It's not the sort of thing that makes headlines, even in Christian circles. But it is the heart of story after story in the Bible. The heartbeat of God's kingdom throughout the world. A simple walk of faith. A commitment to serve the Living God and His Son, Jesus the Messiah, and extend the Kingdom of God on earth. I want to mention a few more of the men and women of faith—true faith—that make up the Body of Christ worldwide. Echoes of their stories are found in the Bible (as in Hebrews Chapter 11) and scattered in all the continents of the world. I featured two families of pastors I know in the Philippines in some recent posts (Extended Family andFruit). These are men I've mentored over the years. This post is more or less a follow up to those posts.
Once again I had the privilege of meeting with my dear friend Pastor Elmer and a few other pastors. He is church planter, has developed a training school for church planters, trains leaders, has sent out missionaries, and does ministry over the radio and even cell phone conference calls. He is resourceful, visionary and tireless. I'm blessed to have him as a friend.
Last week we met to see how all of us could collaborate in our service in God's kingdom. Elmer shared some of his vision for training leaders to reach oral learners, those referred to as non-literate. He is a certified trainer with a US-based ministry called Simply the Story. He's travelled to the middle-east and hopes to come to the US to share his vision and ministry. But his heart is and always will be in the Philippines.
The men gathered together have experience as pastors and church planters. Each has different gifts and vision. I've been their mentor, teacher, and in some cases their boss (as director of a Bible school). Now I'm more of a partner with them (Phil 1:5). I'm still a mentor in many ways, but more as an encourager.
My role has changed over the years from being a primary leader (in charge) to that of a partner. A partner comes alongside and works with other partners. It is a mutual relationship and I'm learning to become a better partner along the way.
This role of partnership with national leaders is not a concept or paradigm, but it is a developing one. This is laid out and discussed in a newly published book I'm reading through now, Western Christians in Global Mission, by Paul Borthwick. It is a role I began to realize and enjoy at the beginning of the new millenium.
Many western cross-cultural missionaries see the crippling effect of discipling national believers in a traditional or western style of ministry. Instead of leaders and churches discipled to Jesus regardless of culture, they are often stilted reflections of western churches.
One simple thing I learned over the years and have shared with others is to begin the "transition" to national leadership from the outset of establishing any ministry or church within a cross-cultural setting. Two important reasons come out of this lesson.
It takes considerable time to disciple and mentor people and no shortcuts exist to do so. We are to disciple people in relationship to Jesus, not to a methodology, nor to a style of ministry. This is a basic truth as stated by the Lord, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Matt 16:24). He took more than three years to disciple those who followed Him. He spent most of His time and energy on twelve of them.
A second important part of the lesson is about national leadership. National people will not learn to follow a national leader unless they see him or her in a primary role as a leader. A primary role of leadership requires the attendant authority that goes with the responsibility of the work itself. This is a sticky point for many western missionaries. We don't like to give up our authoritative position. We don't want to lose control. It's the struggle of human will and pride.
If you want to move forward in partnership with national leaders, how do you do it? Jesus is always our prime example (Luke 10:1-3; 24:44-49). And being an example is always a prime element of being a leader.