Initiating Church Planting Ministries In Africa
A Report on Methods Used by Missions Active in Africa
Africa Mission Fellowship - Strategy Group Department of Missions Abilene Christian University
Anthony B. Parker and Richard Chowning
February 1992 Abilene, Texas
Intitiating Church Planting Ministries In Africa
The urgent call to take the gospel to the whole world demands a swift response by today's church. That response, however, must occur intelligently and prayerfully. We must pay sufficient attention to the lessons learned by yesterday's church and by others who are trying to accomplish similar tasks today. The African Missionary Fellowship Strategy Group is convinced that a swift response demanded by the urgency of the task is slowed by a failure on the part of missionaries to listen to and learn from the experiences of others. In our desire to be busy in the kingdom, we easily fall into the trap of "reinventing the wheel," of repeating mistakes or ignoring possibilities because we have not been open to the market place of missiological ideas. It is our desire to learn from and share with others. One aspect of this networking is a series of short papers summarizing responses given by churches and mission agencies who are engaged in work on the continent of Africa.
As much as we like to think that we are on the cutting edge of missions, the truth is that, with rare exceptions, we go where someone else has already gone. Still, we go because Christ calls us to go. We reach people that have not been reached and hope fully, where there is a need, we present a more biblically faithful and culturally relevant message. Because mission groups' experience in these lands is varied it seems wise to listen to what each other are saying. We are free to accept or reject advice, but we do need to hear each other.
Some of the most pressing questions facing new missionaries are, What do we do when we step off the plane? How do we avoid mistakes which might plague our work for years to come? How do we lay a sure foundation for which future generations with be grateful?
This report is the result of research conducted during the Fall Semester 1991 at Abilene Christian University. The research centered around the desire to learn ways which others have found effective in initiating a work in Africa. A response form was sent to thirty mission agencies who sent new missionaries to Africa between 1983 and 1990. Of the thirty organizations, nine returned completed forms. It is hoped that sharing this information will inspire other agencies to contribute to further requests for sharing information and insights.
The survey requested information concerning six areas of interest to new church planting teams: level of living, language learning, cultural adaptation, initial teaching and evangelism (audience, methods, content), identifying leaders, and maturing leaders. With each category, respondents were asked to describe the method/approach used by their mission, their evaluation of that approach, their recommendations for future missionaries, and to list supplementary resources. This report is a summary and evaluation of their responses. Below is a list of respondents and the mission with which they are associated. References in this report will site only the last name of the respondent. See Appendix A for a copy of the form used.
Respondents To Survey
Howard E. Brant International Coordinator for Evangelism and Church Growth SIM International P.O. Box 7900 Charlotte, NC 28241 (704) 588-6100
Don Congdon (with Stewart Snook) The Evangelical Alliance Mission (TEAM) P.O. Box 969 Wheaton, IL 60189 (708) 653-5300, ext. 246
Ray A. Giles Christian Missionary Fellowship P.O. Box 26306 Indianapolis, IN 46226 (307) 542-9256
David W. Shenk Eastern Mennonite Board of Missions and Charities P.O. Box 628 Salunga, PA 17538 (217) 898-2251
Dick Sollis, Chairman Research and Planning Department New Tribes Mission 1000 E. First Street Sanford, FL 32771-1487 (407) 323-3430
E. Spurrier Brethren in Christ World Missions P.O. Box 390 Mt. Joy, PA 17522 (717) 653-8067
Paul L. Swauger Director Special Ministries Wesleyan World Missions Box 50434 Indianapolis, IN 46250-0434 (317) 577-4397
Carl Wilhelm Presbyterian Church in America Mission to the World P.O. Box 29765 Atlanta, GA 30359 (404) 320-3373
Reidar Lindlar of the American Baptist Foreign Mission Society wrote suggesting that their Zairian affiliate be contact because their American organization is not directly involved in church planting activities.
Level of Living
The difficult issue of living standards confronts new North American missionaries to Africa. Some have enough missions training to understand the importance of an incarnational, identificational approach. Still, they wrestle with their own cultural baggage. The majority have grown so attached to conveniences than to give all of them up would psychologically disturb them to the point of incapacitating them on the mission field. Many technological and hygienic aids are a genuine blessing on the mission field and should not be rejected outright. Other western amenities might place barriers between the new missionary and those he has come to serve.
Those responding to the survey aimed for a balanced approach toward living standards, but the common consensus was that simplicity is important. Some said that living "on par with locals" is "the only way to do it" (Shenk), while most suggested a moderated approach with some conveniences, such as indoor toilet and running water (Giles, Sollis, Cousins). In racially segregated South Africa, Stewart observes that "white standard of living can be an obstacle to testimony among blacks." Brant observed that those who go too native "usually breakdown in health." Workers should be prepared for the added stresses that stem from life in a village, particularly from the lack of privacy (Spurrier). Giles' statement is a good summary, "protect the health and welfare of the family with adequate housing while emphasizing the need to keep it simple."
