantly, I had to admit that my mission agency lacked a successful “three-self model” in the Philippines. No church-planting team has successfully phased out of their ministries so that nationals could control their own churches—and this after almost a quarter of a century of sacrificial missionary effort. Individual team members, possibly because of an overall field strategy, tended to focus more on “phase-in” activities (e.g. evangelism and discipleship) than “phase-out” activities (e.g., activities that would empower nationals to develop leadership among themselves with an eye toward ministry that reproduces) …Team members tended to view ministry with “phase-in eyes” rather than “phase-out eyes.” 3 Steffen points out that viewing ministry with “phase-in eyes” only, is a main reason why missions organizations fail to plant true indigenous churches. The mere fact that some missionaries in the Philippines were still in control of local churches after almost a quarter of a century reveals that there was something severely amiss. Steffen mentions the lack of leadership development—that aims for reproducibility—as one neglected component due to dull phase-out eyes. And there are many more obstructions to the growth of the indigenous church created by those who view ministry with only phase-in eyes while forgetting phase-out eyes. A missions term used frequently these days is “creative access”. This term is usually used in reference to countries which missionaries cannot easily enter; thus, missions personnel use as much creativity as possible to get in. Some of the ways missionaries creatively access countries are through humanitarian projects, orphanage work, and ESL projects. Although creative access is a worthy strategy in itself, I fear that in many cases, we cause an imbalance by working so hard to create a method of access (phase-in) that we neglect to examine how our means of entrance will affect our intentional phase-out. Lack of a phase-out strategy will negatively affect the development of the indigenous church. Ultimately, creative access has put the emphasis on phase-in eyes while neglecting phase-out eyes (creative exit). What do many of the creative access projects look like? The missionaries are the dreamers, the founders, and the caretakers of the project, which usually has some degree of imposed foreign structure and mode of operation. The project is started and overseen by missionaries and funded by donations from abroad. Even if the missionaries fill positions with local employees, the missionaries spend ample time raising and disbursing funds, as well as giving some degree of oversight. Ultimately, creative access projects are heavily marked with foreign fingerprints. Due to the foreign structure, expertise, and outside funding necessary for such projects, local people cannot sustain them. What is most troublesome about a creative-access, mission-established, non-sustainable project? Three issues come to mind: non-transferability, role confusion, and foreign dominance, which are all elements of dependency. This generic (but typical) example will help us see these three issues play out: A particular missions agency makes a deal with the government to start and oversee an orphanage. A missionary couple with aspirations to plant local churches is assigned to run the orphanage. Providing oversight of an orphanage involves raising funds, building a facility, managing affairs, providing employment, disbursing salaries, keeping financial records, and the list goes on. The missionary couple dutifully apply themselves to developing a state-ofthe-art orphanage. They want the orphans to have the best care possible. The missionaries find local people to employ as cooks, caretakers, and dorm parents. The orphanage adventure is underway, and within a year, seventy beautiful children grace the orphanage. Because most of the missionary couple’s daily relationships are with the orphans and the hired staff of the orphanage, they decide to plant a church starting with these specific people. For the sake of ease, they use the mission-established orphanage facility as a meeting place. The staff at the orphanage, little by little, invite their contacts to the church. A key employee of the orphanage serves as an interpreter and eventually a key leader in the church. The church does not have any pressing financial needs, as the leaders of the church receive adequate salaries from the mission-established project and the orphanage provides the church’s ministry resources. Eventually, the missionaries sense a need for a church building located outside the orphanage grounds. They raise funds from their home country to build a church facility. The members of the church do collect special offerings to apply to the building expenses; nonetheless, the missionaries cover the majority of the cost. The church is now official and ready for advancement. Although the church is not on the orphanage property, the church and the mission-established project are intimately intertwined. This interconnection creates confusion and dysfunction within the church. When someone is fired from the orphanage, the relatives of that employee cease coming to church. Others come to the church hoping that the church members will help them find employment at the orphanage. If the orphanage has problems, the church has problems; if the church has problems, the orphanage has problems. Many of the members of the church lack respect for the local church leaders because they view them as hirelings of the missionaries. The pastor of the church, who is also an employee of the orphanage, doubts his calling as a pastor but doesn’t dare say anything for fear his role in the orphanage could be compromised. The members of the church give obligatory and small offerings because they feel that the missionaries and the orphanage should fund the church’s expenses and salaries. After many years of hard work, the missionaries want to transfer the orphanage to the locals. After trying out different ways, they discover it is impossible for missionaries to totally disengage from the project—at the very least, they have to fund the orphanage ministry. However, the orphanage staff are trained enough that the missionaries can take planned absences. In regard to the church, the missionaries decide to maintain a low profile. They work hard at this goal because the church members are so accustomed to their presence. They are diligent about keeping their boundaries so that the church members will develop healthy relationships with their local leaders and each other. Now it is time for the missionaries to go on furlough. Another missionary couple replaces them at the orphanage. They love church work and immediately apply themselves to high-profile roles in the church. The wife notices that the local members struggle to play the electric keyboard. She offers to teach them, and she plays on Sundays. The local pastor invites the missionary to train his elders instead of doing it himself. This pattern of confusion and unhealthy dependency becomes a trademark of this creative access ministry. If we really want to see how a missions project established through phase-in eyes can detract from the authentic growth of the indigenous church, try completely closing such an orphanage for six months. Members of the church feel less obligated to attend a church that is not connected to their employment. Tithes go down. The pastor’s support decreases. The church flounders and struggles to have a true impact on making disciples within its community. From this example, we can see that while the orphanage (the phase-in project) helped some children with very real needs, it trapped the local church into a paternalistic and nonindigenous condition for the long term.