Sollis noted that, though some go to the extreme "going native," today's missionaries are more likely to tend toward the extreme of "trying to live at the standard to which they have become accustomed before beginning their tribal work--i.e., a higher standard than is conducive to close rapport with the local people." Giles mentioned that a steady drift often occurs toward improving one's lot materially so that more and more insulation occurs.
It is recognized that not all mission works in Africa are among the rural or urban poor. Work among the middle or upperclasses requires a higher standard of living on the part of the missionary (Brant).
Wilhelm noted that the Mission to the World has seen growth due to their helping the poor of Abidjan and especially in half-way houses for Muslim converts. This ministering to the physical needs of a populace will help to alleviate some of the pressure on missionary standard of living.
The Metro-Move manual is a resource published by the Special Ministries Department of the Wesleyan World Missions which details their principles and procedures in urban centers. The manual can be purchased from the Wesleyan World Mission for ten dollars (Swauger).
For many anticipating entrance into a new mission field, language learning is the most intimidating aspect of the initial phase of the work. This is especially true for unreached areas where a national language other than English, as well as local vernaculars, are used.
Those responding to the survey placed much emphasis on the importance of learning the vernacular of the target people. Sollis and Cousins mentioned that their agencies require some fundamental training in linguistics for all recruits. All those with missionaries in the former French colonies send their missionaries to language school before arrival on the field, in most cases to France. The concentrated fulltime schools in France greatly accelerate learning, Brant reported. Those who attempted acquisition of French in Africa were not satisfied with the results (Wilhelm). Cousins recommended 12-18 months study of French. Christian Missionary Fellowship (CMF) recruits to Benin will spend 9-10 months in Albertville, France and seek fluency in French during their first year in Benin before entering the vernacular (Giles).
For vernacular language learning, both informal (Spurrier, Shenk) and structured (Wilhelm) approaches have been used (Congdon/Snook). The LAMP method, developed by Thomas and Elizabeth Brewster, was mentioned and recommended (Spurrier, Giles). Some spend as much as one year living with a local family in order to learn the local language (Shenk). Though they did not mention a specific time frame, Congdon and Snook recom mended that "long enough" be taken for language learning; "It takes prayer, hard work, and lengthy exposure."
Missionaries with New Tribes Mission (NTM) dedicate virtually all of their first four- year term to language and culture learning, first on a national and then on a tribal level. Each NTM team has veteran missionaries who work with them as "language and culture consultants" to "supervise, assist, and regularly evaluate the language and culture learning progress for new field personnel." In most cases, missionaries are not allowed to begin evangelization, discipleship training, or Bible translation until reaching a level 3 (on a 1 to 5 scale) in both national and tribal languages (Sollis).
Brant recognizes that flexibility is a must in advice given to missions candidates. The LAMP method of language learning is good in principle, but few see it through to the higher levels of fluency.
Discipline is required during language study. To Spurrier, motivation and exposure are key. Because no one holds a stick over the missionaries' heads, different missionaries achieve different results. Cousins warned of distractions and demands that can hinder "pioneers." Language learning can be one of a missionary's greatest frustrations, but it must receive priority attention (Cousins, Shenk, Congdon/Snook).
This area, because of its close connection with language learning (Giles, Congdon/Snook), received fewer specific recommendations than the previous two. Respondents emphasized the importance of living among the host people (Giles, Wilhelm) and developing personal relationships (Sollis). Again, the progress of NTM missionaries is observed and guided by veteran missionaries serving as church planting consultants (Sollis). Congdon and Snook recommended the use of literature, written by both nationals and anthropologists, in learning about the host culture.
Cultural identification has its hazards. In some cases, cultural identification may jeopardize the distinctiveness of the gospel message (Spurrier). The stress experienced during this period requires mobility and adaptability (Wilhelm, Cousins).
Brant says that SIM's on-field orientation sessions are extremely helpful in allowing new missionaries to obtain the mission's collective knowledge of the target culture. He also suggests that a long term mentoring is most beneficial. Being introduced to opinion leaders, government officials, and being careful not to promise more than you can deliver are guidelines which foster acceptance and interaction in an African culture.
At Abilene Christian University's Missions Department Church of Christ missions candidates to Africa are taught a culture seminar approach to culture learning (see Tankersley citation in Appendix B). This method was introduced by a team which settled in Eldoret, Kenya and has been followed by many more. Teams divide aspects of a culture among team members. They do field research on the topics by means of interviews and observation than report their findings to the entire team in a seminar. The findings are tested by all members of the team.
Recommendations concerning initial teaching strategies ranged from highly individualistic to mass appeal techniques. Giles recommended beginning to teach adult men, then families, while Spurrier recommended individual and small group studies as well as the Jesus film. Spurrier's agency has found their target group of mature men difficult to impact; young people are more ready for change. Wilhelm mentioned correspondence courses, one-on-one evangelism, and friendship evangelism as methods which have yielded "success beyond expectations" among Muslims in Abidjan. Congdon and Snook were pleased with their agency's experience using tent meetings, loud speakers, and door-knocking techniques in South Africa. Brant contains that motives can be mixed by those who might respond, so one could "draw the net too soon." Group conversion may bring a more solid commitment.
Story-telling was recommended as a methodology by Shenk and Sollis. Because Sollis described the approach taken by NTM in detail, his remarks are included here in full.
During about the last fifteen years, we of NTM have taken an entirely different approach to evangelization than was generally used previously. Beginning in the early 1970's, we of NTM's Research and Planning Department began to take a close look at the way our missionaries were evangelizing in cross- cultural situations. To summarize and simplify a rather complex finding, we basically determined that the gospel message of salvation was too frequently being presented without first providing an adequate Biblical foundation to give the Gospel proper Scriptural meaning. For example, often there was a basic misunderstanding of the Person of God (who He really is), and a cultural definition (rather than a Biblical definition) of sin. It wasn't that our missionaries overtly taught error. The problem was that they simply had not taught long enough and clearly enough to provide an understanding of the basic Scriptural foundational truths necessary to provide a meaning for the Gospel. In other words, people were being asked in evangelism to accept/believe the Gospel message, but too often without first having a clear understanding of its Biblical logic, content, and context.
Rather than using a traditional evangelistic sermon approach to evangelism, our personnel now use an extensive teaching approach which we term the "chronological approach." This involves extensive, but carefully selected Old Testament teaching beginning with Genesis. The teaching proceeds in a prescribed manner aimed at providing a step-by-step, foundational, thematic/historical understanding of basic Biblical conceptual components on which the Gospel rests. This is done prior to moving on, in teaching, to the New Testament fulfillment of God's revealed plan for man's salvation through Christ and His sacrifice. In this way, the gospel presentation is placed upon its carefully constructed Biblical foundation. That which God does in Christ, although climatic, is clearly seen as God's long predicted and meticulously planned for way of salvation.
Leadership identification requires that the missionary be culturally sensitivity. Those who appear eager and outgoing to the outsider, may themselves be cultural outsiders. Those with greatest influence within the host culture may be virtually unknown to the missionary. The dangers are so great that Cousins warned, "Be prepared for let downs and disappointments."
Although the Presbyterian church uses a formal hiring and selection process in their Kenyan work (Wilhelm), most who responded emphasized the natural emergence of leaders within the cultural setting (Shenk, Cousins, Congdon/Snook). According to Sollis, "We teach the church concerning the Biblical duties and qualities of leadership and then watch to see who rises to the surface, and then encourage the church to officially recognize those who meet the qualifications in their personal beliefs, lifestyle, and church function." Congdon and Snook identified three contexts in which these leaders most often emerge: 1) churches; 2) training institutions; and 3) Theological Education by Extension (TEE) classes. In these situations, missionaries observe those who take the lead and, in the case of students, are active outside of the structured environment.
Cousins and Sollis stressed the importance of training in discipleship for leaders. New Tribes Mission applies the leadership criteria found in the books of Timothy and Titus. Missionaries look for those who consistently practice a Christian lifestyle, who reproduce themselves in others, and who are accepted by other believers as leaders (Sollis).
At Abilene Christian University congregational maturation is emphasized. While a congregation is being taught how to "build each other up in love," national leaders will surface. When special leadership meetings or training sessions are conducted, the new missionaries are encouraged to solicit congregations to send those they recognize as leaders. The choice is with the congregations, not the missionaries.
Very few methods were suggested for the maturation of church leaders. As Congdon and Snook noted, the key seems to be "as much attitude as method." Several respondents mentioned both formal and informal discipleship training (Spurrier, Sollis, Wilhelm, Cousins). There was also an emphasis on close, personal contact with the missionaries (Spurrier, Shenk, Wilhelm). Leaders should be given authority as they demonstrate responsibility (Spurrier, Congdon/Snook). Most did not discuss the question of whether national leaders should be paid, but Congdon and Snook mentioned the need for "respectable remuneration." While I question whether it is the responsibility of the mission to provide remuneration, Congdon and Snook's suggestion needs to be heard in its context: "Win for them what we would want: genuine responsibility, respectable remuneration, demonstrated trust, a sincere audience when they give us their opinions and councils."
Brent added that special attention must be paid to non-literate leaders. He suggests cassette ministries, drama, and music as media which can carry teachings into their hearts and minds.
Even though many of the ideas presented here will not be new to the reader, their affirmation by those who speak from experience is valuable. By hearing the opinions of others, we broaden our own perspectives. Strategies which arise out of prayer, planning, and praxis and in interaction with other cultures are likely to be theologically and pragmatically sound. This paper might be used profitably as a discussion stimulus in Missions training.